Tag Archives: Real Groovy

Rocks In The Attic #516: Carter Burwell – ‘Raising Arizona / Blood Simple (O.S.T.)’ (1987)

RITA#516aI was so happy to see this record looking back at me from the racks at Real Groovy. The soundtrack section is always my favourite place in a record shop, and Real Groovy’s never disappoints. I’ve found heaps of killer soundtracks there ever since I first visited the shop on my first trip to New Zealand in 2006.

There are some films you just don’t expect to find soundtracks for though. The Coen Brothers might have started their assault on Hollywood in the 1980s – the golden age of film soundtracks on vinyl – but for some reason I’d never expected to find any of their film soundtracks to add to my collection. Part of the reason is that their films are so highbrow, I just wouldn’t expect there to be any merchandising connected to the films. It’s not like you see guys wearing Hudsucker Proxy or Barton Fink t-shirts down at the local mall.

Raising Arizona was the first Coen Brothers films I saw. Its long-term effect on me firmly places it as my favourite of theirs. The film is probably more responsible than any other film for guiding me towards my cinematic likes and dislikes. There are some Coen Brothers films I love and some I just like, but there aren’t really any I dislike. Even films that they seem to be making for themselves, like the recent Hail Caesar, are still vastly superior and more entertaining than most of the formulaic bullshit to come out of Hollywood.

RITA#516bI remember seeing their debut Blood Simple relatively early on in my Coens-watching lifetime. It might have been the third film of theirs I saw after Raising Arizona and (probably) Fargo. I wasn’t ready to see it at that young age though. It washed over me and I didn’t really appreciate it. I gave it another chance about a year ago and it blew me away. A subtle, nourish thriller, one of its most haunting aspects is the moody score by Carter Burwell. Burwell would go on to score all of the Coen’s later works – an integral ingredient in their filmmaking process.

This record splits the two soundtracks – Blood Simple and Raising Arizona – over a single disc, giving a side to each film. You wouldn’t expect the two scores to have come from the same person. The brooding melancholy of Blood Simple is a million miles away from the yodelling banjos and heavenly synths of Raising Arizona.

Hit: Way Out ThereRaising Arizona

Hidden Gem: Crash And Burn Blood Simple

Rocks In The Attic #421: Supertramp – ‘Breakfast In America’ (1979)

RITA#421For some reason it took me a really long time to hunt down a clean second-hand copy of this record. I’d come across copies of it in the sale racks at Real Groovy all the time, but when I looked at the disc they always looked like somebody had actually eaten their breakfast off the top of them.

I remember reading that at one time it was probably the most ubiquitous record out there, because hi-fi shops were in the habit of giving the album away with every stereo system they sold. Maybe the record was a little too middle of the road for most people, and they banished it to an area where it would pick up dust before they found it twenty years later and sold it off in a bulk lot.

I finally found a nice copy one day, and for all its cheesiness, I love it. I love the harmonies. I love the balance between melancholia and bright cheery sunshine. I love the big fat lady serving breakfast on the cover. I love the reproduction of Manhattan done in breakfast-related cutlery and tableware. It makes me want to go to Denny’s. It makes me want to order a full breakfast from a big fat lady waitress in a yellow uniform.

Hit: Breakfast In America

Hidden Gem: Gone Hollywood

Rocks In The Attic #325: Tom Johnston – ‘Everything You’ve Heard Is True’ (1979)

RITA#325This is the first solo album by moustachioed head Doobie Brother Tom Johnston. I picked it up in the sales racks at Real Groovy in Auckland, and I’m glad I did. Sometimes you just have to trust your gut when buying records, and it paid off this time.

I guess it wasn’t too much of a risk – Johnston was the driving force behind the first classic run of Doobie Brothers albums, alongside Patrick Simmons – and so you’d expect a solo album to be more of the same, at the very least. Any risk comes from the question of whether Johnston could still cut it, five years after he made his last meaningful contribution to the Doobs. After Stampede in 1975, he effectively stood on the sidelines, only appearing on a few songs on Takin’ It To The Streets (1976) and Livin’ On The Fault Line (1977) before being replaced by beardy MOR pusher Michael McDonald. The reason – chronic stomach ulcers and “exhaustion”.

Thankfully, Everything You’ve Heard Is True is just like an early Doobs record. It’s even produced by Ted Templeman. The only noticeable change is that the songs are a little less rocky – so you don’t get anything approaching China Grove. There’s plenty of soul though – and a lot of the tracks are little funkier than your typical Doobie Brothers fare.

The cover shows Johnston sat on a stool in a bar, lighting a cigarette. Behind the bar, amongst the nuts and bottles, and usual debris and clutter you find behind a bar, there’s a great little pun. A printed sign reads ‘OUR CREDIT MANAGER IS HELEN WAITE. IF YOU WANT CREDIT GO TO HELEN WAITE.’

Hit: Savannah Nights

Hidden Gem: Down Along The River

Rocks In The Attic #150: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Axis: Bold As Love’ (1967)

Ten reasons why I love this album:

1. The Songs

Of the three studio albums released by Hendrix before his death, this comes across as the most personal. Are You Experienced is hook-driven and full of perfect three-minute pop songs, Electric Ladyland finds Hendrix immersed in the New York scene of barflies and hangers-on, but Axis catches him in full songwriter mode.

Hendrix’s lyrics are often overlooked, but he can really paint a picture with words. Axis showcases his love of science-fiction and his vivid imagination on tracks such as Spanish Castle Magic and Little Wing. Other songwriters can sound banal when they tell a story with lyrics – Paul McCartney commonly makes this mistake – but Hendrix seems to effortlessly get you on his side. His lyrics for Wait Until Tomorrow and Castles Made Of Sand are heartbreaking, and far from the sort of expectations set by the simplistic tone of Fire and Foxy Lady only a matter of months prior.

2. The Guitar Sound

I love the fuzz on Hendrix’s guitar throughout Are You Experienced.  The fade-in to Foxy Lady has to be one of the best sounds captured on a rock album – but Hendrix playing a clean tone on his guitar is even better. Thankfully this album is full of it.

The introduction to Little Wing is stunningly beautiful, and wouldn’t be quite the same if there was any overdrive involved. There’s a big difference between playing a guitar to chug away on some barre chords, and using it as a virtuoso instrument. It’s a really delicate piece, complimented perfectly by the addition of a glockenspiel – something that would usually be very much out of place on a rock album.

When I started learning to play the guitar, the first music book I bought was Electric Ladyland – there’s nothing like throwing yourself into the deep end. I didn’t last long with the book – I think I sold it to a friend as it was far too advanced for my skill level at the time. It always rankled me though, and eventually learning to play Little Wing gave me the confidence to go back and learn some of his other songs. I can play Hendrix’s stuff on the guitar reasonably well, but there are always a million subtleties that I overlook.

3. The Cover

If there’s one thing I hate about the late-‘60s, it’s the look associated with psychedelia. When The Beatles jumped on the bandwagon with Sgt. Pepper’s, they brought that look to a worldwide commercial level. People rave on about how timeless the Sgt. Pepper’s sleeve is, but I can’t stand it. It’s garish and like most record sleeves of that time, it dates it to a period when designers could get away with murder – as long as they painted their criminal efforts with as many colours as they had available to them.

The Sgt. Peppers sleeve is probably to blame for opening the doors of possibility for a number of visual crimes – The Rolling Stones’ terrible Their Satanic Majesties Request and Cream’s vomit-inducing Disraeli Gears immediately spring to mind. One other album sleeve to be thrown into that mix is Axis: Bold As Love. Quite simply though, I love it.

Rumour has it that the record company found out about Hendrix’s Cherokee ancestry. This got lost somewhere in translation, and the subsequent cover featured Hendrix amidst the wrong kind of Indians.

I’m sure most people would argue that the cover is just as offensive, wild and garish as anything produced around those times, but I truly see it as a piece of art – one of the nicest gafefold sleeves in my collection.

4. The Drum Intro To Little Miss Lover

Mitch Mitchell is oft-overlooked for his contribution to rock music. John Bonham and Keith Moon are always seen as the best drummers from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, but Mitchell is a master player. He just suffers from having his parts overshadowed by Hendrix – and what a problem to have.

One of his standout moments across all three Hendrix studio albums is this funk-driven introduction to Little Miss Lover. Unfortunately, it’s so good that somewhere along the way it caught the ears of the Master of Mediocrity, Noel Gallagher – who used the sample as the basis for Fuckin’ In The Bushes from their Standing On The Shoulder Of Giantsalbum.

This meant that for a distinct period of time, Oasis fans claimed themselves a bit of credibility because of the Hendrix connection. I already despised Oasis and their legion of numbskull fans; I loathed them even more now.

5. Walking Down The Aisle

When I got married in 2011, my wife walked down the aisle to Little Wing.

In the weeks running up the wedding, she couldn’t decide between that and Led Zeppelin’s Over The Hills And Far Away. She wanted both played at the wedding – one to walk down the aisle to, and the other to walk back up the aisle to, as a married couple.

I convinced her that Little Wing worked much better as a down-the-aisle song, as the section in Over The Hills And Far Away where the bass and drums kick in, a minute and a half into the song, seemed more apt to mark a joyous occasion.

The beautiful Little Wing was used to soundtrack a beautiful moment.

6. Fulfilling The Record Contract

Hendrix was tied to a really bad record contract from day one, and never really made any money before he died. His estate now makes millions off his name, and it’s sad that his business affairs were always in such dire straits during his short tenure as a rock star.

The initial contract Hendrix signed with Track Records tied the Experience to release two LPs during 1967. Are You Experiencedhad already landed in May of that year, so surely another release would be of an inferior quality. Most bands would knock something out quickly, but Hendrix turns around and delivers a masterpiece.

7. Three Copies And Counting

Of all the albums in my vinyl collection, this is the one I own the most copies of. I bought two second hand copies while I was still living in Manchester – neither of which had a gatefold sleeve. About a year ago I bought brand new copy of the 2010 reissue from Real Groovy in Auckland. This is a heavyweight vinyl release, and also features the full gatefold sleeve, together with a booklet containing photos and an essay on the album.

You can say what you want about the Experience Hendrix releases – yes, they may be cashing in on Hendrix – but they’re supremely well packaged, and give his music the justice it deserves. If you don’t like the endless re-releasing of his albums, don’t buy them. It’s that simple.

8. The Production.

Electric Ladyland, would perfect the direction that Hendrix wanted to go but his first soundscapes came along on the title song of Are You Experienced, and were cemented here on Axis.

The wall of rolling feedback that symbolises the sound of a UFO taking off, on the album’s comedic opener EXP, leads the way into a set of songs where production really is as important as the songwriting. Axis would be the second and final album that Hendrix would record with Chas Chandler on production duties, and you definitely get a feeling that these sessions were fun. Electric Ladyland, on the other hand, can sound very serious at times and just a bit too heavy. Man.

9. The Font.

Hendrix’s handwriting is easily identifiable- his handwritten lyrics happily pop up all over the liner notes of the Experience Hendrix releases.

This font of his handwriting style cleverly takes the name of the album – Axis Bold.

10. Spanish Castle Magic.

Purple Haze, Foxy Lady and Fire always get their dues when it comes to their place in the rock riff canon. For some reason, Spanish Castle Magic gets lost in the dust.

It has a wealth of riffs – the stuttering overdrive of the intro, the main arpeggiated riff, and the descending, syncopated power-chords of the verses all combine to provide a really heavy guitar assault.

Hit: Little Wing

Hidden Gem: Bold As Love

Rocks In The Attic #117: Peter Gabriel – ‘So’ (1986)

Rocks In The Attic #117: Peter Gabriel - ‘So’ (1986)I really should listen to more Peter Gabriel. His voice is awesome, but for some reason, even though I have a fair bit of early Genesis on vinyl – plus their entire back catalogue on my iPod – their brand of Englishness doesn’t connect with me as much as, say, Pink Floyd.

I saw a foreign pressing of this record the other week in the sales racks at Real Groovy. A Russian version, with all writing – bizarrely even Peter Gabriel’s name I think – in Russian. There wasn’t anything on the record in English, and nothing that would lead a non-Russian speaker that it was a record by Peter Gabriel – unless you recognised his photo on the cover (designed by Factory Records’ Peter Saville). I should have bought it simply for its curiosity value, but left it there. I’ll have to manage with my normal English version.

Sledgehammer is a song that reminds me of my youth, and of family holidays. My Dad loves the track, and I think most people loved it at the time because of its groundbreaking video. I haven’t seen that in a few years, but the song is a classic – a little bit funky, a little bit menacing, and a choice of arrangement and orchestration that on paper doesn’t sound too great, but completely fits when it blasts out of the speakers.

The album is co-produced (alongside Gabriel) by Daniel Lanois – better known for his work with Brian Eno amongst a whole raft of other notable production credits. It’s probably because of this that the album doesn’t sound as dated as it should. It’s slightly more experimental and cutting edge than most ‘rock’ albums of the mid-80s, and even though the record is peppered with synthesisers it doesn’t make the same kind of mistakes that cheeseballs like Paul McCartney were making with synths around the same time.

There’s a whole list of guest appearances on So – the most famous being the duet with Kate Bush, but also showing up are The Police’s Stewart Copeland, PP Arnold, Wayne Jackson from Stax Records’ Memphis Horns, Youssou N’dour, Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr, and Larry Klein (better known as the producer and former husband of Joni Mitchell).

Hit: Sledgehammer

Hidden Gem: Big Time

Rocks In The Attic #110: Wilson Pickett – ‘Wilson Pickett In Philadephia’ (1970)

Rocks In The Attic #110: Wilson Pickett - ‘Wilson Pickett In Philadephia’ (1970)I found this in the sale racks at Real Groovy in Auckland. I figured it must be a relatively decent release as the record was brand new – indicating that it was a reissue – so I quickly surmised that the general bad taste of New Zealand record buyers had left it languishing in the ‘New Items’ racks for so long that the staff decided to put it in the sale racks. I held onto it until I got it out of the shop – and what a find!

This album represents Pickett’s first recording outside of the Deep South, and away from the familiarity of Memphis and Muscle Shoals. It has a slightly grittier and funkier sound than his earlier work, but it’s nicely held together by the studio band and producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.

Hit: Help The Needy

Hidden Gem: Get Me Back On Time, Engine Number 9 (Part 1)

Rocks In The Attic #98: John Williams – ‘Jaws (O.S.T.)’ (1975)

Rocks In The Attic #98: John Williams - ‘Jaws (O.S.T.)’ (1975)One of my top five favourite films, and probably one of my top five favourite film soundtracks, I was so pleased to find this on vinyl in the soundtrack section of Real Groovy when I first came to New Zealand on holiday.

People assume that Williams is merely aping Bernard Herrman on this soundtrack, with the tuba on the soundtrack’s Main Title (Theme From Jaws) being as simple and effective as the strings in Herrman’s score for the shower scene in Psycho; but as Williams himself admits, his score is just some jaunty pirate music, bookended by a simple touch of horror music in the opening Main Title and a touch of calm in the closing End Title.

The repetitive motif that is introduced in Sea Attack Number One and opens One Barrel Chase and Preparing The Cage continually goes round and round in my head, probably more than any other piece of film soundtrack. If I start humming that theme, I will start off on one instrument and then follow this with another instrument, just like Williams’ arrangement. There’s only so many instruments I can mimic so it soon gets tired, until I start humming it again. And again. And again.

I’ve never been diving in a shark cage, but I can guarantee that when I eventually do, it won’t be the Main Title (Theme From Jaws) that will be going round in my head, it’ll be that tune that permeates through the second side of this album, and the latter half of the film.

Hit: Main Title (Theme From Jaws)

Hidden Gem: Preparing The Cage