Tag Archives: 1971

Rocks In The Attic #631: Cat Stevens – ‘Teaser And The Firecat’ (1971)

RITA#631.jpgI think these pink Island Records centre-labels might just be my favourite. They’re also a mark of quality, appearing in my collection on the discs for Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left and Fairport Convention’s Liege And Lief.

Sometimes shovelled into the same brand of benign soft-folk as James Taylor, Cat Stevens has a timeless appeal. Much of the soulful acoustic pop I hear on pop radio these days sounds like it owes a debt to his body of work.

Aside from the well-known Morning Has Broken, which I remember being forced to sing in school when I was growing up, and the album’s lead single Moonshadow, this record really hits it out of the park with it’s opening track, The Wind. Utilised to melancholic introspective perfection in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, it’s a cracker of a song in a cracker of a film.

RITA#631a.jpgI recall a story a few years ago, in the wake of 9/11, of Cat Stevens / Yusuf Islam being held at an airport on suspicion of being a terrorist. About as way-off an accusation as you can get, it’s comparable with suspecting the Dalai Lama of a drink-driving hit and run. I’ve always wondered if those airport security guards felt stupid after that.

Hit: Moonshadow

Hidden Gem: The Wind

 

Advertisements

Rocks In The Attic #629: America – ‘America’ (1971)

RITA#629You’d be forgiven for thinking that the band America was from that side of the Atlantic. Aside from their name, they also sound a lot like an American proposition; not a million miles away from the soft-rock and smooth harmonies of the Eagles.

Formed in 1970, the trio (one British-born, two American-born) met each other while studying in London where their respective fathers were stationed in the U.S. Air Force. They wisely named themselves America to avoid people thinking they were a British band trying to sound American.

Unfortunately they’re the type of band that is now relegated to charity shops. Future singles A Horse With No Name (later added to this album upon its release as a single) and Ventura Highway are both fantastic and still sound great today.

Produced by Ian Samwell, the man who wrote Cliff Richard’s Move It, the band’s self-titled debut is a nice slice of somewhat melancholic folk pop. More than anything, they follow the template set down by Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young) – in fact, the lead single on this record, I Need You, bears more than a passing resemblance to CSNY’s Our House from their Déjà Vu album.

As an aside, surely Neil Young’s sometime-membership of that band should compel us to refer to them as Crosby, Stills, Nash Or Young…

Hit: I Need You

Hidden Gem: Riverside

Rocks In The Attic #617: John Barry – ‘Diamonds Are Forever (O.S.T.)’ (1971)

RITA#617Sean Connery is back! Shirley Bassey is back! Director Guy Hamilton is back! Everybody’s back!

Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli’s attempts to reproduce the success of 1964’s Goldfinger were thinly veiled. Get the original 007 back in the role, get Goldfinger’s director back, and the singer of its theme song. Get Richard Maibaum, the screenwriter of Goldfinger, to write the script, and instruct him to set most of the film in America, much like the 1964 film. Hell, even the subject matter of the film is similar – where the subject matter of Goldfinger deals with gold, Diamonds Are Forever deals with, erm, diamonds.

The only problem is that the film it isn’t anywhere near as good as Goldfinger. The plotting is messy, and the film feels a little lost at sea between the swing of the sixties, and the sleaze of the seventies. It’s lucky that the Bond producers were able to bring Connery back, as the film might have suffered more without his magnetic presence.

The previous Bond, George Lazenby, had been offered a contract for seven films but left after only one (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). In his place, the role almost went to American actor John Gavin – the heroic brother-in-law in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Gavin even signed a contract to play Bond, before the producers were able to lure Connery back, and Gavin was again set to play Bond in Live And Let Die before they changed their minds again and settled on Roger Moore.

Connery looks a little heavy this time around – and his ever-present hairpiece looks more obvious than it ever had, John Barry’s score comes a little too close to sounding like James Last in his attempts to replicate the lounge music of the Las Vegas setting, and Charles Gray’s portrayal of Ernst Stavro Blofeld loses all the menace that Donald Pleasance had brought to the role (admittedly this had been lost with Telly Savalas’ portrayal in OHMSS).

But I love Diamonds Are Forever regardless. It features my favourite Bond girl – the top-heavy Lana Wood – despite her role being very short and sweet. The theme song remains one of my favourites, and I was lucky enough to see Bassey perform it one year at Glastonbury in a medley of her Bond themes. Bond’s gadgets are reined in before the silliness of the Roger Moore era, and the film feels like one last hurrah for Connery’s 007 (although of course he would return to the role one more time in 1983’s Never Say Never Again).

The only drawback about the film is the stunt work, particularly in the mistakes they made with the Ford Mustang car chase. First of all, the thrilling police pursuit through the streets of Las Vegas is partly ruined by the fact that the sequence is clearly being watched by crowds of onlookers – as the producer’s were unable to close off the city’s streets from pedestrians.

RITA#617aSecondly, and most damning of all, the chase’s finale where Bond escapes the police by driving on two wheels through a tight alleyway was filmed incorrectly. They filmed the approach using two wheels on one side of the car, and filmed the shot of the car emerging from the alley on the opposite two wheels of the car. How terrible, and one wonders whether the continuity person – or in fact anybody working on this particular stunt – could ever hold their head high in Hollywood ever again. As a movie mistake, it’s up there with the Star Wars stormtrooper hitting his head on the Death Star doorway, or Charlton Heston supposedly wearing a wristwatch in Ben-Hur’s chariot race (an urban legend that has since been quashed).

Editors Bert Bates and John Holmes couldn’t have solved the mistake by reversing the film as both shots featured writing on buildings and advertisement hoardings, and so the only way out was a shot mid-alley which was made to look like Bond switched sides of the car mid-stunt. James Bond 007, licence to defy the laws of physics. As far as Bond mistakes go, this is even worse than choosing to soundtrack The Man With The Golden Gun’s barrel-roll stunt with a slide whistle.

RITA#617bDiamonds Are Fever’s lovable villains, the vaguely homosexual Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd deserve special mention, and not only for their great performance in the film as the murderous duo. Mr. Wint was played by actor Bruce Glover – father of Crispin ‘George McFly’ Glover – while Mr. Kidd was played by musician Putter Smith, bass player on sessions for, among others, Thelonius Monk, the Beach Boys and the Righteous Brothers.

Hit: Diamonds Are Forever (Main Title) – Shirley Bassey

Hidden Gem: 007 And Counting

Rocks In The Attic #607: The George Baker Selection – ‘Love In The World’ (1971)

RITA#607K-BILLY’s “super sounds of the seventies” weekend just keeps on coming with this little ditty. They reached up to twenty one in May of 1970. The George Baker Selection: Little Green Bag.

How Quentin Tarantino found this song and picked it out of obscurity to be one of the coolest, era-defining songs of the 1990s is beyond me. Listening to the rest of this record – the second release by the George Baker Selection – there isn’t a great deal else to point to such a gem of a song.

If anything, the Dutch band seems to be a curiosity, lost between decades and difficult to classify. They’re half-late’60s pop rock (late-era Byrds, late-‘60s Kinks) and half-early ‘70s singer-songwriter rock, all jumbled up with a touch of pysch and a sprinkling of jazz. They make for an interesting listen, that’s for sure.

Little Green Bag was the first track of their 1970 debut (also titled Little Green Bag), and given that Wikipedia doesn’t even have pages for their albums beyond this, it looks like they peaked commercially right at the start of their career.

Even Little Green Bag is difficult to classify. After an extremely cool intro, the song devolves into a crooning cabaret song. The change in tone is startling – like a smoking Miles Davis groove taken over by a bravado Tom Jones vocal.

Hit: Little Green Bag

Hidden Gem: Suicide Daisy

Rocks In The Attic #585: Genesis – ‘Nursery Cryme’ (1971)

RITA#585
Thanks to a recommendation from comedian Josh Widdicombe, I’ve just finished watching Brian Pern – A Life In Rock, a BBC mock/rockumentary starring The Fast Show’s Simon Day. Over three three-episode series, the show tells the story of a Peter Gabriel-like character (Day) and his Genesis-like band, Thotch, all framed in the context of rock and roll history from the 1960s onwards.

As with This Is Spinal Tap, and every over mock/rockumentary since, the power of Brian Pern – A Life In Rock comes from affectionately poking fun at real people and real events. In a great scene-setting opening, Pern egotistically claims a number of ridiculous accomplishments: ‘I invented world music. I was the first musician to use plasticine in videos. The first musician to record with animals. My last album had the lowest bass line ever recorded. And long before Bob Geldof and Bono, I was staging charity concerts and writing songs to raise awareness for the helpless and hopeless.’ This then segues into one of the very well done pieces of “archive” footage, with Pern singing one of his hard-hitting message songs: ‘Why no black folk in Jersey? / Why no black folk in Sark? / Why no black folk in Guernsey? / Are they having a lark?’

One of my favourite recurring jokes in the show is the deliberating mislabelling of real-life musicians and entertainers who contribute in talking head clips. For example, in the first episode Queen’s Roger Taylor is labelled as ‘Roger Taylor – Duran Duran’ – a subtle joke on the fact that Duran Duran’s original drummer was also called Roger Taylor (alongside two other unrelated Taylors in the same band). It’s something that a young BBC researcher potentially could get wrong – and that’s where the humour lies. The joke is oft-repeated – Roger Moore is introduced as ‘George Lazenby’, Rick Parfitt as ‘Francis Rossi’, etc – but it never gets old.

It’s a credit to these celebrities that they obviously don’t mind being taken fun of. Even Peter Gabriel appears from time to time, as a villainous double of the titular character. ‘It made me laugh a lot…’ he has said of the show. ‘…even though it was at my expense. I love to laugh. Spike Milligan was a hero to me and I was a big Fast Show fan, but I’m not sure that part of me comes across when I bore people about politics and social stuff. People can’t always see who you really are.’

My other favourite moment of the show was the partly fabricated tale of Phil Collins drumming with Led Zeppelin at 1985’s Live Aid. In real life, Collins performed at the British leg of Live Aid before hopping onto Concorde and drumming with Zeppelin at the American leg. Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page blamed his band’s sluggish performance on Collins – claiming that the jet-lag suffered from his trans-Atlantic journey resulted in bad timekeeping during Stairway To Heaven (hmm, I’m not sure that Jimmy Page really understands jet-lag). In the Brian Pern version of events, an in-on-the-joke Phil Collins references Page’s allegation, before a clip of Collins drumming along to Stairway To Heaven in Philadelphia is tweaked to sound like he keeps bringing in the drum fill from In The Air Tonight at all the wrong moments.

Nursery Cryme is Genesis’ third studio album, and serves as another reminder to me that I’m just not a prog guy, particularly if the prog is rooted in English folk (Genesis, Jethro Tull, Yes) rather than the more electric, pysch/blues-inflected prog of a band like Pink Floyd.

Hit: Seven Stones

Hidden Gem: The Musical Box

Rocks In The Attic #584: Nilsson – ‘The Point!’ (1971)

RITA#584
Charity shop finds can be a wonderful thing. To see an album from somebody’s name you recognise alongside a heap of junk records is more than enough motivation to get your wallet out. In a record store, even priced at $4 or $5, I would probably leave this in the racks. Sat alongside a James Last LP though, it suddenly becomes very attractive.

I’m so glad I took the punt and handed over my dollar. My knowledge of Harry Nilsson is very limited outside of Everybody’s Talkin’ and his drunken shenanigans as a key player in John Lennon’s Lost Weekend. I’m aware of Nilsson Schmilsson – a great album title for sure – but haven’t heard much of it save for the ubiquitous Coconut and the much covered Without You (or is that one called Ken Lee?).

So, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from The Point! Was this to be more introspective material, like his early hits, or just some average singer-songwriter fluff? Neither, I tell you. It’s a bonkers record through and through.

The album starts off with a poppy number, in the vein of post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys, entitled Everything’s Got ‘Em. It’s lovely – something you might hear on Holland – but then Nilsson’s spoken-word narration takes over and takes the record somewhere expected. A concept album, the narration and songs tell the fable of Oblio, the only round-headed boy in a village full of pointed-headed people. An animated film accompanies the album, and early pressings of the record were packaged with an illustrated booklet of the story inside (which my dollar copy still had). Although I’d never heard of it before, it was received well enough to be turned into a 1977 stage play featuring Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones from the Monkees.

Nilsson excuses the story as being conceived while on acid – and this isn’t hard to imagine given how fully engaged with the subject material the songs are. Nilsson isn’t dipping his toe in the water here; he’s fully immersed in this world he’s made up. This sort of thing would usually be a turn-off for me, but the songs are so great, and his narration is really nice to listen to.

Hit: Me And My Arrow

Hidden Gem: Everything’s Got ‘Em

Rocks In The Attic #569: Thin Lizzy – ‘Thin Lizzy’ (1971)

rita569From small acorns…

All throughout my 20s, I used to see a small non-descript advert every week in the classified section of the NME: ‘GUITAR LESSONS – ERIC BELL, ORIGINAL GUITARIST OF THIN LIZZY’ and a London-area telephone number. It’d be in there without fail every week, alongside the usual ads for recording studios and CD mastering services.

Every week I’d see it and toy with the idea of catching a train down to London one day to take him up on the offer. A guitar lesson from the man behind the riffs to Whiskey In The Jar and, more importantly, The Rocker – what could be better? I’m not sure why he would be advertising his services in such a place – perhaps he had fallen on hard times and simply needed the cash.

I never got around to phoning him and booking that lesson though. I really regret it now of course. Just to ask him about that awesome riff from The Rocker, and to see his fingers blast that out, would have been a dream come true. He’s still around – a sprightly 69 years of age – although in 2010 he moved from London to West Cork in Ireland. One day maybe…

This debut from Thin Lizzy makes for interesting listening. Recorded as a trio – Phil Lynott, Eric Bell and Brian Downey, it’s a far cry from the later twin-guitar duelling histrionics of records like Jailbreak and Johnny The Fox. Half of it is in a folk vein, similar to something you might hear on an early Van Morrison album; very mellow and not what you’d expect from the band that brought us some of the best rock riffs of the 1970s.

The remaining half is a bit more guitar-heavy; a bit more in the direction of where the band was ultimately heading towards. Look What The Wind Blew In is built around a repetitive Eric Bell lick, and gives an indication of the riff-based material Phil Lynott would later hang his lyrics on. Remembering, the final song on the record, plays with light and shade as successfully as early Led Zeppelin. Thin Lizzy would be pigeon-holed in the same genre as Zeppelin later in the decade, although Lizzy would sadly never see the same levels of international success.

Hit: Look What The Wind Blew In

Hidden Gem: Saga Of The Ageing Orphan