Tag Archives: 1976

Rocks In The Attic #587: ZZ Top – ‘ZZ Top’s Worldwide Texas Tour’ (1976)

RITA#587
I saw this record posted in the fabulous Facebook group On The Turntable Right Now last year sometime. And if there’s something I don’t like, it’s finding out that there’s a classic-era ZZ Top album that I don’t own. Laptop. Discogs. Wait. Postman. Open. Needle. Done.

ZZ Top’s Worldwide Texas Tour is a promo-only radio sampler from 1976, designed to promote the band’s world tour in support of 1975’s Fandango! The tour would last through 1976 into 1977, with 1977’s Tejas recorded during breaks in the schedule.

RITA#587aAs a record, it’s the very first ZZ Top compilation and a forerunner to the band’s first official compilation, 1977’s The Best Of ZZ Top. In fact, the tracklisting is virtually identical, with only a couple of changes. Worldwide Texas Tour opts for six songs per side, The Best Of has only five; the extra songs being Precious And Grace and Nasty Dogs And Funky Kings, while The Best Of opts for Francine over Brown Sugar (presumably with the slow blues quota already filled by Blue Jean Blues).

The Worldwide Texas Tour is where ZZ Top’s glitzy image really started. Prior to this tour, the band’s live shows were minimalist operations, concentrating more on the music than anything else. This time around, they wore studded Western suits and toured with a full stage-set including plants, props and a Texan panorama backdrop.

Say what you want about the spectacle of 21st century concert performances, but would you ever see a band like U2 touring with a longhorn steer, a black buffalo, two vultures and two rattlesnakes?

Hit: Tush

Hidden Gem: Heard It On The X

Rocks In The Attic #559: 10cc – ‘How Dare You!’ (1976)

RITA#559.jpgThe more I listen to 10cc, the more I like them. I could do without some of the more dated, twee music hall aspects of their songwriting – and I’m not enough of a 10cc fan to know which of the foursome is responsible for this influence – but in general their pros outweigh their cons.

Album number four starts with the title track, How Dare You – minus the exclamation mark – which acts as an overture of sorts, flipping through passages and guitar riffs from other songs on the record. 10cc really are an amazing band that pass through so many different styles, it’s almost impossible to classify them. They can straddle radio-friendly pop songs like the album’s big hit I’m Mandy Fly Me, but then turn around and deliver a straightforward rocker with a killer guitar riff like Art For Art’s Sake.

The opening tag on Art For Art’s Sake sets 10cc apart from other rock bands of the day – even though it feels disingenuous to refer to them simply as a rock act. Any other band would have hit straight into that guitar hook. Instead 10cc take their time, and build suspense that really pays off when the song kicks in.

Of course, none of this would be possible without their own recording studio – Strawberry Studios in Stockport. This offered the band the luxury of spending Beatle-worthy amounts of time tinkering with songs and producing the hell out of their records. If 10cc were any other band, restricted to the amount of time they could spend doing this, then the overall effect of their records would be so much weaker. Instead, it feels like they spend inordinate amounts of time getting deep album cuts just right, with the end effect being that the records sound balanced as a whole. Other rock acts of the day – take Wings, for a great example – released albums with one or two killer songs, usually lifted as singles, complimented by a raft of weaker album tracks. 10cc avoid this pitfall, and the records are nothing but entertaining as a result.

Hit: I’m Mandy Fly Me

Hidden Gem: How Dare You

Rocks In The Attic #555: Bob Hope – ‘The Bob Hope Radio Show’ (1976)

rita555The hit rate for Bob Hope’s material – joke after joke after joke – is relentless. You could get tired from this kind of assault on your sense of humour, but Hope’s show is interspersed with musical numbers which act as a palette-cleanser for the next barrage of jokes.

The two shows on this record were broadcast around the world to America G.I.s in late 1945, and much of the material is not only army-centric, but deals with the premise of leaving the forces now that the war is over. Of course, this provides ample subject material for Hope to riff on, and the audiences (at military separation centres in California) lap up every gag.

You can almost taste the palpable sense of relief in these radio shows. The audience have not only reached the end of the war, they’ve also reached the end of their military career and presumably are about to re-enter normal life. If I was in their shoes I’d be laughing at anything, a cathartic release, but the strength of Hope’s material gives them more than enough to find funny.

Hit: “A discharge? That’s a little piece of paper that changes a Lieutenant’s name from Sir to Stinky”

Hidden Gem: “Not everybody flies inside the plane with their parachute open! Well, I didn’t know the pilot was being personal when he said ‘Jerk!’”

Rocks In The Attic #532: Bill Conti – ‘Rocky (O.S.T.)’ (1976)

rita532I love the Rocky films, particularly the first one. As with everything, it’s a case of ever-decreasing circles with the sequels. I haven’t caught Creed yet, the sixth sequel-cum-spinoff-cum-reboot, which I hear is supposed to be pretty decent (and earned Sylvester Stallone a Best Supporting Actor nod – the loss of which his brother didn’t take to kindly to).

I recently re-watched the first couple of films in the series, I and II, followed by Rocky Balboa (number six in the series). Comparing the original with the sequels, it really hits home that it would really have been better off all round had they not followed the first film. It was a Best Picture and Best Director winner remember, but its strength has been diminished over successive years with a string of lesser sequels.

Stallone is probably to blame. He deserves the credit for writing the original film, earning a Best Screenplay nomination as well as a Best Actor nod in the process. But he also wrote the next four films in the series, and seemed happy to portray the character and receive a bigger pay-check each time.

Even though I love the first film, it isn’t without its flaws. There’s one particularly cringeworthy scene where to show Rocky as a man of the neighbourhood, he’s seen running down the street playing with the local kids. The over-acting in this short moment unfortunately makes him look like a retarded man-child.

Aside from the rousing main title, Gonna Fly Now, this soundtrack is full of nice grooves. It officially comes under the banner of Philly Soul, but instrumental cuts like Reflections could easily have come out of Memphis’ Stax studios, particularly from Isaac Hayes’ superb Shaft soundtrack.

Hit: Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky)

Hidden Gem: Reflections

Rocks In The Attic #530: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – ‘Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ (1976)

rita530It’s a shame that the songwriting of Tom Petty hasn’t earned him a personalised adjective like other famous rockers. You could throw a couple of chords together and somebody might say it sounds Dylanesque, or if your song has a melodic walking bassline it could be accused of sounding McCartneyesque. But unfortunately if you write a song that has all the hallmarks of a Heartbreakers song, nobody says that it sounds a bit Petty. Maybe this does happen and all the recording studio bust-ups are over a simple misunderstanding.

I recently had a week off work. I caught a horrible virus from my four-year old, and felt like death for a few days. During that week – and you need that amount of time to set aside – I watched Peter Bogdanovich’s four-hour Tom Petty documentary Runnin’ Down A Dream. I would probably have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been ill, but it was a really great watch regardless.

It’s become de rigueur for an all-encapsulating documentary to be directed by a big-name director. As well as Bogdanovich’s Petty-thon, there’s Scorsese’s doco on George Harrison, and Cameron Crowe’s Pearl Jam film. Concert films attract big names too – Jonathan Demme’s work with Talking Heads and Neil Young, Scorsese’s Last Waltz with the Band, Wim Wenders foray into Cuban music, Taylor Hackford’s profile of Chuck Berry, Scorsese’s and Hal Ashby’s work with the Stones. The list is endless, and probably driven by the fact that most film directors are big fans of music to begin with.

I can’t make my mind up about Tom Petty. I love his earlier material, like this album and the unequalled  Damn The Torpedoes, but his later work in the ‘80s, ‘90s and beyond stray a little too close to the middle of the road for my liking. Maybe I’m just being a little Petty in saying that.

Hit: American Girl

Hidden Gem: Breakdown

Rocks In The Attic #515: Thin Lizzy – ‘Jailbreak’ (1976)

RITA#515I’ve been blasting Lizzy a lot recently. Their Wild One compilation, the CD that turned me onto them, is a favourite on my iPod. There’s nothing like a quick blast of Jailbreak to decompress on my drive home from work.

I saw the fantastic film Sing Street recently. Directed by John Carney, formerly of Irish band the Frames, it’s set in Dublin like his awesome 2007 film Once. That earlier film had a lovely moment when the film’s protagonists try to enlist the services of a couple of Grafton Street buskers to back him on a recording of his songs. They immediately ask him if they’ll be recording ‘any Lizzy’; the subtext implying that the city’s struggling musicians haven’t moved on from the successes of its black rocker son.

Everybody’s heard The Boys Are Back In Town. Advertisers love it, and it commonly adorns film soundtracks. The title-track Jailbreak is something else though. Its white-hot, guttural guitar riff is too vulgar to be a mainstream hit. It shouldn’t work; it’s too simple. Brian Downey’s drums turn it into something else though. In the hands of a lesser drummer, it would be a dirge, but Downey’s syncopation – man, those opening high-hats! – breathes life into the arrangement.

Jailbreak is the sixth studio album by the band, and proved to be the one that broke them in the U.S.; and with good reason. It’s the perfect mix of melodic heavy rock and Phil Lynnot’s soulful, romantic lyrics. The twin-guitar of American Scott Gorham and Scot Brian Robertson also feels much more natural here than it does on earlier albums. If anything, the guitars feel fat where on the last couple of Lizzy records, they lacked that ballsy sound.

This might be the most successful Lizzy album, their biggest seller, but I prefer its follow-up Johnny The Fox, released just seven months later. They’re both so good though – the Rubber Soul / Revolver of the band.

Hit: The Boys Are Back In Town

Hidden Gem: Running Back

Rocks In The Attic #505: Leo Sayer – ‘Endless Flight’ (1976)

RITA#505I know it’s tragically uncool to like this album, but who cares? You Make Me Feel Like Dancing is a great disco single, and I’m not afraid to say I love it. Disco is always looked at unfairly with shame and regret, and usually the only thing more artistically bankrupt than a disco act is a white disco act.

It’s a shame that Leo Sayer doesn’t get the benefit of a career reappraisal every couple of years like the Bee Gees might, for example. Endless Flight was a Top Ten record on both sides of the Atlantic (#4 in the UK, #10 in the USA), and You Make Me Feel Like Dancing hit the #1 spot in both countries.

Production-wise, the album sounds similar in feel to Elton John’s output in the mid-‘70s. The record features a who’s who of ‘70s rock talent – Earl Slick, Paul Buckmaster, Steve Gadd, Bobby Keys, Michael Omartian, Ray Parker Jr. and Jeff Porcaro amongst others. It’s difficult not to like it when it sounds this good.

When I was at University in Huddersfield, Leo Sayer did a performance at one of the nightclubs. It was our regular Tuesday night haunt so we would have been there anyway, but for some reason he was booked to come out onto the dancefloor in the middle of the night and sing a few songs. It sounds remarkable now that this happened, but as strange as it sounds, it worked really well.

I happened to be standing around between the door where he appeared, and the dancefloor, so I reached out and drunkenly patted him on the shoulder when he walked past. Man, he was small. I know he’s regarded as a diminutive little fellow, but he was absolutely tiny in real life. It’s quite possible in my stupor that I thought he was a small child, and I was just trying to encourage him along.

He bounced onto the dancefloor, led by a couple of big, burly bouncers (making him look even smaller than he was) and everybody parted for him like Moses and the Red Sea. He then sang along to a couple of his well-known songs, singing live into a microphone, accompanied by a backing track.

Everybody loved it, especially all the ladies in the audience who absolutely fell in love with him; and we’re talking about 18-19 year old University students here – most of them wouldn’t have known who he was. As a measure of how unfamiliar they were with him, on our way home the girls in our group kept asking me to sing that song of his they really liked (When I Need You) – they’d drunkenly forgotten it, and it wasn’t familiar enough for them to recall it.

It’s nice eating a kebab with a belly full of beer and a head full of Leo Sayer melodies.

Hit: You Make Me Feel Like Dancing

Hidden Gem: How Much Love