Tag Archives: 1983

Rocks In The Attic #639: John Carpenter & Alan Howarth – ‘Christine’ (1983)

RITA#639Christine wins the award for the worst John Carpenter film with the best John Carpenter score. Well, it’s not a bad film – it just isn’t anything special, especially when it follows the John Carpenter high-water mark of Escape From New York and The Thing.

Perhaps it’s the source material – choosing to adapt a slice of Stephen King Americana, rather than focusing on an original screenplay. King adaptations can be a hard thing to get right – he’s the master at writing characters, which doesn’t always translate very well to the screen. The old saying goes that a picture paints a thousand words; this doesn’t apply when the words are coming from Stephen King’s typewriter.

The film is a little confused as to who the lead protagonist is. First we start with the varsity jacket-wearing jock, Dennis (John Stockwell) who is – inexplicably – best friends with Arnie (Keith Gordon, typecast as the same hopeless character as he portrayed in 1978’s Jaws 2). The two, despite Dennis’ jock status, are relentlessly bullied by the tough kids at school – a bunch of reprobates (including the naive gum-chewing subject of Venkman’s ESP test in 1984’s Ghostbusters) led by Buddy (William Ostrander), who appears to have been kept back at school for about 25 years, and looks like he’s just escaped from the local prison.

RITA#639aOnce Arnie buys a beat-up old car, the titular Christine, we then experience the film through his eyes, as he uses Christine’s unexplained magical powers to hunt down and seek revenge on his tormentors. The film then abandons Arnie – positioning him as the antagonist, under the influence of his car – and switches back to the viewpoint of Dennis, who defeats Christine and saves the film’s only lead female (this film does not pass the Bechdel test), Leigh (Alexandra Paul, who would later play the virgin Connie Swails in 1987’s Dragnet, before finding fame on TV’s Baywatch), from the murderous car.

Where Escape From New York and The Thing were high on concept, but followed through spectacularly on their respective promises, Christine stalls as soon as the key is turned. Its saving grace, of course, is the soundtrack; a slow-burning synth score by Carpenter and his composing partner Alan Howarth.

Hit: The Rape

Hidden Gem: Moochie’s Death

Advertisements

Rocks In The Attic #604: Yes – ‘90125’ (1983)

RITA#604Is it wrong to feel a certain amount of shame for preferring this to the more celebrated Yes albums? Probably, but just listen to those awesome samples on Owner Of A Lonely Heart. It reminds me of the kind of thing John Barry was doing on the soundtracks to A View To A Kill and The Living Daylights – sampling in its infancy using a Fairlight synthesiser, already well-established from its use by Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Thomas Dolby.

Of course, diehard Yes fans will argue that this isn’t really a Yes album, but nobody’s really arguing. It’s a Yes album in name alone. Ex-Yes members Chris Squire (bass) and Alan White (drums) joined forces with founding Yes member Tony Kaye (keyboards) and a non-Yes player in Trevor Rabin (guitars / vocals). Even with three ex-Yes members, together with the production duties of ex-Yes vocalist Trevor Horn, they still didn’t feel confident to label the project under the Yes banner. They chose the name Cinema, not the greatest band name ever, but then again there’s been a lot worse.

However, when former Yes vocalist Jon Anderson joined the recording late in the process, there was too much history involved. And of course, the record company (Atco, a division of Atlantic Records) would have been chomping at the bit to get a new Yes album in the can, with a ready-made fan base.

The material couldn’t sound any different to the folky prog that Yes were known for. It’s very much a record of its time, sounding like the kind of BIG SOUNDING, generic American AOR that would be used on soundtracks to big Hollywood films. The finger pointing probably lands on Trevor Horn’s production more than anything else, as you could imagine a lot of the material played on analogue equipment in the previous decade. The use of the Fairlight, alongside Horn’s slick production turns it into something else.

Hit: Owner Of A Lonely Heart

Hidden Gem: Hold O

Rocks In The Attic #542: ZZ Top – ‘Eliminator’ (1983)

rita542I have a love / hate relationship with this record. On the one hand, I might not have discovered the joys of early ZZ Top if it weren’t for the global success of this 1983 multi-million seller. On the other hand, the change in approach to recording the album and its overall sound – vastly different to anything they had recorded previously – is sometimes a little too much to absorb.

The first four ZZ Top records – ZZ Top’s First Album, Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres and Fandango!­ – are, in my eyes, untouchable. Southern-fried, boogie blues, heavily influenced by the three Kings – B.B., Albert, and Freddie – the Texas trio developed their own sound across these records, and by 1979’s Degüello, had complimented this with guitarist Billy Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill’s iconic overgrown beards.

Eliminator, taking its cue from New Wave, was recorded with synthesisers, drum machines and sequencers which permeate the record. This wasn’t the first time they had experimented with this sort of technology though. On the band’s previous record, 1981’s El Loco, Gibbons had toyed around with a synth on a couple of tracks, and despite that album selling only half as much as its predecessor, it’s incredible that they utilised synths more, not less, on its follow-up.

Much of Eliminator was recorded at 124bpm, the tempo that considered perfect for dance music by the band’s associate Linden Hudson. An aspiring songwriter, former DJ and – at the time – drummer Frank Beard’s house-sitter, Hudson’s involvement in the recording of the album would come back to haunt them. Despite assisting Gibbons with the pre-production and developing of the material that would end up on both El Loco and Eliminator, his contribution wasn’t credited when either record was released. Not surprisingly, with Eliminator registering such a hit, Hudson sued the band. The case was settled in 1986, awarding $600,000 to Hudson and crediting him the copyright to just one of the record’s eleven songs, Thug.

I’ve written before about whether the approach – and marketing – of Eliminator can be deemed as the band ‘selling out’. When you consider the poor sales of El Loco, it doesn’t actually seem probable that the band were chasing sales by continuing to experiment with technology that was alien to them. Then you see the glossy MTV videos of this era of ZZ Top, and it’s difficult not to judge them on such a 180° change in direction.

Thankfully, the band appears to have left that era well and truly behind them. Over the last couple of decades, they’ve performed yet another u-turn, back in the direction they were originally heading. 2012’s La Futura showed the band returning to the swampy blues of their youth, but complimented by the songwriting maturity that they perfected over their MTV years. Thumbs up, and hitch-hiking thumb out, for this direction of ZZ Top.

Hit: Gimme All Your Lovin’

Hidden Gem: I Need You Tonight

Rocks In The Attic #511: Jasper Carrott – ‘The Stun – Carrott Tells All’ (1983)

RITA#511I have a couple of Jasper Carrott albums; this one, and Rabbits On And On And On….

Two’s more than enough. I don’t think I’ll bother buying any more.

Hit: Hong Kong

Hidden Gem: Virgin Voters

Rocks In The Attic #485: Ryuichi Sakamoto – ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence’ (1983)

RITA#485I really need more Japanese music in my collection. The two pieces I have – this and Tomoyasu Hotei’s Battle Without Honor Or Humanity (from the soundtrack to Kill Bill Vol. 1) – kick arse and leave me wanting more. I don’t know if it’s all as good as this; Yoko Ono’s oeuvre makes me think not, but I’d like to find out for myself.

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is perhaps my favourite David Bowie film; or at least my favourite where he has a substantial role. I’ve visited one of the locations in the film too. There’s a scene where he’s been reprimanded by a Japanese officer sat at a desk, near the front end of the film I think. It was filmed in Auckland’s Winter Gardens – I guess because of its vaguely Asian architecture – a place we visit every now and then to look at exotic plants and flowers.

One of the things I like about ‘80s film soundtracks is their use of synths and keyboards – as long as they’re used well. Where ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s soundtracks were mainly restricted to strings and brass, synths and keyboards really came to the fore in the late ‘70 and throughout the 1980s. Vangelis is the obvious thought here, but there are many others – David Dundas and Rick Wentworth’s score for Withnail & I and John Carpenter’s Escape From New York are a couple of specific examples, but anything touched by Tangerine Dream, Georgio Moroder or Harold Faltermeyer is a sure fire bet.

Of course synths can be bad. In the wrong hands, they can be terrible. There does seem to be a clear correlation between the quality of music dipping in the 1980s, and the proliferation of synths and keyboards. Any true musician knows how they can be used a crutch for somebody who isn’t necessarily musically skilled, and the ‘80s pop charts were full of such ‘artists’. Take a singer and a keyboard player, apply a thin layer of talent, a thick slice of cheese, and apply a liberal helping of Stock, Aitken and Waterman.

Hit: Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

Hidden Gem: Forbidden Colours

Rocks In The Attic #455: The Rolling Stones – ‘Undercover’ (1983)

RITA#455The Rolling Stones’ website claims that Undercover opens ‘with the epic Undercover Of The Night, every bit as political and experimental in sound and lyrics as Sympathy For The Devil’. This just proves that if the critics aren’t saying it, then make up your own plaudits. I’m on the fence myself. I know that it isn’t in the same league as Sympathy For The Devil – that’s a given – but I’m on the fence as to whether it’s any good or not.

On the one hand you have a band, now in their collective forties, trying their damndest to sound contemporary in the wake of the rise of the MTV generation. On the other hand you have a song that just…isn’t very good. The hook isn’t in a guitar riff, a melody line, or a catchy chorus; it’s in the production of the song. And who’s that down to? Mick? Maybe. Keith? Surely not. This has to be down to producer Chris Kimsey – the band’s former recording engineer, and the first outside producer that they had worked with since they parted ways with Jimmy Miller a decade earlier.

The album is also notable for being the starting point for Mick and Keith’s animosity that would see them bickering throughout the rest of the 1980s. No wonder they fell out. The record doesn’t sound like the Rolling Stones of old – and blues purist Richards evidently took a dislike to their fancy new sound. Maybe the Stones had to do this to stay alive though. Perhaps if Jagger hadn’t pushed the band into reinventing themselves, they might have split around this time.

Some might say that splitting up at this point would have been a good thing – they definitely didn’t record any more timeless rockers after this (the thirty-five year old Start Me Up from 1981’s predecessor Tattoo You was probably their last truly great song), but the jury’s still out. I’m not ignorant of the fact that they’ve very much in the pattern of retreading old ground by this record –  album closer It Must Be Hell might be a good song, one of the strongest on the album, but it’s just a mixture of Start Me Up and Honky Tonk Women.

I have to admit I’ve liked some of their more recent material though – Love Is Strong and You Got Me Rocking from 1994’s Voodoo Lounge was a particularly strong return to form, and they’re still providing a lot of joy to people by touring around the world every five or six years.

Is it enough though? Thirty five years is a long time…

Hit: Undercover Of The Night

Hidden Gem: It Must Be Hell

Rocks In The Attic #429: David Hentschel – ‘Educating Rita (O.S.T.)’ (1983)

RITA#429The old ball and chain regularly buys records from the local charity shop for art projects. She’s been making record dividers recently for a guy who commissioned her to make some for his collection. Usually she brings home the type of naff you’d expect – Nana Mouskouri, Max Bygraves, and country and western compilations “as seen on TV’. The other day I caught her about to use / destroy this record.

I’ve seen the film before, only once or twice and quite a while ago, but I couldn’t let a perfectly good soundtrack go to waste. I’ve since listened to it, and it’s a great little upbeat, synth-driven score. David Hentschel, as well as being a producer for Trident Studios, was a sought-after session synth player throughout the ‘70s, most notably playing on Elton John’s Rocket Man and also the synth-heavy Funeral For A Friend from the awesome Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album.

Production-wise, the soundtrack doesn’t sound too far away from something like the score to Withnail & I, another gem of the British film industry released around the same time. I must try and watch Educating Rita again – remind myself that assonance means getting the rhyme wrong.

Hit: Educating Rita

Hidden Gem: Franks Theme Pt. 1 (A Dead, Good Poet)