Tag Archives: Mark Lewisohn

Rocks In The Attic #662: Brian Gascoigne – ‘Phase IV (O.S.T.)’ (1974)

RITA#662.jpgIf I walk into my local branch of the Warehouse (a general merchandise superstore chain in New Zealand), I can find practically anything. High-end TVs, underwear, plants, shoes, deodorant, children’s toys – there’s practically no limit to what they range.

In the last decade, they’ve started to stock LPs. I’ve had a few good deals from there over the years, but mostly they deal with common denominator titles. As soon as I approach the racks – usually very poorly displayed – I know what I’m going to see. Brothers In Arms sits next to every AC/DC studio album under the sun, three corner-dinged copies of Dark Side Of The Moon will be there, sat behind the latest overpriced Ed Sheeran record, but if I’m lucky there will be something that takes me completely by surprise (Aerosmith’s awesome 1973 Paul’s Mall bootleg being my greatest find so far).

In fact, I’ve seen so many copies of AC/DC records there, I actually think it might explain why Back In Black is one of the best-selling records of all time – the Warehouse made a stocktake error, and there are still eight million copies sat on their shelves.

It just goes to show that while the big chain stores try to get on the vinyl revival bandwagon, they’ll nearly always miss the needs of the niche record collector.

At the other end of the spectrum exists a boutique record label – Waxwork Records – founded by Kevin Bergeron in New Orleans in 2013. Their primary focus is the preservation and release of horror soundtracks – particularly cult films from the ‘70s and ‘80s – but their output so far has ranged from soundtracks as diverse as Bernard Herrmann’s Taxi Driver, Éric Serra’s Leon: The Professional, and Barry Devorzon’s The Warriors, to original music like PILOTPRIEST’s Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (currently glued to my turntable).

RITA#662aTheir specialty however is sourcing out-of-print soundtracks or, in some cases, music from films that never had a soundtrack release in any format upon release. There’s a detective element to their work then (more information on which can be found here); a level of research that you would usually only see from archivists and historians on the behalf of major-label acts (the nth Beatle Mark Lewisohn, for example).

1974’s Phase IV is one such film that never had a soundtrack commercially released in any format. The score was therefore considered lost until Bergeron and team tracked it down and issued it as catalogue number WW008.

The film is probably best known for being the sole directorial work of legendary graphic designer Saul Bass – the man behind the artwork and title sequences of films by Otto Preminger, Alfred Hitchock, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese. It’s a little-known science-fiction horror, concerning the work of two scientists as they attempt to prevent the spread of killer ants.

What sets the film apart from other sci-fi and horror films are the sections showing the behaviour of the ants. Filmed in extreme close-up, the shots of these real ants are more natural history documentary than what you’d expect to see from a film in either genre, but the impact is more effective than any special effect could muster. In such close detail, the ants are as terrifying and horrific as any alien or movie monster could be.

The music, from composer Brian Gascoigne, is a synth-laden slice of 1970’s futurism fused with more traditional instruments which give the film a whistful, rustic feel. Split into four tracks, named after each section of the film – Phase I, Phase II, Phase III and Phase IV – the soundtrack feels more like a prog record in its attempt to evoke an eerie tone, rather than the traditional soundtrack approach of individual music cues.

One interesting sidenote is that Phase IV features the first cinematic depiction of a geometric crop circle (built, in this case, by the killer ants). The initial release of the film came a full two years before any news reports of crop circles in the UK, and is therefore seen as a potential influencer on those who started the practice in the late ‘70s.

Hit: Phase I

Hidden Gem: Phase III

Rocks In The Attic #490: John Lennon – ‘Imagine’ (1971)

RITA#490Post-Beatles album number two finds John hitting his stride as a solo artist. I love his first record, the minimalist John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band; there’s a certain charm to it, but it’s by no means a record for the Beatle-loving masses. Here we find him producing a piece of work as commercial – but still as artistically valid – as anything released by the Beatles from 1965 onwards.

The only sour note on the record is How Do You Sleep?, a nasty attack on McCartney in retaliation for comments he had made in public about John and Yoko. I’ve never heard these comments, nor have I ever deciphered McCartney’s lyrics on Ram, which are supposed to be just as negative.

Still, if you’re going to have a go at somebody, at least be subtle about it. Lennon’s lyrics on How Do You Sleep? just make him out to sound nasty and childish. He even precedes the song by a short blast of an orchestra tuning up, the same idea thought up and used by McCartney on the intro to the title song on Sgt. Pepper’s.

One of the points stressed by Mark Lewisohn in his fantastic Beatles biography, Tune In: The Beatles – All These Years, Vol 1, was that Lennon could be so brutal and nasty in the way he would ridicule others. Usually, it would be people outside his circle of friends who would feel the brunt of his antagonism, but from time to time those close to him would get a earful too. How Do You Sleep? finds him completely unrestrained, doing everything except actually mentioning McCartney by name. The lyrics are so thinly veiled that he might as well have called the song ‘Paul Is A Douchebag’. In fact, a more Beatle-y insult might have been to name it ‘The Wally Was Paul’.

Always the most honest Beatle, Imagine finds John admitting that he doesn’t have all the answers on songs such as How? and Crippled Inside. It’s refreshing to hear such uncertainty from a ‘rock star’, and it’s almost the exact opposite of what you would hear from a global superstar in the twenty first century. It’s hard to imagine somebody as egotistical as Kanye West writing a song like How? Kanye knows everything of course, yet it’s strange how he couldn’t stop that knowledge from preventing his descent into bankruptcy.

One of my favourite moments on Imagine, the closing track Oh Yoko!, was included on the soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s 1998 masterpiece Rushmore. It’s a lovely song, and used to great effect in the film when Max and Herman decide to join forces to win Rosemary’s affections. A song like that shouldn’t work in a film; it’s a love song written for somebody in particular – Yoko Ono, of course – and she’s name-checked repeatedly in the song. It should only really make sense if the love interest in the film is named Yoko.  I’m not sure if the lovely Olivia Williams could pass for Japanese though.

Imagine represents an artistic peak for Lennon. His later albums would find him trying to repeat the success of this record, not least on its (official) follow-up, Mind Games, in 1973. Imagine is a fantastic record, and one of the reasons he never managed to match it is that it’s so bloody good – the curse of perfection.

Hit: Imagine

Hidden Gem: Oh Yoko!

Rocks In The Attic #381: The Shadows – ‘The Shadows’ Greatest Hits ’ (1963)

RITA#381Last year I read Mark Lewisohn’s first volume of his Beatles super biography, The Beatles: All These Years. One of the many, many nuggets of information I gleaned from it was that while the Beatles were over in Germany for their first shambolic Hamburg trip, the Shadows came out with Apache. Due to their absence, John, Paul, George and Pete missed out on the craze that would soon sweep the nation – beat groups with synchronised dance manoeuvres, and guitars heavily drenched in reverb.

It’s a blessing that they were out of the country for this. I don’t think I could handle Love Me Do with some twangy guitar lines over the top of it, or John, Paul and George doing some corny dance steps. The Shadows can keep that nonsense – Cliff Richard is welcome to them. I’ll happily take some of these tunes though – what a bunch of great melodies in such a short, three year period.

One of my Dad’s favourite jokes from the ‘60s goes something along the lines of ‘Have you heard that rumour about Cliff Richard? After his concerts, he likes to slip quietly into the shadows.’

Hit: Apache

Hidden Gem: 36-24-36

Rocks In The Attic #347: The Beach Boys – ‘Endless Summer’ (1981)

RITA#347I’ve just finished reading Mark Lewisohn’s Beatles biography, All These Years, Volume One – Tune In. As much as I enjoyed it – all 1000 pages of it – a breathtaking example of pure, meticulous research from start to finish, I’m glad that I finished it. I now have to wait until 2020 to read the second volume, and hopefully I’ll still be alive in 2028 when the third and final volume comes out.

I’d always known that Friday 5th October 1962 was a busy time in popular culture. Not only was the first Beatles 7”, Love Me Do, released in the UK, but the first James Bond film, Dr. No, was released in cinemas on the very same day.

One of the hundreds of lesser-known facts in Lewisohn’s book (he didn’t even mention the James Bond connection – perhaps he’s not a fan) is that Friday 5th October 1962 also marked the British release of the Beach Boys’ debut LP, Surfin’ Safari. I’m sure financial austerity was at its highest in 1962, and most people wouldn’t have been able to afford – or have the cultural nous – to consume all three releases, but imagine the handful of people who did? I can picture them waking up the following Saturday morning, wondering “Is it me or did life just get much better yesterday?”

This album – a compilation of the Beach Boys’ seminal ‘60s singles – is unbeatable. Do It Again and Good Vibrations are missing, but apart from that, it’s faultless. The very fact that they couldn’t fit everything on one disc is testament to their insane workload throughout the decade.

I was talking to somebody the other day about the horrible, boring way they taught music in English schools in the late ‘80s. Essentially you were plonked in front of an electric keyboard, and you had to follow the teacher, who was struggling to make sheet music interesting (all the kids just wanted to play with the sound effects anyway – either the button that turned each key into an orchestral blast, or the demo button that, with a little bit of pretending, made you look and sound like a gifted piano wunderkind).

They should do away with that approach, lock the door of the classroom and just play this album – loud! – to kids. If this doesn’t turn them onto music, they’re a lost cause.

Hit: Surfin’ USA

Hidden Gem: California Girls

Rocks In The Attic #312: The Beatles – ‘Past Masters Vol. 1’ (1988)

RITA#307Being as the Past Masters albums represent a net, picking up all the loose ends that don’t appear on any of the thirteen official albums, I always regard this as just as important a piece of the Beatles legacy as those works. For me, they are albums #14 and #15.

There are songs across both Past Masters releases that stand head and shoulders above some of the band’s deeper album tracks, and the only reason they weren’t included on the albums anyway was in line with the band’s policy to avoid including established singles from albums, which was the done thing at the time.

Like most of the record-buying world, I know the Past Masters collection from their CD release – where they are very separate releases. The vinyl version sticks them together as a double-album, which I think is an odd thing to do, joining two very different sets of songs together as an alternative – but incomplete – greatest hits. For this blog, I’m treating them as individual albums – that’s just the way I know them.

It must have been great to be a Beatles fan in 1988 when this came along. Credit goes to Mark Lewisohn who compiled the two albums – going back to see what had been excluded from the LPs throughout the ‘60s. The inclusion of all 4 tracks from the Long Tall Sally EP is great, and it’s nice to hear some of the B-sides get their moment in the sun.

Vol. 1 covers 1962 to the first half of 1965 and can very much be seen as the one album that encapsulates Beatlemania (more than any of the standalone studio albums), given the singles it includes – From Me To You, She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand – while the last A-side included on the album, 1964’s I Feel Fine, points to the second, more creative half of their career.

Anyway, who wouldn’t want to listen to the German-language version of She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand? It’s a shame Die Beatles only released one single – they could have been a great band…

Hit: She Loves You

Hidden Gem: I’m Down