Tag Archives: The Beatles

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

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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

Rocks In The Attic #560: Guns N’ Roses – ‘Appetite For Destruction’ (1987)

RITA#560.jpgI saw something last night I thought I’d never see – Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan on the same stage together. It’s been a long time coming, but for a large part of the twenty five years since I first heard Appetite For Destruction, it seemed unlikely that a reunion would ever happen. Slash kept himself busy, playing in Velvet Revolver (with Duff) before going on to record several decent solo albums. Axl retained the Guns N’ Roses name, touring the band in the 21st century with a host of stand-in musicians and finally releasing the long-threatened Chinese Democracy album in 2008. The new Axl was a portly fellow, rumoured to have an addiction to fried chicken and was described by one audience member in London as ‘a gold lamé blob up on stage.’ A reunion seemed as unlikely as all four Beatles playing together on stage.

Then the unthinkable happened. In 2016 Axl, Slash and Duff patched up their differences and announced a reunion tour. Who needs differences anyway when you’ve got millions of dollars to earn touring the world as a nostalgia act? Plus, that fried chicken won’t buy itself…

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The initial reaction was one of cynicism. Surely Axl would keep everybody waiting like he did in his prima donna days during the 1990s. Would it be worth buying a ticket if it meant waiting around for a few hours in the rain, waiting for Axl to finally take off his bathrobe and finish that last bucket of KFC? Of course it would!

Then the unthinkable part two happened. Axl landed the job as stand-in vocalist for AC/DC. It seems that Brian Johnson’s eardrums had enough of his own high-pitched screaming and put up a protest. He got a sick note from his doctor, ruling him out of that band due to the threat of permanent hearing loss. Step up, Mr. Rose.

It still hasn’t really sunk in that this actually happened – Axl Rose singing with AC/DC sounds like such an off-the-wall idea. Comparable to Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell singing in front of Rage Against The Machine. Oh wait, that actually happened too.

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What a great pairing – Axl DC – can it get any better? Brian Johnson’s vocals have never really fit the band if I have to be honest – there’s only so much shrieking I can handle, and after 1980’s Back In Black, there was a pretty consistent dip in quality. Other than Steven Tyler, Axl is the best choice to front Angus and company – he has the range to hit Brian Johnson’s high notes, and the ballsy tone to handle Bon Scott’s earlier material.

So the rock world waited with bated breath, and the unthinkable part three happened. Axl turned up on time and did his duty. No diva behaviour whatsoever – and best of all, his inclusion prompted the long-standing – and frankly, now quite boring – AC/DC set-list to change. They started playing songs they had rarely, if ever, played with Brian Johnson. Songs such as Riff Raff and Rock And Roll Damnation from 1978’s Powerage, If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) from 1979’s Highway To Hell, and 1975’s Live Wire (from the Australian T.N.T. album, or the international version of High Voltage). It was so refreshing to see these songs performed once again.

Then, one show into the GNR reunion tour, the unthinkable part four happened. Axl broke his foot. It’s still unclear how he did this – so one can only speculate that a bottle of Hot Sauce fell on his foot as he opened the fridge for a midnight feast of fried chicken. He ended up fulfilling the rest of GNR’s U.S. tour, and the remaining AC/DC dates sat on a throne of guitars borrowed from Dave Grohl.

Last night my wife took a bullet and stayed home to put the kids to bed so that I could go down early to catch the support band, Wolfmother. When I got to the stadium I spoke to a lovely lady named Lucy, who had endured a 9-hour bus trip from Gisborne to see the show. Crikey! She sat next to me as she rolled a joint, out of sight of the security staff, and in minutes we had bonded over our mutual dislike of Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers.

I was really looking forward to seeing Wolfmother after I caught them supporting Aerosmith in Dunedin back in 2013. At that concert, the sight of the band bouncing on to the stage like exuberant puppies made me smile. Four years later and they’ve reduced their ranks significantly. What was once a boisterous four- or five-piece back in 2013 has now distilled into a tight trio. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but it meant one member was pulling more than his fair share of the weight – bassist Ian Peres also played keyboards, incredibly both at the same time during some songs.

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Twenty minutes later and Guns N’ Fucking Roses emerged. My wife had made it with just minutes to spare, and thankfully she was there to see opener It’s So Easy. They followed this with Mr. Brownstone, and Western Springs went off like a firework.

Axl did that jaunty side-to-side dance with his microphone stand, looking like a menopausal Nicole Kidman, Slash took all his solos with his guitar propped up on one elevated thigh, and Duff kept up on the bass, sticking his neck out to sing backing vocals.

The set-list was really strong with songs from Appetite For Destruction, and while I like most of the singles from the Use Your Illusion records, the songs from the debut record are just in a different class. They’re truly magical, and the whole of that first record is like lightning in a bottle.

I could never really work out why I liked Appetite so much more than the Use Your Illusion albums, and it wasn’t until I read Slash’s autobiography that I figured it out. Drummer Steven Adler – the one missing component that didn’t survive into that second line-up of the band – really provides the groove of ­Appetite. His replacement Matt Sorum is a powerhouse drummer himself, but Adler had something else – a swing that you don’t get with most 4/4 rock drummers. I’d have loved to have seen a full reunion with Adler on board, alongside original rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, but I’m more than happy to have seen three out of the original five.

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Covers were well-represented, not surprisingly for a band with only four albums of original material to their name. As well as the likely contenders – Live And Let Die and Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – they also played the Misfit’s Attitude, the Who’s The Seeker, and in one really touching moment, a cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here afforded Slash and rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus the opportunity for a lovely bit of guitar work. November Rain was prefaced with Axl playing the piano outro from Derek & The Domino’s Layla, and Slash played snippets of the Godfather theme, Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) and Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You before the night was through.

If I had one criticism, it was that the show could have easily been an hour shorter. After two hours when I told my wife that there was almost another hour left, she mimed shooting herself in the head (I noted that this was an odd thing to do in the presence of Duff McKagan, the last person to see Kurt Cobain alive; they found themselves sitting next to each other on a flight to Seattle where Cobain took his life a few days later).

At one point, the audience nearly chuckled themselves to death when Axl sang his big emotional number – This I Love, from the Chinese Democracy record. This was like bad wedding music; just awful and such a polar opposite to the youthful vibrance that is all over Appetite For Destruction.

Hit: Sweet Child O’Mine

Hidden Gem: Mr. Brownstone

Rocks In The Attic #559: 10cc – ‘How Dare You!’ (1976)

RITA#559.jpgThe more I listen to 10cc, the more I like them. I could do without some of the more dated, twee music hall aspects of their songwriting – and I’m not enough of a 10cc fan to know which of the foursome is responsible for this influence – but in general their pros outweigh their cons.

Album number four starts with the title track, How Dare You – minus the exclamation mark – which acts as an overture of sorts, flipping through passages and guitar riffs from other songs on the record. 10cc really are an amazing band that pass through so many different styles, it’s almost impossible to classify them. They can straddle radio-friendly pop songs like the album’s big hit I’m Mandy Fly Me, but then turn around and deliver a straightforward rocker with a killer guitar riff like Art For Art’s Sake.

The opening tag on Art For Art’s Sake sets 10cc apart from other rock bands of the day – even though it feels disingenuous to refer to them simply as a rock act. Any other band would have hit straight into that guitar hook. Instead 10cc take their time, and build suspense that really pays off when the song kicks in.

Of course, none of this would be possible without their own recording studio – Strawberry Studios in Stockport. This offered the band the luxury of spending Beatle-worthy amounts of time tinkering with songs and producing the hell out of their records. If 10cc were any other band, restricted to the amount of time they could spend doing this, then the overall effect of their records would be so much weaker. Instead, it feels like they spend inordinate amounts of time getting deep album cuts just right, with the end effect being that the records sound balanced as a whole. Other rock acts of the day – take Wings, for a great example – released albums with one or two killer songs, usually lifted as singles, complimented by a raft of weaker album tracks. 10cc avoid this pitfall, and the records are nothing but entertaining as a result.

Hit: I’m Mandy Fly Me

Hidden Gem: How Dare You

Rocks In The Attic #556: Blondie – ‘Plastic Letters’ (1978)

rita556Plastic Letters is album number two for Blondie, and starts to see them move towards more of a pop sound after their grittier debut. Their choice of covering Randy & The Rainbow’s 1963 hit Denis points to the direction which the band was going in from this point forward. I can’t help but think that early fans of the band in and around New York City would have felt a little disappointed in this gradual shift in direction.

It would be the equivalent in the UK of the Pistols or the Clash recording a cover by Gerry & The Pacemakers for their second album. Now, while I could imagine Johnny Rotten and company doing something like this, it would be too much like selling out for Strummer’s band. Some punk bands remained true to their original manifesto, while others like Blondie made a shortcut straight past post-Punk and New Wave, seemingly straight into the pop mainstream.

Isn’t this just what successful bands do though? The Beatles very quickly turned their backs on their rock and roll roots, opting to magpie the best parts of Motown, folk and R&B to produce their own “original” pop sound (one gets the impression that the rock and roll covers on the first couple of Beatles albums would have sounded old-hat at the time, whereas looking back they appear to come from the same era). Perhaps Debbie Harry and Chris Stein always had their eyes on the pop charts when they put Blondie together. Maybe when they were writing their early two-minute punk songs, they were really writing two-minute pop songs.

Alongside Denis, the album’s other big hit (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear features the couplet Stay awake at night and count your R.E.M.s / When you’re talking with your super friends. While Michael Stipe claims to have chosen the name of his band at random from a dictionary, could he have subconsciously heard these lyrics on the radio?

Hit: Denis

Hidden Gem: Bermuda Triangle Blues (Flight 45)

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