Tag Archives: Steely Dan

Rocks In The Attic #779: Various Artists – ‘FM (O.S.T.)’ (1978)

RITA#779Is there a worse film with such a great jukebox soundtrack? I don’t know what went on with the production of this film, but they managed to amass a who’s who of AOR tracks – courtesy of many different record labels – on the soundtrack.

It’s amazing to see the ident of the film studio, and the opening credits roll over a Steely Dan track. Their title track is one of the band’s only tracks not to appear on any of their studio albums, and serves as a great reason to own this soundtrack. Within the bands discography, it falls between the recording of 1977’s Aja and 1980’s Gaucho. The instrumental reprise of the title track, unavailable anywhere else, makes it essential for any diehard Steely Dan fan.

The plot of the film – a hit radio station staffed by a plucky bunch of rebels, faced with interference from their corporate owners – is about as interesting as the trade dispute storyline from The Phantom Menace.

The cast – of mostly unknowns – aren’t particularly bad, or unlikable, it’s just that the story is so damn uninteresting. It plays more like a soap opera than a feature film, and the claustrophobia of the radio station offices is really only punctured by two concert performances, by Jimmy ‘Great Spread’ Buffett and Linda Ronstadt.

RITA#779aWhat a corker of a soundtrack though. Alongside the Dan’s FM, we also get their groovy Do It Again, the Eagles’ Life In The Fast Lane, Foreigner’s Cold As Ice, the Doobie’s It Keeps You Runnin’, the Steve Miller Band’s Fly Like An Eagle, Tom Petty & The Heartbreaker’s Breakdown, Queen’s We Will Rock You and the full 8-minute cut of Joe Walsh’s Life’s Been Good To Me. It really is the American Graffiti of late ‘70s rock music. My only criticism is that it’s comprised entirely by white singers and bands, and I can’t imagine any radio station in the late 1970s being so blind to African-American artists.

In fact, the hits come so thick and fast, the film feels more like a 2-hour trailer for a much better film, given how used we are to hearing big songs flip between one to another so rapidly. It’s just a shame the film doesn’t live up to the quality of the music.

No static at all, but a whole load of white noise.

Hit: More Than A Feeling – Boston

Hidden Gem: FM Reprise – Steely Dan

Rocks In The Attic #702: Alexandre Desplat – ‘Isle Of Dogs (O.S.T.)’ (2018)

RITA#702Okay, I’m calling it: Wes Anderson has run out of ideas.

There was a time when I’d be over the moon about a new Wes Anderson film. For a long time, he was my favourite director. David Fincher films would show me the scary side of humanity, but Wes Anderson films would hold my hand and reassure me that it’s going to be alright.

But then the first damp squib emerged with 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, a film lacking originality beyond its armchair tourism setting. Back in 1974, John Cleese opted out of the fourth and final series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus out of a fear of repeating himself. In the same stale frame of mind, Anderson turned to a new medium to spark his creativity.

2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is the last great Wes Anderson film, and strangely so. It might be the first time he’s adapted the work of others – in this case, Roald Dahl’s children’s book – but the challenge of filming it with stop-motion puppets reinvigorated Anderson. After two decades of computer animation ruling children’s cinema, it was great to see something so home-made, yet so quintessentially from the whimsical mind of Anderson.

What followed were two live-action films that played like parodies of Wes Anderson films: 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom and 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. They looked great, they were complimented by wonderful ensemble casts, but the spark just wasn’t there. It was a long, long way from something like Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums or The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.

So it was with great trepidation that I approached Isle Of Dogs. As with all of his films, it looks nice, but it’s nothing more than a rehash of everything we’ve seen before.

The music, as always, is wonderful, and while I prefer the more idiosyncratic soundtrack collaborations with Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh earlier in Anderson’s career, these later ones scored by Aexandre Desplat come a close second. This particular soundtrack is worthwhile if only for introducing me to I Won’t Hurt You by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, a beautiful latter day Kinks song in everything but name.

I don’t look forward to Wes Anderson films anymore. In fact, I dread to think what Steely Dan think of his films now?

Hit: Midnight Sleighride  – The Sauter-Finegan Orchestra

Hidden Gem: I Won’t Hurt You – The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band

Rocks In The Attic #611: 10cc – ‘Bloody Tourists’ (1978)

RITA#611The band’s second studio LP following the departure of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, Bloody Tourists finds 10cc hitting full stride with their final number one single – Dreadlock Holiday – a song that might make you think they didn’t need Godley and Creme in the first place.

This is the 10cc of Live And Let Live – the live record recorded while touring 1977’s Deceptive Bends. If anything, the band sounds a little – not much, but a little – less whacky without the more experimental Godley and Creme. That odd music-hall influence has disappeared, and they now sound much more mature. There’s more of an AOR feel, and you can hear much more of that ‘Britain’s answer to Steely Dan’ comparison .

Is the post-split 10cc a less exciting proposition than the original four-piece version of the band? Yes and no. They can still surprise, but the surprises are fewer and farther between.

Hit: Dreadlock Holiday

Hidden Gem: For You And I

Rocks In The Attic #517: U.F.O. – ‘Strangers In The Night’ (1979)

RITA#517“Hello Chicago!…”

I felt like a blast of heavy metal, given that I’ve just watched Heavy Metal Parking Lot – the documentary love-letter to being young, dumb, full of booze and standing around waiting for your favourite band to play in your hometown.

The premise of the film is very simple – two documentary filmmakers, Jeff Krulik and John Heyn, took a movie camera and a microphone to the parking lot of the Capitol Centre arena in Landover, Maryland on May 31st 1986 to film heavy metal fans who had congregated there to see Judas Priest on their Fuel For Life tour.

As you might expect, the short film is full of idiots – boozed-up, shirtless and, for the most part, willing participants for the filmmakers who are obviously there to poke fun at their subjects. Krulik and Heyn don’t get too involved in fact, and the only ridiculing evident is self-inflicted, with some gentle prompting by way of questions to the interviewees.

The film did make me think about how I was at that age – in my mid-teens and with a love of heavy metal. I know my behaviour wasn’t quite as extreme as the teens in this film, but I definitely saw a lot of people acting like this as soon as they had a couple of beers inside them. Only a couple of years ago I was standing in the crowd at  Black Sabbath concert, and the young, overweight girl next to me was asleep on her feet, drunk out of her head, and smelling of vomit as she bounced against each of the people stood around her, like an intoxicated ball in a pinball machine.

I’ve always been staunchly against anything coming close to ‘laddish’ behaviour, but this film is full of it. The young teens are emboldened not just by their drunkenness, but by being safely amongst their own kind. It’s a kind of pack mentality; an innocent kind, without any negative consequences.

Even more interesting than the 1986 film, is Krulik and Heyn’s follow-up documentary which traces a handful of Heavy Metal Parking Lot’s original interviewees. Most of the subjects are happy to have been tracked down and can view the film with good-natured nostalgia for the days of their youth, but the final segment is slightly different. In their search for ‘Zebraman’ – a youth dressed in a zebra patterned two-piece outfit, Krulik and Heyn knock on a door of a suburban house to be greeted by the man himself. Only he has his arms crossed and doesn’t look to happy that they’ve found him. He seems to be the only one to regret his involvement in the film, but still manages to crack a smile or two.

U.F.O.’s Strangers In The Night is a double live album from 1979, featuring songs recorded during the band’s North American tour promoting the Obsession album. It’s the last album to feature guitarist Michael Schenker, who almost went on to replace the recently departed Joe Perry in Aerosmith.

I know hardly anything about U.F.O. Their music, like a lot of classic heavy metal, bores me to tears. I think I first heard about the album in a special edition of Q or Mojo espousing essential rock albums. I never think a live album is a good way to first hear a band (although AC/DC Live worked wonders for me) and so this record just washes over me. As my wife once famously said to me at a Steely Dan concert, ‘I can’t tell when one song finishes and the next one starts’.

Hit: Doctor Doctor

Hidden Gem: Only You Can Rock Me

Rocks In The Attic #501: Band Of Horses – ‘Everything All The Time’ (2006)

RITA#501A few years ago, with the help of a friend at work, I pulled my head out of the sand long enough to hear a few new(ish) bands. I do this every now and then; something to put into my musical diet other than Creedence and Steely Dan. I used to do it all the time, almost exclusively. Back then I would listen to 60% – 80% contemporary music. Now it’s less than 2%. I just got tired of investing too much time in sub-par albums.

This is one of the bands that I liked the sound of, thanks to my friend Justin introducing me to them. It’s the debut record by Seattle indie rockers Band Of Horses, released on Sub Pop (not sub-par) in 2006.

Band Of Horses aren’t the kind of band I would listen to. They’re a little bit too far into the jangly guitar spectrum of bands for my liking, and they sound like the kind of band that would feature prominently in a Zach Braff film.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Zach Braff films, except the cloying sentimental bits. Garden State was fantastic though, and I even like its soundtrack, but I just don’t want to be the type of person who listens to those kinds of bands all the time.

This is a lovely album though. It’s a little underproduced – mainly because the recording sounds live, with minimal overdubs – so there’s nothing fancy about it. It’s a very lush-sounding record, but because there isn’t anything featured except vocals, guitars, bass and drums, all of the songs tend to slide into one another, and apart from the melodies there isn’t much to tell one song from the next.

Hit: The Funeral

Hidden Gem: The First Song

Rocks In The Attic #460: 10cc – ‘10cc’ (1973)

RITA#460My parents recently came over to our side of the world for Christmas, and my Dad brought with him a couple of ripe quiz questions. The first one was something along the lines of:

‘Which ‘60s group’s first three singles went to #1 in the UK?’

The answer wasn’t 10cc (they didn’t get release a single as 10cc until the early ‘70s) – it was Gerry & The Pacemakers – but his second question was just as tricky:

‘Which band’s three UK #1s were sung by different vocalists?’

This had me scratching my head for days, thinking it was going to be more of a vocal group like Sister Sledge or somebody like that, rather than a band who play instruments. Of course the correct answer was 10cc – Rubber Bullets (Lol Creme) in 1973, I’m Not In Love (Eric Stewart) in 1975, and Dreadlock Holiday (Graham Gouldman) in 1978.

This lovely reissue of 10cc’s debut from 1973 – in beautiful red vinyl – features some interesting liner notes (remember them?) by Michael Heatley. In his short biography of the band up to this point, Heatley mentions that 10cc, despite the harmonic similarities drawn between themselves and Queen, saw their output to be more in line with Steely Dan. I’ve never considered this, but they’re probably as close as you’re going to get to the UK’s answer to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s clever lyrics.

What isn’t in debate is the quality of 10cc’s output by their first album. No debut jitters here, they sound fully formed and their recent history as songwriters through the late ‘60s serves them well. This isn’t typical boy meets girl material; it’s storytelling with that acerbic and cynical wit typical of Becker and Fagen.

I love Rubber Bullets. Despite its camp charm, it’s got such a hook (similar in tone and subject matter to its partner in crime I Predict A Riot by the Kaiser Chiefs); but it’s by no means the only highlight of the album. Even if you take away the other singles – Donna, Johnny Don’t Do It and The Dean And I – you’re still left with a very strong set of songs; songs that other less-talented bands would probably kill for.

Hit: Rubber Bullets

Hidden Gem: Sand In My Face

Rocks In The Attic #376: Royal Blood – ‘Royal Blood’ (2014)

RITA#376Lord knows how they manage to get as much sound out of just a bass guitar and a drum kit, but all respect to them. Less is more, obviously. They also seem to be bringing cool back to podgy white males in leather jackets and baseball caps.

I don’t get to listen to much contemporary music these days, but this made such a noise in 2014 that I couldn’t resist it. It made a couple of ‘best album of the year’ lists, and that’s good enough for me. Thankfully I don’t have the time to wade through new releases looking for good material anymore; I’m happy enough to just take some recommendations at the end of the year. That means I can spend the rest of the time listening to Credence and Steely Dan.

As much as I like this album, I don’t really know what they’re going to do next. Another album of this could get very tired very soon. Either they’ll fill their sound out on album number two alongside a hotshot producer, like the Black Keys’ work with Danger Mouse, or they’ll do something else entirely. Who knows? The music press need to stop labelling them as the saviours of British rock though – nobody needs that kind of pressure.

Hit: Figure It Out

Hidden Gem: Careless