Tag Archives: 1977

Rocks In The Attic #686: David Bowie – ‘Bowie Now’ (1977)

RITA#686Another year, another Record Store Day. This year’s celebrations – on Saturday 21st April – passed by quite quickly. I was seventh in line at Real Groovy on Auckland’s Queen Street , just half an hour before the doors opened. I found two titles in there, was in and out within ten minutes, and on to Auckland’s other inner-city record stores, Marbeck’s and Southbound, searching for other titles.

On the day I scooped up The Alternate Tango In The Night (the latest in Fleetwood Mac’s demos and outtakes series, which gave us Alternate Mirage last year), and Ocean Colour Scene’s Marchin’ Already. As usual, I was disappointed at the absence of titles that didn’t make it to our shores, so I’ve had to resort to hunting online for the soundtracks to Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy – all of which are in transit.

My local chain store also carried a few titles and so I picked up Led Zeppelin’s 7” of (extremely familiar sounding) alternate mixes of Rock And Roll and Friends, and this – Bowie Now – a reissue of a 1977 U.S. radio sampler on pristine white vinyl.

If there’s one artist that has really made good use of Record Store Day – both before and after his death – it’s David Bowie. Each year brings a slew of releases that are put together with care and don’t feel like the schlocky cash-in releases by some labels.

This year’s Bowie releases were a 12” Let’s Dance demo (backed with a live version of the song), Welcome To The Blackout – a 1978 live album recorded at London’s Earls Court, and Bowie Now.

Does the world need a reissue of Bowie Now? Well, considering the number of people I saw buying the record on the day, and the number of times I’ve seen it posted online since, the answer is a resounding yes.

A compilation of album tracks from Low and “Heroes”, the record essentially makes a new album out of the two – an easy feat considering that both were recorded by the same personnel, in the same location, just nine months apart. The singles Be My Wife, “Heroes” and Beauty And The Beast are excluded, presumably because radio DJs would have been more than familiar with them, but the highlights of the record – Speed Of Life from Low and Joe The Lion from “Heroes” are just as fantastic.

Hit: Joe The Lion

Hidden Gem: V-2 Schneider

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Rocks In The Attic #677: Billy Joel – ‘The Stranger’ (1977)

RITA#677There are some records that you hear so much about, they become part of the furniture. The front cover becomes so familiar, it becomes part of the wallpaper of life. You see it all the time, but you’ve never heard it. The part of your brain that reasons why it’s so ubiquitous is usually extinguished by some other factor – a dislike of the artist in question, or the fans of the artist in question.

Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was one of those records for me. When I first heard it about five years ago, it hit me like a sledgehammer. Hit after hit after hit. That’s the reason it used to sit in the record collection of my friend’s parents. “Yellow vinyl, that is!” they used to proclaim as though that might have swayed me. It didn’t. So I just remained ignorant to it for the next twenty years or so.

Billy Joel’s commercial break-through, The Stranger, is another one. His fifth studio album, it plays like a Greatest Hits record. Strangely, it stalled at #2 on the US Billboard – despite staying there for six consecutive weeks in late 1977. None of the singles did particularly well either. They all sound like number ones, but the closest to the top spot was Just The Way You Are, which peaked at #3.

Having just seen Ben Folds in concert (on his Paper Aeroplane tour), it’s lovely to listen to the piano break in Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, and hear in one ten second blast where Folds got much of his playing style from.

Maybe the reason I wrote Billy Joel off was Uptown Girl – his enduring ‘80s hit from An Innocent Man. I love Uptown Girl – it might have been overplayed to death when I was growing up, but there’s a good reason why. The melodies are so catchy, it’s one of those songs I find myself singing out of the blue without hearing it – particularly the backing vocals that kick the song off, and accompany the instrumental break later in the song.

Okay everybody, on three. One…two…three… “ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh…

Hit: Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)

Hidden Gem: The Stranger

Rocks In The Attic #667: Various Artists – ’20 Solid Gold Hits Vol. 17’ (1977)

RITA#667The problem with New Zealand’s Solid Gold Hits series is that twenty songs crammed onto two sides of vinyl is just too much. It might have been okay with the first volume in 1972, but as running times got longer and longer throughout the decade, you end up with a very quiet, compressed listening experience.

Still, the series is sought-after by New Zealand record collectors. At the last record fair I attended, not only did I hear one guy continually ask the traders whether they had “any Solid Gold”, but one stall had a designated section set aside for entries in the series.

Not this guy though. I have no interest in collecting a run-of-the-mill compilation series with bad artwork and questionable content. The two standouts from this edition – Steve Miller’s Jet Airliner and 10cc’s Good Morning Judge – both already exist in my collection, on the original records they’re taken from. Aside from this, there’s not much else of interest aside from Bryan Ferry’s This Is Tomorrow and Heatwave’s Boogie Nights. In fact, the appearance of artists like David Soul, Smokie and Pussycat should relegate this to the bargain bin, whether it’s part of a series or not.

It’s a surprise that there isn’t a track on there by Les McQueen’s Crème Brûlée. It’s a shit business.

Hit: Jet Airliner – The Steve Miller Band

Hidden Gem: Good Morning Judge – 10cc

Rocks In The Attic #632: Amen Corner – ‘Greatest Hits’ (1977)

RITA#632Greatest Hits can mean a lot of things. Some collections can cover decades, some much shorter. This disc represents the latter: twelve songs from a band that had a very short life, in that they only recorded across two years – 1968 and 1969.

Opening with the #1 single, (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice, things slip downhill quite suddenly with a cover of the Beatles’ Get Back. It’s not a bad cover – in fact, they re-imagine the song quite well from the original – but the prospect of a cover song as the second song on a Greatest Hits collection doesn’t bode well.

In fact, of the record’s twelve songs, another two are well-known covers – a more straightforward, yet sloppier, version of the Band’s The Weight that outstays its welcome, and a peaky version of the American Breed’s Bend Me, Shape Me – while the album’s final four songs are all live recordings. Surely this is the dictionary definition of scraping the barrel; but good on Immediate Records for trying.

Released in 1977 to benefit from frontman Andy Fairweather Low’s burgeoning solo career (and sideman to the likes of Eric Clapton and George Harrison), the album is a nice little nostalgia trip, and a snapshot of the band’s short life at the headier, and musically more interesting, end of the 1960s.

Hit: (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice

Hidden Gem: Get Back

Rocks In The Attic #602: Richard Einhorn – ‘Shock Waves (O.S.T.)’ (1977)

tp0004c_Double_Gate_Cover_onlyI don’t often buy soundtracks for films I’ve never seen – actually, that’s a lie, I do it all the time – but what I don’t seem to do is buy soundtracks for films I’ve never heard of. I saw this LP listed on Waxworks Records’ website when I was purchasing the newly re-released Evil Dead 2 soundtrack and was just blown away by the cover. It’s such a great image – I love it.

I tracked down the film and watched the film on Friday night. It manages to be both the best film I’ve ever seen about underwater Nazi zombies, and also one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.

We open on a spot of narration over a sepia shot of SS Officers:

“Shortly before the start of World War II, the German High Command began the secret investigation into the powers of the supernatural.

Ancient legend told of a race of warriors who used neither weapons nor shields and whose superhuman power came from within the earth itself.

As Germany prepared for war, the SS secretly enlisted a group of scientists to create an invincible soldier.

It is known that the bodies of soldiers killed in battle were returned to a secret laboratory near Koblenz where they were used in a variety of scientific experiments.

It was rumoured that toward the end of the war, Allied forces met German squads that fought without weapons, killing only with their bare hands.

No-one knows who they were or what became of them, but one thing is certain: of all the SS units, there was only one that the Allies never captured a single member of.”

(Of course, Nigel Tufnel’s stage-introduction to Stonehenge almost ruins that last sentence – “No-one knows who they were… or…what they were doing…”).

After some brief opening credits, introducing Richard Einhorn’s ominous synth score, we then open on a fisherman and his young son bringing in their nets. The son spots a small rowboat drifting on the horizon. They motor over to it and find a young woman, visibly distressed and cowering under the seat (shades of another future film here, of a similar scene in Jaws 2).

Her story is then told in flashback. A group of tourists have charted a boat around the Bahamas. The boat and its crew are not entirely in the best condition. A strange astrological phenomenon occurs – the sun turns everything a peculiar shade of orange – but is never explained; the first hint at a truly terrible screenplay.

Both the crew and the tourists are concerned at this occurrence and the strange noises they keep hearing. At night, one of the crew members piloting the boat crashes alongside a huge ship he claims appeared out of nowhere and without any lights. They send up a flare, and see an old shipwreck in the distance.

RITA#602a.jpgWaking the next morning to realise that the boat is taking on water, the group decamp to a nearby island. They find a deserted hotel, and meet the island’s only inhabitant – Peter Cushing.

Cushing appears alarmed at the news of the shipwreck and runs out to see for himself. After spying the approaching zombies for himself, he returns to the group to give them the exposition we’ve all been waiting for.

Towards the end of the war, Cushing, an SS Commander in charge of the death squad prefaced in the film’s opening, escaped Europe by sea, eventually ending up in the Carribean. He sank the ship, with the zombie soldiers still aboard, and took up residence on the island. The boat hitting the wreck has woken up the soldiers, who are now emerging from the water and making their way to the island.

It’s great to see a ­New Hope­-era Peter Cushing in a small, but pivotal role.  He looks so wiry and inhuman that he makes the Rogue One CGI version of himself look positively believable; I couldn’t get over the ‘uncanny valley’-ness of that in the cinema.

Terrible dialogue and acting aside, the one aspect where the film really works is in the shots of the zombies rising up from the sea. These sections look fantastic, and the rest of the film is hung around these moments like cheap wrapping paper around an expensive gift.

Characters are killed off one by one, and those who remain seem strangely unaffected by the deaths. In one scene, one of the tourists discovers the dead body of her husband, and doesn’t seem to be too upset. Yeah, don’t bother with naturalistic dialogue, just stick another scene of a Nazi emerging from the sea in his jackboots.

As with all horror films, the cast is whittled down to the Final Girl, who escapes the island in the rowboat in which we find her at the start of the film. Strangely the zombies are not defeated and are left roaming the island, awaiting the next 18 to 30 cruise liner to get beached there.

In the final shocking twist, we find the girl sitting up in a hospital bed writing up her account of the film’s events. Again foreshadowing a future film – Kubrick’s The Shining – we hear that she is repeating the same sentence over and over, and as the camera pans around we see that she isn’t writing at all, just scribbling indeterminately. SHE HAS LOST HER FREAKING MIND!

The film’s score is easily the best thing about the whole affair. I’m a sucker for a good synth score – and it’s great to see the soundtrack to Stranger Things welcoming this back into the zeitgeist – so I could have easily appreciated it without ever seeing the film. Give me that music, and Marc Schoenbach’s truly awesome artwork on the front cover, and I’m a very happy man.

Hit: Shock Waves (Opening Titles)

Hidden Gem: Zombie Chase

Rocks In The Attic #568: Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington – ‘Thrillington’ (1977)

RITA#568.jpgIn 1971, Paul McCartney had just recorded his second solo album, Ram (actually his third if you include his 1967 soundtrack to The Family Way). He had credited the record to ‘Paul and Linda McCartney’, to get around the publishing contract he had signed as a Beatle. Under that contract, any solo recordings he made until 1973 were owned by Northern Songs, so wisely he credited the album to himself and his wife.

It’s not surprising that McCartney was pleased with Ram; despite a fair bit of whimsy, it’s a massive improvement on his uneven debut solo record. If a comparison were to be made, you could argue that the melodies on Ram follow on from the more powerful moments of Abbey Road. However, where his contributions to the Beatles’ final recorded studio record were tempered with songs by John, George and even Ringo, Ram found McCartney writing and performing the whole thing by himself in fifth gear.

Before Ram was even released, McCartney had asked arranger Richard Anthony Hewson to orchestrate the whole record as a collection of light orchestral instrumental songs, intended for a separate release. Among the orchestra who played on these sessions at Abbey Road were the cream of the studio players of the day – James Bond Theme guitarist Vic Flick, bassist Herbie Flowers and drummer Clem Cattini.

The end result is an oddity. It is thought the indulgent project was undertaken to please his father, who played in bands of this nature during the First World War – but as Howard Sounes, author of Fab: An Intimate Life Of Paul McCartney, points out, ‘the record…sounds like incidental television music, with a soupcon of the tea dance’.

Following the release of Ram in May 1971, and the recording of the instrumental version in June 1971, Paul formed Wings alongside Linda, Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine and session drummer Denny Seiwell. As a result of this new direction, the instrumental Ram was shelved, and McCartney’s band went on to record and release Wild Life instead.

rita568a‘When Paul did finally put this off record out,’ Sounes writes, ‘he did so as quietly as possible under a pseudonym, titling the album Thrillington after an invented character named Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington “Born in Coventry Cathedral in 1939”. Somehow this wasn’t as amusing as Paul obviously thought it was.’

Thrillington finally saw the light of day in April 1977, released between 1976’s triple-live album Wings Over America and 1978’s London Town. While McCartney is pictured on the record’s rear cover as a reflection in the glass of the studio’s control room, and thus identifying him as the true producer of the album, Thrillington went largely unnoticed until McCartney revealed the connection during a 1989 press-conference. Following this admission, the record tripled in value and hasn’t been reissued on vinyl since its original release.

Hit: Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey

Hidden Gem: Smile Away

Rocks In The Attic #564: Third World – ‘96° In The Shade’ (1977)

rita560This record was rescued on my behalf from a charity shop by my father-in-law. I’m not sure why he picked it up, but I’m glad he did. When I first looked inside, the record was very dirty with mould and the signs of being stored away in the back of somebody’s garage for twenty or thirty years. I gave it the PVA glue treatment, and the record has turned out looking and sounding beautiful.

Third World are a bit of an oddity – a reggae band formed in Jamaica in 1973, but influenced by musical trends outside of their native country. So along that nice reggae groove, you can hear the likes of disco, soul and funk. It makes for a nick mix and as a result, they sound a little bit more international than their more famous musical cousins the Wailers. It’s difficult not to compare the two bands – in fact, Third World’s first big break came when they toured Europe, supporting the Wailers, after being picked up by Island Records.

One of my favourite things about this record is the band member’s profile photos on the rear cover. Only drummer Willie and bass player Richie have normal names. The rest of the band is comprised of Rugs on guitar and vocals, Ibo on keyboards, Cat on lead guitar, and best of all, Carrot on percussion.

Hit: 1865 (96° In The Shade)

Hidden Gem: Tribal War