Tag Archives: 1971

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

Rocks In The Attic #541: The Mothers – ‘Filmore East, June 1971’ (1971)

rita541If there’s one musical artist I think I’ll never understand, it’s Frank Zappa. It isn’t through lack of trying either. Several people have tried to turn me onto him, and it just hasn’t happened. Not yet, anyway. Interestingly, it’s always been musicians who have passed on their recommendations.

I was first handed a copy of Joe’s Garage, but it was just too ‘out there’ for me to comprehend next to my diet of ‘70s classic rock and ‘90s alternative rock. Too comedic, and I don’t think I was in on the joke. I was then handed a live DVD of him playing the Allman Brothers’ Whipping Post, I think from just before he died, and it sounded too much like a headache for me to enjoy.

I picked this record up recently for $5, and it’s instantly more accessible than anything else I’ve heard before from him. Perhaps I’m a fan of earlier Zappa and the Mothers, and I just didn’t know it…

Hit: Happy Together

Hidden Gem: Little House I Used To Live In

Rocks In The Attic #490: John Lennon – ‘Imagine’ (1971)

RITA#490Post-Beatles album number two finds John hitting his stride as a solo artist. I love his first record, the minimalist John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band; there’s a certain charm to it, but it’s by no means a record for the Beatle-loving masses. Here we find him producing a piece of work as commercial – but still as artistically valid – as anything released by the Beatles from 1965 onwards.

The only sour note on the record is How Do You Sleep?, a nasty attack on McCartney in retaliation for comments he had made in public about John and Yoko. I’ve never heard these comments, nor have I ever deciphered McCartney’s lyrics on Ram, which are supposed to be just as negative.

Still, if you’re going to have a go at somebody, at least be subtle about it. Lennon’s lyrics on How Do You Sleep? just make him out to sound nasty and childish. He even precedes the song by a short blast of an orchestra tuning up, the same idea thought up and used by McCartney on the intro to the title song on Sgt. Pepper’s.

One of the points stressed by Mark Lewisohn in his fantastic Beatles biography, Tune In: The Beatles – All These Years, Vol 1, was that Lennon could be so brutal and nasty in the way he would ridicule others. Usually, it would be people outside his circle of friends who would feel the brunt of his antagonism, but from time to time those close to him would get a earful too. How Do You Sleep? finds him completely unrestrained, doing everything except actually mentioning McCartney by name. The lyrics are so thinly veiled that he might as well have called the song ‘Paul Is A Douchebag’. In fact, a more Beatle-y insult might have been to name it ‘The Wally Was Paul’.

Always the most honest Beatle, Imagine finds John admitting that he doesn’t have all the answers on songs such as How? and Crippled Inside. It’s refreshing to hear such uncertainty from a ‘rock star’, and it’s almost the exact opposite of what you would hear from a global superstar in the twenty first century. It’s hard to imagine somebody as egotistical as Kanye West writing a song like How? Kanye knows everything of course, yet it’s strange how he couldn’t stop that knowledge from preventing his descent into bankruptcy.

One of my favourite moments on Imagine, the closing track Oh Yoko!, was included on the soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s 1998 masterpiece Rushmore. It’s a lovely song, and used to great effect in the film when Max and Herman decide to join forces to win Rosemary’s affections. A song like that shouldn’t work in a film; it’s a love song written for somebody in particular – Yoko Ono, of course – and she’s name-checked repeatedly in the song. It should only really make sense if the love interest in the film is named Yoko.  I’m not sure if the lovely Olivia Williams could pass for Japanese though.

Imagine represents an artistic peak for Lennon. His later albums would find him trying to repeat the success of this record, not least on its (official) follow-up, Mind Games, in 1973. Imagine is a fantastic record, and one of the reasons he never managed to match it is that it’s so bloody good – the curse of perfection.

Hit: Imagine

Hidden Gem: Oh Yoko!

Rocks In The Attic #464: The Beach Boys – ‘Surf’s Up’ (1971)

RITA#464I think this might be my favourite era of the Beach Boys. Of course I love the ‘60s Beach Boys – who doesn’t? – but their albums around this period feature music that is just so fragile and different from the surf pop from which they made their name.

I’ll put my money on the fact that Ben Folds listened to this record when he was growing up. In fact, it sounds so close, it could be a Ben Folds record if only there was a little bit more piano on it. Ben definitely hits the keys harder than Brian, but that’s where the differences end.

I recently watched the fabulous Brian Wilson biopic Love And Mercy on a plane into Sydney; one of those occasions where you find yourself hurrying the film up to finish, because you don’t think you’re going to make it to the end before the plane reaches its destination. I needn’t have worried; I made it in plenty of time.

Surf’s Up would be placed closer to the timeframe in the film where Brian Wilson is portrayed by Paul Dano – in fact it’s only five years after Good Vibrations was released, the crowning achievement of Dano’s Wilson. Those sections of the film work much better; the John Cusack scenes set in the ‘80s don’t revolve around the music as much. They’re more concerned with the drama of Wilson’s life at that time – something I just didn’t find as interesting as seeing Wilson teach the chord changes of Good Vibrations to the Wrecking Crew.

There are no big hit singles of this record. It wasn’t about hit singles by this time; it was a new decade and the album was king.

Hit: Feel Flows

Hidden Gem: Lookin’ at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)