Tag Archives: Michael Stipe

Rocks In The Attic #556: Blondie – ‘Plastic Letters’ (1978)

rita556Plastic Letters is album number two for Blondie, and starts to see them move towards more of a pop sound after their grittier debut. Their choice of covering Randy & The Rainbow’s 1963 hit Denis points to the direction which the band was going in from this point forward. I can’t help but think that early fans of the band in and around New York City would have felt a little disappointed in this gradual shift in direction.

It would be the equivalent in the UK of the Pistols or the Clash recording a cover by Gerry & The Pacemakers for their second album. Now, while I could imagine Johnny Rotten and company doing something like this, it would be too much like selling out for Strummer’s band. Some punk bands remained true to their original manifesto, while others like Blondie made a shortcut straight past post-Punk and New Wave, seemingly straight into the pop mainstream.

Isn’t this just what successful bands do though? The Beatles very quickly turned their backs on their rock and roll roots, opting to magpie the best parts of Motown, folk and R&B to produce their own “original” pop sound (one gets the impression that the rock and roll covers on the first couple of Beatles albums would have sounded old-hat at the time, whereas looking back they appear to come from the same era). Perhaps Debbie Harry and Chris Stein always had their eyes on the pop charts when they put Blondie together. Maybe when they were writing their early two-minute punk songs, they were really writing two-minute pop songs.

Alongside Denis, the album’s other big hit (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear features the couplet Stay awake at night and count your R.E.M.s / When you’re talking with your super friends. While Michael Stipe claims to have chosen the name of his band at random from a dictionary, could he have subconsciously heard these lyrics on the radio?

Hit: Denis

Hidden Gem: Bermuda Triangle Blues (Flight 45)

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

Rocks In The Attic #146: R.E.M. – ‘Document’ (1987)

Rocks In The Attic #146: R.E.M. - ‘Document’ (1987)Document is R.E.M.’s fifth album, but their first with producer Scott Litt. You can hear how important this addition is, with not only a fantastic sound overall (the album, released on the independent I.R.S. Records comes across like a major label release) but a more channelled direction.

Earlier R.E.M. albums sound to me like a random bunch of Michael Stipe’s poetry set to Peter Buck’s jangly guitar. Here, they sound like a fully fledged band, readily placed on the brink of mainstream crossover.

Hit: The One I Love

Hidden Gem: Finest Worksong