Tag Archives: Phil Collins

Rocks In The Attic #664: Various Artists – ‘White Nights (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

RITA#664In the Spring of 1986, my grandmother took me on holiday. I was seven years old. The trip to North Wales was cemented in my memory by two events – the first was a visit to an arcade, where I played Spy Hunter endlessly; the second was a trip to the cinema.

The last time I had holidayed with my grandmother was in 1983 in Torquay – the jewel of the English Riviera! On that trip, we had seen Octopussy at the cinema – my first experience watching James Bond on the big screen.

Three years later, I remember standing in front of the cinema, begging my grandmother to let me watch a film I vaguely recognised by the poster outside in the lobby. “Are you sure?” I remember her asking. She wanted to take me into a children’s film instead, as the one I was pointing at looking at little too mature for my age, even though it was only a PG certificate. But I held firm. “No, I want to see that one.” The man at the box office smiled at my grandmother. She paid, and we were in the darkness of the cinema.

The film was a little too mature for me after all. My grandmother had been right. Still I enjoyed it, even though a lot of it went over my head. I raved about some of the sequences when we left the cinema, and she seemed relieved that I wasn’t mentally scarred by any of it.

And herein lies one of the most frustrating little mysteries of my life. For many years afterwards, I didn’t know what the film was that we had seen on that trip. I remembered a couple of key moments, and the tone of the film, but I didn’t know what it was called, or who any of the actors and actresses were.

Life before the internet was hard. You couldn’t just look shit up all the time. So every now and again, when I thought about the film, I would ask friends if they remembered a film about a male Russian ballet dancer, who escapes from somewhere with a black fella. That’s all I could remember. As you can imagine, this didn’t ring any bells with anybody.

If pushed, I could probably describe the film’s first eventful moment. The Russian ballet dancer was on a plane, which was crashing, and in a moment of panic, he fell backwards against the front of the cabin and the drinks trolley rolled into him at force, smashing into his face.

For year and years, I drew blanks whenever I described it to people, but it was always so clear in my mind. Of course, as soon as the internet made such things possible, I looked it up. The whole process took about three minutes. What a time to be alive!

The film, as you have probably guessed it by now, was Taylor Hackford’s White Nights, originally released in 1985 in the USA, but which didn’t see cinemas in the UK until the following March.

I’ve just watched it for the second time, some thirty-two years later. Due to a technical issue, I had to watch the film without any of the Russian dialogue being subtitled. This probably gave me the same level of understanding as I had when I was seven years old.

RITA#664aThe film opens with a world-famous ballet-dancer, Nikolai Rodchenko (Mikhail Baryshnikov), who has defected from the USSR, flying to Japan in a commercial jet. The jet runs into problems over Siberia and is forced to perform an emergency landing. Rodchenko suffers injuries during the crash – which I had remembered surprisingly well – and is picked up by the KGB who brand him a traitor. Unable to escape, he is installed in a Leningrad apartment with a black American tap-dancer, Raymond Greenwood (Gregory Hines) and his wife, Darya (a young Isabella Rossellini in her first credited screen role). Anxious to present the return of their famous son to the rest of the word, the authorities arrange for him to return to the stage with his former dancing partner (Helen Mirren). Rodchenko escapes to the American Embassy, with Darya – in a very tense sequence – while Raymond stays behind to delay the authorities. The film’s finale finds Raymond about to be executed by firing squad, an event which is then revealed to be a prisoner exchange between East and West. He is traded for a political prisoner and walks over the border, to freedom and into the arms of his wife.

The film’s key selling point is the culture clash between East and West, between black and white, and between ballet and tap, as Baryshnikov and Hines’ characters bond over dancing to American pop music. The soundtrack is a typical slice of ‘80s pop and rock, with Phil Collins taking prime position with Separate Lives, a duet with Marilyn Martin (and written by Stephen Bishop of Tootsie fame).

Sadly absent from the soundtrack album is the film’s biggest song – Lionel Richie’s Say You, Say Me. This won the Oscar for Best Song at the 1986 Academy Awards, beating Separate Lives from the same film, as well as competition from Huey Lewis & The News’ The Power Of Love.

Hit: Separate Lives (Love Theme From White Nights)­ – Phil Collins & Marilyn Martin

Hidden Gem: My Love Is Chemical – Lou Reed

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Rocks In The Attic #585: Genesis – ‘Nursery Cryme’ (1971)

RITA#585
Thanks to a recommendation from comedian Josh Widdicombe, I’ve just finished watching Brian Pern – A Life In Rock, a BBC mock/rockumentary starring The Fast Show’s Simon Day. Over three three-episode series, the show tells the story of a Peter Gabriel-like character (Day) and his Genesis-like band, Thotch, all framed in the context of rock and roll history from the 1960s onwards.

As with This Is Spinal Tap, and every over mock/rockumentary since, the power of Brian Pern – A Life In Rock comes from affectionately poking fun at real people and real events. In a great scene-setting opening, Pern egotistically claims a number of ridiculous accomplishments: ‘I invented world music. I was the first musician to use plasticine in videos. The first musician to record with animals. My last album had the lowest bass line ever recorded. And long before Bob Geldof and Bono, I was staging charity concerts and writing songs to raise awareness for the helpless and hopeless.’ This then segues into one of the very well done pieces of “archive” footage, with Pern singing one of his hard-hitting message songs: ‘Why no black folk in Jersey? / Why no black folk in Sark? / Why no black folk in Guernsey? / Are they having a lark?’

One of my favourite recurring jokes in the show is the deliberating mislabelling of real-life musicians and entertainers who contribute in talking head clips. For example, in the first episode Queen’s Roger Taylor is labelled as ‘Roger Taylor – Duran Duran’ – a subtle joke on the fact that Duran Duran’s original drummer was also called Roger Taylor (alongside two other unrelated Taylors in the same band). It’s something that a young BBC researcher potentially could get wrong – and that’s where the humour lies. The joke is oft-repeated – Roger Moore is introduced as ‘George Lazenby’, Rick Parfitt as ‘Francis Rossi’, etc – but it never gets old.

It’s a credit to these celebrities that they obviously don’t mind being taken fun of. Even Peter Gabriel appears from time to time, as a villainous double of the titular character. ‘It made me laugh a lot…’ he has said of the show. ‘…even though it was at my expense. I love to laugh. Spike Milligan was a hero to me and I was a big Fast Show fan, but I’m not sure that part of me comes across when I bore people about politics and social stuff. People can’t always see who you really are.’

My other favourite moment of the show was the partly fabricated tale of Phil Collins drumming with Led Zeppelin at 1985’s Live Aid. In real life, Collins performed at the British leg of Live Aid before hopping onto Concorde and drumming with Zeppelin at the American leg. Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page blamed his band’s sluggish performance on Collins – claiming that the jet-lag suffered from his trans-Atlantic journey resulted in bad timekeeping during Stairway To Heaven (hmm, I’m not sure that Jimmy Page really understands jet-lag). In the Brian Pern version of events, an in-on-the-joke Phil Collins references Page’s allegation, before a clip of Collins drumming along to Stairway To Heaven in Philadelphia is tweaked to sound like he keeps bringing in the drum fill from In The Air Tonight at all the wrong moments.

Nursery Cryme is Genesis’ third studio album, and serves as another reminder to me that I’m just not a prog guy, particularly if the prog is rooted in English folk (Genesis, Jethro Tull, Yes) rather than the more electric, pysch/blues-inflected prog of a band like Pink Floyd.

Hit: Seven Stones

Hidden Gem: The Musical Box

Rocks In The Attic #552: Genesis – ‘Trespass’ (1970)

rita552I keep buying Genesis records, almost by accident, at record fairs. They’re always cheap – around the five dollar mark and so I reason that it can’t hurt to take them home. As a result, without any discernible effort I’ve managed to pick up most of their back catalogue – nine of their fifteen studio albums, plus 1973’s Genesis Live.

I wish original Pink Floyd records were as easy – and as cheap – to come across. This is a 1974 ABC Records re-pressing, and at five bucks was significantly cheaper than a Floyd record from around the same time would be.

I don’t think I’ll ever become a big Genesis fan no matter how many of their records I own. The Peter Gabriel years are all a bit too twee for me; a little bit too steeped in English folk. And while I prefer the Phil Collins era, there’s not a great deal of fresh air between those albums and a Collins solo record. I’m sure a diehard Genesis fan would disagree, but I’m too disinterested to spot the difference. Ah, ennui…

Hit: The Knife

Hidden Gem: White Mountain

Rocks In The Attic #453: Genesis – ‘Genesis Live’ (1973)

RITA#453I’m rather partial to a bit of Watcher Of The Skies – presented here in its live glory as the first song on this ‘inbetween’ record to fill the gap between Foxtrot and Selling England By The Pound. That’s not to say I’m a huge Genesis fan. I’m not. There’s just a bit too much in the way of keyboards on the earlier Peter Gabriel material, and I’m afraid to say that the Phil Collins years speak more to me, as disposable as they are.

I recently watched a documentary about the band (Genesis: Together And Apart), and not being a huge fan, two things really struck me. Firstly, how integral Tony Banks was (is?) to Genesis (the band was effectively built around him, not Peter Gabriel as I naively thought); and secondly, perhaps due to that very fact, how much of an absolute arsehole Tony Banks was (is?). Some people just shouldn’t let themselves be filmed. He single-handedly presents the band in a negative light, which I wouldn’t have any idea of if I hadn’t seen the documentary.

I now put Tony Banks in the same middle section of the Venn diagram (‘talented vs. complete arse’) as Don Henley from the Eagles. In the Eagles’ documentary History Of The Eagles, Henley’s recollection of the reasons why he fired guitarist Don Felder simply disgusted me. There are some people who are just so uptight, so against the spirit of rock ‘n roll, that you wonder how anybody in their right minds ever wanted to be in a band with them.

Hit: Watcher Of The Skies

Hidden Gem: The Return Of The Giant Hogweed

Rocks In The Attic #282: Marillion – ‘Misplaced Childhood’ (1985)

RITA#282Marillion sort of passed me by. With this 1985 album being their most successful, they were sort of past their glory years in the UK rock scene by the time I started listening to music in the early ‘90s. I remember hearing their name here and there, but anything I heard by them at the time was swiftly forgotten.

Kayleigh is a great single – and I love how the guitar intro cuts into the end of Pseudo Silk Kimono (all of the tracks bleed into one other throughout the album) – but I can understand how people see the song now as wishy-washy ‘80s nonsense. That’s probably more of a comment about the production of the song though, rather than the song itself. The synths on the album really do date the album and it’s hard to listen to this now without the keyboards standing out so much.

In fact, Marillion don’t sound a million miles away from mid-‘80s Genesis. The synths are very similar, they both fit under the prog-rock banner (although Genesis would move further and further away from that pigeonhole throughout the decade), and Fish sounds like he’s a combination of both Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. When Collins left Genesis, getting Fish on board would have been far more interesting than the choice they went with – Stiltskin’s Ray (“Who?”) Wilson.

Hit: Kayleigh

Hidden Gem: Childhoods End?

Rocks In The Attic #251: Genesis – ‘A Trick Of The Tail’ (1976)

RITA#251I’ll probably get lynched for this, but I prefer Phil Collins-era Genesis to the earlier Peter Gabriel albums. I actually prefer Gabriel’s voice, it sounds other-worldly, unlike Collins’ voice which really grates with its unrelenting nasality.

But I also prefer later Genesis albums – the albums of the ‘80s, from Duke onwards – which isn’t as much an admission of a guilty pleasure, but more of a confession that I just don’t enjoy keyboard-driven prog rock. You’d think that Tony Banks’ keyboard noodlings would ramp up after the departure of guitarist Steve Hackett, but they get a bit less aggressive, probably due to Phil Collins’ pop sensibilities pushing the band into more of a commercially appealing sound.

I first heard Genesis properly on the We Can’t Dance album – which is definitely a guilty pleasure of mine. Yes, that last gasp of the band with Collins on vocals might be best described as easy-listening, but I much prefer it to this ‘70s incarnation of Genesis. This is hard-listening.

Hit: A Trick Of The Tail

Hidden Gem: Entangled