Tag Archives: Classic Albums

Rocks In The Attic #440: Fleetwood Mac – ‘Rumours’ (1977)

RITA#440I saw Fleetwood Mac last night – a very wet, rainy night in Auckland to tick another band off my list. Outdoor concerts are always a risk, especially at this time of the year but a couple of bright pink ponchos (they only had pink left!) from the $2 shop were a lifesaver. When I put them on the counter to pay, the Asian lady on the till said “Ahh, you go concert!” so they must have done a run on them yesterday, hence why they only had pink ones left.

Any band that throw away something so fantastic as The Chain as their opening number must be something special. They absolutely caned Rumours for their first four songs – following The Chain with You Make Loving Fun, Dreams and Second Hand News – and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they had only ever recorded one album. In fact, by the end of their set, they only left two songs unplayed off this monster of a record – I Don’t Want To Know and Oh Daddy.

I’ve loved Rumours ever since I saw the album being picked apart on the first run of Classic Albums. That first bunch of albums covered by the show – Electric Ladyland, Graceland, Who’s Next, The Band – were an education, and the Fleetwood Mac episode was just as eye-opening. At that point in time (the early ‘90s), the band hadn’t yet reformed for The Dance so it looked unlikely that I’d ever get to see the band play live. They seem to have been touring non-stop ever since The Dance though, so it was only a matter of time.

Since 1998, Christine McVie hasn’t been playing with them, so I’ve been holding off – who wants to go and see a band who can’t play a third of their songs? Thankfully, she renounced her retirement from touring last year, and I finally got to see all five of them together.

Last night was a great concert – despite being sat up in the cheap seats with the riff-raff, in the pouring rain. Even Lorde was there (the closest thing to New Zealand rock royalty), braving the elements with her parents. At one point, a Facebook photo of Richie McCaw posing with his wife looking out from one of the corporate boxes buzzed through the crowd.

My favourite moment, other than the always awesome Tusk was the choruses of Little Lies – a blast of ‘80s pop brilliance where all three vocalists sing together. I was singing along with Lindsey Buckingham’s part at the end of each line – probably my favourite snippet of backing vocals from that entire decade.

Hit: Go Your Own Way

Hidden Gem: Second Hand News

Rocks In The Attic #294: Nirvana – ‘Nevermind’ (1991)

RITA#294Like a lot of people my age, this was the first exposure I had to grunge music. At first, the very idea of grunge just didn’t appeal to me – a genre made up of scruffy guys with bad hair and lumberjack shirts. Then my friends kept playing Smells Like Teen Spirit, and the intro burrowed into my head like an earworm.

I have trouble listening to this record now. I can’t hear anything resembling punk or new wave anymore; all I can hear is the perfect production by Butch Vig – the fantastic separation of voice and instruments, and the rampant double-tracking on the vocals.

There’s a great episode of Classic Albums where Vig isolates the vocals on In Bloom and you can hear just how strong those vocal melodies are on the chorus – Cobain’s lead vocal double-tracked, and then supported by Dave Grohl’s backing vocals, also double-tracked. Vig convinced Cobain that this was a good idea because it’s something that John Lennon would have done. That in itself sounds like a million miles away from punk rock.

Of the two albums, I prefer In Utero as a piece of work, and always have done. The songwriting isn’t overshadowed by the production on that album; and despite that album being the soundtrack to Cobain’s suicide, there doesn’t seem to be as much hype and baggage to put up with. I do enjoy the second side of Nevermind though, when you get away from all the overplayed singles that are littered on the first side. The album just seems to breathe a little easier on that side.

Still, Nevermind holds a lot of memories for me, and always will. That crazy photo of the baby underwater is a beautiful image – and proof that classic album covers didn’t die out in the digital age. Even the blurry photo of the band (on the back of the record sleeve, but on the inlay of the CD if I remember correctly) brings a smile to my face. In fact, the whole production design of the album is pretty awesome – the album title written in a font to make it look like it’s floating on top of water, and the back cover made to look like shimmering sunlight refracted through the water of a swimming pool. I spent many an hour of my teens just looking at the album art, and at that age you read far too much into every little thing. It just seemed important.

Throughout my adolescence (in the UK) I encountered plenty of people who were anti-American. These people will eschew anything from that side of the Atlantic, while singing the praises of anything recorded by the British, just simply because it’s British. I’ve never really understood this musical racism, and some of my closest friends have been blighted by it.

I was asked once why would I want to listen to an American chap singing about killing himself, when I could listen to an Englishman sing about living forever?

The answer is simple – there’s more joy and energy in one line of a Kurt Cobain’s song than in a lifetime of Oasis records. I’ll take invention and imagination over mediocrity any day.

Hit: Smells Like Teen Spirit

Hidden Gem: Lounge Act

Rocks In The Attic #144: Joni Mitchell – ‘Blue’ (1971)

Rocks In The Attic #144: Joni Mitchell - ‘Blue’ (1971)This is one of those classic albums that is so well-known, but for all the right reasons. There is no pop hit on this album that might bring the casual listener to it, like Big Yellow Taxi on the earlier Ladies Of The Canyon. It’s hard then to decide what is the hit and what is the hidden gem on this album. I’d say All I Want has to be the hit. As the first song, this really says ‘Blue’ to me, more than any other song on the album, even the titular song. For a hidden gem on the album, I could pretty much choose every track. I’ve opted for California as I really like the super-slow fade-out at the end of the song, with Mitchell singing against Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel guitar (Stephen Stills and James Taylor also play on the album).

Blue was introduced to me through the first series of the Classic Albums TV programme, and it’s remained a favourite ever since. I prefer it to Ladies Of The Canyon as it works much better as one whole piece of work. Whereas Ladies Of The Canyon exists as a collection of songs, Blue is more cohesive with a number of themes that run throughout the album. The style of guitar playing she employs in All I Want and Carey are also highlights for me.

For some reason, listening to this reminds me of driving over Snake Pass, between Manchester and Sheffield. It’s funny that music does that. I’m presuming I was listening to the album during that journey once, and then on a repeat trip my subconscious reminded me of the association and I played it again, further cementing the connection between the two.

Hit: All I Want

Hidden Gem: California

Rocks In The Attic #139: Paul Simon – ‘Graceland’ (1986)

Rocks In The Attic #139: Paul Simon - ‘Graceland’ (1986)I recently watched Under African Skies, the documentary about the recording of Graceland which has been touring the film festival circuit over the past 18 months or so. The film marks the 25th anniversary of the album’s release, and has the usual talking heads interspersed with archive footage from the recording sessions.

One of the big talking points was Simon’s stealthily assembled recording sessions in South Africa, bypassing the cultural boycott of the country imposed by the ANC. It’s funny that the music industry often criticises Queen for playing concerts in South Africa at this time (a topic that really annoys Brian May when brought up in interviews), yet Paul Simon is almost universally applauded for collaborating with South African musicians and recording part of this album there. Did he collaborate or did he exploit them? He seems to have given co-writing credit wherever it’s due, but surely he seems to have become much, much richer – both financially and artistically – than them as a result.

I’m not sure which side of the fence I sit, and I don’t really like to tarnish art with politics, but the whole thing reeks of a certain duplicity. What isn’t in doubt is whether this is a good album or not. I think it’s fantastic, and it’s a refreshing change from the sludge of mid-‘80s solo albums released by rock stars from the ‘70s. I’ve loved the album ever since I saw it covered during the first series of Classic Albums. It quickly became a favourite, throughout college and university, and I’d always try to push onto other people.

If I had any criticisms at all, it would be the title of the song that lends its name to the album. Although it’s a fantastic song, and one of the album’s highlights, it just doesn’t fit right hearing about America, New York City and Elvis’ home when the rest of the album is so rooted in South Africa – both lyrically and musically. In the documentary Under African Skies, Simon recounts that it also didn’t make sense to him at the time, and that he always meant to the change the title of the song at least, but that no matter what he tried he just couldn’t change those words that fit so well. Perhaps it’s the counterpoint, between the subject matter of America and South Africa that actually makes it so interesting.

A couple of years ago I went to see Simon & Garfunkel in concert. I don’t know what I was expecting but they totally exceeded my expectations, and to this day it remains one of the best gigs I’ve been to. Halfway through their set, Paul Simon walked offstage for a short break while Art Garfunkel remained on stage with the band. I started to lose interest after he followed a fantastic version of Bridge Over Troubled Water with a new song he had recently written. Right then, as my guard was down, and I thought I’d witnessed the peak of their performance with songs like Old Friends and The Sound Of Silence, Paul Simon walked back onstage to do his solo piece and give Garfunkel a short break. He walked out to the middle of stage and pointed across to the piano-accordionist that had suddenly appeared, who in turn started the opening notes to The Boy In The Bubble. I’d never have believed I would have seen Paul Simon perform this song, so it was a very happy and welcome surprise.

Hit: You Can Call Me Al

Hidden Gem: The Boy In The Bubble