Tag Archives: The Blues Brothers

Rocks In The Attic #574: Steven Tyler – ‘We’re All Somebody From Somewhere’ (2016)

RITA#574.jpgAmerica needs our help. A series of unfortunate circumstances in the second half of 2016 led to one man being given more power than he can handle. It’s something we should all be collectively terrified of; a landmark event which could potentially have far-reaching consequences over the next few years, and beyond. Yes, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler has released a solo album…

I have to admit, Aerosmith’s ’70s output is the very root of my musical DNA and I’ve always remained somewhat of a fan of the band despite their long, slippery artistic slope from the ’90s to the present day.

I’m also an avid collector of the band’s output and so my shelves “need” this – Steven Tyler’s debut solo record. I dropped the needle on the first side with a mixture of trepidation and morbid curiosity. Could this record be as bad as it sounds on paper?

Recorded in Nashville, it’s an album of country rock songs – a genre that Tyler has focused on more and more ever since a joke song in the late ’80s surprised everybody and turned out to be way more popular than anybody could have expected.

If you recall the second commercial peak of the band – 1989’s Pump – the album ended with a ballad, What It Takes, that was nothing more than a straightforward parody. Tyler even sings it in a mock-country, southern drawl, and in the accompanying music video the band play the song in a bar, behind chicken-wire – their only experience of country music being the bar scene in The Blues Brothers.

The song was taken far too seriously and is still played in concert to this day. As a result, they overloaded their next studio album, 1993’s Get A Grip, with country rock ballads in an attempt to recapture this glory.

So it’s not a surprise that Tyler’s activities outside of the band have led him to Nashville, the home of country music, in an attempt to validate his efforts. Half of the record is produced by T Bone Burnett, so there’s another marker of authenticity for you.

As a whole, the record doesn’t sound too offensive. It’s the equivalent of combining all the more mediocre songs from the most recent Aerosmith studio albums, which themselves were a lesson in mediocrity.

Do you remember the Grammy Award winning Janie’s Got A Gun, from the Pump record? It was a song about sex-abuse, tastelessly sequenced in the middle of an album that was otherwise lyrically obsessed about the joys of sex. Even a country rock rendition of Janie’s Got A Gun on Tyler’s record isn’t as bad as it could have been, but having three quarters of Stone Temple Pilots as your backing band doesn’t hurt. Lindsey Buckingham turns up on one of the tracks too but his contributions don’t really stand out from the hired hands that make up the rest of the studio band.

The final song on the record – a cover of Big Brother & The Holding Company’s Piece Of My Heart – is probably the strongest song on the album. It’s a nice tribute to Janis Joplin, whose vocal style Tyler has aped from the very beginning, regardless of the lazy Jagger comparisons.

Don’t all thank me at once but I’ve been listening to Steven Tyler’s We’re All Somebody From Somewhere so you don’t have to!

Hit: Janie’s Got A Gun

Hidden Gem: Piece Of My Heart

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 #474: Various Artists – ‘Stax – Number Ones’ (2010)

RITA#474Stax Records: my favourite record label, hands down. Grittier than Motown, a talent pool for Atlantic, and a tale of a rags to riches underdog in a socially conscious and racially integrated framework, Stax has got it all. The 2007 documentary (Respect Yourself: The Stax Record Story) is essential viewing, but I’m waiting for the big budget Hollywood film to tell the story. Idris Elba as Otis Redding, anyone?

Brother and Sister Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton started a country label, called Satellite Records, out of their garage in the late 1950s, but it was when they started recording R&B and changed their name to Stax that they got the attention of Atlantic Records, who picked them up with a distribution deal.

Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, Eddie Floyd, The Staple Singers, and of course, the Stax house band Booker T. & The M.G.s.; the label’s roll-call read like a who’s who of ‘60s and ‘70s soul acts. There’s something there for everyone, and a bunch of great number one hit singles, as this collection attests.

The Atlantic partnership proved to be the best and worst thing to happen to Stax though, and this is why it would be great subject material for a film. By distributing their records, and sometimes using the Stax studios to record artists on their own label, Atlantic acted as a protective big brother to Stax; but not for long.

In 1967, Atlantic was sold to Warners, and Stax fell by the wayside. Jim Stewart asked for the return of the Stax masters, but found out that Atlantic’s cuntish lawyers had included a clause in the 1965 distribution contract that gave away the rights to the Stax material to Atantic. Betrayed by his more savvy business partners and by his own naivety, Stewart eventually drove Stax into bankruptcy after a few short years as an independent. Such a shame.

I can’t remember the first time I heard about Stax. It was probably through my Dad, who has a great compilation – Atlantic Soul Classics – which captures (exploits?) a couple of acts from the Stax roster. I’ve since picked up that album on vinyl. After that, it was probably going back and discovering Booker T. & The M.G.s via the Blues Brothers. Good times.

Hit: (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay – Otis Redding

Hidden Gem: Who’s Making Love – Johnnie Taylor

Rocks In The Attic #373: John Carpenter & Alan Howarth – ‘They Live (O.S.T.)’ (1988)

RITA#373This night not be my favourite John Carpenter soundtrack, but it’s definitely one of my favourite John Carpenter films. It’s the antithesis of all those happy-go-lucky, optimistic ‘80s films – where the subtext was that in America, everything was yours for the taking. In They Live, we find that America belongs to somebody else and the sleeping majority are majorly asleep.

I probably first saw the film in 1990. I had been rapidly consuming American films around that time, and I had already started watching John Carpenter’s back catalogue – pretty much starting at the beginning with Dark Star and Assault On Precinct 13, and moving on through Halloween, The Fog and Escape From New York.

In April of1990, on the advice of a school friend, I watched the live broadcast of Wrestlmania VI. I was in the right place at the right time – my family had just got Sky TV, and the flashy, new WWF wrestling was one of its big draws. My favourite wrestler, ever since I saw him pitched against Bad News Brown at Wrestlemania was Rowdy Roddy Piper. He didn’t seem as fake as all the others and he seemed genuinely pleased to use humour to defeat his opponents.

So when the next John Carpenter film on my list came along, and I found out that Roddy Piper was the star, it just seemed like a great combination – films and WWF, it couldn’t get any better. I didn’t have any reservations that Piper couldn’t act – because, well, they’re all actors at the end of the day aren’t they? – I just accepted him as Nada, the loner hero of the film. I’d seen a film – No Holds Barred, starring Hulk Hogan – around the same time, and while that film wasn’t anything to write home about, They Live had the mark of a great director.

It’s probably one of my favourite films of the 1980s. There are many popular classics of that decade – The Blues Brothers, E.T., Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Back To The Future – but They Live wins points because it flew under the radar. To this day, I still meet people well versed in half a dozen of the more well known Carpenter films, but who have never seen They Live.

I have to get me some more of these fantastic John Carpenter soundtrack reissues. This particular one is a lovely transparent vinyl.

Hit: Coming To L.A.

Hidden Gem: Wake Up

Rocks In The Attic #365: Various Artists – ‘The Blues Brothers (O.S.T.)’ (1980)

RITA#365On a family holiday when I was around 14, we drove down to Newquay in Cornwall, and stayed in a Bed & Breakfast on the seafront. On our first day, in fact only twenty minutes after we had arrived, we walked around to the parade of shops next to the B&B. In one of the shops was a wall of second-hand cassettes. I bought this album on tape, together with Toys In The Attic by Aerosmith. Both cassettes became not only the soundtrack to that holiday, but they became first favourites that have never left me.

I love the music of The Blues Brothers just as much as I love the film itself. There’s an unfortunate pigeon-holing that seems to go on though, that resigns both the film and the soundtrack to the camp depths of party entertainment; cheesy music for poor people to sing karaoke to. It isn’t seen as the cultural landmark it should be regarded as, which is a shame. The film did so much for African American music, giving it a much needed shot in the arm. Who knows what would have happened had the film not been released – fewer James Brown records on the streets might have meant there wouldn’t have been as much sampling of Funky Drummer when hip-hop hit. That Clyde Stubblefield groove might have been taken up by the drum patterns of some non-funky white drummers instead. What a horrible thing to imagine.

What a rhythm section – Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn on bass, Steve Cropper on guitar (Steve ‘The Colonel’ Cropper as he’s referred to in the film, although I’ve never seen that nickname anywhere else) – both from Booker T. & The M.G.s – and Willie Hall, from the Bar-Kays, on drums. The brass section, from TV’s Saturday Night Live, are also fantastic although it’s a shame the Memphis Horns weren’t part of the band. I guess it might have been a little too Memphis, had that been the case, and while I would have loved it, the SNL horns were an integral part of the band from its earliest days as a John Belushi / Dan Aykroyd skit on Saturday Night Live.

Where else can you hear Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and James Brown singing on the same record? Even if you take these guys out, the songs performed by just the Blues Brothers band are worth the price of admission alone. I could listen to a song like She Caught The Katy all day, preferably while driving around in an old police cruiser. Just fix the cigarette lighter.

Hit: Everybody Needs Somebody To Love

Hidden Gem: She Caught The Katy

Rocks In The Attic #291: The Blues Brothers – ‘Briefcase Full Of Blues’ (1978)

RITA#291It’s a real shame that the Blues Brothers are never taken seriously. To many people they’re a cheap gimmick act from the world of karaoke and hen nights; a look you can pull off with a cheap suit, a pair of sunglasses and a dusty fedora trilby. It also helps if you’re tall and skinny, and have a like-minded fat friend – or vice versa.

They’re more than that though. I don’t think Dan Aykroyd was a million miles away when he claimed that the Blues Brothers were probably the third best revue band in the world (behind James Brown’s and Tina Turner’s bands respectively). The experience is definitely there – the rhythm section from the Stax house band combined with the horn section from Saturday Night Live. Throw a couple of actors in there who obviously have a deep love of blues, rhythm & blues and soul, and you have something that may be imitated often, but never bettered.

Aykroyd himself is probably as much to blame as anybody else for watering down the Blues Brothers’ legacy in more recent years, reprising the act on stage with James Belushi and John Goodman – and I don’t even want to think about that awful film sequel.

My favourite part of this live album (and its follow-up, 1980’s Made In America) is Dan Aykroyd’s motor-mouth introduction. On this album, he squeezes around 300 words into a frantic minute of Otis Redding’s I Can’t Turn You Loose – hitting his mark with perfection at the end of his speech.

Hit: Soul Man

Hidden Gem: Opening / I Can’t Turn You Loose

Rocks In The Attic #258: The Coasters – ’20 Great Originals’ (1978)

RITA#258This summer, the oldest song that was constantly on my playlist was Poison Ivy by The Coasters. I knew the song already, but hearing the Rolling Stones’ (passable) version of it on their debut EP turned me back onto it. There’s something so charming about a line like You’re gonna need an ocean / of calamine lotion, that it’s hard to not smile.

Like most people my age I probably heard The Coasters for the first time on the soundtrack to the classic Stand By Me. The use of Yakety Yak in that film probably goes to show how the group is more remembered for their Leiber & Stoller penned pop songs rather than their more traditional Blues-based output. Charlie Brown is a great example of a song that – obviously due to its subject matter – feels like it was written for children and young teens, but it’s just so catchy that it’s still a great pop song (only the sound of the production has dated).

When I started listening to music in my early teens, The Coasters were again introduced to me by way of The Beatles. Their version of Searchin’ can be heard on their Decca audition tape, available on Anthology 1. I then heard The Blues Brothers’ version of Riot In Cell Block Number 9. It seems that the group has influenced a lot of work, and probably still do to this day.

One of the things I like most about this record is that it’s not a rushed-release hotchpotch of singles, crammed onto a minor label when the publishing for the songs came up at a reduced rate. It’s a full-on Atlantic Records release, on a nice hefty slab of vinyl (probably close to what we’d refer to as heavyweight vinyl in this age of vinyl revival). It comes with a nice set of liner notes, and the disc comes with the classic orange and green Atlantic Records label. Atlantic Records may not be my favourite record label – that has to be Stax, just for its sheer David & Golliath-ness – but Atlantic Records is probably the most consistent in terms of sheer quality of output. It’s also probably the most prominent label in my collection thanks to the mighty ‘DC, Zeppelin, and the occasional gem like this.

Hit: Yakety Yak

Hidden Gem: Little Egypt