Tag Archives: Bob James

Rocks In The Attic #659: Bob James – ‘H’ (1980)

RITA#659What’s this? Bob James is hooked on heroin and has written a concept album about the trials and tribulations of his addiction? How can he even play keyboards this well if he’s strung out on smack? “Hey, Bob, you missed the middle eight….Oh….Can somebody please wake Bob up? He’s nodding out again…”

As much as part of me would like to see a drug-addled Bob James – purely to see how insanely it might affect his brand of smooth jazz – I’m happy to report that he’s not a dope-fiend. The H of the title fits with his numbering system of his albums – this is studio album number eight, and ‘H’ is the eighth letter of the alphabet. We’re out of the 1970s now, and so we’re a few years past James’ career high of 1978’s Touchdown, but if there was ever a decade that was ready for the kind of music that he performs, it’s the 1980s.

‘H’ is also, of course, for hot dog – a very tasty looking one, from the looks of it. If only record covers were edible…

Hit: Snowbird Fantasy

Hidden Gem: The Walkman

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Rocks In The Attic #619: Bob James – ‘Sign Of The Times’ (1981)

RITA#619Here’s a sign of the times. I was watching Walter Hill’s 1978 heist film The Driver the other day; part of my ongoing fascination with Edgar Wright’s wonderful Baby Driver from this year. I was watching the film in bed on Saturday morning, and my four-year-old jumped into bed and started watching with me.

There’s a scene towards the end of the picture where Ryan O’Neal’s character steps into a phone-box in the train station to make a short call.

“Look – he’s getting into a lift,” Isobel said.

“No,” I said. “It’s a phone-box. He wants to call somebody.”

Thus began a short conversation around the wonders of modern technology, and the fact that in 1978 when you’re made arrangements with criminals, you couldn’t just call them on your Samsung Galaxy. She thought it was a lift / elevator simply because of its shape and the fact that he stepped inside it.

The simple phone-box has all but disappeared from our screens this century; it made a final death rattle in Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth from 2002. That film seemed like the last preposterous variation on the ‘peril within a space’ movie trope kicked off by 1987’s Die Hard (peril in a building), and copied by 1992’s Under Seige (peril on a boat), 1994’s Speed (peril on a bus) and countless others since.

Try and think of the last time a character in a film – set in the present day – made a call in a phone-box. It’s virtually impossible, simply because it just doesn’t happen anymore. But before the advent of cheap mobile phones around the turn of the century, it was commonplace.

The phone-box used to represent a form of safety. I’ll never forget the opening credits to television’s The Equalizer, when the panicked woman ran from an unseen antagonist into the illuminated security of a phone-box. And what would Bill & Ted have used as a time-travelling device if phone-boxes weren’t around? (We may find out the answer to that question if the long-rumoured third film ever gets made – perhaps it will be a smart-phone after all).

I’m not sure what any of this has to do with Bob James, but it saves me writing about those horrible photos of him inside the record’s gatefold cover.

Hit: Hypnotique

Hidden Gem: The Steamin’ Feeling

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Rocks In The Attic #579: Bob James & Earl Klugh – ‘One On One’ (1979)

RITA#579Whenever I see a Bob James record, I buy it. It’s one of my record store rules. Of course, I’m always chasing a better Bob James record than Touchdown, and I think I’ll always be chasing it as I’m not sure such a thing exists.

This record, which arrived in stores between James’ sixth (Touchdown) and seventh solo record (Lucky Seven), finds him collaborating with jazz guitarist Earl Klugh. It makes for a great combination as the two players compliment each other well. As with most of Bob James’ work, every song sounds like the theme-song for a late-‘70s / early-‘80s television show which you’ve never heard. Obviously that analogy doesn’t work for Touchdown’s Angela, the theme-song from Taxi, as that one you would have heard, but you get the point.

One of my favourite things about this record is the cover. I really wish designers would get a little more experimental in these sorts of things. Usually record covers are a photo of the band, or a pretty picture, but I really dig it when they’re designed to look like other things. The allure of the everyday. This matchbook design is great, and spoiled really only by the lettering of the artist and title (and on my copy, a big logo stating that it’s a half-speed mastered, audiophile pressing).

Hit: Kari

Hidden Gem: The Afterglow

Rocks In The Attic #313: Bob James – ‘Touchdown’ (1978)

RITA#313Smooth jazz! I bought this from the second-hand bookshop on Devonport’s pier. I’d actually seen it a few weeks earlier, but I went back and got it for $4 – a great price for a great album.

You have to watch yourself in that bookshop though. The shop is in two parts, one on each side of the main concourse through the pier. There’s an assistant behind a counter, but only in one of the stores – the other is unmanned. When I bought this record, I was in the unmanned side of the store, flicking though the vinyl crates and a lady walks in and says to me “I’d like to ask you about a book…”.  According to the other browser that was in there at the time, this happens quite regularly.

I owned up immediately and pointed her across the way to the owner of the shop, but maybe I should have tried to give her some literary advice. Next time, maybe.

I like how Bob James numbers his records – this is album number six so it’s called Touchdown because in American Football, a touchdown is worth six points. The previous album Heads features a nickel on the cover (being worth five cents) but the cleverness ended with the next album simply called Lucky Number Seven.

I used a snippet of Angela for the closing credits of the video I made around the birth of my first beautiful daughter. It’s always been one of my favourite TV themes, and the rest of the album is up to that standard. It may sound like porn music, but it’s still entrancing in an instrumental Steely Dan sort of way.

Hit: Angela (Theme From Taxi)

Hidden Gem: Touchdown