Tag Archives: Don Was

Rocks In The Attic #828: The Backbeat Band – ‘Backbeat (O.S.T.)’ (1994)

RITA#828One of my favourite soundtracks from the 1990s, from my favourite Beatles biopic, it was a touch of genius to put a contemporary band together to record these early Beatles favourites.

Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum) and Greg Dulli (The Afghan Whigs) share lead vocals, Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) and Don Fleming (Gumball) provide vocals, Mike Mills (R.E.M.) plays bass and Dave Grohl (Nirvana) completes the band on drums. In fact, it’s the last Nirvana-related release before the death of Kurt Cobain just four weeks later.

The film, directed by Iain Softley, feels very Hollywood, despite it being a UK / German co-production, and it reeks of the ‘90s with heartthrob Stephen Dorff in the lead role as the doomed Stuart Sutcliffe. The script is effervescent, and the casting is superb, but it is Ian Hart’s uncanny turn as the acerbic John Lennon that stands out (the second of three times he has played the character).

RITA#828aThe Backbeat Band play a selection of covers the Beatles played in their Hamburg days – no expensive licensing required here – and they’re belted out with gusto. There’s just enough reverence for the songs, and the late ‘50s era of rock and roll, to prevent the songs from descending into a grunge-fest. It was great to see them play a couple of these songs live at the 1994 MTV Music Awards, followed by a heavy cover of the White Album’s Helter Skelter.

The final shot of this film, showing Sutcliffe and Lennon and their respective girlfriends (Sheryl Lee as Astrid Kirchherr and Jennifer Ehle as Cynthia Powell) playing in the twilight on a German beach is a deeply evocative moment of 1990’s filmmaking. The first screams of Liverpool’s Beatlemania fade away, replaced by the stark guitar and piano of Don Was’ score. Slowly, the intertitle text tells of cruel twisting of fate around Sutcliffe and Lennon’s doomed friendship:

Stuart Sutcliffe died of a brain haemorrhage in Hamburg on April 10th 1962. His legacy is a highly acclaimed collection of paintings that has been exhibited all over the world.

That same year, Pete Best left the Beatles and was replaced by Ringo Starr, on December 17th they entered the charts with “Love Me Do”. The following year, the McCartney / Lennon song “I Want To Hold Your Hand” sold 13 million copies worldwide.


They went on to top the U.S. charts a record 20 times and remain today the biggest selling pop group of all time.

Klaus Voorman designed the cover of the Beatles’ 1966 “Revolver” album. After the break-up of the Beatles in 1970 he joined John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, playing bass on the “Imagine” album.

Today Astrid Kirchherr’s photographs are recognised as the definitive record of the Beatles in Hamburg, and her visual ideas influenced the Beatles’ “look” throughout the sixties. She now lives happily in Hamburg.

On December 8th 1980 John Lennon was shot dead in New York City.

Hit: Twist And Shout

Hidden Gem: Bad Boy

RITA#828b

Rocks In The Attic #722: The B-52’s – ‘Cosmic Thing’ (1989)

RITA#722The B-52’s fifth studio album, Cosmic Thing, has just been reissued for this year’s Record Store Day – Black Friday event. It’s a nice little release, on rainbow-coloured vinyl to match the album’s cover art.

Cosmic Thing marks a point of transition in the B-52’s career. Up to this point, they had been a quirky new-wave act, a cross-breed of surf-rock and thrift-store aesthetic. They looked and sounded like they had walked out of a John Waters film, and aside from a #1 single in Canada, they had barely troubled the pop charts.

In 1985, the band lost original guitarist Ricky Wilson to AIDS-related illnesses, and drummer Keith Strickland took over guitar duties. The last album they recorded with Wilson, 1986’s Bouncing Off The Satellites, reached #85 in the US album charts – a new low for the band – and you might have been forgiven for thinking that the band’s days were numbered.

A new record contract with Reprise led to the band’s resurgence, and they delivered Cosmic Thing in June 1989. With production duties shared between Nile Rodgers (6 songs) and Don Was (4 songs), the album sounds bigger and slicker than anything they had put out previously, and commercial reception was similarly positive.

The album reached #4 in the US, #8 in Canada and the UK, and #1 in Australia and New Zealand. Singles Love Shack and Roam both reached #3 in the US Billboard Top 200, and the more ubiquitous of the two, Love Shack hit #2 in the UK, and took the top spot in Australia, Ireland and New Zealand.

One has to wonder what level of influence Nile Rodgers had on the guitar sound of the album – his clean, funky guitar tone is all over the record (although he only plays on one track), and Love Shack benefits greatly from the production of Don Was, sounding more like a madcap Was Not Was offcut than the more two-dimensional output of the B-52’s first four records.

The B-52’s will always make me smile. They’re a fun band anyway, but two reasons specifically stand out for me. Firstly, vocalist Kate Pierson has one of the best female singing voices of the 1980s. Powerful, raucous, and lush, it’s hard to imagine R.E.M. crossing over into the mainstream as effortlessly as they did without her contributions to 1991’s Out Of Time (on Shiny Happy People, Near Wild Heaven and Me In Honey).

The other reason I love the B-52’s is for one of the best male singing voices of the 1980s – Fred Schneider. Fred’s campy, over-enunciated hollering over the band’s work is truly unique and has provided much amusement over the years as I’ve walked around the house randomly shouting “Funky little shack…FUNKY little shack.”

Hit: Love Shack

Hidden Gem: Dry County

B-52's & Wilson, Cindy & Pierson, Kate & Strickland, Keith & Sch