Tag Archives: 1971

Rocks In The Attic #706: Bob Dylan – ‘Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II’ (1971)

RITA#706I saw Bob Dylan in concert a couple of weekends ago. I took my mother-in-law along, who has trouble walking, so we got to use her disabled badge and park inside the stadium.

A couple of weeks prior, they sent us instructions to access the parking space. The email subject line was ‘Mobility Parking Bob Dylan’.

‘Mobility Parking Bob Dylan’ sounds like the long-awaited, much slower, follow-up to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

I went to the concert expecting age-appropriate Dylan classics such as:

– The Tyres (On My Wheelchair), They Need A-Changing
– Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right…I’m Senile
– Subterranean Hip-Replacement Blues
– Like The Rolling Stones
– A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (And I’ve Forgotten My Umbrella)
– All Along The Wheelchair
– Lay Lady Lay (It’s Naptime)
– Stuck Inside My Mobility Scooter With The Memphis Blues Again
– Blowing In The Wind (Flatulence Remix)

And of course, I was expecting Mr Dylan to perform under his real name, Robert Zimmerframe.

The truth was far scarier.

Bob is Bob, and Bob gets to do what he wants to do. Or so the chorus of staunch Dylan fans seem to recite, every time a criticism of his live performances is uttered. It’s like a reflex mechanism. They can’t help it.

You see, Bob Dylan no longer performs Bob Dylan songs live in concert. He sings songs with the same titles as the ones on his records, and (I’m guessing) with the same lyrics, but the music is something else, something new, something strange.  And saying that he sings these songs is very generous, for he doesn’t even sing anymore. He just expels an odd sound, indecipherable to most people. I’m sure he’s trying to get words out, but his enunciation is just lost to the ages.

Critical reviews of his Auckland show were almost universally positive, with the caveat that ‘it wasn’t for everybody’. Because it’s Bob Dylan, right? The man changed culture as much as any politician of the twentieth century. His influence on the music world is immeasurable. So does that give him the right to do what he wants on stage? Of course it does. But then again, any artist can do whatever they want. That’s the very nature of art. It’d be boring otherwise, and generally is.

I can understand the absence of big screens above the stage. If Bob doesn’t like being recorded, that’s fine. But the policing of mobile phones seemed a little heavy-handed. Multiple PA announcements before the show warned that phones were not to be taken out inside the arena ‘at the request of artist management’, which just sounded a little like the energy-allergic paranoia of Michael McKean’s character on TV’s Better Call Saul. I managed to get a few blurry photos, and took a couple of videos under my jacket. A couple in the rows below us were not so lucky and were caught by the phone police. They were asked to follow a staff member out onto the concourse, a journey from which they never came back. As a result, I feel like I’ve smuggled something out of East Germany.

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The sound itself also left a lot to be desired. The first two or three songs were some of the worst sounding music I’ve ever experienced at a big concert. The sound mix was all over the place, and the band just didn’t seem to be gelling. Then something just clicked during a song featuring the accompaniment of a fiddle-player, and it got better and better as the night progressed.

I’m just sad when I imagine how good a Dylan concert could be. ‘Sometimes he can be transcendent,’ somebody told me on Facebook. ‘And other times he can be…less than transcendent.’ Somebody else warned me that he doesn’t do jukebox set-lists, and while I’m sure that a greatest hits set would have made a lot of people happy last week, I’d have been content with something else. If he’d have played anything – anything – and actually sounded like Dylan, I’d have been happy.

But there were a couple of moments in the concert where he did sound like the Dylan everybody remembers. Sat behind his baby-grand on stage, he blew into his harmonica, and that beautiful wailing sound breathed in and out, filling the arena. It’s the sound that makes my dog sing along to Bob’s records. Right then, he could have been the Bob Dylan of 1965, or the Bob Dylan of any decade since. That truly was transcendent.

Hit: All I Really Want To Do

Hidden Gem: I Shall Be Released

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Rocks In The Attic #695: Joe Cocker – ‘Cocker Happy’ (1971)

RITA#695Amongst its many highlights, Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock film contains a groundbreaking performance by Joe Cocker and the Grease Band. Cocker almost looks possessed as he tears through his version of the Beatles’ With A Little Help From My Friends. For a pained eight minutes, he looks like he’s about to die singing the song.

The studio recording of Cocker’s most famous Beatles cover, with more than a little help from session guitarist Jimmy Page, appears on this compilation, Cocker Happy. Released only in Spain, Australia and New Zealand, it features a number of singles and album tracks recorded between 1968 and 1970.

Watching that Woodstock performance, you’d be forgiven for thinking it would provide the springboard for a stellar career. But his subsequent solo career failed to match the intensity of these early hits. Twenty-two studio albums later, and he’s really most famous for the duet with Jennifer Warnes which soundtracked a dress-whites besuited Richard Gere in An Officer And A Gentleman.

He’s not the only English soul singer with such a lob-sided career. Rod Stewart, Steve Winwood and, to an extent, Van Morrison also failed to follow through on their early promises and went in unexpected directions. In a parallel universe, maybe Cocker could have been the singer in Led Zeppelin, and maybe Rod Stewart could have held on to Ron Wood and kept the Faces together.

Hit: With A Little Help From My Friends

Hidden Gem: Delta Lady

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Rocks In The Attic #670: Alan Moorhouse – ‘Beatles, Bach, Bacharach Go Bossa’ (1971)

RITA#670This is a lovely little slice of lounge music, not a million miles away from the camp shtick you might find on the first Austin Powers soundtrack. My wife finds records like these in the charity shop, and 9 times out of 10 they’re always worth a listen to.

The liner notes for this MFP release, by Bill Wellings, promise that ‘The four Beatles numbers (including George Harrison’s Something) are already well known to you, but they sound really fresh and inviting in their smart new Brazilian style.’ I guess you know you’ve made it when your songs are reworked into a musical style from another continent.

‘So, if your party ever looks like sagging in the middle, switch on to the Beatles, Bach & Bacharach in Bossa Beat – and give the party a swingin’ new lease of life!’

Hit: Yesterday

Hidden Gem: Air On A G String

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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

 

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