Tag Archives: The Beach Boys

Rocks In The Attic #584: Nilsson – ‘The Point!’ (1971)

RITA#584
Charity shop finds can be a wonderful thing. To see an album from somebody’s name you recognise alongside a heap of junk records is more than enough motivation to get your wallet out. In a record store, even priced at $4 or $5, I would probably leave this in the racks. Sat alongside a James Last LP though, it suddenly becomes very attractive.

I’m so glad I took the punt and handed over my dollar. My knowledge of Harry Nilsson is very limited outside of Everybody’s Talkin’ and his drunken shenanigans as a key player in John Lennon’s Lost Weekend. I’m aware of Nilsson Schmilsson – a great album title for sure – but haven’t heard much of it save for the ubiquitous Coconut and the much covered Without You (or is that one called Ken Lee?).

So, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from The Point! Was this to be more introspective material, like his early hits, or just some average singer-songwriter fluff? Neither, I tell you. It’s a bonkers record through and through.

The album starts off with a poppy number, in the vein of post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys, entitled Everything’s Got ‘Em. It’s lovely – something you might hear on Holland – but then Nilsson’s spoken-word narration takes over and takes the record somewhere expected. A concept album, the narration and songs tell the fable of Oblio, the only round-headed boy in a village full of pointed-headed people. An animated film accompanies the album, and early pressings of the record were packaged with an illustrated booklet of the story inside (which my dollar copy still had). Although I’d never heard of it before, it was received well enough to be turned into a 1977 stage play featuring Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones from the Monkees.

Nilsson excuses the story as being conceived while on acid – and this isn’t hard to imagine given how fully engaged with the subject material the songs are. Nilsson isn’t dipping his toe in the water here; he’s fully immersed in this world he’s made up. This sort of thing would usually be a turn-off for me, but the songs are so great, and his narration is really nice to listen to.

Hit: Me And My Arrow

Hidden Gem: Everything’s Got ‘Em

Rocks In The Attic #539: Glenn Miller & His Orchestra – ‘The Glenn Miller Carnegie Hall Concert’ (1983)

rita539I need to get to Carnegie Hall. It sounds out of place, like it shouldn’t exist anymore. Built in 1891 and still going strong 125 years later, it more than justifies a pilgrimage before it gets shut down and turned into fancy New York apartments.

Glenn Miller, Harry Belafonte, and erm…Florence Foster Jenkins, it’s a venue steeped in history. Only the other day, WTF’s Marc Maron – one of my favourite podcasters – did a show there. What a place. Just imagine what has been seen and heard there over the years. The Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Beach Boys, the list is endless.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Glenn Miller was the first rock and roll star. Not only are these catchy swing tunes, they’re tight as hell. And with the back line of drums, bass, guitar and piano, Miller’s orchestra contains no less than five saxophones, four trumpets, and four trombones. No wonder the brass section sounds really fat. I bet Carnegie Hall was rocking that night in 1939.

Hit: In The Mood

Hidden Gem: Running Wild

Rocks In The Attic #464: The Beach Boys – ‘Surf’s Up’ (1971)

RITA#464I think this might be my favourite era of the Beach Boys. Of course I love the ‘60s Beach Boys – who doesn’t? – but their albums around this period feature music that is just so fragile and different from the surf pop from which they made their name.

I’ll put my money on the fact that Ben Folds listened to this record when he was growing up. In fact, it sounds so close, it could be a Ben Folds record if only there was a little bit more piano on it. Ben definitely hits the keys harder than Brian, but that’s where the differences end.

I recently watched the fabulous Brian Wilson biopic Love And Mercy on a plane into Sydney; one of those occasions where you find yourself hurrying the film up to finish, because you don’t think you’re going to make it to the end before the plane reaches its destination. I needn’t have worried; I made it in plenty of time.

Surf’s Up would be placed closer to the timeframe in the film where Brian Wilson is portrayed by Paul Dano – in fact it’s only five years after Good Vibrations was released, the crowning achievement of Dano’s Wilson. Those sections of the film work much better; the John Cusack scenes set in the ‘80s don’t revolve around the music as much. They’re more concerned with the drama of Wilson’s life at that time – something I just didn’t find as interesting as seeing Wilson teach the chord changes of Good Vibrations to the Wrecking Crew.

There are no big hit singles of this record. It wasn’t about hit singles by this time; it was a new decade and the album was king.

Hit: Feel Flows

Hidden Gem: Lookin’ at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)

Rocks In The Attic #452: The Everly Brothers – ‘Love Hurts’ (1984)

RITA#452Now these boys could write a tune…

It’s funny how some talent seems to be easily forgotten. The Everly Brothers’ close harmonies influenced the likes of the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel – yet, their catalogue of songs seems to be stuck in the ‘50s, isolated from the commercialism of the ‘60s. The fact that their greatest hits end up coming out on a cheap K-Tel compilation such as this in the ‘80s speaks volumes. They just don’t seem to get the respect they deserve, probably as a result of their material endlessly changing hands and ending up with a record company that doesn’t really know how to present them as culturally significant and relevant songwriters.

Don and Phil were such an influence on John and Paul that they even get a namecheck on Wings’ Let Em In (from 1976’s Wings At The Speed Of Sound): ‘Sister Suzie, Brother John, Martin Luther, Phil And Don, Brother Michael, Auntie Gin, open the door and let ’em in.’ It’s hardly poetic. In fact, it’s McCartney at his laziest best, but there they are, the Everly Brothers, knocking on his door. Or ringing his doorbell actually.

Hit: All I Have To Do Is Dream

Hidden Gem: So Sad

Rocks In The Attic #395: Status Quo – ’12 Gold Bars’ (1980)

RITA#395Why not?

That was a rhetorical question, by the way. I think of few reasons as to ‘why’, but a multitude of reasons as to ‘why not’. I recently read the autobiography of Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt – embarrassingly called XS All Areas – and I can quite honestly say it was the worst rock autobiography I’ve ever read. And I’ve read Steven Tyler’s autobiography.

The really damning thing about Status Quo’s story is that they just come across as dullards who got lucky playing pub rock. They then screwed founding member Alan Lancaster over by dissolving the band in 1985 and then regrouping without him. Nice, really nice. Rock and roll seems to be full of those nasty stories – whether it be Pink Floyd simply not bothering to pick up Syd Barrett on the way to the recording studio one night, or Lennon, McCartney and Harrison getting Brian Epstein to do their dirty work for them by breaking the news to Pete Best that he was out of the band.

Still, Quo were a fantastic choice to open Live Aid, only because Rockin’ All Over The World was so apt. It couldn’t have been more appropriate unless they had opened with an obscure b-side about Ethiopians starving to death.

But that’s it. That day in July 1985, with Alan Lancaster’s very last appearance on bass guitar, is where Quo stopped for me. The Status Quo finally changed. They turned into a lame ‘80s band with shorter hair, trendy ‘80s clothes and a younger backline. I can’t listen to something like In The Army Now without cringing. And what a fall – working with fellow nostalgia hawkers the Beach Boys, or bringing out songs extolling the virtues of Manchester United – it just got worse and worse, like a car crash happening in super slow motion. Is it over yet?

Hit: Rockin’ All Over The World

Hidden Gem: Living On An Island

Rocks In The Attic #372: Various Artists – ‘60 Number Ones Of The Sixties’ (1990)

RITA#372In terms of hits, this is the undoubtedly the best album in my collection. Sixty (UK) number ones! That’s a lot of A-sides – and most of them are still superb, even now fifty years later. I bought this for DJing purposes – and while I did delve into it from time to time, I ended up playing Je T’aime by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin the most because the landlord of the bar I worked at really liked it.

Oh, and San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair) by Scott McKenzie, because Danny Beetle used to like that one. And Do It Again by the Beach Boys, because that’s my favourite single of theirs. And Tom Jones’ It’s Not Unusual always goes down a treat, doesn’t it? It seems everybody has their favourite ‘60s hit.

Sixty number ones, and not a record by the likes of Elvis, the Beatles or the Stones. It’s a wonder how anyone else ever managed to reach the top, with Lennon and McCartney dominating the charts the rest of the time. And looking at the quality of the songs on here, why would anybody even bother? If I was a recording artist in the 1960s and I heard something as sublime as Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross (Peter Green single-handedly inventing chill-out and ambient in one fell swoop), I’d just give up there and then. Get a job in a shoe shop or something.

Hit: Baby Love – The Supremes

Hidden Gem: Shakin’ All Over – Johnny Kidd & The Pirates

Rocks In The Attic #347: The Beach Boys – ‘Endless Summer’ (1981)

RITA#347I’ve just finished reading Mark Lewisohn’s Beatles biography, All These Years, Volume One – Tune In. As much as I enjoyed it – all 1000 pages of it – a breathtaking example of pure, meticulous research from start to finish, I’m glad that I finished it. I now have to wait until 2020 to read the second volume, and hopefully I’ll still be alive in 2028 when the third and final volume comes out.

I’d always known that Friday 5th October 1962 was a busy time in popular culture. Not only was the first Beatles 7”, Love Me Do, released in the UK, but the first James Bond film, Dr. No, was released in cinemas on the very same day.

One of the hundreds of lesser-known facts in Lewisohn’s book (he didn’t even mention the James Bond connection – perhaps he’s not a fan) is that Friday 5th October 1962 also marked the British release of the Beach Boys’ debut LP, Surfin’ Safari. I’m sure financial austerity was at its highest in 1962, and most people wouldn’t have been able to afford – or have the cultural nous – to consume all three releases, but imagine the handful of people who did? I can picture them waking up the following Saturday morning, wondering “Is it me or did life just get much better yesterday?”

This album – a compilation of the Beach Boys’ seminal ‘60s singles – is unbeatable. Do It Again and Good Vibrations are missing, but apart from that, it’s faultless. The very fact that they couldn’t fit everything on one disc is testament to their insane workload throughout the decade.

I was talking to somebody the other day about the horrible, boring way they taught music in English schools in the late ‘80s. Essentially you were plonked in front of an electric keyboard, and you had to follow the teacher, who was struggling to make sheet music interesting (all the kids just wanted to play with the sound effects anyway – either the button that turned each key into an orchestral blast, or the demo button that, with a little bit of pretending, made you look and sound like a gifted piano wunderkind).

They should do away with that approach, lock the door of the classroom and just play this album – loud! – to kids. If this doesn’t turn them onto music, they’re a lost cause.

Hit: Surfin’ USA

Hidden Gem: California Girls