Tag Archives: Michael Jackson

Rocks In The Attic #775: Michael Jackson – ‘Monsterjam’ (2017)

RITA#775I recently watched Quincy, the 2018 documentary about Quincy Jones, co-directed by his daughter Rashida Jones (with Alan Hicks). I was hoping it was going to be a feature-length episode about the Los Angeles medical examiner, but you can’t have everything.

Watching it, I was suddenly hit by the realisation that I’m not really a fan of Michael Jackson – I’m a fan of his partnership with Quincy Jones. I can take or leave most of Michael’s earlier material both with the Jacksons, and solo; and the same goes for most of his work after he stopped collaborating with Quincy, the 1930s-born producer who outlived him.

RITA#775aThose three classic albums – 1979’s Off The Wall, 1982’s Thriller and 1987’s Bad – are perhaps the perfect blend of artist and producer; maybe the greatest collaboration since Sir George Martin and the Beatles. Without Quincy, Michael would have continued making records; and vice versa. Neither would have had the same success though. Together, they made pure gold.

This unofficial release from 2017 is a lazy wedding DJ’s wet-dream: four 20-minute continuous mixes of the King of Pop’s hits over two LPs – one blue, one red. It’s a little Stars On 45 at times, but decent nevertheless.

Hit: Billie Jean

Hidden Gem: Scream

Rocks In The Attic #748: The Eagles – ‘Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975’ (1976)

RITA#748I’ve never been too much of a fan of pre-Joe Walsh Eagles. It’s all a bit too country, too many jangling guitars. I prefer the edgier twin-guitar RAWK of Don Felder and Joe Walsh, rather than this singer-songwriter stuff.

I’ll still love Hotel California to the day I die, but there’s a reason this greatest hits set has sold so many copies. For a very long time, it was the best-selling album of the twentieth century in the USA, until it was finally surpassed by Michael Jackson’s Thriller following his death in 2009.

Seeing the Eagles live recently – or what is left of the band, having lost Glenn Frey a couple of years ago – I was reminded just how good this earlier material is. When you’re listening to six guys blast out a wall of harmonies, it sounds unbelievable.

Frey’s death at the age of 67 left a gaping hole in the band. Don Henley’s voice is too smooth, too AOR in comparison, and Walsh’s voice is too weird, too out there. Would they get somebody else in to stand in for Frey?

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The answer is yes…and no. Established singer-songwriter Vince Gill was brought into the band to fill the gap left by Frey’s absence. His guitar playing and singing – particularly a standout performance on Take It To The Limit – more than earned his place alongside Felder and Walsh.

The band’s secret weapon though was a clone of Glenn Frey, in the form of his 25-year old son, Deacon Frey. Young and handsome (next to the old men he shared a stage with), his vocals and acoustic guitar on the songs his father used to tackle – Take It Easy, Peaceful Easy Feeling, Already Gone – was uncanny. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And good on him – apparently his first show with the band was at Dodger Stadium, so very much launched into life in the fast lane.

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The big question though was how the guitar solos on Hotel California were going to be handled. Lead-guitarist Steuart Smith was clearly the replacement for Don Felder, but I was curious whether he would play the song on a double-necked guitar as per his predecessor. Worry not, a blast of Mexican trumpet led into the opening 12-string acoustic section of the song, with a solitary spotlight on Smith playing a double-neck. My favourite guitar solo/s didn’t disappoint.

RITA#748cI expected the Eagles greatest hits – and got it! – but what I didn’t expect was the various solo songs by Joe Walsh and Don Henley. This was just as good – Walsh’s In The City, Walk Away, Life’s Been Good, Funk #49 and Rocky Mountain Way, and weirdly as a closer to the night (much to the chagrin of the man sat next to me), Don Henley’s The Boys Of Summer.

I wasn’t sure about seeing the band with so few original members, and not only were the wife and I both sick with head-colds, but we were also sat about 50 seats in from the aisles, which made getting out for refreshments virtually impossible. Despite all of this, it was still fantastic.

Hit: Take It Easy

Hidden Gem: Already Gone

Rocks In The Attic #713: Mantovani – ‘Hollywood’ (1967)

RITA#713I don’t know anything about Mantovani. This may be a good thing.

All I know about him is that he’s used as a reference in a joke in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker film from 1988. In the film, a young boy and his grandmother (shot in claymation) are on a guided tour of a Hollywood film studio. The young boy spots Jackson emerging from a sound studio – after filming the ‘young kids’ version of the Bad music video – and excitedly tries to tell his grandmother who it is.

“Look Granny, it’s M… Mm… M… Mm…”

“Mantovani?” she asks.

“No! MICHAEL JACKSON!”

RITA#713aThis compilation is a run through of ‘60s film classics played through the lens of Mantovani’s easy-listening orchestra. Think Henry Mancini’s Lujon applied to the melodies of John Barry, Elmer Bernstein and Maurice Jarre. It’s not as bad as it could be…

Hit: Goldfinger

Hidden Gem: Theme From Ben Hur

Rocks In The Attic #636: Michael Jackson – ‘Thriller’ (1982)

RITA#636Happy Halloween!

A couple of weeks ago, I spotted local Kiwi soap actor turned Hollywood bit-player Karl Urban in an Auckland shopping mall. After taking a surreptitious photo of him on my phone to send to my jealous wife (a big fan), I retreated with my kids up the escalators to the next level. Halfway up, I turned around to look back, and Urban was following us, a half dozen steps behind. We locked eyes, and I immediately saw the look of dread (dredd?) in his eyes. ‘Oh no…’ I imagined him thinking, ‘…another middle-aged Star Trek fan to make my life a misery. I just wanted to buy some underpants.’

I left him to his shopping (although I believe he was actually going to the cinema, probably the new Queen Latifah film† ), and went off with the kids. If I was any more of a fan, I might have approached him for a selfie, but I’d met him before – my friend asked for his autograph at the same event where I met Quentin Tarantino – and I didn’t get a good vide from him then.

A few minutes later, still buoyed from seeing a Hollywood actor in such a normal place, we stepped inside a shop. Michael Jackson’s Thriller started playing on the shop’s music system just as we walked in. It was the first time in a long time I had heard the song, and definitely the first time in a very long time I had heard it played at a decent volume. Man, what a song. I stayed in there for six minutes, holding my crotch with one hand, the back of my head with the other, and bending my knee in time to the beat, just so I could hear the end of the song. Unfortunately, I’m now banned from all branches of Bendon lingerie.

Often labelled as the best-selling album of all time – and rightly so, despite some strange reporting of sales numbers ranging between 66 million to 120 million – Michael Jackson’s Thriller is a beast of a record. His sixth solo studio record, it is the second album released on the Epic label following 1979’s Off The Wall, traditionally seen as the true starting point of his adult career.

Like Off The Wall, it is produced by Quincy Jones and where the earlier album was a marked departure from Jackson’s recording history with Motown, Thriller went a thousand steps further and turned him into a pop music phenomenon.

Prior to MTV landing in the UK – and light years before such things were readily available on the internet – my Dad would always try and seek out John Landis’ longform music video to Thriller, wherever he could. Every year, there was an American TV show, counting down the top 100 music videos, presented by Casey Kasem, and broadcast in the middle of the night on ITV. I recall my Dad waking me up in the middle of the night on more than one occasion just so we could go and watch the Thriller video in all its gory glory.

That 13-minute video is probably the reason I turned into such a big horror fan in my early teens, and is why I now spend so much time and effort on the internet pre-ordering horror soundtracks from Waxwork Records.

Thriller, the song, is worth the price of admission alone. But it isn’t even the biggest, most enduring hit on there. In fact, it was way down the list, the seventh and final single to be taken from the record.

Side two, song two, kicks off with perhaps one of the greatest locked–in grooves throughout all of pop, soul or funk. It’s such a groove, almost mathematical in its execution, that you can actually see it visually on the surface of the record, almost like a spiral that repeats on every rotation. The song, Billie Jean, is timeless, despite a music video that is – in contrast to the one for Thriller – heavily dated, with graphics and editing techniques showing the early days of MTV on its pastel-pink shirt sleeve.

Beat It, the other US#1 on the record (alongside Billie Jean), is another great song. Proving that Jackson can do hard rock just as well as he can do pop, the song’s centrepiece is a guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen – the hottest guitar player at the time. Upon hearing of Jackson’s request to appear on the song, Van Halen initially thought he was being pranked – especially when Jackson phoned and told him, in his high-pitched voice, that “I really like that high, fast stuff you do.” He later recorded his solo in a separate studio to a tape of the backing track, for no charge.

Beat It is clearly the heaviest song on the record, forewarned by a series of ominous synthesiser gongs on the intro (lifted note for note from a demo recording of the Synclavier II synthesiser). The lyrics re-imagine Jackson as a street punk – an idea he would revisit on the title track of his next album, Bad. However, where Beat It genuinely sounds tough, Bad sounds like a pastiche of street violence – with the opening lyric “Your butt is mine” showing how far out of touch Jackson had become since 1987.

The other singles on ThrillerThe Girl Is Mine, Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, Human Nature and P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) – are all very strong and individually could be the centrepiece of a lesser album. Personally I could do without the opening single, The Girl Is Mine, a duet with Paul McCartney. It isn’t a terrible song, but it’s easily the weakest of the seven singles, and pales in comparison to their other duet, Say Say Say, from McCartney’s Pipes Of Peace album. Released as a single during Jackson’s two-year promotion of the Thriller album, Say Say Say hit US#1; The Girl Is Mine had stalled at US#2.

I have such happy memories of the Thriller record. In terms of albums, I’d definitely choose it as one of my desert island discs. It has everything – songwriting, production and performance; a truly magical record.

Hit: Billie Jean

Hidden Gem: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’

†  Queen Latifah gag, copyright Seema Lal 2017

Rocks In The Attic #465: REO Speedwagon – ‘You Can Tune A Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish’ (1978)

RITA#465Thanks Moo. Thanks so much. You really shouldn’t have.

I always appreciate it when people give me records as gifts. There’s nothing more I’d like in the world. There’s nothing worse than receiving a gift that you’re just going to put at the back of a shelf to attract dust until you find it years later and end up throwing away.

At least with records, you always have them there to listen to if the feeling takes you. And when I feel the need to listen to some spectacularly titled AOR, it’s this album I always reach for.

That title though? Is there anything worse? I’m not sure there is. All of the dusty American rock bands of the mid ‘70s must have been shitting themselves when punk came along, and for some bands – Aerosmith’s Night In The Ruts is a good example – the new genre gave them a good kick up the backside. REO Speedwagon did something different though. They still continued to churn out the made moderate-speed moderate rock, but they just gave it a “funny” title that might appeal to the record-buying youth. I don’t think it worked.

Around this time – just before Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry met up and cursed themselves by naming their band so that their records would sit next to REO Speedwagon for the rest of eternity – there were so many bands of this ilk. REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Journey, Toto; I can’t really tell when one ends and another one starts. They’re all just very much the same in my mind. Toto get a pass because of Africa, and for their contribution to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, but all of the others can go and write some heart-wrenching pop together on a big desert island.

I remember being really amused when I was flicking through the racks at Beatin’ Rhythm in Manchester, and they’d put a load of (Journey vocalist) Steve Perry solo 7” singles in the Aerosmith section. Man, I bet they felt really stupid when they realised…

Hit: Roll With The Changes

Hidden Gem: The Unidentified Flying Tuna Trot

Can You Hear Me Major Tom?

Bowie 1
I heard a rumour from Ground Control, oh no, don’t say it’s true…

The world has lost some of its magic. Absolutely heartbreaking. It’s been almost a week now but I’ve been so upset about Bowie leaving us, that I’ve only just managed to start putting everything into context. Let’s start at the beginning…

When I was 9 my parents took me on a weekend trip down to London. Manchester might only be a train ride away from the capital at the other end of the country, but to me it felt like the other end of the world. London is so different to the rest of the country; it never feels like you’re in England. Down there you’re just as much a foreigner as all the other tourists.

One highlight of the trip was a visit to an attraction called Rock Circus. An extension of Madame Tussauds, this was essentially where they put all the rock n’ roll waxworks. Elvis, next to Michael Jackson, next to Buddy Holly, next to the Rolling Stones. You get the idea. It doesn’t exist anymore. I guess they decided that London had its share of celebrity waxworks at Tussauds.

At the end of the exhibit, we were ushered into a small viewing room. Everybody sat down – maybe twenty of us – and the lights dimmed. The familiar orchestral tune-up of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band started, the curtains opened, and there they were, the Beatles themselves. Well, obviously it wasn’t them; it was their waxworks, dressed in the fluorescent military garb from the front of the Peppers album cover. And just like that iconic image, they were flanked by endless rows of cut-outs of the Beatles’ heroes.

They roared through that opening track as much as you can expect a bunch of mannequins to. Their jaws opened and shut in time with the vocals, and to this 9-year old it looked pretty damn good. They probably segued into With A Little Help From My Friends – I can’t remember – but they finished and everybody clapped and cheered.

The curtain closed, and a minute later, a quiet acoustic guitar faded in. I now know it’s a C major going to an E minor, and back; but I wouldn’t have known that then. Then the curtains opened again, the scene has changed to a starfield in outer space and there’s some oddball – a waxwork again obviously – slowly spinning around in a spacesuit, with a bung eye and crazy snaggleteeth.

‘Ground Control to Major Tom…” he sang.

Ladies and gentleman, my introduction to Mr. David Bowie.

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I next ran into Bowie a couple of years later. At secondary school we had to go out into the big, bad world to do some work experience. I landed a job at a small engineering firm called B.J.Engineering. BJ engineering? Isn’t that what pimps do? It was the kind of place where they send the student to the local hardware store for a long stand, or to the sweet shop for a bag of clitoris drops. Thankfully, I didn’t suffer any such pranks; but for two weeks I had to answer the phone, saying “Good morning, B.J.Engineering, can I help you?” There’s nothing like starting at the very bottom.

On my first day, the foreman of the place went to the bookies on his lunch-break, and returned excitedly with a music cassette. It was a new album – Changesbowie – that had just come out that day. At home time, he offered me a lift to save me from the bus-ride, and the new cassette went straight onto the car stereo. I recalled the first song on the compilation – Space Oddity – from the London trip and the foreman’s enthusiasm for this weird looking singer planted a seed.

I then caught a great drama on the BBC in 1993 – The Buddha Of Suburbia – and noticed that the music for the series was performed by David Bowie. This guy is fucking everywhere, I thought, and he’s still relevant.

Bowie 4I started off with The Singles Collection when it was released in 1993, and I’ve been working my way through all of the individual studio albums ever since. I first got into the glam-rock Bowie (The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, Aladdin Sane), then I turned backwards to the singer-songwriter Bowie (Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory), then forward in time again to the strung-out on cocaine Bowie (Station To Station), onto the Berlin Bowie (Low, “Heroes”, Lodger), then to his early ‘80s pop reinvention (Let’s Dance).

These days I tend to jump all over the place. A little bit of Stone Love here, a little bit of Speed Of Life there, followed with that hypnotic bass line from Let’s Dance. Lately, I’ve been listening a lot to Seu Jorge’s studio sessions from The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. For the uninitiated, this is a great collection of Bowie covers by Brazilian musician Seu Jorge, played on a Spanish acoustic and sung in Portuguese. They’re wonderful interpretations – abstract yet ambient; even Bowie himself was a fan. “Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs acoustically in Portuguese I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with,” he is quoted as saying.

As a guitar player it’s the guitarists I tend to categorise Bowie by; and what a choice! Who do I want to listen to today? Mick Ronson? Earl Slick? Carlos Alomar? Robert Fripp? Nile Rodgers? Stevie Ray Vaughan? Absolutely incredible – what a roll-call! Bowie and Rodgers were in the crowd when Stevie Ray Vaughan played at the Montreau Jazz Festival in 1982, and despite seeing Vaughan booed off stage by the festival’s purist attendees, they still went backstage and offered him the gig playing on the Let’s Dance album.

My friend Vini and I would joke endlessly about Bowie’s music video for Be My Wife. His demeanour and actions in that video prompted many a drunken impression back in the day. That’s definitely the strung-out on cocaine Bowie right there. It’s like he’s doing an impression of himself. It would only be a better impression if Phil Cornwell from Stella Street was doing it.

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In January 2011, the 7” of Be My Wife even made an appearance at my wedding. My wife and I also put a nice CD together of all of our favourite songs to give away to people as a memento, and we included Wild Is The Wind on there as it’s a song that we both love so much. It’s nice that Bowie was part of that day.

The first person I thought of when I heard about Bowie’s death was Adam Buxton – from comedy duo Adam & Joe. Their enthusiasm for anything Bowie-related is legendary (they even did a nice little song about Bowie’s appearance in Labyrinth) and Buxton is such a super-fan, even taking Bowie as his specialist subject on Celebrity Mastermind, that my first thoughts were that Adam & Joe would never get to interview him.

(As a sidenote, it’s probably Adam & Joe’s fault that I love Ashes To Ashes so much. I had almost written the song off – I’ve never been fond of nursery rhyme style lyrics – but their love of the song opened up its world of magic to me. There is a lot going on in that song, both musically and lyrically, that it never gets old.)

Bowie 7Mark Twain once said ‘When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.” I feel the same way about Bowie – it’s just one of my natural instincts. If you love Bowie, then I automatically like you. How can any self-respecting muso not dig what he does? He subverted and crossed so many genres, he is his own genre. When I listened to rock, I listened to Bowie. When I listened to metal, I listened to Bowie. When I listened to punk, I listened to Bowie. When I listened to electronica, I listened to Bowie. When I listened to soul, I listened to Bowie. When I listened to jazz, I listened to Bowie. When I listened to blues, I listened to Bowie. Whenever I take a break from listening to music, I still listen to Bowie! I have a great Bowie t-shirt that says everything you need to know: “There’s old wave. There’s new. And there’s David Bowie…”

The surname has always been a subject of debate. Born David Robert Jones in Brixton in 1947, he changed his name to David Bowie to avoid confusion with the Monkees’ Davy Jones. The surname comes from the Bowie knife – that’s why it’s Bow-ie to rhyme with snowy, not Bow-ie to rhyme with Maui. Let’s try to get it right from now on.

There are so many moments that endlessly go around in my head. Like the story about celebrities being afraid to perform on TV with Bowie after Bing Crosby and Marc Bolan both met their end after duetting with him. Or the time that Bowie introduced the famous famine clip at Live Aid. Or the time Bowie serenaded Ricky Gervais on Extras: “Pathetic little fat man…”

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I once found myself in the Auckland Wintergardens, standing on the very same spot that Bowie had stood, being reprimanded back in 1983’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. We should never forget that he was a great actor – and could have filled the screen with great performances had he not concentrated on music.

Back in my days playing Delta 7, I used to do a cover of Ziggy Stardust during our acoustic set. It was probably my favourite Bowie song back then. Around the same time, I was lucky enough to see Bowie headline on the Sunday night at Glastonbury. His band started playing the opening bars of Wild Is The Wind, and after a few minutes, Bowie sauntered out in a palatial, quilted gold coat that looked like it had been sewn with the pubic hair of angels.

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Surely he wouldn’t play Ziggy Stardust, I thought; he’s just here to play the hits. But my friend Vini was adamant: “He’ll play it!”

Bowie thundered on through the set – all the songs you’d expect – but still no Ziggy Stardust. I had resigned myself that he wasn’t going to play it, but first song into the encore, there it was, that crashing G chord. Usually, I leave the festival in a funk as I don’t want to go back to the real world, but that year I left a very happy man.

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My only photograph of Bowie from that evening.

A couple of years later in another band, we used to rehearse on the top floor of an old mill in Manchester (Sankey’s Soap for those who remember). We used to be able to hear the Bowie tribute band in the room below our doing note-perfect renditions of songs like Five Years. I never actually saw the band, but the music was so spot-on, I’m glad I never did. It would have spoiled the illusion.

One of my favourite punch-the-air Bowie moments in recent years was attending the New Zealand premiere of The Cove in Auckland, with director Louie Psihoyos in attendance. I challenge anybody to find a more apt use of a song than Heroes on the end credits of that film.

Bowie 9In light of Bowie’s death, Psihoyos posted the following message on Facebook: “David Bowie could have charged us tens of thousands of dollars to license “Heroes” for The Cove – we didn’t have that kind of money – but one could dream. Pop songs by superstars like him can license for 6-7 figures. He made his publishers take the absolute minimum they would take and we were charged nearly nothing for that song. Rest in peace Mr Bowie, you are my hero.”

Last week, when the news broke about Bowie on Monday night, comedian Jimmy Carr was playing a stand-up show in Auckland. The news broke during the intermission. Now this is tricky ground – an offensive joke from Jimmy Carr is as sure as death and taxes (pun very much intended), but he treated the situation gracefully: “Looking on the plus side we’re all a little cooler now as the coolest man on Earth just died.”

I’m going to give the last word to a member of a vinyl group I’m a member of on Facebook, Bernado El Masiosare. It’s a popular sentiment we’ve heard before, but in this case it seems very appropriate:

Whenever you’re sad, just remember this world is 4.5 billion years old and you were so lucky to live at the same time as David Bowie.

 

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The last photograph of David Bowie, having fun promoting Blackstar on his 69th birthday.

Rocks In The Attic #449: Toto – ‘Toto IV’ (1982)

RITA#449Africa has a permanent place in my favourite songs of all time. I’ve always liked it, but its inclusion on the soundtrack to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City secured its spot in my list of guilty pleasures. Another reason why it’s such a great song is this incredible rendition of it by Perpetuum Jazzile – a vocal group from Slovenia. How clever is that?

What other song rhymes the word ‘company’ with the word ‘serengeti’? It’s just ridiculous. They should have rhymed ‘spaghetti’ with ‘serengeti’ – although quite how they could have explained why they were eating pasta on an African safari is anybody’s guess.

I was lucky (?) enough to see a couple of songs from this record – Rosanna and Africa – performed by Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band in 2012. At the time, Steve Lukather was one of the guitarists in the extremely soft-rock tinged band (alongside Todd Rundgren, Richard Page from Mr. Mister and Gregg Rolie from Santana and Kansas). By Lukather’s own admission on the night, Toto amounted to “party music” – “Hey Auckland – who wants to hear some party music?!?!?” – and he was right. Of all the covers played by the band that night, the Toto songs – Rosanna and Africa, naturally – really got the crowd on their feet.

I imagine this record was massive when it was released in 1982. People would have bought it for the hit singles that bookend the album, but the rest of the songs are great. I Won’t Hold You Back was sampled by Roger Sanchez on his 2001 number one Another Chance, and Make Believe also has a GTA connection, being picked up for the Vice City Stories soundtrack.

However, it was another album released around this time that overshadowed Toto IV. Once the album was in the can, the band delayed touring so that they could play on Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, creating a beast of a record and making Lukather one of the hottest players in the world.

Hit: Africa

Hidden Gem: It’s A Feeling

Rocks In The Attic #412: Terence Trent D’Arby – ‘The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby’ (1987)

RITA#412Singing with conviction is a big thing for a pop singer. It’s one of the reasons Michael Jackson was such a superstar. Singing a song and making it sound like the whole world depends on the lyrics coming out of your mouth is a skill not shared by many. James Brown was born with it. As was Sam & Dave and dozens of other soul singers. It’s not just a black thing though – Kevin Rowland from Dexys Midnight Runners has it too, to name just one honky.

Terence Trent D’Arby definitely has it. It’s a technique with its roots in gospel. Conviction means believing in what you’re singing / saying, and if you’re stood singing in church it’s an extension of your faith. Move over momma, I love the Lord more than you! James Brown came from that gospel tradition, as did Michael Jackson, following very much in James’ footsteps.

Terence Trent D’Arby really started off strongly. He came out of the gates running, and so you wouldn’t be blamed for putting a huge stack of money on him to win. Pop music is a steeplechase though, not a sprint, and after a few jumps his career began to falter. I have a soft spot for She Kissed Me from his third album, but he’s just one of many artists who failed to live up to the expectations set up by their first offering.

Ultimately, more glue factory than Grand National.

Hit: Sign Your Name

Hidden Gem: As Yet Untitled

Rocks In The Attic #410: Michael Jackson – ‘Off The Wall’ (1979)

RITA#410For many people, this is Michael’s debut record; in reality, it’s very far from that, being solo album number five. But just like Stevie Wonder’s Where I’m Coming From (and the later Music Of My Mind), it marked a departure away from the Motown hit machine – a kind of talent school / youth prison for both performers.

The big three Michael Jackson albums – Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad – are really the three pop albums of my childhood. My Dad was a big fan of his – introducing Thriller to me, and hungry for more I greedily consumer the two albums bookending it. Of the three it’s clearly the least adventurous – with one foot firmly placed in the disco camp, Michael isn’t a superstar yet but you can hear the DNA of his songwriting and melodies that would come to the fore on Thriller.

I would classify Off The Wall as ‘not quite enough’, Thriller as ‘perfect’ and Bad as ‘too much’. The three work great together to show his progression from a talented black singer to a white oddball superstar – and I loved every step of the journey. I could never get into his post-Bad material though; his version of reality went askew extremely rapidly and aside a few highlights like Scream with his sister Janet, I couldn’t really care less if he recorded anything after 1987.

I still miss his pop genius. There’s nobody who can write a bridge / middle eight with so much passion it makes it sound like he’s singing about the end of the world.

Hit: Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough

Hidden Gem: Off The Wall

Rocks In The Attic #356: S’Express – ‘Original Soundtrack’ (1989)

RITA#356“Drop that ghetto blaster!” Not sure how I managed to acquire this record, but it’s a guilty pleasure nevertheless. I don’t know what it is about early sampling, but it feels right – maybe because you can hear them stop and start. Obviously everything is sampled these days in electronic music, but you can’t hear the joins any more. Listening to S’Express is like watching Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects compared to the super-slick digital effects of today’s blockbusters.

I didn’t like this type of music when it came out – I was into Michael Jackson, Huey Lewis & The News, and, specifically in 1989, Prince’s Batman soundtrack. I turned 11 in 1989, and so I missed the boat on this and the acid house movement in Manchester. Damn, so close to a major musical breeding ground and I missed out on it by 5 or 6 years.

That might have been a blessing in disguise. By the time I was heavily into music – at the expense of everything else – the focus of the world of music was no longer on Manchester, but Seattle. All things considered, I’m glad I grew up with a guitar around my neck than a pair of headphones.

Hit: Theme From S’Express

Hidden Gem: Hey Music Lover