Tag Archives: Amy Winehouse

Rocks In The Attic #633: Ramin Djawadi – ‘Westworld (O.S.T.)’ (2016)

RITA#633It’s a hard life being a soundtrack nut. Last week, I was waiting online to order a copy of the score to Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter [spoiler alert – as the fourth instalment of eleven films, it was far from being the final chapter] from the always excellent Waxwork Records. At 2am, when I found out that the record was going on sale in the USA at the equivalent of 5am NZ-time, I went to sleep for three short hours before waking up to place my order (a double LP in Tommy Jarvis blue & white swirl with green splatter), and then going back to sleep.

Last week I also received Waxwork’s repressing of John Harrison’s 1985 Day Of The Dead score in a lovely blood-smear double LP set; and earlier this morning, the postman brought me a trans-Pacific package from Newbury Comics, featuring John Carpenter and Allan Howarth’s score to Christine (1983), in a blue and gold split red splatter, and this, the soundtrack to HBO’s Westworld TV series, in blood red vinyl.

I have to admit, I was a little cautious when I heard that they were remaking Westworld into a television show. The 1973 sci-fi western is an old favourite of mine from when I would tape films off the TV in the middle of the night, and although a recent rewatch showed that it has dated quite a bit, you still don’t want TV companies from ruining something you hold in high regard.

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But it’s HBO we’re talking about – the company behind The Sopranos and The Wire, arguably the two best TV shows of the 21st century – so the subject matter would surely be in safe hands. Ultimately those hands belong to Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, as creators of the show. Jonathan Nolan has been an integral part of his brother Christopher’s work, co-writing Memento, the Dark Knight trilogy, The Prestige and Interstellar, so I was sold on his involvement alone.

Supported by an intriguing all-star cast (Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright), the show was very good, although structurally it felt a little too unbalanced with its numerous narrative twists all taking place in the last couple of episodes. Nolan and Joy have suggested that the show will run to five seasons, so if anything, the groundwork has been laid for some more cerebral television.

My favourite aspect of the show however, was the music. Not only does Ramin Djawadi’s score give us a lovely bit of cello in the ominous title theme, but the real aural treat is the show’s diagetic music. Played on a pianola, the anachronistic soundtrack features honky-tonk piano renditions of Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun, the Stones’ Paint It Black, the Animals’ arrangement of House Of The Rising Sun, Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, the Cure’s A Forest, and Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees, No Surprises and Exit Music (For A Film).

Hit: Main Title Theme – Westworld

Hidden Gem: Black Hole Sun

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Rocks In The Attic #444: Stone Temple Pilots – ‘Shangri-La Dee Da’ (2001)

RITA#444.jpgScott Weiland, vocalist for Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, was found dead on his tour bus a few days ago. Like most of his fans, I wasn’t surprised, just disappointed. When celebrities die young, there’s usually some aspect of shock, but Weiland – like Amy Winehouse some years ago – provoked no such response. Sadly, it always seemed to be very much a case of when, not if.

Stone Temple Pilots were easily my favourite American band of the ‘90s. I first fell in love with Vaseline and Interstate Love Song from their second, self-titled LP in 1994. Weiland’s baritone vocals and the band’s Zeppelin-esque brand of rock were a nice antidote to the ‘too punk to learn our instruments’ aesthetic that evolved out of the grunge movement. Their cover of Zeppelin’s Dancing Days from the Encomium tribute album sealed the deal. These were guys who had a love and respect for the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Once I’d digested the singles from that second album – known to all as Purple – I went back to check out their first record, 1992’s Core. I have a firm memory of standing at a bus-stop in the freezing cold on Boxing Day 1994, listening to the opening intro of Dead & Bloated on my Discman. Man, it’s a heavy album. Not the type of heaviness you’d hear at the time from the likes of Pantera and Sepultura, but a heaviness that was steeped in the radio-friendly sound of classic rock. The thing that distanced them from those post-Metallica bands was the empty spaces between the DeLeo brothers’ guitars and Eric Kretz’s drums. STP weren’t rushing anywhere; most of their songs were mid-tempo and Brendan O’Brien’s production focused just as much on the light as the shade.

Then it all started to go wrong. Third album Tiny Music…Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop was doomed from the start. Released without anyone taking a lot of notice, Weiland’s drug problems outshined the record despite killer singles in Big Bang Baby and especially Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart.

After album number three, I turned off. No. 4 and Shangri-La Dee Da were released in 1999 and 2001 and I didn’t even notice. I’ve only just bought them in the last year or so to complete my collection. I do regret not hearing them at the time, but I’d moved on.

In 2010 my ears pricked up again. After a lengthy hiatus while Weiland was the faux-Axl Rose in Velvet Revolver, Stone Temple Pilots reformed and recorded another self-titled album. I didn’t think much of the material – too much water had passed under the bridge – but the album spurned a tour which reached New Zealand.

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Scott Weiland 27/10/67 – 03/12/15

I couldn’t believe I was seeing one of my favourite bands play live. They had avoided touring overseas back in the ’90s, for the same reasons that Aerosmith stayed in the USA during the ‘70s – addicts will always want to stay close to their dealer and not risk carrying anything over borders. Here they were, playing all my favourite STP songs, and when they dropped Crackerman just a couple of songs into the set, I could have left right there and then, a happy man.

Like most, I was concerned at Weiland’s recent woeful attempt to sing one of STP’s better known songs, Vaseline, with his new band (a video comparing the performance to when he could really belt it out is just horrible to watch). But there were the danger signs right there. He didn’t look like he should have been out in public; let alone showcasing his new band on TV. I’ll prefer to remember him in his element, blasting out Plush at the 1993 MTV Movie Awards.

Hit: Days Of The Week

Hidden Gem: A Song For Sleeping

Rocks In The Attic #438: Amy Winehouse – ‘Frank’ (2003)

RITA#438I finally watched the Amy documentary last night. Well, we watched everything but the last twenty minutes as we were both so tired. I’m holding out hope that when we watch the last twenty minutes tonight, that she’s going to be okay but I know full well how the story ends. Who in the world doesn’t?

When the documentary first came out, there seemed to be a lot of misplaced guilt around people feeling sorry that they joked and laughed about Winehouse when she was still alive and going through her various troubles with drugs and alcohol. That’s just human nature, isn’t it? We like to laugh at drunks. If Keith Richards died of a drug overdose tomorrow, would there be a similar response, collectively asking ourselves why we didn’t step in over those so many years? I blame Jagger; he’s clearly an enabler.

I first read about Winehouse in a magazine interview she gave to promote Frank. She was responding to criticism she had received around comments she made to the effect that she didn’t listen to Miles Davis because he was too intense. Shock horror! How could a musician in the public eye – a jazz singer of all things – have the audacity to say that she doesn’t like Miles Davis?

I like Frank more and more each time I hear it. It definitely isn’t Back To Black, it’s too meandering for a start, but there’s still something there – a hint of what would be possible with a better bunch of songs and a switched-on producer in Mark Ronson.

Hit: Stronger Than Me

Hidden Gem: You Sent Me Flying

Rocks In The Attic #307: Lorde – ‘Pure Heroine’ (2013)

RITA#307Last Wednesday night I stood on Auckland’s waterfront and watched a homecoming gig by a 17-year old New Zealander who had just won two Grammys in Los Angeles a couple of days before. As far as expecting to see things like this happen again, I think seeing Halley’s Comet before we’re next due to would be more likely.

Without consciously meaning for it to be, Lorde’s Pure Heroine has been the soundtrack of my summer – just like Tame Impala’s Lonerism was the soundtrack of my winter last year. I’d like to think I’d rate her without all the hype, but then again I can’t imagine I would have heard any of her music without it.

I remember seeing the first photo of her – a publicity photo in The Listener sometime in late 2012 or early 2013. She was just a cute girl (steady…) with nice hair, sat next to a dog and a couple of words about her being someone to watch out for. But the press is always full of next big things – if you always listened to journalists about these things, you’d be constantly let down.

Then all of a sudden, Royals is #1 in the US charts for nine weeks, and then at the top of the UK charts. The scary thing though was the sheer amount of whacky covers of the song that popped up on YouTube; and then of course New Zealand’s tall poppy syndrome rears its ugly head and she starts to be shot down online and in the press. You’d think music critics (and musos in general) who usually champion New Zealand music would welcome her success, but no, they’re happier supporting the likes of Anika Moa and Dave Dobbyn. In New Zealand, it’s considered successful if you’re famous in New Zealand and New Zealand only.

On Wednesday night’s concert, she rolled out album-opener Tennis Court mid-set. It’s my favourite song on the album and every time I hear it, I always think the world’s got it wrong with Royals. Part of the success of that song must surely be the fact that it’s essentially a nursery rhyme – I mean, we can’t expect the American record-buying public to have sophisticated tastes, can we? Remember, this is the country that gave us Foreigner and Toto.

But for me, Tennis Court is where it’s at. In fact, I wouldn’t have bought the album had I not seen the awesome minimalist music video for that song. Royals may have alerted the world to Lorde, but Tennis Court shows that she can produce music that’s world-class. The rest of the album is pretty strong too. I wouldn’t say that Joel Little’s production sounds particularly cutting-edge; if anything, it sounds like early-2000s downbeat electronica out of the UK – think Zero 7; but the centrepiece is Lorde’s voice, and while she may not be as retro-sounding as Amy Winehouse, Duffy or Adele, there’s still something special about her.

One little thing I like about the production on the album is its cyclical beginning and end – with ‘Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk’ the first line on the album, and ‘Let ‘em talk’ the final line. I love that sort of thing, very Roger Waters at the end of The Wall – ‘Isn’t this where we came in?’

I guess we now have to sit back and see what Ella Yelich-O’Connor does next. I do agree that she’s currently the antidote to the Miley Cyruses and Katy Perrys of the world, so hopefully she’ll continue down that path and avoid the pitfalls of glamour and celebrity.

Hit: Royals

Hidden Gem: A World Alone

Rocks In The Attic #248: Amy Winehouse – ‘Back To Black’ (2006)

RITA#248I remember Amy Winehouse coming onto my radar with her first album, Frank. I don’t think I ever heard any songs from that album – or at least I don’t remember them If I did – but I definitely read a few interviews with her when she was promoting it. The music press was touting her at the time – together with the initially promising, but consequently disappointing Joss Stone (ugh) – as the saviour of British soul music.

From the sounds of it, Frank didn’t set the world on fire, but some time later I heard Rehab, prior to its release and it hit me like a thunderbolt. I even remember being so enamoured with it – just the sheer Etta James-ness of it – that I emailed friends and told them they had to listen to it.

Rehab makes the list of my top 5 favourite songs of the 2000s. You could say that if Amy is just doing an Etta James impression, then why don’t I just listen to an Etta James record? Okay, I will. But I’ll still listen to Amy Winehouse. You can’t trademark a vocal style, and Amy brings a whole load of other things to the table. Mark Ronson also needs a lot of credit, I think, for producing her and managing to make her sound not only retro and contemporary, but more importantly relevant, without falling into the ‘easy listening’ trap that other ‘retro’ sounding female vocalists fall into. I’m talking to you, Anastacia and Gin Wigmore…

It’s always sad when an addict dies, and it always feels sadder when said addict is young and talented. I recently read a quote from one of Amy’s pre-fame friends who was saying that when she was a struggling musician, Amy was always going on about the classic soul album that she was going to make one day, and even though she didn’t make many albums (two studio albums only), Back To Black is pretty close to what she used to describe, in terms of sound and feel. I’m happy about that.

I was fortunate enough to see Amy Winehouse play at Glastonbury when she was promoting Back To Black. She had a crack band of musicians including Blues Brother Tom “Bones” Malone on trumpet,  but the one thing that I first noticed about her when she walked on stage was how tiny she was – and we’re talking Prince Rogers Nelson-tiny here – but with a remarkable beehive that was almost equal to her body length.

My friend Shelley has a great joke on that subject: Where is Amy Winehouse’s favourite London Underground station? High Barnet!

Hit: Rehab

Hidden Gem: Back To Black

Rocks In The Attic #200: Radiohead – ‘The Bends’ (1995)

RITA#200The 200th post in this blog celebrates an album that is probably more important to the development of my musical tastes than any other album in my collection.

In the early ‘90s, when I discovered music for myself – and discovered bands like Aerosmith and AC/DC (that I couldn’t care less if other people liked or not) – I was very much into rock music. I naively thought all other genres of music were a waste of time. I either liked contemporary rock, or classic rock, with a touch of metal and grunge thrown in for good measure.

I then went to University, joined the Rock Society club and found other like-minded people. The rest of the time, I would be drinking in pubs with my classmates, usually dressed in an AC/DC or Led Zeppelin t-shirt, with my shoulder-length long hair; and my classmates would be dressed like normal people. Ugh, who wants to be normal people?

Around this time, and from the time I started listening to music, Indie and Britpop were my enemy. This is partly the fault of the hype surrounding Oasis, and partly the fault of those normal people all around me, like the red-headed chick a year above me in college who just couldn’t fathom that I wasn’t going to the big Oasis gig at Maine Road later that night. Britpop was a club that I didn’t want to join, full of bands like Pulp, who sang about twee nonsense whilst mincing around a stage littered with kitsch charity-shop junk. “Jarvis is really a fantastic social commentator,” I would be told. That’s strange, I thought, he looks like a collector of chintz, singing mediocre songs, backed by a band of average musicians.

(I guess that’s the point I still agree with today. If you listen to rock music, you tend to listen to a better pedigree of musician. The lines have blurred completely, because rock music is now so mainstream, and has been for the past decade, but when I think back to the 1990’s, the Indie or Britpop bands were full of musicians who just couldn’t really play. Noel Gallagher may have started off as a decent songwriter – although it pains me to say it – but his skills on the guitar are very basic. Listen to him solo and he plays the same pentatonic scale every single time. Compare him to somebody like Slash, and there’s just no contest. You may think it’s an unfair comparison, but players like Slash aren’t that uncommon in rock music.)

Anyway, I digress. So, there I am at University, in my second year I think, and it’s getting a little tired listening to rock music all the time. It’s not like I had run out of rock bands to listen to, but there was definitely nothing decent that was coming out by contemporary bands. Bright young rock hopes like The Wildhearts had lost their way and gone all industrial, and Terrorvision had gone completely mainstream, singing about Tequila on Top Of The Pops every week. Then one day I was in the Scream pub in Huddersfield, and somebody put Just by Radiohead on the jukebox.

My whole outlook on music changed instantly. Here was an Indie or a Britpop band, playing something that was just as musically interesting as anything that I had heard in rock music – either in contemporary rock music or in classic rock. I rushed out and bought the album straight away.

Just was clearly the best song on the album, accompanied by a great music video, but there was some other really good stuff on there too. I very quickly bought Pablo Honey (average, but with a couple of highlights) and OK Computer (overrated, but with a couple of highlights), but The Bends remained my favourite (and still does to this day).

The rest of my years at University were spent digesting everything I could by Radiohead. I even remember buying one of those cheaply produced interview discs with the band, just because my appetite for anything related to them was so strong.

Their lasting effect on my musical tastes is impossible to quantify. I made a huge left turn from my existing staid music collection, and turned almost wholeheartedly into Indie and Britpop. I started listening to some bad examples of the genre (Cast, Space, Bis, etc), but found plenty of modern classics there too (The Las, Blur, Supergrass, etc). This eye-opening led to a decision that I’m still in two minds about today. In the summer of 1999, I decided against seeing Aerosmith headline a day of rock bands at Wembley Stadium, in favour of travelling to my first of many Glastontonbury festivals.

I guess it was just bad timing, but I still partly regret not seeing Aerosmith that weekend. One of my friends went to that gig, and when he told me about the setlist they played, full of ‘70s classics they had avoided playing in the three times I had seen them up to that point, I immediately started kicking myself. But then when I think back to Glastonbury 1999, and all the bands I saw not only that year, but every year I went back up to and including 2007, it’s not really a fair comparison.

If I had seen Aerosmith at Wembley Stadium in 1999, I would have seen my favourite ever band, supported by the likes of Lenny Kravitz (who I was lucky enough to catch that same weekend at Glastonbury) and The Black Crowes (who I still haven’t managed to see live). By deciding to go to the Glastonbury festival that year, and over the next six Glastonburys I went to, I managed to see David Bowie, Radiohead, R.E.M., Manic Street Preachers, Suzanne Vega, The White Stripes, Super Furry Animals, Oasis, The Who, Paul McCartney, Muse, Doves, Coldplay, Air, The Chemical Brothers, The Bluetones, Fatboy Slim, Kings Of Leon, Moby, The Killers, Blondie, Amy Winehouse, and a whole lot more.

Radiohead almost lost me with OK Computer, but they definitely lost me after that. At one point, I remember seeing them play a live gig on TV, I think to promote Kid-A. At one point during the set, Jonny Greenwood took off his guitar and walked over to a bank of portable TVs. He crouched down and started flicking through channels as part of the performance. That’s it, I thought, they’ve turned into something else.

I liked Radiohead as a guitar band, when they used to write songs on guitars. I’d even be brave enough to say The Bends is the best album of the 1990s.

Hit: Street Spirit (Fade Out)

Hidden Gem: Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was