Tag Archives: 1975

Rocks In The Attic #765: Labi Siffre – ‘Remember My Song’ (1975)

RITA#765British singer-songwriter Labi Siffre released ten albums of soul, jazz and funk between 1970 and 1998. A year later, a sample from the opening track of this, his fifth release, would be used as the basis for Eminem’s My Name Is. But it wasn’t the first time the song had been sampled by Hip Hop.

I Got The starts off as perhaps the greatest soul song ever. After just two verses and two passionate choruses calls of ‘You’re so good / The way you give / You’re so good / You’re the best there is’, the song stops and drastically changes course. A stop-start drum and bass groove takes over, providing the bed for a now-very familiar electric-piano riff. We’ve switched from soul to funk and the band are on fire.

I Got The will now forever be linked to Eminem, but the basic drum and bass groove had previously been lifted by the Wu-Tang Clan, and Jay-Z sampled the first section of the song a few years before Eminem and Dr. Dre came along. Nothing’s original under the sun. Or in Hip Hop.

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Remember My Song is a fantastic record. I Got The is clearly the stand-out track but The Vulture, the opening track on the flip-side, is also a stone-cold funk gem. It’s so good, it’s a surprise the album didn’t sell in higher numbers. Original copies are now very scarce, presumably snapped up by Hip Hop fans in the late ‘90s, but this Mr. Bongo reissue sounds great.

And what a backing band. Not only do we have Chas Hodges and Dave Peacock on guitar and bass – surely making this Chas & Dave’s greatest contribution to popular culture – but the lead guitarist and arranger of the album is Big Jim Sullivan – one of the most renowned session guitarists on the London scene in the 1960s (alongside Jimmy Page and Vic Flick).

Hit: I Got The

Hidden Gem: The Vulture

Rocks In The Attic #759: John Bird – ‘The Collected Broadcasts Of Idi Amin’ (1975)

RITA#759This parody LP by John Bird – later of Bremner, Bird & Fortune – treads a fine line between satire and racism. Based on columns Bird wrote for Punch magazine, the record pokes fun at the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the guise of radio broadcasts by the man himself.

Given that Amin killed hundreds of thousands of people, the lampooning seems innocent enough. But then, just before the bouncy pop song Amazin’ Man, Bird (as Amin) has trouble counting the song in – “One…two…oh no, what come after two…….[very long pause]……..five” – and then it loses me. It suddenly becomes a white man, pretending to be a black man, having difficulty counting.

RITA#759aWhile I’m sure John Bird would defend this as a reference to Amin’s poor education (he left school after only four years), it seems a cheap, low blow for a man who ultimately become a high-brow political satirist.

Hit: Amazin’ Man

Hidden Gem: Gunboat Dipperlomacy

Rocks In The Attic #745: Jeff Beck – ‘Blow By Blow’ (1975)

RITA#745I’ve been getting my funk back, these last few months. Something I’ve been meaning to listen to again was this, Blow By Blow, Jeff Beck’s head-first dive into funk from 1975.

It’s a stunning album. Produced by George Martin (at his AIR studios in London), it’s a fully instrumental record – aside from a few appearances by a talk-box on the almost unrecognisable cover of the Beatles’ She’s A Woman, and the funk workout, Thelonius.

What’s this honky doing, recording a funk album in the middle of the 1970s, you might ask. In fact, only the drummer of the group, Richard Bailey, is black. The bass player, Phil Chen, is Chinese, while Beck and keyboardist Max Middleton are as white as you can get. And that’s not even mentioning George Martin, who’s so white, he’s almost transparent.

RITA#745aStill, Stevie Wonder was heavily involved with this record, which gives it more than an air of authenticity. Two of Wonder’s unrecorded songs, Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers and Thelonius were gifted to Beck, with Stevie even playing a FUNKY (but uncredited) clavinet line on the latter.

Of course, I shouldn’t be so glib. It shouldn’t be about race. Anybody can be funky. It’s just that the common misconception is that white man can’t funk. But try telling that to the Average White Band. Or the Goodies.

Hit: Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers

Hidden Gem: You Know What I Mean

Rocks In The Attic #742: The Commodores – ‘Caught In The Act’ (1975)

RITA#742Outside of James Brown and the rest of his funky people (the J.B.s, Maceo & The Macks, Lyn Collins, etc), the Commodores might just be my favourite funk band. These first few albums, before Lionel Richie started writing ballads, are just so damn groovy.

My current jam is I’m Ready, the fourth cut from this, their second studio album. I’m partial to an instrumental (see Pick Up The Pieces and Machine Gun), and to a funky clavinet line (see Superstition), and this melds the two perfectly.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but it’s such a shame that Lionel Richie was such a great songwriter. He turned a very funky band into a radio-friendly pop band by way of some nice piano tunes, and ultimately became a household name, bigger than the band that spawned him.

You can see the start of his balladry on side-one closer This Is Your Life. It isn’t Easy or Three Times A Lady, but it’s such a departure from the funk workout that precedes it, that you can definitely hear something change in the band. It’s almost like a switch is flicked. An A&R man somewhere suddenly raised his eyebrows.

I love the cover of this record too: six funky black guys with collars and lapels as big as their afros.

Hit: Slippery When Wet

Hidden Gem: I’m Ready

Rocks In The Attic #733: Queen – ‘A Night At The Opera’ (1975)

rita#733I finally caught Bohemian Rhapsody at the cinema recently. I wasn’t too bothered at first, thinking I probably wouldn’t enjoy it. In the end, it was okay, but – just like the band’s discography – it had some killer moments, surrounded by too much filler.

The problem with music biopics is that they tend to go down two routes. They’re either interesting artistic exercises (Control (2007), Ray (2004), I’m Not There (2007)), or they exist as a paint-by numbers exercise to sell cinema tickets on the strength of their subject’s name.

Bohemian Rhapsody falls firmly in the latter. It’s always risky watching a biopic when you know so much about the band. How will the film keep me interested and entertain me, when I already know what’s going to happen?

This film isn’t for me though. It’s for the other 99% of the cinema-viewing public; those whose experience of the band is a well-played copy of Queen’s Greatest Hits in their car’s CD-changer, and the knowledge only that Freddie Mercury died of AIDS.

It’s a wonder the film ever got made at all. Original lead Sacha Baron Cohen departed the project back in 2013, after falling out with the film’s executive-producers, Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor. He claims they wanted Mercury’s death to be plotted in the middle of the film, with the second half dealing with Queen’s dull as dishwater post-Mercury career. He wouldn’t clarify which of the two said this to him, before adding that Brian May was “an amazing musician” but “not a great movie producer.”

Baron Cohen’s involvement might have led to a better film. He suggested directors David Fincher and Tom Hooper, before the film landed with Bryan Singer, whose departure due to ‘personal issues’ led to the film being completed by Dexter Fletcher. Having seen what Fincher can do with a biopic (The Social Network (2010)), it’s a real shame he wasn’t hired. Hooper would also have been an interesting choice, being no stranger to biopics either, with both The Damned United (2009) and The King’s Speech (2010) under his name.

Baron Cohen’s mooted replacement was Ben ‘low whisper’ Whishaw, an actor with a similarly limited range as the film’s eventual star, Rami ‘low energy’ Malek. I first saw Malek in HBO’s mini-series The Pacific, in a role that suited his mumbling, bug-eyed weirdness. He then landed a similarly comatose lead in Mr. Robot, a TV show that rewarded viewers of its first year with an awful nudge-nudge-wink-wink season finale.

rita#733aWe’ll never know what Baron Cohen’s interpretation of Mercury would be like, but we can imagine. And I imagine it to be far, far more interesting than what we got from Malek. Aside from a bit of pouting, and a plummy accent, I didn’t ever think I saw Freddie Mercury in him. His performance (and the film’s marketing) reduces Freddie to a caricature of a moustache and a pair of aviator sunglasses. He’s just won the Golden Globe though (which might suggest an Oscar win in February), so what do I know.

The casting of the rest of the band deserves credit though. At one point, at a band meeting to discuss Mercury’s plans to go solo, the actor playing John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello, also from The Pacific) looked so much like the bassist, that I thought it was him. I glanced at the actor playing Brian May (Gwilym Lee), who embodied the guitarist from his first scene, and the lines between fiction and reality started to blur. Then the camera cut to Rami Malek and it was like somebody waking me up from sleepwalking.

Only Ben Hardy’s casting as drummer Roger Taylor felt a little off the mark. The actor did a fine job delivering his lines, but he just didn’t come across as enough of a cunt.

Much has been said about the screenwriters’ toying with timelines for dramatic effect, leading to a glut of historical inaccuracies. Most importantly, Freddie Mercury didn’t learn he had AIDS until 1987, and didn’t inform the band until 1989 – four years after the film’s Live Aid finale.

Some of the other changes didn’t even make sense. Backstage at Live Aid, Mercury passes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it U2, leaving the stage, fresh from their legendary set (when Bono decided to spend three minutes dancing with a member of the audience, rather than perform their big hit, Pride (In The Name Of Love)). But it was Dire Straits, not U2, who played directly before Queen. Wouldn’t a sweatband-headed Mark Knopfler be a more recognisable figure to walk past? He could even have been walking with a yoga-suited Sting. Given how loose the writers were with the facts, they might as well have had him walking past a jumpsuited Elvis.

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The most annoying thing about all of this, of course, is that the film will now become the generally accepted version of events. Adults of today and tomorrow will think that Queen were on the verge of breaking up before Live Aid, not that they used the opportunity to win back public support lost after playing in apartheid South Africa. They’ll think that they were a last minute addition to the Live Aid bill, when in fact they were one of the first bands announced. They’ll think that the band’s Live Aid set was notable for the ramp-up in charity donations, when it was Michael Burke’s video report from Ethiopia, introduced by David Bowie and set to the music of the Car’s Drive, which started the ball rolling. They’ll think the band were managed by that creepy Irish guy from Game Of Thrones and Queer As Folk.

I remember finding about Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis while reading the headlines during my Sunday morning paper round. By the following Sunday, the papers were filled with his obituaries. It was only then, when Bohemian Rhapsody was rereleased as a cassette single – which I bought, helping it get to #1 in the UK – that I started listening to the band.

Many years later, I picked up a second-hand copy of the album the song was taken from, 1975’s A Night At The Opera. It is a fine record, but the stand-out track by country mile is Bohemian Rhapsody.

Listening to I’m In Love With My Car reminds me of my favourite line of the film, a subtle ongoing joke with the rest of the band ribbing Taylor about his song: “So, Roger, what would you say is the sexiest part of a car?”

Hit: Bohemian Rhapsody

Hidden Gem: Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To…)

Rocks In The Attic #691: Various Artists – ‘Barry Lyndon (O.S.T.)’ (1975)

RITA#691It happened purely by accident, but over the last five years I’ve become a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick.

I can’t remember the first Kubrick film I watched. An early fascination with both horror and sci-fi leads me to think it was either The Shining or 2001: A Space Odyssey. I would have seen both before I was a teenager, which might explain why every time I see a lift open I expect it to empty a river of blood into the lobby, or why I can spot a match cut from a mile away.

A subsequent interest in war films led me to Full Metal Jacket, his concession to the MTV generation, and a student friend showed me Dr. Strangelove at University. My favourite novel, Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita, led me to Kubrick’s adaptation, and as soon as the director’s own censorship ban was lifted from A Clockwork Orange following his death in 1999, I hungrily ate it up, the last piece of the puzzle.

There was a problem though. I saw Eyes Wide Shut at the cinema in 1999, and it put me off Kubrick for a long time. What I initially saw as a huge turkey of a film was further supported by a half-hearted viewing of Barry Lyndon in my twenties. I missed the beginning, I was hungover, and I just wasn’t in the mood for an overlong period drama.

Thanks to the New Zealand International Film Festival, I’ve been able to see a number of Kubrick’s films on the huge screen at Auckland’s Civic theatre– first The Shining, and then a retrospective of the director, including Spartacus and 2001. A renewed interest led me back to Barry Lyndon – a masterpiece! – and a middle-of-the-night-on-an-aeroplane viewing of Jon Ronson’s documentary, Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes, prompted me to give Eyes Wide Shut another chance. It’s still a question mark, but an intriguing one which requires further viewing.

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The moment I was won over by Barry Lyndon was in one of the early scenes in which the titular character is almost seduced by his older cousin, Nora. The soundtrack to this encounter – The Chieftains’ Women Of Ireland – might just be one of the most bewitching pieces of music committed to celluloid. The scene skilfully portrays aching, forbidden love, something that was sadly missing from his toned-down adaptation of Lolita.

The one disappointing aspect of Kubrick’s work is that while his films are dense and rich fodder for cinephiles, there just aren’t too many of them (compared to a prolific director like Spielberg or Hitchcock). Five years between Barry Lyndon and The Shining. Another seven years to Full Metal Jacket, and then a whopping twelve years to Eyes Wide Shut (partly explained by the obsessiveness unearthed by the Jon Ronson documentary).

While he may have passed away almost twenty years ago, the director has still left a lot of clues lying around, if Rodney Ascher’s Room 237 documentary is anything to go by. Heard that conspiracy theory about Kubrick filming the moon landings? Prepare to believe it…

Hit: Sarabande (Main Title) – Georg Friedrich Handel

Hidden Gem: Women Of Ireland – The Chieftains

Rocks In The Attic #685: ABBA – ‘ABBA’ (1975)

RITA#685Some things you just never expect to happen. You never expect to find out the identity of the second gunman on the grassy knoll, the whereabouts of Lord Lucan, or whether pavlova was really invented by Australians or Kiwis.

The news out of the blue on Friday morning is that ABBA are back in the studio writing new material. This came as such a shock, I turned around and repeated the news to a total stranger at work.

ABBA have been famously reserved around any idea of a reunion. All four members – Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad – are alive and well, and so it’s been nice that up to this point, they haven’t reformed and tainted the memory and music of their younger selves. Their musical output in the ten years between 1972 and 1982 stands as a time-capsule of great songwriting, production and performance.

So what will these two new songs deliver? One song, entitled I Still Have Faith In You, will be performed by digital avatars of themselves on a TV special to be broadcast by the BBC and NBC in December 2018. Presumably the other song will also be released with fanfare – either as a standalone single, or to soundtrack some other key event. Sweden might have a cracker of a Eurovision entry in 2019.

I hope that the two resulting songs sound like ABBA. I don’t want them to sound like they could have come from the same producers of today’s awful stripper pop. Hopefully bandleaders Benny and Björn will remain as authentic as possible in the recording and production of the song. There’s a real danger that the output will echo the otherness of Free As A Bird and Real Love, the singles recorded and released by the reunited Beatles for the Anthology project.

ABBA is the band’s third studio record, and the second to be released internationally. The album came exactly a year after the band’s success at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo. Any thoughts about the band being a one-hit wonder would have been discounted as soon as the singles Mamma Mia and S.O.S. hit the charts. I’ll probably never watch it, but isn’t the title of the soon-to-be-released sequel to the Mamma Mia musical – Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again – just a lovely bit of serendipitous naming?

By the way, pavlova is probably as Kiwi as kiwifruit. Or Chinese Gooseberries, as they were originally known.

Hit: Mamma Mia

Hidden Gem: Hey, Hey Helen