Tag Archives: Jack White

Rocks In The Attic #538: Jack White – ‘Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016’ (2016)

rita538Does the world need a collection of Jack White’s acoustic recordings? I’m not sure. The whole concept of a compilation album seems to be everything White stands against. It’s music for product. Remember, this is the guy who – in the early days of the White Stripes – never told the press anything truthful because he wanted to remain enigmatic.

Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016 is a double-LP collection of White’s acoustic-leaning songs with the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and assorted solo recordings. The real gems are the rarer songs taken from b-sides or soundtracks, and these leave you wanting more. I’d kill for an album worth of b-sides and unreleased material – a White Stripes Past Masters next please, Third Man Records.

The real gem of the album is City Lights, a previously unreleased leftover track from Get Behind Me Satan. Previous White Stripes collaborator Michel Gondry surprised White by filming a lovely little music video for the song, and only notified White’s Third Man records when it was completed.

At least it’s not just a straightforward ‘Best Of The White Stripes’ compilation. That really would be a little too hard to stomach. But we do get something almost as mawkish – a cover photo of him looking all moody, in monochrome of course. He looks like a handsome balladeer, and his mournful good looks probably wouldn’t look out of place next to this Christmas’ undoubtable Michael Bublé release.

The liner notes, by Greil Marcus – who else? – paints a picture of Jack White as the next in a long line of Delta blues guitarists, passing the torch down from the likes of Son House, Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James. Hmm…maybe…you think. But then you read the song credits and notice that White wrote one of the songs specifically for a Coca Cola commercial in 2006. Hmm…maybe not then.

Still, Jack White means a lot to me and always will. He was a key component in the shift back to the roots of rock music. After grunge, alternative rock became stagnant with nowhere to go, but then a couple of players – most notably the White Stripes and the Strokes – seemed to reset the dial.  They brought analogue recording back into the mainstream, and shorter, sharper running times of records; thirty minutes rather than the CD-bursting 50- or 60-minute snoozefests.

But I still can’t get over the fact that a compilation record just feels wrong for White…

Hit: Hotel Yorba

Hidden Gem: City Lights

Rocks In The Attic #400: Various Artists – ‘The Best Of James Bond – 30th Anniversary Collection’ (1992)

Bond 00A new Bond film – Spectre – is imminent, set to be released on the 6th of November 2015. To say that I’m looking forward to it is a major understatement. Hopefully it can restore my faith in the series, after the let-down of the appalling Skyfall – a Bond film for non-Bond film fans.

To celebrate the 400th Rocks In The Attic blog post, here are the twenty four* previous Bond themes, ranked from worst to best.

Bond 0(*Prior to Spectre, there are actually twenty three Bond films in the official series, but Dr. No doesn’t really have a theme song, other than Monty Norman’s original James Bond Theme, and that tune really belongs to all of the films. I’ve also included the themes to the two unofficial Bond films – the spoof Casino Royale from 1967, and 1983’s Never Say Never Again – because they’re well worth considering).

24. Die Another Day – Madonna (2002)

Bond 1Die Another Day is not only hands-down the worst Bond film, it also has the honour of having the worst theme song. If there’s one person who needs to stay away from films, it’s Madonna. The producers even gave her a part in the film! Her filmography reads like a criminal record. Body Of Evidence? Who’s That Girl? Swept Away? If you haven’t seen these films, keep it that way. Die Another Day was released in the midst of her attempt to reinvent herself as a British person, all flat caps and tweed jackets. Ugh. Pass the sick bucket.

23. For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton (1981)

Bond 2Carly Simon’s theme to The Spy Who Loved Me was such a hit in 1977 that the producers spent the early 1980s trying to replicate its success. This and the theme to the next film in the series, Octopussy, are some of the weakest Bond themes – all synths and dated atmospherics, about as far away as you can get from what a Bond theme should be. For Your Eyes loses more points for repurposing the title of the film into a cheesy double-entendre.

22. All Time High – Rita Coolidge (from Octopussy, 1983)

Bond 3I guess when you’re faced with a title like Octopussy, you’re going to need to change the name of the song. Nobody wants to hear somebody crowbar the words ‘hussy’ and ‘fussy’ just so that they can rhyme them with ‘Octopussy’. Or do they…? I’m not too sure what that song would be about, perhaps something along the lines of Bond not being particularly choosy about his women: With girls, he was never fussy / He’d take them all, any hussy / But the one that really took his eye / No word of a lie / Was Octopussy.

21. Tomorrow Never Dies – Sheryl Crow (1997)

Bond 4Just as the early-‘80s was a fallow period for good Bond themes, so was the late-‘90s. There’s nothing particularly offensive about Tomorrow Never Dies or The World Is Not Enough, but there’s nothing great about them either. They both sound like they’ve been written by a computer program designed to write Bond themes: Start. Open file. Insert menacing three-note ascending motif. Run.

20. The World Is Not Enough – Garbage (1999)

Bond 5David Arnold might have hit his stride now, but back in the ‘90s he was really struggling. John Barry left a big pair of shoes to fill (size 007s probably), and subsequently Arnold’s first few soundtracks seem to crumble under the pressure. His choice of theme-tune artist is a little strange for this one too. Garbage were indie darlings back in 1995, but by 1999 they were an afterthought. A less than exciting second album didn’t help, and their Bond song was released long after the honeymoon was over.

19. Casino Royale – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (from Casino Royale, 1967)

Bond 6Herb Alpert & The Marijuana Brass, more like. If you’ve never seen 1967’s Casino Royale, don’t bother. It’s a big, sloppy mess of a film. The music, however, is much better. Aside from Burt Bacharach’s The Look Of Love, performed by Dusty Springfield, you get this short, sharp slap of catchy ‘60s trumpet jazz. Although it’s one of the few highlights of the film, I’ve only rated it low down because it’s so far out of step with the rest of the theme songs.

18. You Know My Name – Chris Cornell (from Casino Royale, 2006)

Bond 7Getting the singer from Soundgarden to do a Bond song – for 2006’s Casino Royale – sounds like a fantastic move. Just listen to a song like Jesus Christ Pose from 1991’s Badmotorfinger – the guy can wail. So on paper, it sounds great. But the more memorable Bond themes have something – a certain je ne sais quoi, usually in the form of a hook or a riff, or a catchy chorus. This has nothing of the sort. In fact, it’s so forgettable it’s almost a black hole (sun) in my knowledge of Bond themes.

17. Goldeneye – Tina Turner (1995)

Bond 8Bono and the Edge wrote a fantastic film theme in 1995, just not for a Bond film. Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me was released as the theme to Joel Schumacher’s otherwise woeful Batman Forever. It’s everything a Bond theme should be – majestic, sweeping, cutting edge and quite simply, cool as fuck. Their other effort, for Goldeneye, performed by Tina Turner – no stranger to a film theme, herself – is the exact opposite. It’s cold, uninviting and the worst thing about a great film in the series.

16. The Living Daylights – A-Ha (1987)

Bond 9John Barry’s final entry in the Bond soundtrack canon is one of his weakest. Buoyed by the success of working with a successful pop band – Duran Duran on A View To A Kill – he tried a second time with A-Ha, the Norwegian darlings of the moment. The song sounds very over-produced, and this is evident when listening to A-Ha’s preferred ‘cut back’ version, found on their album Stay On These Roads. This actually sounds like the A-Ha of Take On Me and The Sun Always Shines On T.V. and is a far better fit for a Bond film.

15. The Man With The Golden Gun – Lulu (1974)

Bond 10If you think Lulu’s Bond theme is bad you should listen to Alice Cooper’s rejected song for the film. A different song entirely, it’s an oddity that thankfully never saw the silver screen (it would beat Lulu’s version by appearing on Alice’s 1973 album, Muscle Of Love). I actually like the Lulu song – it’s high camp entirely fitting for a Roger Moore film. There’s one famous detractor though – its composer John Barry would later go on record to say that the song, and the score for the film, was the weakest of his many contributions to the series. “It’s the one I hate most… it just never happened for me.”

14. Licence To Kill – Gladys Knight (1989)

Bond 11The most incestuous Bond theme (the producers of the song were sued over its familiarity to the Goldfinger theme), Licence To Kill is probably the last of the traditional Bond themes. From this point on, the themes went further down the pop route, shepherded by David Arnold. The baby boomers passing the baton to generation X, if you will. The studio where they recorded the theme to Licence To Kill was filled with bowls of seedless oranges – as the producers were confused by Gladys Knight’s ultimatum that she would only record the song without the pips.

13. Thunderball – Tom Jones (1965)

Bond 12Legend has it that Jones fainted at the end of the recording of this song, due to the long sustained note. Truth or myth, who knows? It is a beast of a note he holds, so it isn’t out of the realms of believability. In Thunderball, we have the very first example of the Bond theme trying to repeat a tried and tested formula. A year earlier, Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger – also with a long sustained note at the climax of the song – had pointed to the way forward. From now on, brass was key (a brass key?) in the sound of Bond themes. With Thunderball, John Barry tried to repeat what he had achieved with Goldfinger – it just isn’t as good a song, with a confused approach to the film’s title (Don Black’s lyric personifies Thunderball, and presents it as a character in the film – a la Goldfinger – when in the film, it was just a codename for Bond’s mission – ‘Operation Thunderball’).

12. Moonraker – Shirley Bassey (1979)

Bond 13Shirley Bassey’s third and final Bond theme may be her weakest, but it’s still a lovely slice of film music. It does lose points for sounding a bit like something you would expect to hear on The Love Boat – strange considering that this film is the series’ only departure into science-fiction. You’d think that they might have tried to do something a bit harder with the theme song, but maybe it was just the strings of John Williams’ Star Wars score they liked.

11. Skyfall – Adele (2012)

Bond 14At the time of writing, the artist for the theme to Spectre has not been announced, but it’s rumoured that Adele may be reprising her duties from Skyfall to sing her second theme. I couldn’t be happier about this. If there’s anybody who deserves a repeat performance, it’s Adele; she could be the Shirley Bassey of our times. She’s definitely got the lungs for it, and the classy, ballgown-wearing credentials.

10. You Only Live Twice – Nancy Sinatra (1967)

Bond 15That ominous orchestral sweep that opens this theme is one of the most threatening sounds committed to vinyl. It also sounds like the orchestra are walking backwards, into the main motif. It reminds the listener that despite the lush swings, this is still a Bond theme – even though when we hear this for the first time in the film, Bond has just been assassinated. OR HAS HE??? The theme is notable for being the first to be performed by a non-British artist, Nancy ‘daughter of Frank’ Sinatra. It’s also the little known fourth theme to be sung by Shirley Bassey, covered for her 2007 retrospective album, Get The Party Started (a full album of Bassey covering Bond themes had been earlier withdrawn from sale in the late ‘80s and again in the early ‘90s).

9. Never Say Never Again – Lani Hall (1983)

Bond 16Probably the most overlooked Bond theme, Lani Hall’s contribution to the ‘unofficial Bond film’ of 1983 will never be included on Bond theme compilations, or used in any of EON’s promotional materials. What a shame, because it’s pretty good. If they shot a porn parody of Bond – and I’m sure that one, if not many, must exist already – it would probably sound like this. The thing about porn parodies of Bond films is that you wouldn’t need to change the titles too much – Goldfinger speaks for itself, as does Thunderball and The Man With The Golden Gun. More specific, niche tastes would be covered by Moonraker, Dr. No and, ahem, Goldeneye.

8. Diamonds Are Forever – Shirley Bassey (1971)

Bond 17The theme to Diamonds Are Forever needed to be something special. It marked the first time a Bond singer had returned for a repeat performance – something nobody else has managed to do, except Bassey herself for a third and final time in 1979. Bassey’s second effort is everything a Bond theme should be – sexy, dangerous and with a universal appeal. Diamonds Are Forever also holds the title for being the funkiest Bond song, with a slinky bass line that Bootsy Collins would be proud of.

7. Another Way To Die – Jack White & Alicia Keys (2008)

Bond 18The first Bond theme for a long time that actually sounded like it was doing something different, this effort from 2008’s Quantum Of Solace sounds like a bad idea. Professional enigma and vintage enthusiast Jack White sharing vocals with Alicia Keys – the product of a performing arts education? This doesn’t bode well. Instead, it’s a delightful slice of alternative rock with Bondian overtones. Jack White is welcome back in the house of Bond anytime.

6. From Russia With Love – Matt Munro (1963)

Bond 19Those were the days, when a spy thriller at the movies just had to a have a syrupy love song on the soundtrack; something for the ladies to enjoy while the men pondered over the plot details and wondered if there was ever a chance for the popcorn trick (made famous in the 1982 film Diner) to actually work. From Russia With Love, by “England’s Sinatra”, Matt Munro, gets a free pass in my book. It’s the first Bond theme proper, and therefore has nothing to compete with. It could have been slush, but it’s magical.

5. Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey (1964)

Bond 20Waaap – waaaaaaap –waaap! If this isn’t the brassiest song in the world, I’m not sure what is. Everything about this song screams Bond, and it’s difficult to imagine the song being performed by anybody else other than Shirley Bassey. One of the inspirations was Mack The Knife, so it could have been a Sinatra-type crooner belting out something smoother than Bassey’s abrasive rasp. Jimmy Page played on the session, which gives the song an extra bit of credibility, and although it feels like everybody loves the song, the film’s co-producer Harry Saltzman tried to remove it from the film, saying ‘”That’s the worst f**king song I’ve ever heard in my f**king life”. Not a fan then.

4. A View To A Kill – Duran Duran (1985)

Bond 21Growing up in the 1980s, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Bond themes were the mainstay of middle of the road songstresses – all breathy vocals and atmospheric production. Then 1985 came along, and we suddenly got the most exciting Bond theme since Live And Let Die. Roger Moore might be close to claiming his pension in A View To A Kill, but the theme song more than makes up for it. It could have been far, far worse – let’s all feel thankful that Grace Jones didn’t sing the title song. Just don’t ask Simon Le Bon to sing A View To A Kill in front of a billion people – at Live Aid, he sounded almost prepubescent as he reached for a high note in the chorus (at 2:54 here).

3. Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon (from The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977)

Bond 22Perhaps the quintessential Bond film of the 1970s – it was to that decade what Goldfinger was to the 1960s – Nobody Does It Better marks the first time that the name of the film wasn’t the name of the theme (although ‘The spy who loved me’ is crowbarred into the lyrics at one point). This is a beautiful song, with a lovely piano introduction by composer Marvin Hamlisch – and what a great way to segue into the credits sequence: Bond, looking like a plastic banana, skis off the end of a mountain and deploys a Union flag parachute. And then, as Alan Partridge would say, “Glang…glangalangalangalangalangalang…glangalang…”

2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – John Barry (1969)

Bond 23Propose a Bond theme without a vocal these days, and I’d run a mile, but John Barry gets away with this purely because it’s such an awesome melody. This is the epitome of cool – George Lazenby skiing down a mountain in 1969, to this ominous instrumental. It even sounds a bit futuristic, with a Moog synth part laying down the driving bass line. The only reason this theme doesn’t top the list is that the first few seconds of synth do sound a bit like the beginning to The Teddy Bear’s Picnic. This is thankfully not as obvious in the Propellerheads’ balls-out awesome 1997 cover.

1. Live And Let Die – Paul McCartney & Wings (1973)

Bond 24When I saw Paul McCartney play Glastonbury in 2004, I momentarily forgot about the existence of the Live And Let Die theme song – a travesty, considering what a huge Bond fan I am, but excusable for the fact that I was in full Beatles mode, watching a Beatle performing Beatles songs. Then, mid-set, he launched into the piano intro to Live And Let Die and I nearly vomited from my ears in excitement. McCartney’s song tops the list because it has everything – it’s a ballad, it’s a rocker, it even has a reggae section to reflect the film’s West Indian setting. Produced by George Martin, it also has the added value of being linked to that Beatles universe that had only just come to an end a couple of years earlier. It’s a common phenomenon for musos to distance themselves from McCartney’s post-Beatles output, but no matter what you think of Ebony And Ivory or The Pipes Of Peace, you can’t take Live And Let Die from him – the best Bond theme there ever was.

Honourable Mentions

I always wonder if the would-be suitors of Honor Blackman got mixed messages when her father told them to do the honourable thing. Bad jokes aside, there are plenty of musical honourable mentions in the Bond universe. In one of the series’ rare references to pop culture, Bond even mentions the Beatles at one point, just before he’s attacked by Oddjob in Jill Masterson’s hotel room in 1964’s Goldfinger. So, in no particular order (and in no way an exhaustive list):

The James Bond Theme – Monty Norman (1962)

Bond 25The series wouldn’t be what it is without this short piece of twangy guitar, written by Monty Norman and performed by session guitarist Vic Flick. It’s John Barry’s arrangement that makes it though – while Norman wrote the melody of the main guitar riff, it was Barry who supplied the countermelodies from the orchestra that really make it all work. To make an analogy, Norman’s Bond theme melody might be a fine pair of shoes, but Barry tailored the rest of the suit. Many years of court cases have contested who the true composer is – legally, it’s Monty Norman – but I see it as a collaboration in which John Barry’s contributions have been sorely overlooked.

Kingston Calypso – Eric Rodgers (1962)

Bond 26I wrote earlier that Dr. No doesn’t really have a theme tune – except the Bond theme itself – but that’s actually not entirely true. Halfway through the opening credits, we get a blast of Kingston Calypso by Eric Rodgers – a calypso version of Three Blind Mice, in reference to the murder we’ve just seen on screen. History has covered this up – but what a great quiz question: which nursery rhyme is used on the opening credits to the first James Bond film?

– Maurice Binder (1925-1991)

Bond 27The on-screen visuals are a major component to the opening credits of the James Bond films and serve as a fantastic accompaniment to the music. Maurice Binder designed these title sequences from the very start, with Dr. No in 1962, to Licence To Kill in 1989 (missing only From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, which were designed by Robert Brownjohn). Binder also designed the famous gun barrel sequence – probably the single-most iconic visual of the Bond series, and one of the most identifiable images in film history. To young boys eager for a glimpse of side-boob or the silhouetted nipple of a girl cart-wheeling off a gun barrel, Maurice Binder was the man. Legend.

007 – John Barry (1963)

Bond 28John Barry might have missed out on the credit for The James Bond Theme, but 007 (sometimes known as The 007 Theme) is undoubtedly his own composition. Written for the gypsy camp scene in From Russia With Love, the song has soundtracked many sequences in the Bond series – an underwater fight in Thunderball, the ‘Little Nellie’ helicopter chase in You Only Live Twice, the destruction of Blofeld’s oil-rig in Diamonds Are Forever, and the Amazon river chase in Moonraker.

Bond 29Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang BangShirley Bassey / Dionne Warwick (1965)

Originally the main title theme to Thunderball, the extremely Bondian Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was recorded first by Shirley Bassey, then Dionne Warwick, before the producers demanded a theme song with the film’s name in the title. John Barry and Don Black then rushed another composition under a tight deadline, hence the existence of the Tom Jones song. Johnny Cash also composed a song intended to be used as the film’s main theme, but let’s all be glad the Bond producers had better ideas.

Bond 30The Look Of Love – Dusty Springfield (1967)

The unwatchable Casino Royale from 1967 has the honour of two themes – Herb Alpert’s titular instrumental, and also this easy-listening gem from the piano of Burt Bacharach. Dusty’s voice is so stark, it sounds like it’s going to shatter at any second. It’s sometimes hard to believe that a film project that produced such a terrible piece of celluloid also resulted in such a strong soundtrack, with this as its centrepiece – a terrific single from the summer of love.

– We Have All The Time In The World – Louis Armstrong (1969)

Bond 31For On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the Bond producers, Cubby Broccoli and Albert Saltzman, decided to borrow an idea from the ‘unofficial’ Casino Royale, released two years earlier – both films have an instrumental main title theme, and then a syrupy ballad as a secondary main theme. Reportedly the last studio recording by Armstrong before his death in 1971 (he was too sick to play his noticeably absent trumpet), this is undoubtedly one of the loveliest songs in the Bond canon.

– Adam & Joe’s Song Wars

Bond 32Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish are broadcasters in the UK, famous for their very funny, esoteric TV show for Channel Four, and later their radio show for the BBC. Cornish has gone on to bigger things in recent years, co-writing the script for Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, and directing his debut feature, Attack The Block (both in 2011). Before that though, one of the highlights of their radio show was the Song Wars segment. Every fortnight, they would set themselves a task whereby they would pick a theme, then compose and record a song related to that theme by the following week’s show. Their two alternative theme songs for Quantum Of Solace – both Adam’s version and Joe’s version – are essential listening for any Bond fan with a sense of humour.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Propellerheads & David Arnold (1997)

Bond 33Everything about this homage to John Barry is freakin’ awesome – from the rotating motif that opens the song, lifted off the From Russia With Love soundtrack, to the space march interlude from You Only Live Twice – and everything between. This couldn’t be any more ‘90s big-beat / break-beat if it tried, but it still sounds fresh. That bass line gets me every time – and the counterpoint this goes to in the second section of the main orchestral riff just takes the song somewhere else.

If there’s one thing that the Propellerheads’ cover proves, it’s that the musical future of the Bond franchise (I hate that word) is safe and well. We might get the occasional dodgy theme song – the series wouldn’t be the same without them – but there’ll always be artists who love the Bond films, ready and willing to take that ascending three note structure into uncharted territory.

To finish off, here’s a photograph that took me a very, very long time to put together. I have been collecting the Bond soundtracks on vinyl every since I started collecting vinyl in the late 1990s, and decided earlier this year to ramp up my search to find them all. These are all the Bond soundtracks that have been commercially released on vinyl – there’s a gap of six films, the four Brosnan films and the first two Craig films which didn’t see a vinyl release. The treasure of this collection is the soundtrack to 1983’s Never Say Never Again – only pressed on vinyl in Japan for some strange reason, and a welcome delivery from the Hyōgo Prefecture.
Bond 34

Rocks In The Attic #357: Neil Young – ‘After The Gold Rush’ (1970)

RITA#357Well I heard mister Young sing about her, well I heard ole Neil put her down, well I hope Neil Young will remember, a Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.

There isn’t enough sniping between bands these days. It’s fun and reminds you that everybody’s playing in the same pool. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the level of antagonism on something like How Do You Sleep – John Lennon’s poison pen-letter to Paul McCartney. That’s taking it down to a schoolyard level (and anyway, McCartney’s initial snipe – a photograph of two beetles fucking each other on the rear cover of Ram – was far more tasteful).

But if it’s one band having a bit of a dig at another band, I usually love it. The above lyrics from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama showed that the rednecks weren’t too enamoured of Neil Young’s song on this album. As usual, with these sorts of things, it all got blown out of proportion and became widely known that Neil Young and Skynyrd didn’t get on.

The same is almost true of Steely Dan and the Eagles. First of all, the mighty Dan include the lyric ‘Turn up the Eagles, the neighbours are listening’ in the song Everything You Did, off The Royal Scam. Glenn Frey then returned the compliment by including the line ‘They stab it with their Steely knives’ in Hotel California. Most people think the two bands were at odds, but the Eagles loved Steely Dan and perhaps most importantly Donald Fagen and Walter Becker both had a respect for the Eagles – that’s Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Tim Schmit you can hear singing backing vocals on the Dan’s 1978 single FM (No Static At All).

I was expecting more snipes from Jack White against the Black Key’s Dan Auerbach on 2014’s Lazaretto, but it’s okay. It seems White was more concerned with rubbing his ex-wife’s face in his new-found promiscuity – ‘I got three women, red, blonde, and brunette, it took a digital photograph to pick which one I like’ – on Three Women, his version of Blind Willie McTell’s Blind Women Blues.

Hit: Southern Man

Hidden Gem: Cripple Creek Ferry

Rocks In The Attic #296: The White Stripes – ‘Icky Thump’ (2007)

RITA#296I guess the fact that I’ve had this album in my collection for about three years, still sealed in its shrinkwrap, speaks for itself. The White Stripes at one point were probably the most cutting-edge band in America – but after Elephant I don’t think anyone really took any notice of them.

I don’t think the quality of their records suffered after Elephant – there’s definitely nothing wrong with either Get Behind Me Satan or Icky Thump – but perhaps everybody just got over the novelty of seeing a two-piece band on stage (something that the Black Keys helped with).

I remember reading an interview with Jack White in the early 2000s and he was saying how important it was to remain an enigma to their fans. ‘As soon as the music press find out everything about me, I’ve had it’ – he said, of words to those effect. Perhaps everybody just got bored of them. There used to be a load of mystery around Jack and Meg White’s relationship – are they brother and sister or husband and wife? – and as soon as it was revealed that they were a divorced couple, suddenly they didn’t seem so special anymore.

This album is the soundtrack of Jack White’s marriage to Karen Elson – the Jean Paul Gaultier supermodel who went to my secondary school (she was in the year below me). Icky Thump is surely a reference to the infamous Yorkshire martial-art Ecky Thump from The Goodies television show. I still find it hilarious that Karen Elson would have taken Jack White home to meet her parents in Oldham. Funnier still is that while he was there, somebody brought up The Goodies in conversation. White and Elson’s marriage didn’t last long unfortunately so now I can’t claim my hometown to be the home of a rock star. Well, unless you count Barclay James Harvest.

No matter how I try, I can’t separate Icky Thump from a certain video I saw online once starring a young ‘actress’ being showered with more than just compliments. Whoever has uploaded this particular compilation had used the White Stripes song to soundtrack every highlight (and unless you’re offended by anything at all, don’t dare try and track this down). Good times!

Hit: Icky Thump

Hidden Gem: 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues

Rocks In The Attic #223: Jack White – ‘Blunderbuss’ (2012)

RITA#223I’d avoided this album throughout 2012. I hadn’t heard particularly good things about it, especially from one particular critic, and that really put me off even trying the album. Towards the end of the year though, I started hearing claims such as ‘Best Album Of The Year’ or ‘Best Rock Album Of The Year’ emitting from magazine, newspaper and website round-ups of the year.

I then heard that Blunderbuss was the best selling vinyl record of 2012 (in the U.S.), narrowly beating the 2012 stereo remaster of Abbey Road (which I did manage to get my hands on before the end of the year, as part of the Beatles’ stereo vinyl box set). Although, Jack White’s album came out in April, whereas those Beatles records didn’t see the light of day until November, so I’m not sure too much should be read into that. There are also two Mumford & Sons albums in that top-10 vinyl chart for 2012, so I guess that proves that charts shouldn’t be relied on for any artistic recommendation.

So I thought I’d dip my toe into the water, for old time’s sake. You have to understand here that I used to be a big White Stripes fan, but over the last five or so years, I’d really started to think that Jack White was washed up. I have all of the White Stripes records on vinyl (except Get Behind Me Satan which they didn’t release on the format) – even the Under Great White Northern Lights live album – and they’re the only contemporary band I can say that about; but I haven’t even bothered to take Icky Thump or Under Great White Northern Lights out of their shrinkwrap yet (I’ve heard Icky Thump on my iPod and I’ve seen the film of that live album).

But, Blunderbuss, is to me a huge success. It’s received many, many plays on my turntable in the couple of weeks since I bought it; and thanks to the free MP3 download that came with the record, it’s rarely been off my iPod. The last White Stripes album I can say that about was Elephant, not because it’s a great album from start to finish, but because there are a handful of songs on there that are as good as the band at their peak on De Stijl.

The album’s well produced – very, well produced – with a bunch of great songs and a diverse range of instrumentation. Thankfully, there’s not too much of the dull garage-rock sound that had blighted some parts of the White Stripes’ records from White Blood Cells onwards. Essentially the album sounds like it will stand the test of time, and I can’t say that for the last couple of White Stripes records.

I hadn’t been a fan of any of Jack White’s side-projects, so I didn’t think I would like Blunderbuss, but I think it might just be as good as De Stijl, and that’s a huge thing for me to say.

Hit: Love Interruption

Hidden Gem: I’m Shakin’

Rocks In The Attic #182: The White Stripes – ‘White Blood Cells’ (2001)

RITA#182I saw The White Stripes at Glastonbury for the first time when they were touring this album, on a windy Saturday afternoon in 2002. The next – and last – time I would see them in 2005, they were headlining the Pyramid Stage on the Friday night. Although they were much more of a household name when I saw them in 2005, the hype around them was huge in 2002.

I had been given a copy of De Stijl by my friend Paul Hughes when it came out, so I was already a fan of the band, but I think this record was the start of the music press really paying attention to them. White Blood Cells isn’t a great album, in fact it’s very weak compared to De Stijl and Elephant on either side of it, but I guess it gave them something to tour behind and feed the hype to position themselves at the top of the alternative rock tree.

I remember being so excited about seeing them in 2002 – how was a two-man band going to fill the immense size of the Pyramid Stage? How the hell was the band going to sound with only a guitar and a set of drums? It’s less of a novelty these days, especially with The Black Keys crossing further across into the mainstream and essentially doing the same trick but to a wider audience. The absence of a bass guitar doesn’t really get noticed, probably because Jack White’s guitar is so loud.

In recent years, the band’s reputation has soured – possibly because Jack White seems to be spreading himself so thinly. He’s no longer the enigma he was initially so careful to foster.

Hit: Fell In Love With A Girl

Hidden Gem: We’re Going To Be Friends

Rocks In The Attic #119: The White Stripes – ‘The White Stripes’ (1999)

Rocks In The Attic #119: The White Stripes - ‘The White Stripes’ (1999)This album, the debut by The White Stripes, is very garage-rock. More so than their slightly more polished and better recorded later albums. The overall sound isn’t that different though – swampy blues rock spelled out with just guitar and drums, underneath Jack’s squealing vocals.

Meg’s drumming seems a bit better on this album, avoiding the mistakes and bad timing that she employs on De Stijl – suggesting they either rehearsed this material a bit more, or that Meg was simply a bit more comfortable with her parts.

De Stijl was their first album I heard, so I’ve always listened to this in retrospect. It lacks the direction that De Stijl has, and like most debut albums it suffers from that feeling of ‘let’s just get everything recorded and worry about everything else later’.

Hit: Stop Breaking Down

Hidden Gem: Do

Rocks In The Attic #86: The Wildhearts – ‘Earth Vs. The Wildhearts’ (1993)

Rocks In The Attic #86: The Wildhearts - ‘Earth Vs. The Wildhearts’ (1993)Aside from older bands – Aerosmith and AC/DC specifically – The Wildhearts were probably my favourite contemporary band when I first started listening to music. I really don’t remember why but I bought the Suckerpunch CD single – still one of my all-time favourite singles mainly due to the strength of its B-sides – and I was hooked.

I could never understand – as you never do when you’re young and you don’t really understand the music business – why The Wildhearts weren’t more popular than they were. In the mid-nineties, they were the darlings of the British rock press, and their singles were sold in enough quantities to usually make the Top 10, securing them a spot on Top Of The Pops. Fans didn’t just like The Wildhearts – they loved The Wildhearts. Once at Rio’s in Bradford, I was let into the club for free by the bouncer, simply because I was wearing a Wildhearts T-shirt.

When touring this album, their set at 1994’s Reading Festival was memorable when their bass player – Danny McCormack – dislocated his knee doing a star jump during the first song Caffeine Bomb. Instead of stopping, he was propped up onto a flight case, and played the rest of the set (in blinding pain). I think it’s things like that which really made them real. Can you imagine Jack White doing that? Or the Kings Of Leon?

Their other big draw is that their B-sides were just as good – if not better – as the material they would put on their albums. So fans were rewarded by decent songs every time they released something, whether it was a full album or a single (or even a fan-club only album like the very limited original version of Fishing For Luckies, which I still have on CD and always look up in Record Collector to see how much it’s worth these days).

In that decade, out of all the bands I liked, I must have seen this band play live the most. I rushed out and bought tickets to their tours, even when they didn’t have an album out to support. Unlike most bands, they used to tour continually, and their gigs were always well attended by fans in black smiley-bones T-shirts with the ironic catchphrase ‘Demand The Right To Be Unique’ scrawled across the back in white lettering. I can’t remember how many times I saw them, but it must have been something like 6 or 7 times within the space of 3 or 4 years.

I even had a pen-pal (a pen-pal!) around this time – who I met (I don’t know where) through our mutual love for the band. Unfortunately for her, living in the USA, she didn’t get to see them play live too often – if at all – so I used to report back to her every time I saw the band play, and we would share bootleg tapes of their shows. Ultimately I think we lost touch when the internet replaced such archaic forms of communication.

When I went to University, and my musical tastes broadened, I fell out of touch with what the band were doing. I still bought their stuff, but 1997’s industrial-sounding Endless, Nameless turned me off them completely. I saw them live again in the early 2000s, and thankfully they had gone back to their early days, wearing leather jackets on stage and playing material from their early years.

Just listening to this album brings back so many memories – probably just because I went to see them play live so often. I remember driving to Warrington to see them play once – at Parr Hall – and we pulled over to ask a couple of locals who looked like rockers for directions. They said they didn’t know where the venue was, so we eventually found it ourselves, and ended up standing in the queue behind the guys we had just asked for directions (seems that Warringtonians either aren’t too friendly, or they’re not great at giving directions). Another time, I saw them support AC/DC in Manchester – one of my all-time favourite gig line-ups – and I was amongst a very small group of people (there were maybe 5 or 6 of us) moshing to them amongst the older AC/DC fans.

This album is dedicated to Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson, who died not long after it was recorded. He plays a guitar solo on the great My Baby Is A Headf*ck – his final recorded appearance.

Hit: TV Tan

Hidden Gem: Everlone

Rocks In The Attic #27: The White Stripes – ‘Elephant’ (2003)

Rocks In The Attic #27: The White Stripes - ‘Elephant’ (2003)I was much more impressed with this album, after White Blood Cells didn’t really live up to the hype that was surrounding the band at the time of that release. I thought White Blood Cells was a bit of a letdown, after the genius of De Stijl, but here on Elephant they seemed to get back on track.

I wasn’t a White Stripes fan from the very start, but I remember a lot of talk about them around the same time that The Strokes were being touted as the next big thing. My good friend Paul gave me a copy of De Stijl on CD that he’d won at some music festival, and not knowing anything about them, he’d offloaded it onto me. So from listening to that album (a lot!), I was very into them by the time White Blood Cells came around.

I love De Stijl – a lot of it sounds (to me) like Led Zeppelin, and I like that. White Blood Cells and Elephant are a bit heavier, but still retaining a melodic edge which saves them from the garage rock of their first album.

I don’t usually pay much attention to music videos – I find they can change how you perceive a song, both positively and negatively – but the videos for three of this album’s four singles are outstanding: the kaleidoscopic Seven Nation Army video, directed by Alex And Martin; a scantily-clad Kate Moss swinging around a strippers’ pole in I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself, directed by Sofia Coppola; and the pulsating The Hardest Button To Button video, directed by Michel Gondry.

Hit: Seven Nation Army

Hidden Gem: You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket

Rocks In The Attic #22: Eric Clapton – ‘Journeyman’ (1989)

I bought this because it had Bad Love on it. I’m glad I bought it because the rest of the album is sweet – I could never understand how Unplugged was considered his comeback when he was making albums of this quality 3 years earlier.

The opening guitar riff to Bad Love has to be one of most underrated rock riffs of the 1980s. I’d put it up there with Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing as the best of that decade. In fact, does anybody even write riffs of that calibre anymore? Jack White has a few under his belt, but there’s been a shift away from putting a riff like that front and centre in the production.

I love everything about this album – the photo of Eric looking vaguely psychotic in the dark on the front cover, to the photo of him on the reverse – wearing a grey linen suit over a bright yellow turtleneck, standing on metal shavings.

I read his autobiography not too long ago, and it really got to me that so much of his life has been plagued by alcoholism, and frankly, wasted. If he had been able to knock albums like this out every couple of years, he would have a pretty impressive back catalogue rather than the sketchy affair that it is.

I remember, many years after first buying this record, I was working on a late night as a supervisor of a DIY store. I put the album on in the break room, thinking that nobody would know it, but one of my colleagues Carly got overexcited and started singing and dancing along to it whilst doing the vacuuming – a favourite album of hers too. It’s funny how things stick in your memory like that.

Hit: Bad Love

Hidden Gem: Breaking Point