Tag Archives: John Lennon

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

Rocks In The Attic #584: Nilsson – ‘The Point!’ (1971)

RITA#584
Charity shop finds can be a wonderful thing. To see an album from somebody’s name you recognise alongside a heap of junk records is more than enough motivation to get your wallet out. In a record store, even priced at $4 or $5, I would probably leave this in the racks. Sat alongside a James Last LP though, it suddenly becomes very attractive.

I’m so glad I took the punt and handed over my dollar. My knowledge of Harry Nilsson is very limited outside of Everybody’s Talkin’ and his drunken shenanigans as a key player in John Lennon’s Lost Weekend. I’m aware of Nilsson Schmilsson – a great album title for sure – but haven’t heard much of it save for the ubiquitous Coconut and the much covered Without You (or is that one called Ken Lee?).

So, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from The Point! Was this to be more introspective material, like his early hits, or just some average singer-songwriter fluff? Neither, I tell you. It’s a bonkers record through and through.

The album starts off with a poppy number, in the vein of post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys, entitled Everything’s Got ‘Em. It’s lovely – something you might hear on Holland – but then Nilsson’s spoken-word narration takes over and takes the record somewhere expected. A concept album, the narration and songs tell the fable of Oblio, the only round-headed boy in a village full of pointed-headed people. An animated film accompanies the album, and early pressings of the record were packaged with an illustrated booklet of the story inside (which my dollar copy still had). Although I’d never heard of it before, it was received well enough to be turned into a 1977 stage play featuring Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones from the Monkees.

Nilsson excuses the story as being conceived while on acid – and this isn’t hard to imagine given how fully engaged with the subject material the songs are. Nilsson isn’t dipping his toe in the water here; he’s fully immersed in this world he’s made up. This sort of thing would usually be a turn-off for me, but the songs are so great, and his narration is really nice to listen to.

Hit: Me And My Arrow

Hidden Gem: Everything’s Got ‘Em

Rocks In The Attic #578: Peter And Gordon – ‘Peter And Gordon’ (1964)

RITA#578Having Paul McCartney as your ­almost­ brother-in-law can’t be anything other than a good thing, especially if you’re trying to break into the music business.

In 1963, the Beatles left Liverpool for the Big Smoke of London town. John Lennon rented an apartment with wife Cynthia, while George and Ringo shared a flat together. Paul however moved into the house owned by the parents of his then-girlfriend (and later, fiancé) Jane Asher. Understandably, Paul was not allowed to sleep in Jane’s room, and so shared a room with her brother, Peter Asher.

In 1963, Paul offered the song A World Without Love to Peter and his song-writing partner Gordon Waller, after the duo were signed up by Columbia Records. The song had been written by Paul when he was a teenager, but had been deemed unsuitable for the Beatles. It would appear it was John who held the veto, as he could never get past Paul’s opening lyric. “The funny first line always used to please John,” Paul told Barry Miles in 1997. “’Please lock me away…’ ‘Yes, okay.’ End of song.”

You’d be wrong in thinking that Peter And Gordon were a one-hit wonder. McCartney’s kindness did help them establish their name – it was a number one on both sides of the Atlantic – but they didn’t stop there. They released a number of singles that charted in the Top Twenty, and their approach as a sort of English answer to Simon & Garfunkel would have been quite a refreshing change given that the charts would have been filled with pop, and rock and roll.

This debut album is really strong, and while it’s clear to see that Lennon and McCartney’s A World Without Love is the centrepiece of the record, there’s plenty of highlights along the way, whether it’s their own material, or covers like Little Richard’s Lucille or Ray Charles’ Leave My Woman Alone.

Hit: World Without Love

Hidden Gem: If I Were You

Rocks In The Attic #568: Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington – ‘Thrillington’ (1977)

RITA#568.jpgIn 1971, Paul McCartney had just recorded his second solo album, Ram (actually his third if you include his 1967 soundtrack to The Family Way). He had credited the record to ‘Paul and Linda McCartney’, to get around the publishing contract he had signed as a Beatle. Under that contract, any solo recordings he made until 1973 were owned by Northern Songs, so wisely he credited the album to himself and his wife.

It’s not surprising that McCartney was pleased with Ram; despite a fair bit of whimsy, it’s a massive improvement on his uneven debut solo record. If a comparison were to be made, you could argue that the melodies on Ram follow on from the more powerful moments of Abbey Road. However, where his contributions to the Beatles’ final recorded studio record were tempered with songs by John, George and even Ringo, Ram found McCartney writing and performing the whole thing by himself in fifth gear.

Before Ram was even released, McCartney had asked arranger Richard Anthony Hewson to orchestrate the whole record as a collection of light orchestral instrumental songs, intended for a separate release. Among the orchestra who played on these sessions at Abbey Road were the cream of the studio players of the day – James Bond Theme guitarist Vic Flick, bassist Herbie Flowers and drummer Clem Cattini.

The end result is an oddity. It is thought the indulgent project was undertaken to please his father, who played in bands of this nature during the First World War – but as Howard Sounes, author of Fab: An Intimate Life Of Paul McCartney, points out, ‘the record…sounds like incidental television music, with a soupcon of the tea dance’.

Following the release of Ram in May 1971, and the recording of the instrumental version in June 1971, Paul formed Wings alongside Linda, Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine and session drummer Denny Seiwell. As a result of this new direction, the instrumental Ram was shelved, and McCartney’s band went on to record and release Wild Life instead.

rita568a‘When Paul did finally put this off record out,’ Sounes writes, ‘he did so as quietly as possible under a pseudonym, titling the album Thrillington after an invented character named Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington “Born in Coventry Cathedral in 1939”. Somehow this wasn’t as amusing as Paul obviously thought it was.’

Thrillington finally saw the light of day in April 1977, released between 1976’s triple-live album Wings Over America and 1978’s London Town. While McCartney is pictured on the record’s rear cover as a reflection in the glass of the studio’s control room, and thus identifying him as the true producer of the album, Thrillington went largely unnoticed until McCartney revealed the connection during a 1989 press-conference. Following this admission, the record tripled in value and hasn’t been reissued on vinyl since its original release.

Hit: Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey

Hidden Gem: Smile Away

Rocks In The Attic #561: The Kinks – ‘Kinda Kinks’ (1965)

rita561If there’s one ‘60s group whose album output doesn’t quite match up to their singles output, it’s probably the Kinks. The A-sides that Ray Davies wrote during that decade are up there with the best anybody else had to offer. He’s the only songwriter that comes anywhere close to the strength of Lennon and McCartney’s singles, yet the first batch of Kinks albums in the mid-‘60s don’t really deliver on that promise.

Their debut record is built around You Really Got Me, this follow-up is buoyed by Tired Of Waiting For You, the third album has ‘Til The End Of The Day and Where Have All The Good Times Gone, and album number four has Sunny Afternoon on it. Most of – but definitely not all of – the rest of these records have a load of generic R&B-inflected filler material making up the numbers. It actually makes sense in this case to own at least one good Kinks compilation. There’s nothing patchy about a collection of their singles.

My favourite track on Kinda Kinks is Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl, notable for its appearance in Kinks-fan Wes Anderson’s Rushmore soundtrack. This really is a beautiful, tender song and hints at the more mature songwriting we would hear from Ray Davies much further towards the end of the decade. So Long is another song in this folk vein, where you can hear more of what the Kinks became, rather than the American R&B they’re aping on the rest of the record.

Hit: Tired Of Waiting For You

Hidden Gem: Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl

Rocks In The Attic #547: Various Artists – ‘Now That’s What I Call Music – The Christmas Album’ (2016)

rita547I saw this in a record store a few weeks ago, and couldn’t resist it. I’ve had my eyes out for the original 1985 compilation, hoping that I’d come across it in a charity shop, but it hasn’t happened yet. Forty notes does seem a bit steep for this new version – a bunch of songs I’ve heard a million times – but this is usually the soundtrack to present opening in our house on Christmas Day every year, and it’ll be nice to do it from my turntable, rather than through the iPod.

It’s slightly disingenuous to refer to any of these songs as a hidden gem – they’re all so ubiquitous – but the format of my blog forces my hand. I’ve therefore chosen Brenda Lee’s Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, if only for the mental image it provides of Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin from Home Alone, putting on a fake house party with cardboard cut-outs and mannequins.

The song choices on this record are slightly odd – it’s a mixtures of ‘70s and ‘80s British songs (Slade, Wizzard, Wham!, Shakin’ Stevens, Band Aid, John & Yoko, Kirsty MacColl & the Pogues), together with a handful of older American hits (Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, and the aforementioned Brenda Lee). The only jarring inclusion is Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas – a song I’ve always liked but never loved, wondering if it’s the same journey he recounts in The Road To Hell. Bloody December traffic…

Merry Christmas everybody!

Hit: Do They Know It’s Christmas – Band Aid

Hidden Gem: Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee

Rocks In The Attic #494: Various Artists – ‘Every Man Has A Woman’ (1984)

RITA#494Yoko Ono got a raw deal, didn’t she? Known to the entire globe as ‘the woman who split up the Beatles’, she didn’t really do anything malicious or wilful to break up the band (and if anything, they would have split up whether she was in the picture or not). Her only crime was to exist as far as some people are concerned. Well, that’s not very nice, is it? ‘All you need is love’, John sang in 1967, but half of his fans have a hatred for his wife usually reserved for their personal enemies.

While some of her high-pitched wailing puts me off, some of her songwriting is great. I might like her contributions to Double Fantasy far less than I like John’s, but they still stand up. And who knows what might have happened next, had John not been gunned down. Half of Double Fantasy – admittedly Yoko’s half – is very much new wave, and I wonder if John would have gone down that route in the early ‘80s (as McCartney did with McCartney II in 1981).

Every Man Has A Woman is a collection of Yoko Ono covers put together to mark her 50th birthday. Devised by John, but completed by others after his death, it features the likes of Elvis Costello, Harry Nilsson, Lennon himself, Roseanne Cash, Roberta Flack, and a young Sean Lennon covering songs from Approximately Infinite Universe (1973), Double Fantasy (1980), Season Of Glass (1981), and It’s Alright (I See Rainbows) (1982). Nilsson appears three times throughout the course of the record, perhaps in an attempt to apologies to Yoko for leading John astray during his long weekend of 1973 to 1975.

Hit: Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him – John Lennon

Hidden Gem: I’m Moving On – Eddie Money