Tag Archives: 1983

Rocks In The Attic #802: Arthur B. Rubinstein – ‘Blue Thunder (O.S.T.)’ (1983)

RITA#802Another Roy Scheider film, coming shortly after post #792’s 2010 – The Year We make Contact. This time Roy takes his likable masculinity to the skies of Los Angeles. He plays Frank Murphy, a police helicopter pilot charged with looking after rookie flight-engineer Richard Lymangood (played by a fresh-out-of-the-womb Daniel Stern). There’s something not quite right about Murphy though. He spends a lot of time in the locker room, pre-shift, with his eyes shut as he times himself against his digital watch. IT’S VIETNAM, MAN! YOU DON’T KNOW, YOU WEREN’T THERE!

RITA#802aMurphy and Lymangood spend their time in the air peeping at a naked chick doing yoga in her living room, before they’re rudely interrupted by having to do some actual work. A city councilwoman is murdered in a seemingly random murder, and Murphy starts investigating it himself.

Meanwhile, Malcolm McDowell’s Colonel Cochrane turns up with a prototype military helicopter – codename: Blue Thunder – presumably named after x-rated flatulence. Murphy and Lymangood are tasked with testing the new helicopter, which has been developed for riot control at the 1984 Olympics. Things are not as they seem, and the film finds Murphy battling Cochrane in the skies in the thrilling finale.

I have a strong memory of watching Blue Thunder on video when it was first released, which would place me around the age of five. Something happens to Daniel Stern’s character mid-way through the movie, and I definitely remember being shielded from the scene by a parent who was starting to figure out that the film’s ‘15’ rating was justified. Aside from this bit of nastiness, the rest of the film is an easy-going thriller, with aspects of gung-ho heroism. Directed by John Badham and co-written by Dan O’Bannon, it prefaces the late-1980s action-thriller boom at the hands of producers like Joel Silver.

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The soundtrack score, composed, conducted and produced by Arthur B. Rubinstein is fantastic, expertly making use of the Synclavier II alongside Moog, Jupiter and Prophet analogue synths. The main title feels like one of the great, lost action themes of the 1980s, and definitely deserves a listen if you’ve never heard it.

In terms of casting, McDowell’s character may be a cartoon cut-out but Roy Scheider and Daniel Stern are so damn affable, it’s a shame the film didn’t lead to a sequel. If it had been made five years later, it probably would have led to a franchise. A short-lived TV spinoff (featuring Dana Carvey in the flight-engineer role) aired for one season in 1984 before being overshadowed by the sleeker Airwolf, which took off in the same year, eventually running for 4 four seasons and eighty episodes.

Hit: Main Title / Dusting

Hidden Gem: Thermographics

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Rocks In The Attic #675: Elton John – ‘Too Low For Zero’ (1983)

RITA#675‘You can never know what it’s like,’ he thought, as he drove into Cannes. The French town was cold at this time of year, and the rental company had really shafted him with a convertible. Although the sun was shining, his blood, like winter, was freezing just like ice.

He was here to defend his title in the world human dominoes championships. As a measure of his popularity, a helicopter from the local news station was following his car, to document his arrival. While the duties of fatherhood had taken him away from the sport for the past 7 years, he was back with a vengeance. The prospect of some time away from his son was an added bonus he was looking forward to.

Driving along the tree-lined Boulevard de la Croisette, it wasn’t immediately obvious where to park. A protest group, made up of dancers upset over the championships had blockaded the promenade. Thankfully, an overly helpful group of hotel bellhops pointed out a nearby parking space.

He approached the Hotel Carlton, dressed in his red three-piece suit and white pith helmet. He looked fantastic. He felt fucking fantastic. He wasn’t going to let these dancing idiots spoil his time here. Finding the concierge, he tipped him with a handful of glitter – a loaded gesture to symbolise the terrible service he had endured during his last stay there.

A few hours later, dressed in his trademark human dominoes kit of a tailcoat and straw boater, he stood on the beach, ready to break his world record. Nobody had ever attempted 22 human dominoes before. As a younger man, he’d managed 21 at 33, but he was older now. It just wasn’t possible.

With a single point of his finger, he did it! The record was broken! It wasn’t a coincidence that Hercules was his middle name. During a half-hearted celebratory dance, he looked across to his convertible and spotted his son sat in the driver’s seat, quickly trying to hide from view. He had stowed away. The little bastard!

The rest of the day was spent in negotiations with the protestors, who surrounded the newly crowned champion on the beach. In an attempt to pacify the angry mob, he changed into something more comfortable – a white tuxedo, and a cane – and spent time listening to their concerns.

Hit: I’m Still Standing

Hidden Gem: Too Low For Zero

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

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