Tag Archives: Rocks In The Attic

Rocks In The Attic At 250

A bit of a misleading title, as though I’ve been writing this blog since the good year 1763…

Despite carting my 600+ strong vinyl collection to the other side of the world in 2008, I somehow felt the need at the time to sell my turntable for a bit of pre-move cash. About a year ago, after living in New Zealand for over 4 years, I still didn’t own a turntable. I was still buying records, but I didn’t have anything to play them on. It got so bad that I started buying duplicates of records that I already owned – simply because I had become a stranger to my own record collection. ‘Did I really own Tracy Chapman’s debut album?’ I would ask myself in a record shop. When I got home, I realised that yes, I did, and no, it’s not an album worthy of having two copies.

A friend at work pointed out the absurdity of my situation, so I made a point to invest in a turntable as soon as possible. My technical know-how isn’t the best, so I really didn’t know what to buy. I’ve hung around with enough DJs in the past to know that I needed a direct-drive turntable, as opposed to an unreliable belt-drive turntable, but apart from that, I didn’t know a thing. I found a Stanton turntable on Trade Me – sold by a Cash Convertors-style shop – so it was still in relatively good condition, probably pawned by somebody not long after buying it. Thanks to the surround sound system left at our house by my Brother-In-Law, and a little pre-amp unit from the local electronics store, I was back in business. All those hundreds of shiny black discs in the corner of my living room could be listened to again!

Armchair CroppedAround this time, I had started reading Blog On The Tracks – the counter-culture music blog on the stuff.co.nz news website written by Wellington journalist Simon Sweetman. What a surprise to find something like this in New Zealand – it’s a real shame but most New Zealanders only get culture from their yoghurt. Simon’s blog made me think twice about New Zealand – it isn’t quite the cultural backwater that I had become to regard it as in the four years I had been living in the country. Yes, it’s a small country, and the majority of the population prefer the dull, simple pleasures of rugby and fishing, but there are intelligent, artistic people here too. I just need to look for them.

Simon’s side-blog, offthe tracks.co.nz features a segment called The Vinyl Countdown where he gives brief reviews of records in his collection. I had been toying with the idea of starting a music blog, writing about my favourite records, but focusing more on the personal stories behind why I bought the album in the first place, or the memories that go along with each disc. I’ve always thought the standard way that most journalists review music – by actually describing the sound coming out of the speakers – is very boring to read; and I’ve always liked it when a reviewer has put their own unique, personal slant on the record.

Reading offthetracks.co.nz – and being able to listen to my record collection again – gave me the final inspiration to start writing. I already had the intention to start a blog so I “borrowed” the format of The Vinyl Countdown, which gave me a structure for what I wanted to do. I’ve since apologised to Simon a couple of times for the blatant theft, and he’s always took it in good grace. I’m pretty sure that type of format is relatively common on blogging sites anyway, but I think it’s important to always pay respect and name your sources.

Record Collection April 2013So I started my blog, originally on blogger.com, but first I needed a name. Quickly finding that every pun on the word vinyl had already been used for a blog title, I opted for something that was a bit more personal. Two of the strongest ‘70s albums from my all-time favourite band Aerosmith, Toys In The Attic and Rocks, had always been a cornerstone of my record collection, so combining these titles seemed to work. It was either Rocks In The Attic or Toys In The Cellar.

Looking back, a couple of things stand out as regrets. I started naming a ‘hit’ and a ‘hidden gem’ for each album at the end of each post, and although this sounds relatively simple, it’s bloody hard sometimes. There are a couple of records in my collection that have nothing close to anything you would regard as a ‘hit’ (or a ‘hidden gem’ for that matter); and conversely, there are dozens of records in my collection where every song is a hit. I tend to regard the most well known song as the ‘hit’ (and if this doesn’t work, then the highest-placed charting single or the opening track); and the better of the lesser known songs as the ‘hidden gem’.

Another regret is my initial choice of Blogger as the location for my blog. I had used Blogger before so I was familiar with how to use it, and despite protestations from good friend Moo, I stuck with it. The last straw with Blogger occurred when the site stopped operating with Internet Explorer, and only accepted Google Chrome. Time to decamp, I thought. I then spent a whole weekend transferring my blog, post by post, which by then was well over a hundred, onto WordPress. After I had spent a great deal of time doing this, Moo innocently asked why I didn’t just use the ‘import blog’ function in WordPress. Cue Basil Fawlty meltdown.

One thing I did lose when I transferred to WordPress was some reader comments. Most of them came across, but for a time I was operating in both Blogger and WordPress, so when I shut the Blogger one down I lost a couple, especially from one excited reader who made a few welcome comments about The Band’s eponymous album. I hope he doesn’t think I was ignoring his worthy contribution.

When I started the blog, I put together an Excel spreadsheet, to log all of the albums I was posting about. With the aid of a few pivot tables and some automated formulas, I can accurately measure a couple of statistics. For the first forty or so posts, I tried to keep the distribution of albums by decade relatively even, but I knew that I couldn’t keep that up for long – my taste is far too geared towards the ‘60s and ‘70s to give anything later a chance.

After 250 posts, I can accurately report that the ‘70s are the most prominent decade in my collection, with 82 posts (33%). This is closely followed by the ‘80s, with 62 entries (25%).  The ‘90s (39, 16%) narrowly beat the ‘60’s (38, 15%). Unsurprisingly the 1950s, 2000s and 2010s are far behind with 1 (0%), 25 (10%) and 3 (1%) respectively.

The 250 posts I have written cover 287 actual discs – accounting for double-LPs and bonus discs – and 189 hours, 8 minutes and 10 seconds of actual music.

The frequency of particular artists in my collection doesn’t really surprise me either. Aside from 12 albums attributed to Various Artists (explained by soundtracks and compilations), the most common artists are Aerosmith (with 11 entries), The Beatles (8), The Rolling Stones (7), The Doobie Brothers and Led Zeppelin (both with 5), and Bob Dylan, R.E.M. and AC/DC (4 each). I’ve covered 159 separate artists so far, although there’s some double counting in there, for example, with Paul McCartney listed separate to Paul & Linda McCartney.

Couch CroppedEvery year since 1958 is represented, except 1959, 1960, 1961, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013. I actually have records in my collection from some of those years – I just haven’t managed to get around to them just yet – but I’ll try and fill in some of those gaps for when I run this same tally at #500.

The year that appears the most is 1980 with 12 entries, which surprises me as I really thought it would be a year from the previous decade. 1972, 1976 and 1977 come second, with 11 each, and joint bronze goes to 1971 and 2000, with 10 apiece.

Rocks In The Attic was always supposed to be a retrospective blog. It was always intended as a walk through my record collection, which mainly consists of older albums, but towards the end of the year I found myself writing about new releases from 2012. I guess that adds a bit of variety, rather than endlessly talking about records that are older than myself.

One thing I’ve really appreciated since getting fully back into listening to vinyl is the annual Record Store Day releases (and its offshoots throughout the year such as Black Friday). I’ve picked up a few things in the last 12 months – a ten-disc box-set of 7” Stax singles from 1968 to 1974, and a 10” soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Releases like this really show that vinyl is very much alive and kicking.

So, Rocks In The Attic has reached 250 and I’m not even halfway through my still growing collection. There are dozens of classic albums left to write about – both critically acclaimed and important to me (with a few guilty pleasures thrown in for good measure). I don’t think I’ll be ending this blog anytime soon – I’m having too much fun.

Thanks for reading.

Johnny Andrews, April 2013.

Hit: The fact that I get so much enjoyment from sitting down every Saturday morning and writing about the records I’m listening to.

Hidden Gem: Having anybody read my blog, and best of all, leaving a comment.

Rocks In The Attic #176: David Bowie – ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ (1971)

One record on from Space Oddity, and a notable step closer to Hunky Dory, but Bowie’s songwriting here is still maturing.

It’s odd that this album sounds quite a bit heavier than both Space Oddity and Hunky Dory, with a rock sound closer to the Ziggy Stardust album. It reminds me of the way the first couple of Queen albums are all heavy sludge without any particular attention to melody.

For an album with no singles, the title song remains the most well-known song – and I guess Nirvana are partly to thank for that. It’s a great song, with an odd timing, similar to Andy Warhol from Hunky Dory.

This record also marks Bowie’s first partnership with Mick Ronson and the start of the band that would go on to become The Spiders From Mars.

Hit: The Man Who Sold The World

Hidden Gem: Black Country Rock

Rocks In The Attic #175: Def Leppard – ‘Hysteria’ (1987)

The band put a lot into this album, especially the drummer. I’ve driven on the country road, Snake Pass between Sheffield and Manchester, where Rick Allen lost his arm – what a horrible thing to happen to a band. I guess anybody in a band losing an arm would be a horrible thing – it just seems that little bit more horrible that it was the drummer.

Growing up as a rock fan, you tend to see the same facts repeated over and over in magazines. One fact always associated with this album is that is the joint best-selling rock album, alongside AC/DC’s Back In Black. Looking at the R.I.A.A.’s list of best-selling albums, that seems to be a load of bollocks. Back In Black is in there, second only to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, but Def Leppard are nowhere to be seen in the top 30. Perhaps sales to strip clubs don’t count?

It wouldn’t surprise me if that claim was something started by Joe Elliot – Leppard’s lead singer, and chief ambassador for the band. In interviews, he has bragged about the level of alcohol found in former guitarist Steve Clark’s body when he died, being higher than the level of alcohol found in John Bonham’s body when he snuffed it – as though that makes Def Leppard the better band or something. What an odd thing to talk about. Anyway, with this level of misguided self-promotion, I wouldn’t be surprised if Elliot regularly told the press that his band’s 1987 offering was on a par with Back In Black in terms of sales. The big difference though is that Back In Black has aged well.

Hysteria isn’t a bad album, per se. It has a lot of hit singles – seven in total were taken from the album – but it just reeks of 1987. Their albums prior to this are far more interesting, but from this point onwards, all of their songs are mid-tempo to cater for their drummer’s new set-up.

Hit: Pour Some Sugar On Me

Hidden Gem: Women

Rocks In The Attic #174: Various Artists – ‘Ghostbusters (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

This represents the 200th disc I have reviewed for Rocks In The Attic. Not the 200th post (it’s only the 174th, but it’s the 200th actual disc accounting for all the double albums I’ve covered). Yes, I have a pivot table in Excel to keep  track of this!

I was very young but I have a very clear memory of seeing Ghostbusters when it came out. I don’t actually remember seeing it at the cinema – although I was definitely taken to see it – but I remember being infatuated with it after I had seen it.

I hadn’t heard anything about the film until one day at school when we were playing in the schoolyard. It was winter, we were building a snowman on the hard concrete and one of the other kids pointed to the sorry excuse for a snowman and said “He looks like the Stay Puft marshmallow man!” I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, but that night I was taken to see the film – I’m guessing at the Roxy cinema in Hollinwood, Manchester. And yes, that’s Hollinwood, not Hollywood. At school, we must have ‘played’ Ghostbusters at break-time for weeks or months after that.

My memory on that snowman incident is very clear – and, weather-wise, seems to tie up with the release date in the UK (7th December 1984). I would have been six and a half at the time, and I think this is one of my earliest memories that I can actually put a date to (thanks, IMDB).

My love for this film has gone through many changes. I initially liked it as a four year old because of the ghosts and special effects. I could never watch that first scene with the ghost in the library because it was far too scary! Growing up, as I saw the film on television, I then found an appreciation for the jokes. Before home video got popular, I remember the film showing on television was such an event to look forward to – I once watched it at a Christmas party or a New Year’s party, dropped off in a bedroom to watch it on a small portable television.

In the last decade or so, I’ve really developed a love for the soundtrack. You don’t tend to notice things like the music in a film when you’re very young – it just washes over you – but I think it sinks into your pores without you noticing, every time you watch it. I bought the soundtrack – I think from Mr. Sifter’s in Burnage, Manchester – on vinyl, and even though I hadn’t listened to the soundtrack before, it was as familiar as Mum’s cooking.

The music is very of-its-time, and there’s a couple of turkeys in there, but overall it’s a fantastic soundtrack. I’ll never be able to consider this collection of songs objectively – the songs are the film in my ears.

Hit: Ghostbusters – Ray Parker Jr.

Hidden Gem: Magic – Mick Smiley

Rocks In The Attic #173: Glenn Miller & His Orchestra – ‘The Unforgettable Glenn Miller’ (1977)

You can say what you want about who the first rock ‘n roll star is. Bill Haley? Elvis? Little Richard? Chuck Berry? Forget about it – as far as I’m concerned, Glenn Miller has as much right to that crown.

Glenn Miller was 40 when his plane went missing during the war, which puts him at the same age as John Lennon when he died. I don’t know about you, but I never see Miller’s face when you see those horrible paintings of ‘pop stars we lost too young’, alongside Lennon, Bob Marley and Jim Morrison. Miller’s only drawback is that he came along twenty years before the advent of pop music.

Okay, he’s a bandleader – and not a songwriter; an arranger – and not a lyricist; but his output is infinitely more interesting (musically) than a lot of twelve-bar blues based early rock n’ roll.

This is a great LP to listen to, with the added benefit that it makes my living room feel like a 1940s serviceman’s lounge for an hour.

Hit: In The Mood

Hidden Gem: Little Brown Jug

Rocks In The Attic #172: Steely Dan – ‘The Royal Scam’ (1976)

This is Steely Dan’s most guitar-heavy album. Given that I’m a guitarist, and I love Steely Dan, this should really be my favourite Steely Dan record. It isn’t (Pretzel Logic is), but I still love The Royal Scam.

Like most fans of the Dan I’d say that Fagen and Becker never put a foot wrong. The one album that people always put forward as their worst – their last one, Gaucho – is always held up as the beginning of the end (after six straight years of churning out an album every year, it took them three years to release Gaucho after the success of Aja). I actually like Gaucho, and it’s by no means my least favourite (Countdown To Ecstasy tends to be, although it’s still a fantastic album).

I haven’t bothered to check out their two ‘reunion’ albums released since 2000. I’ve heard a couple of tracks, and at least they seem to sound like Steely Dan – unlike most bands who release an album after twenty years apart and end up sounding like a bad tribute band (case in point: The Doobie Brothers’ last couple of studio albums in the 1990s and 2000s).

Out of all the bands I love – my top ten favourite bands even – Steely Dan are definitely the most lyrical. Being a guitar player, a lot of lyrics go straight over my head – I’m just busy listening to the band, I just haven’t got the time to try and start deciphering the words – and this is especially true of the Dan.  Their material is just so musically interesting, I just love everything that pours out of the stereo when they’re on.

Hit: Kid Charlemagne

Hidden Gem: The Fez

Rocks In The Attic #171: R.E.M. – ‘Monster’ (1994)

Unlike a lot of R.E.M. fans, I really like this album. It was the first album of theirs to be released after I started listening to music (I had started listening to music obsessively whilst Automatic For The People was oute, but I was too concerned with other bands to pay any notice to R.E.M. or to that album at the time).

A lot of people don’t like this album because it doesn’t sound like R.E.M. The guitars are more distorted than usual, and it comes across as more of a rock album than an alternative album. So what? That sounds perfect!

This was released a year (almost to the day) after Nirvana’s In Utero, which may go some way to explain the direction that band were taking. Even though the two bands are very different, they were both flagbearers for early-‘90s alternative rock, and you would be naive to think they weren’t keeping tabs on each other’s output (Monster even includes a song in tribute to the recently departed Cobain – Let Me In). R.E.M.’s producer Scott Litt had even been hired to fiddle with the sound of In Utero and to remix a couple of the album’s tracks before it was released, so perhaps a large part of the influence was channelled through him.

I have a very clear memory of discussing this album with my good friend Dominic Beresford a couple of years after it came out, when I was at University. The amusing question raised by the album’s opening track, What’s The Frequency, Kenneth, was how Peter Buck was expected the play the backwards guitar solo on the song when they were playing live. The idea of him travelling though time backwards via an onstage teleporter sounded lavish, implausible…but funny all the same.

I did see R.E.M. play live at Glastonbury a few years later – they did play the song, but my memory is sketchy as to what he did across those bars of the song. I did find the answer eventually – at a Simon & Garfunkel show a few years ago, the guitarist played a backwards guitar solo in the break of Hazy Shade Of Winter – without the aid of any Cronenberg-esque teleportation devices. Evidently there is a guitar pedal that replicates a backwards guitar solo. I don’t think Buck would have had that pedal at the time (it would have been reversed on tape in the traditional way), but the album does reek of a certain pedal – half the tracks are drenched in tremolo.

Another odd memory I have of this album is my roommate at University refusing to believe that the band released Bang And Blame as a single off this album. In the world of Google, this sounds like an odd thing to have an arguement about. These days, it’s too easy just to look on Wikipedia and confirm, but back then it was his word against mine. I knew it had been released as a single as I’d seen the music video, but he refused to believe it, I think because he was a huge R.E.M. fan, and this knowledge had somehow passed him by. Wikipedia – thankyou! – confirms it was the second single to be taken from the album.

I like most of this album but the one song I really love, Crush With Eyeliner, became a firm favourite of mine when I used to DJ at Oldham’s 38 Bar / The Castle.

Hit: What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?

Hidden Gem: Crush With Eyeliner