Tag Archives: John Lennon

Rocks In The Attic #679: John Lennon & Yoko Ono – ‘Milk And Honey’ (1984)

RITA#679One of the saddest things about losing John Lennon is that his return to recording was starting to produce some really interesting music, first with 1980’s Double Fantasy, and then this, the posthumously released follow-up, Milk And Honey, from 1984.

Lennon’s post-Beatles albums from the ‘70s sometimes make for a hard listen. Awash with the reverb of Phil Spector, they’re often angry, yet balanced with some overly sentimental singles. Finding a musical companion in Yoko Ono seems to have rejuvenated his output, waking him up from an arguably misdirected post-Beatles decade. Ono might not be a writing partner like McCartney was, but the relationship seems to have energised his writing and awakened his competitive spirit.

It’s difficult to imagine what his next studio record would have sounded like. This release was cobbled together from sessions following Double Fantasy, so it makes for a great companion piece to that record. Who knows – a year or two later, Lennon might have tired from the post-punk leanings of that record, and gone in a different direction. His decision to record a version of I’m Losing You backed by Cheap Trick (available on the John Lennon Anthology box-set) perhaps indicates that the 1980s would have been a rockier, band-oriented decade.

Hit: Nobody Told Me

Hidden Gem: I Don’t Wanna Face It

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Rocks In The Attic #669: Various Artists – ‘Stand By Me (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#669There were a number of films released through the 1980s which went some way in redefining the seminal singles of the 1950s and 1960s. Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill kicked off the nostalgia in 1983, before Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me and Oliver Stone’s Platoon landed in 1986. By the time of 1988’s Good Morning Vietnam, it was almost commonplace for a Hollywood film to feature a ‘golden oldies’ soundtrack.

Along the more obvious hits on this soundtrack – Buddy Holly’s Everyday, Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls Of Fire, and of course, Ben E. King’s Stand By Me – there’s one very interesting addition. The Del-Viking’s Come Go With Me might sound like any other late-‘50s R&B, but it was actually the song that a teenage Paul McCartney first saw (a teenage) John Lennon playing with the Quarrymen on the fateful day that they met (July 6th 1957) in Liverpool.

RITA#669aIt’s hard not to like Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me. Adapted from a Stephen King short-story, it has an impressive young cast (Wil Wheaton, River Pheonix, Corey Feldman and Kiefer Sutherland) and a lovely, wry narration by Richard Dreyfuss. Reiner’s film almost perfectly balances nostalgia with the thrill of youth. The script’s perspective might be of an older man looking backwards, but instead the film is driven by the optimism of the young leads looking forward to the future.

Hit: Stand By Me – Ben E. King

Hidden Gem: Come Go With Me – The Del-Vikings

Rocks In The Attic #657: Nilsson – ‘Son Of Schmilsson’ (1972)

RITA#657What do you do after you release a mainstream breakthrough like Nilsson Schmilsson? Do you repeat the formula and give the record company the same again – propping up their stakeholders and ultimately creating an even bigger expectation for a more difficult next album? Or do you just do whatever you want, and concentrate on the weirder brand of material such as Coconut from Nilsson Schmilsson?

History tells us that Nilsson took the latter route, using sound effects to comedic effect and burping between takes. Son Of Schmilsson might not have the same hit singles as Nilsson Schmilsson, or even the same boundless energy that that evergreen record does, but it’s still an enjoyable listen. I guess making a few bucks for RCA gives you the power to concentrate on your own path – and you can almost hear the anguish from their frustration at Nilsson not playing ball.

A song as delicate and pure as Turn On Your Radio is as timeless as anything on the record’s more well-known predecessor, something that Brian Wilson would have been more than proud to write.

RITA#657aI recently watched the documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him)? It’s a sad film to watch as you see an artist slowly give his life (and talent) over to drink, but nice to see so many well-respected musicians talk about him positively.

As well as his talent, Nilsson’s death in 1994 also robbed the world of a prominent and dedicated advocate for gun control (initially sparked by John Lennon’s assassination) – something the United States needs so badly at the moment.

Hit: Remember (Christmas)

Hidden Gem: Turn On Your Radio

Rocks In The Attic #654: Wings – ‘Band On The Run’ (1973)

RITA#654The first time I saw Paul McCartney live in concert. I couldn’t have been closer. It was at Glastonbury 2004, and I endured sets from the likes of Joss Stone and the Black Eyed Peas in the early evening to get to the crash barrier at the very front of the field. It was worth it – getting so close to a living legend.

This time around, in December 2017, I couldn’t have been further away. I went for the cheapest GA standing tickets, not wanting to auction off my remaining kidney for a ticket closer to the stage. It was still a blast, and the hi-def, crystal-clear screens at the side of stage made sure I didn’t miss out on much.

The difference in set-lists between the two times I saw him play was quite interesting. At Glastonbury in 2004, he was playing the hits for what would ultimately be a BBC audience enjoying the festival on the television, sat at home minus the mud and discomfort. In Auckland a few weeks ago, on the final date of the band’s world tour, the set threw up some unexpected numbers.

RITA#654aKicking off with A Hard Day’s Night – ostensibly a ‘John’ song – the set included a couple of other Beatles songs written predominantly by Lennon: Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite and A Day In The Life. Also played were a couple of genuine 50/50 co-written Beatles songs – I’ve Got A Feeling and Birthday – which I was surprised McCartney would even bother with.

Ever since the former Beatle was happy to lean on a Beatles-heavy set-list (post-Flaming Pie?), there’s always been an embarrassment of riches. He can’t possibly play everything, so this time there was no Drive My Car, no Get Back, no Paperback Writer. So it’s even stranger that he made the decision to play some of the songs that he did include. He played Mull Of Kintyre for fuck’s sake!

The Band On The Run record was well represented though. Band On The Run and Jet are probably a feature of the band’s set-list every night, and Let Me Roll It sounds like the kind of song they just love to play live, but it was the appearance of the album’s closer, Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five, that was the most surprising. At four songs, this made Band On The Run the most represented album in McCartney’s back catalogue – not including Beatles compilations of course – a testament to how strong the record is in relation to everything else he has produced in his career.

I prefer Ram, and always will, but it’s clear that Band On The Run is the closest McCartney ever got to replicating the strength of the Beatles’ output.

Hit: Jet

Hidden Gem: Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five

Rocks In The Attic #645: John Lennon & Yoko Ono – ‘Double Fantasy’ (1980)

RITA#645I enjoyed the recent Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049. When it was first mooted, I, like many others, expressed anger at why Hollywood was daring to mess with something so sacred. This type of revisionism generally ends poorly, but director Denis Villeneuve had a good track record, and the resulting film felt more like a genuine follow up to the 1982 original than I could possibly have imagined.

One thing I read online around the time of the film’s release was somebody claiming that Ryan Gosling is the new Nicolas Cage. Not in looks or acting style, but in his scene-stealing buffoonery that shines through in every film. I used to love Nic Cage – his turn as H.I. McDunnough in Raising Arizona is one of my favourite cinematic performances of all time – and while he occasionally redeems himself with a great role (Big Daddy in Kick Ass, for example), his performances are generally as woeful as the films he chooses.

But in no way is Ryan Gosling the new Nicolas Cage. Gosling may suffer sometimes from the same level of screen charisma as a vase of flowers, but at least he’s watchable, particularly when he turns his best attribute – moody silence – to brilliant effect in films such as Drive and the aforementioned Blade Runner 2049.

I posit another theory – that the new Nicolas Cage is none other than Gosling’s Blade Runner 2049 co-star, Jared Leto. To take the mantle of the silver screen’s new Nic Cage, his successor must be a recidivist over-actor. Luckily for us, Leto has this in spades.

Not only does he chew the scenery as Blade Runner 2049’s blind villain, Niander Wallace, but he comes across as so self-absorbed that one gets the feeling he’d be more at home performing the film as a one-man stage-play.

RITA#645aLast week I also watched Chapter 27, the film about the murder of John Lennon. Inspired by Won’t You Take Me Down, Jack Jones’ book of interviews with Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman, the film is a tough watch, as tough as Jones’ book is to read.

I’m not sure if it glamorises Chapman, but it definitely doesn’t seek to explain why he did what he did – something that he himself was so conflicted about (if Jones’ interviews are to be believed). As a result, the film has a horrible foreboding sense of resignation to it.

Of course, Chapter 27 gives Jared Leto the opportunity to pull out all the stops in his portrayal of Chapman, putting on a great deal of weight for the role and changing his voice to mimic the killer’s childlike whisper. I’m on the fence about whether it’s a great performance, as we really only have Leto’s interpretation to go by. Let’s just say that he definitely earned his salary. Chapman does come across as a creepy motherfucker, and I was quite happy when the film ended as I genuinely couldn’t bear any more time in his company.

It’s so heartbreaking to listen to this record when you consider what happened to Lennon just three weeks after its release. There’s a strong sense of optimism throughout both John and Yoko’s songs, as the couple looked ahead into the new decade.

Hit: Woman

Hidden Gem: I’m Losing You

Rocks In The Attic #630: Krzysztof Komeda – ‘Rosemary’s Baby (O.S.T.)’ (1968)

tp0004c_SP_DPGate_CoverThere’s a moment in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby where, during what we’re initially led to believe is a dream sequence, Mia Farrow’s Rosemary is raped by an unseen person while the residents of her apartment complex look on, naked. As the camera pans across the small crowd, from left to right, we spot Rosemary’s husband, Guy.

‘She’s awake, she sees,’ he says to their neighbour Minnie.

‘She don’t see,’ Minnie replies.

‘THIS IS NO DREAM! THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING!’ shouts Rosemary.

This small exchange is one of the most horrifying moments in American cinema. The prospect of being targeted by a Satanic cult is one thing; the realisation that your husband and protector might be part of the conspiracy is even more shocking.

RITA#630b.jpgIt provokes the same gut-wrenching sense of doom as the final moments of Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982), in which Tom Atkins’ character screams down the phone to the television company, pleading with them to not play the commercial that is going to cause so much carnage.

This is when horror really connects; when it really matters. Hollywood loves jump-scare horror, because it sells tickets, but psychological horror is far more effective. The truly disturbing thing about Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) isn’t the shower scene, it’s the thought that one day you might stay at the seemingly benign Bates Motel; and no matter what precautions you take, that nice motel manager you just met always has a key to your room.

RITA#630aSpielberg’s Jaws (1975) – often derided when labelled as a horror film – is just as shocking as Polanski and Hitchcock’s work. What could be more horrific than the thought, just the lingering idea, that a killer shark might be circling in the gloomy darkness beneath you as you swim? It plants a seed, just like the prospect of Norman Bates making plans behind closed doors.

Released in June 1968, Rosemary’s Baby is an oddity for the horror genre. It’s an urban horror, taking part in a metropolitan area (New York) as opposed to the conventional rural- or suburban-set horror. The lighting of the film also goes against type. This isn’t a film of shadow and darkness; much of the picture takes place during the daytime, and in the scenes that do take place after the sun has set, most shots are well lit. This isn’t the kind of film where evil lurks in the shadows; instead it exists in plain sight where you’d least expect it.

Komeda’s score is the strongest indicator that the film rightfully belongs in the horror genre. The location, the cast and the script might all scream drama – or at most, thriller – but the music is right out of a haunted house. Most unnerving is Mia Farrow’s lullaby over the waltzing opening titles; an ominous foreboding of innocence corrupted.

The film left a sour taste in popular culture. Not only are there the obvious parallels with the murder of Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, a year later at the hands of the satanic Manson cult, but the final shot foreshadows yet another tragedy.

RITA#630c.jpgThe film’s end credits roll over a high crane shot looking down at Rosemary’s apartment complex, the Bramford. In reality, the location is the Dakota complex in Manhattan, which was used for external shots only. Well-known as the residence of John Lennon and Yoko Ono from 1973 onwards, the Dakota’s architecture looks well-suited as the location of a film about devil worship in New York City. As the camera pans down, the final frame of the film shows two people walking into the building’s south entrance, the same archway through which Lennon was walking as he was gunned down by his assassin, Mark Chapman, in December 1980.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Furnishing The Apartment

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Rocks In The Attic #586: Walter Carlos – ‘Switched On Bach’ (1968)

RITA#586
I’ve been hearing a lot about this record recently, as I make my way through the Beatles Anthology Revisited – a sublime 28-hour ‘unofficial’ podcast I managed to hunt down online (despite it being continually taken down at the behest of Apple).

An influence on the Beatles’ swansong Abbey Road – if only a technical inspiration – Switched On Bach pointed to the way that a Moog synthesiser could be employed on record. I’m sure the Beatles would have been paying close attention to this album before they utilised George’s Moog on Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, Here Comes The Sun, Because and I Want You (She’s So Heavy).

Thankfully, the Beatles’ use of the synthesiser was relatively subtle and not as plinky-plonky as Walter – now Wendy – Carlos’ homage to Bach. It really sounds like music conceived inside a computer – which of course, it is – and it’s not hard to imagine this sounding so futuristic back in the late ‘60s. It still sounds futuristic!

Carlos would repeat the formula in 1971 on the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, this time playing the Moog to reproduce a couple of Ludwig Van’s big hits.

Hit: Air On A G String

Hidden Gem: Sinfonia To Cantata No. 29