Tag Archives: American Beauty

Rocks In The Attic #798: The Grateful Dead – ‘American Beauty’ (1970)

RITA#798One of New Zealand’s better radio stations is The Sound, broadcasting on 93.8FM in Auckland. The station was originally called Solid Gold, catering for ‘60s and 70’s music, until their core audience presumably died off and stopped listening. In 2012, it rebranded as The Sound, concentrating on classic rock (i.e. Dad rock) from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Their tagline is “We’ve got your record collection”, which sounds more like the beginnings of a ransom demand than a reason to tune in.

Earlier this year, I saw a competition posted to their Facebook page: “Here’s your chance to earn the ultimate ‘trainspotting’ title! If you can name all 20 albums correctly in this photo, we’re sending you some epic vinyl to add to your collection.” [I’ve included the photo here you can play along at home!]

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I looked at the image and could identify at least half of them at first glance. Most record collectors can identify the top two inches of an album cover with ease, from years of flicking though the racks of record shops, but trying to identify them from the LEFT two inches of the sleeve was much more difficult.

I spent the train home from work trying to figure out the ones I was missing. By the time I got home, I had all but 3 or 4. I asked a couple of friends for help, as I suspected that the ones I hadn’t got were alien to me. Moo helped me on one of them (#2), but I was stuck on the rest. By the end of the night, I had just two left to get – #6 and #11.

My cunning wife managed to find out #6 – an album more famous in my current corner of the world than anywhere else, and so I was left with #11. At first, I thought this was the Beach Boy’s Endless Summer, one of those great hand-drawn covers of the 1970s. Eventually, I thought of a solo artist famous for having hand-drawn covers, and traced it back to the band he was originally in. Phew, after six or so stressful hours, I submitted my entry and went to sleep.

I didn’t hear anything else about the competition for a number of weeks. Then, one day I spotted a new comment addressed to me on the original Facebook post: “Congratulations! You will be taking home a few of the albums that feature in this competition. Thank you for all of your entries. Watch this space to see if you’ll be the next Acoustic Sunrise Trainspotter.”

Great! I still don’t know whether I was just the first person to get them all correct, or if it was just a random hat-pull of the correct entries. And there was no mention of what I had won. The wording of the competition was quite vague; it didn’t say whether there’d be one winner, or many, or indeed what the winner/s would receive.

When I finally heard from the radio station, they declared me the ‘ultimate vinyl trainspotter’ (their words, not mine) and said I had won a 5 x LP package. They sent the first four in one package: Bob Dylan’s Street Legal and the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, neither of which I had in my collection, together with Talking Head’s Talking Heads: 77 and Boz Scagg’s Silk Degrees, both of which I did have. All four were brand new sealed reissues. I put the Talking Heads and Boz Scaggs records to one side, to re-gift at a later date.

The fifth and final LP they were to send me was Led Zeppelin’s debut. The radio station then emailed and said there was a delay, and asked would I prefer a copy of Led Zeppelin II instead, as they had that one in stock. I didn’t mind, I have all the studio albums anyway, but I was just hoping that whatever they sent me would be one of the latest reissues with the bonus material. The parcel arrived this morning; it was a copy of Led Zeppelin IV, not II – I guess the people who work at radio stations don’t necessarily need to know anything about the artists they play – but thankfully it was the recent reissue with the bonus disc of alternate mixes. Brilliant!

In terms of the Grateful Dead, I’ve probably eaten more Cherry Garcia ice cream in my life than I have listened to Jerry and his band. I couldn’t even hum one of their songs. I don’t hold anything against them personally, but I think the barrier for me is their fans. I think I may have an allergy to tie-dye, as the very sight of it turns my stomach. When I think of the Grateful Dead, I just think of old, skeletal hippies with long grey hair, grooving on down to some indeterminable sludgy rock;  waves of fans, appearing at baseball stadiums in beat-up old winnebagos to watch the band do their thing above a small fleet of microphones, each recording the concert for bootleg releases that nobody will ever listen to.

Turns out I needn’t be afraid. Listening to American Beauty, their fifth studio album, they sound a lot like Crosby, Stills & Nash crossed with the Band. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t anything this tuneful and melodic. I think I was expecting LSD-fuelled 17-minute guitar solos that go nowhere. Maybe they came later in their careers?

Hit: Truckin’

Hidden Gem: Candyman

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Rocks In The Attic #608: Various Artists – ‘True Romance (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#608.jpgIn the early 1990s, director Tony Scott was handed a piece of gold dust. Quentin Tarantino, a cocky, young up-start had been circling Hollywood for a few years trying to develop his first script, True Romance. Tarantino decided to sell the script, and Warner Brothers snapped it up greedily. In hindsight it would have been too large a project for a first-time director anyway.

Instead Tarantino turned his attention to his next script, a simpler heist story called Reservoir Dogs. This would have been an easier film to pitch with him as director – the heist is never seen, only referred to, and much of the film takes place in one location.

By the time he was handed Tarantino’s script, Tony Scott was already a blockbuster director, arguably more commercially successful than his older brother Ridley. While Ridley had scored critical successes with Alien and Blade Runner, Scott had directed Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II and Days Of Thunder. His collaborations with super-producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer say more about his directing style than anything else.

True Romance then, becomes the lost Tarantino picture. His trademark dialogue is evident throughout the film – all pop-culture references and cooler than cool soundbites – but Scott’s input muddies the water somewhat. The cinematographers that Scott worked with throughout his ‘80s and ‘90s films had a very peculiar style. Lots of obtrusive close-ups, too many filtered interiors, and a very synthetic, staged camera set-up. By the time you get to something like 1996’s The Fan, the cinematography is so overbearing that the film is practically unwatchable.

Looking back, True Romance has one of the greatest ensemble casts of all time, featuring several actors who would go onto bigger things. Joining leads Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette were Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pinchot, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Samuel L. Jackson and a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini.

RITA#608aThe soundtrack also differs from most Tarantino films in that it has both a pop soundtrack and an original score, by Hans Zimmer (the only soundtrack of Tarantino’s to mix pop songs with an original score is The Hateful Eight). Zimmer’s score is delightful – practically a proto-Thomas Newman score before he rewrote the rulebook on esoteric, oddball soundtracks with 1996’s American Beauty.

Some of the pop songs wouldn’t be out of place on a Tarantino soundtrack. Charlie Sexton’s Graceland, Robert Palmer’s (Love Is) The Tender Trap and Chris Isaak’s Two Hearts feel like they belong in QT’s record collection, but mediocre tracks like Charles & Eddie’s Wounded Bird and John Waite’s In Dreams reminds you that this really is just a typical run of the mill blockbuster soundtrack, and wasn’t curated in any way by Tarantino. Even Soundgarden’s Outshined sounds a little too obvious. The absence of Aerosmith’s The Other Side – presumably due to rights reasons – is personally disappointing, but it would have just dated the soundtrack even more.

Hit: Outshined – Soundgarden

Hidden Gem: Graceland – Charlie Sexton