Tag Archives: The Beatles

Rocks In The Attic #632: Amen Corner – ‘Greatest Hits’ (1977)

RITA#632Greatest Hits can mean a lot of things. Some collections can cover decades, some much shorter. This disc represents the latter: twelve songs from a band that had a very short life, in that they only recorded across two years – 1968 and 1969.

Opening with the #1 single, (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice, things slip downhill quite suddenly with a cover of the Beatles’ Get Back. It’s not a bad cover – in fact, they re-imagine the song quite well from the original – but the prospect of a cover song as the second song on a Greatest Hits collection doesn’t bode well.

In fact, of the record’s twelve songs, another two are well-known covers – a more straightforward, yet sloppier, version of the Band’s The Weight that outstays its welcome, and a peaky version of the American Breed’s Bend Me, Shape Me – while the album’s final four songs are all live recordings. Surely this is the dictionary definition of scraping the barrel; but good on Immediate Records for trying.

Released in 1977 to benefit from frontman Andy Fairweather Low’s burgeoning solo career (and sideman to the likes of Eric Clapton and George Harrison), the album is a nice little nostalgia trip, and a snapshot of the band’s short life at the headier, and musically more interesting, end of the 1960s.

Hit: (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice

Hidden Gem: Get Back

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Rocks In The Attic #626: James Brown – ‘Get Up Offa That Thing ’ (1976)

RITA#626The collector in me breathes a heavy, internal sigh when I think about James Brown records. I’ve always liked the collecting aspect of music, almost as much as the tunes themselves. It started with Aerosmith, and I ingested everything greedily. Then I turned to AC/DC, same deal; then the Beatles. And on and on and on.

It’s too hard with James Brown though – he just has too many records. Wikipedia credits him with having sixty-three studio albums, fifteen live albums and forty-nine compilations (at the time of writing). Of course, there’s a lot of variability in there – a couple of diamonds for every half a dozen lumps of coal.

It’s always worth the effort mining his work though – this, his forty-sixth studio record, features one of his biggest hits, Get Up Offa That Thing / Release The Pressure. The song, released as a two-part single a couple of months before the album dropped, is a dancefloor smash and a worthy addition to the man credited on the sleeve as the Minister of New New Super Heavy Funk. He should add ‘doctor’ to his list of titles, given his medical advice in the song – ‘Get up offa that thing and dance till you feel better!’

RITA#626aI’d like to collect all sixty-three studio records but I think it might be too difficult, particularly considering my location in the world. I’m sure that I’d have a better chance if I was within driving distance of record shops in the Bronx, or other inner-city American areas. There’s always Discogs though, and that helped me greatly when I was collecting all of the James Bond soundtracks.

Perhaps I have another James-related quest in me. Five down, fifty-eight to go…

Hit: Get Up Offa That Thing / Release The Pressure

Hidden Gem: I Refuse To Lose

Rocks In The Attic #614: The Sex Pistols – ‘The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#614.jpgI saw Alex Cox’s Sid & Nancy recently. I’d avoided it all my life, not being a particular fan of either Alex Cox films or the Sex Pistols. I like Never Mind The Bollocks of course, I think it’s an essential rock and roll record for any collection, but to borrow a phrase of my Dad’s, I wouldn’t spit on them if they were on fire. Which begs the question – if there was a fire at a Pistols gig, would the audience be able to summon up the required levels of spittle to extinguish it?

There’s an unwritten law that bands from lower socio-economic backgrounds can’t be intellectual. To be intelligent is to be phoney. As long as they’re wise to the fact that they’re downtrodden by society, that’s all that matters. So you get people like John Lydon – arguably a very bright individual – pulling retarded faces and generally acting like a buffoon to get attention.

That first wave of British punk – and especially the Pistols – seemed to cultivate this trope. They even fired original bass-player Glen Matlock for being ‘boring’ (read: intelligent and articulate). He also washed his feet constantly in the sink and liked the Beatles, two things forbidden in the punk handbook.

Matlock’s replacement, the oft-celebrated Sid Vicious, represents for me everything that’s wrong about punk. Brought into the band because he looked good and was a friend of Rotten’s, his short tenure in the band only served to fuel the band’s notoriety. To go back to the Beatles, Vicious was essentially the Stuart Sutcliffe of the Sex Pistols – terrible at playing his instrument, but a good comrade and one that looked appealing (even if he didn’t sound appealing). Even punk bands of today will use Sid Vicious as their archetype. Green Day, who like to think of themselves as a punk band, but are just as much of a corporate shill as Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, have traded for decades on the sneer and attitude of Sid.

Gary Oldman’s portrayal in Sid & Nancy feels spot-on, when you compare it to interview footage from Sid’s few years in the limelight. He’s a junkie idiot, plain and simple, and the really cynical thing about the film is that it seems to celebrate Sid – holding him up as a hero and a martyr for punk.

I haven’t seen The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle – the Julien Temple mockumentary that this album soundtracks. I might get around to it one day, but I’ve had my fill of the Pistols for the time being. The record stands for itself though, and makes for a pretty interesting listen – a double-record with lots of archival live rehearsals, combined with some oddities. Sid croons through My Way and succeeds through some rock and roll covers, there’s an early, weightier version of Anarchy In The UK, and for a bit of levity some off the wall Pistols covers by a disco group, a trio of French street musicians and Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs backed by Pistols guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook.

Hit: Anarchy In The UK – The Sex Pistols

Hidden Gem: Black Arabs – Black Arabs

Rocks In The Attic #603: Alanis Morissette – ‘Jagged Little Pill’ (1995)

RITA#603On Boxing Day in 1995 I got the bus into Manchester, my Christmas money burning a hole in my pocket. I think I’ve managed to avoid Boxing Day crowds ever since, but you don’t think about these things when you’re a teenager.

It was cold on Market Street, super cold. Still, those with money to spend had braved the cold to be able to spend it. I couldn’t find anything worth buying in the big HMV – my record store of choice – and found myself at the Virgin Megastore down the street.

I bought two CDs that day – the Beatles’ Revolver and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. One album would be an evergreen in my record collection to this day, the other a passing trend. In fact, a few years later when I sold all of my CDs, and started buying records, I re-bought Revolver immediately. Jagged Little Pill was released back in the day on vinyl, but it would have only been a limited run, and I probably wouldn’t have been too bothered in tracking it down.

If anything, I felt a little betrayed by the album. It had been marketed to me as an alternative rock fan – the lead single You Oughta Know came with a dark music video featuring Red Hot Chili Peppers Flea and Dave Navarro, who played on the song. I was still interested in the Chili Peppers around this time, and the recently released One Hot Minute was a regular feature on my Discman, so their involvement added an air of respectability to Morissette. You Oughta Know might be a great, rocking song but it’s one that is completely under-representative of the rest of the album.

And herein lies the rub. The rest of the record is interesting enough, but after I heard Hand In My Pocket or Ironic about a hundred times on the radio, my enthusiasm for the record started to wane. The album spilled a staggering six singles into the pop charts, and so it became harder to enjoy as a complete body of work.

RITA#603aI was still excited twenty years later to hear about the vinyl re-issue by Newbury Comics (and in a lovely blue marble pressing). But what would I think about the album after all these years? Well, it brings back lots of great memories from around 1995 and 1996 – finishing Sixth Form, a great summer with friends, and leaving home to go to University – but that’s about it.

I’m much more cynical now. Songs such as Perfect, Your Learn, Head Over Feet and Wake Up are stereotypical ‘90s coffee-shop rock. The overplayed big singles are just as hard to listen to, seemingly crafted to appeal to casual music fans or AOR fans looking for something between Bryan Adams albums. It’s not surprising to hear that Morissette co-wrote the album with producer Glen Ballard – the man who co-wrote Man In The Mirror for Michael Jackson.

The cynic in me also feels justified when I found out – via Morrissey’s autobiography – about a meeting he had with Warner Records in the early ‘90s:

Seconds later, I am not in his office. I am politely ushered out. I ask key faces at Reprise what it was all about, and I am reliably informed how Warner need a massively successful ‘act’ who is ‘alternative’, and I was indeed being auditioned for the star part since I had thus far been the most successful ‘alternative’ artist in America.
‘Alternative to what?’ I foolishly ask.
I hear nothing more, but I note the immediate meteoric Warner rise of Alanis Morissette – the incongruous promotional manifesto enveloping her first album that shifts 27 million copies worldwide. Evidently Alanis had all that I lacked in order to gain a saturated global push.
‘Is THAT why I was interviewed? I later ask Howie Klein.
‘YES!’ he half-shouts, as if I ought to know everything.

The rolodex spat out the next card in the alphabet and in Morrissey’s place they reinvented Morissette, a Canadian singer with two forgettable dance-pop albums to her name.

I’ve recently been re-watching The Trip To Italy. It was nice to hear Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon also reappraise her landmark album.

Hit: Ironic

Hidden Gem: All I Really Want

Rocks In The Attic #586: Walter Carlos – ‘Switched On Bach’ (1968)

RITA#586
I’ve been hearing a lot about this record recently, as I make my way through the Beatles Anthology Revisited – a sublime 28-hour ‘unofficial’ podcast I managed to hunt down online (despite it being continually taken down at the behest of Apple).

An influence on the Beatles’ swansong Abbey Road – if only a technical inspiration – Switched On Bach pointed to the way that a Moog synthesiser could be employed on record. I’m sure the Beatles would have been paying close attention to this album before they utilised George’s Moog on Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, Here Comes The Sun, Because and I Want You (She’s So Heavy).

Thankfully, the Beatles’ use of the synthesiser was relatively subtle and not as plinky-plonky as Walter – now Wendy – Carlos’ homage to Bach. It really sounds like music conceived inside a computer – which of course, it is – and it’s not hard to imagine this sounding so futuristic back in the late ‘60s. It still sounds futuristic!

Carlos would repeat the formula in 1971 on the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, this time playing the Moog to reproduce a couple of Ludwig Van’s big hits.

Hit: Air On A G String

Hidden Gem: Sinfonia To Cantata No. 29

Rocks In The Attic #578: Peter And Gordon – ‘Peter And Gordon’ (1964)

RITA#578Having Paul McCartney as your ­almost­ brother-in-law can’t be anything other than a good thing, especially if you’re trying to break into the music business.

In 1963, the Beatles left Liverpool for the Big Smoke of London town. John Lennon rented an apartment with wife Cynthia, while George and Ringo shared a flat together. Paul however moved into the house owned by the parents of his then-girlfriend (and later, fiancé) Jane Asher. Understandably, Paul was not allowed to sleep in Jane’s room, and so shared a room with her brother, Peter Asher.

In 1963, Paul offered the song A World Without Love to Peter and his song-writing partner Gordon Waller, after the duo were signed up by Columbia Records. The song had been written by Paul when he was a teenager, but had been deemed unsuitable for the Beatles. It would appear it was John who held the veto, as he could never get past Paul’s opening lyric. “The funny first line always used to please John,” Paul told Barry Miles in 1997. “’Please lock me away…’ ‘Yes, okay.’ End of song.”

You’d be wrong in thinking that Peter And Gordon were a one-hit wonder. McCartney’s kindness did help them establish their name – it was a number one on both sides of the Atlantic – but they didn’t stop there. They released a number of singles that charted in the Top Twenty, and their approach as a sort of English answer to Simon & Garfunkel would have been quite a refreshing change given that the charts would have been filled with pop, and rock and roll.

This debut album is really strong, and while it’s clear to see that Lennon and McCartney’s A World Without Love is the centrepiece of the record, there’s plenty of highlights along the way, whether it’s their own material, or covers like Little Richard’s Lucille or Ray Charles’ Leave My Woman Alone.

Hit: World Without Love

Hidden Gem: If I Were You

Rocks In The Attic #572: Various Artists – ‘Fletch (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

rita572Record collecting can be a rollercoaster of emotions. On the two vinyl collecting groups on Facebook that I hang around in, I regularly see posts from members who have bought something amazing, for next to nothing, from a charity shop / thrift store / op-shop (depending on where they are in the world).

These minor hauls are usually a random bunch of records, in perfect condition, that somebody has just donated to the store for reasons unknown. The accompanying photograph shows the records in all their pristine glory – first pressings of Beatles records, or a bunch of early Pink Floyd albums, or something unattainable like a plum Atlantic pressing of Led Zeppelin’s debut with turquoise lettering.

You want to be happy for the person posting their good news, but an overwhelming pang of jealousy kicks in and you want to kill the bastard instead. Why does this never happen to me, you ask yourself, as you recall the countless times you’ve sifted through the records at op-shops across New Zealand and found nothing better than the ingredients for a Nana Mouskouri / Harry Secombe  / James Last mash-up.

Recently my fortunes changed. I visited a new op-shop in my home town; a store that used to be a guitar shop until it closed down last year. I ventured into the shop cautiously and saw a bunch of records displayed on the racks that the previous shop used to display sheet music. There they were, the usual suspects; records that won’t sell in a million years. I picked up a Carly Simon compilation, and quickly put it down when I noticed the $12 price tag. Ouch! A cursory look told me that the pricing was wildly inconsistent – some were a dollar or two, some were over ten bucks.

Then I saw it, the soundtrack to one of my favourite ‘80s comedies – Fletch, starring Chevy Chase. And for the princely sum of two hundred New Zealand cents. It might not be a turquoise Led Zeppelin, but it was something I’d been looking for in the racks ever since I started purposefully collecting records in the late ‘90s.

Of course I could have easily found the record on Discogs, the global repository for record collecting, but there’s something about the thrill of finding a record in the wild. I really couldn’t believe my luck, although I’m sure nobody will share my enthusiasm for such a record.

Released a year after Beverly Hills Cop, the score to Fletch was also composed by Harold Faltermeyer – a very hot property around that mid-‘80s period. The soundtrack collects four songs performed by him, alongside a batch of typically nondescript ‘80s pop songs (a couple of which are produced by Faltermeyer). I even like these songs, by the likes of Stephanie Mills, Kim Wilde and John Farnham, as they’re just so linked to the film in my brain. Whenever I listen to Dan Hartman’s Fletch, Get Outta Town, I immediately think of Chevy Chase commandeering a sports car. Harold Faltermeyer’s Diggin’ In reminds me of Chase snooping around an office looking for clues just before being chased out of the property by a Doberman (if there were two dogs, would they be Dobermen?).

As a comedy of the 1980s, Fletch wasn’t by any means a commercial success. It isn’t Ghostbusters or The Blues Brothers or Beverly Hills Cop, but I love it. For me, it symbolises the time when I would record films off the television, to re-watch endlessly, using the VCR in my bedroom. On a four hour tape, I would record Fletch and then wait for months for the 1989 sequel, Fletch Lives, to be aired so I could record it straight after.

Hit: Bit By Bit (Theme From Fletch) – Stephanie Mills

Hidden Gem: Fletch Theme – Harold Faltermeyer