Tag Archives: The Sex Pistols

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

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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 #491: Patti Smith – ‘Horses’ (1975)

RITA#491I always regard Horses as a punk record, but that undermines its importance to the genre. Released in December 1975, it hit stereos nearly a full two years before the Sex Pistols released Never Mind The Bollocks. That would make this pre-punk, or very late-in-the-day proto-punk, sitting on the line between angsty ‘70s singer-songwriter rock and the burgeoning underground club scene in New York City.

It’s a strange record to listen to. It’s definitely a lot more subtle, more literate, than the American punk that would follow it. The one misconception about punk is that the genre is littered with stupid people, but it seems more like it was a breeding ground for the intelligentsia of the times. There are probably high-brow and low-brow components of every musical genre, but punk definitely comes across as sounding low-brow but put together by smart people.

Patti Smith’s music – essentially beat-style poetry put to punkish mid-70s rock guitar rock – definitely belongs on the smarter, more artistic end of the punk spectrum. Johnny Rotten wasn’t a fan, going out of his way to make sure that everybody heard his disapproval of her 1976 London show (he dismissed her as a ‘hippy with a tambourine’). Sneer away, Johnny, sneer away.

Hit: Gloria

Hidden Gem: Free Money

Rocks In The Attic #442: Darcy Clay – ‘Jesus I Was Evil’ (1997)

RITA#442Darcy Clay’s star had burnt out long before I arrived in New Zealand. Like most immigrants who arrived here in the twenty first century, I know Jesus I Was Evil from its token inclusion on the Nature’s Best collection. I missed the bus (and the buzz) when he was alive.

I therefore know very little about Clay. There isn’t much to know anyway – six songs on this 1997 EP (recently re-released to celebrate bFM’s 45th birthday), a slot supporting Blur in the same year, and a bullet to the head shortly after (the night before he was due to play at a suicide awareness concert).

RITA#442a

Darcy Clay

I really didn’t know what to expect from the rest of the EP. Would it be as lo-fi and catchy as Jesus I Was Evil? The answer is a resounding yes – even Clay’s cover of Dolly Parton’s Jolene manages to sound like it was recorded on the fly. He might have his detractors for not being able to play a barre chord on the guitar, but man he can play a groove on the bass.

If anything, he’s like New Zealand’s Beck Hansen; maybe not as musically talented, but with just as much ‘fuck you’ attitude as the Sex Pistols.

Hit: Jesus I Was Evil

Hidden Gem: Jolene

Rocks In The Attic’s buyer’s guide to….Led Zeppelin

  – 3 essential albums, an overlooked gem, a wildcard, one to avoid, and the best of the rest –

Led Zeppelin rose from the ashes of the Yardbirds in London’s ultra-hip late ‘60s Flash scene. In 1968, ex-session guitarist Jimmy Page recruited fellow colleague John Paul Jones on bass, and looked north to the Midlands for gigging vocalist Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham. Success came thick and fast, especially after they cracked the USA with the release of their second album. The flame burnt fast though. In 1980, the band screeched to a halt when Bonham was found dead, the victim of one (or twenty) too many double vodkas the day before.

27 Feb 1972, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia --- Led Zeppelin performing in Sydney, Australia (L-R) John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, John Bonham and Jimmy Page --- Image by © S.I.N./CORBIS

I once had a letter – a letter! – printed in the NME. It was in response to an article where they claimed that Radiohead were ‘setting a new global blueprint’ by not releasing any singles or doing any press to promote Kid A in 2000. “Ever heard of Led Zeppelin?” I asked in my letter.

No singles? No press? And for the duration of Zeppelin’s twelve year career? It just goes to show that you can sell a heap of records entirely on word of mouth and an exhaustive touring schedule. It helps that the albums are nearly all close to fantastic too.

This was a very hard buyer’s guide to put together. How do you choose between so any great records, when tasked with only choosing three essential albums? Which ones do you leave behind? They’re all essential (and there are at least fifty good reasons to listen to the band)! Remember, it’s a buyer’s guide, so the following choices are aimed at those who are not well versed in the band’s back catalogue (if any such people exist at all).

Start off with: Led Zeppelin II (1969, Atlantic Records)

LZ1If the band’s self-assured debut set the scene, their second effort nine months later is the sound of them hitting their stride. Mainstream rock radio has taken some of the charm out of this record – redefining it almost as a greatest hits record – but there are still some surprises to be found. The interplay between the musicians on The Lemon Song is a prime example of how confident they had become in such a short space of time – just one highlight on an album full of highlights. Recorded at a number of different studios across England and America, while the band was touring, it’s an album of contradictions. It sounds heavy and light all at the same time; tight but loose; joyous and melancholic. Like the glare of a full moon in the roasting midday sun.

Follow that with: Led Zeppelin IV (1971, Atlantic Records)

LZ2IV is undoubtedly their masterpiece and the band were so sure about it, they released it without an official title and without the words ‘Led Zeppelin’ appearing anywhere on the cover or the record itself. The glaring hit on the album is Stairway To Heaven, despite never being released as a single, but the first side starts with two of the band’s biggest songs – Black Dog, a time-shifting stop-start rock masterpiece; and Rock And Roll, the band’s ode to late ‘50s music with the little help of a Little Richard drum pattern (by this time the band were well known for their musical kleptomania). The real gem of what used to be my choice hangover record throughout my teens however is the final track, When The Levee Breaks – the band’s last full-on blues cover (of a Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie blues song about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927) and featuring quite possibly the finest drum intro ever committed to vinyl.

Then get: Led Zeppelin III (1970, Atlantic Records)

LZ3Imagine Metallica following their self-titled Black Album with a jazz record, or the Sex Pistols recording a country and western album after their sneering 1977 debut. That’s about the level of genre-flipping between Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III. To write songs that would form the basis of the album, Plant and Page retreated to a cottage in the Welsh countryside without electricity or running water. You can almost smell the rustic setting as the band replaces heavy blues for eastern-tinged bluesy folk, on what is undoubtedly the album where Zeppelin proved they were more than just long-haired headbangers.

Criminally overlooked: Coda (1982, Swan Song)

LZ4It is what it is – a bunch of left-over songs from various stages in their career, released as a bookend to the band’s 12-year reign – and for that reason it usually gets the cold shoulder. But some of these tracks were simply left off albums due to the space limitations of a single-disc LP. So to fulfil some contractual obligations to Atlantic Records, we get a Led Zeppelin III outtake, a Houses Of The Holy outtake, three In Through The Out Door outtakes, a couple of live songs and a drum workout – Bonzo’s Montreaux – which for me is the thundering highlight of the album.

The long-shot: In Through The Out Door (1979, Swan Song)

LZ5A lot of people don’t like the band’s final studio record because Jimmy Page’s guitars take somewhat of a back seat compared to prior albums. In his place, the keyboards of John Paul Jones play a more prominent role on what is arguably the most challenging record to unlock. Like most, I wrote In Through The Out Door off when I first heard it, but it’s grown on me over the years and while some of the keyboards sound a little too carnival-y, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.

Avoid like the plague: The Song Remains The Same (1979, Swan Song)

LZ6There really aren’t any Zeppelin albums to put into this category but at a push I’d have to offer this, their first officially released live album – a soundtrack to the convert film of the same name. What’s not to like? Well, it was pompous, overblown music like this that resulted in the British punk explosion from the summer of 1977 onwards. Who wants to listen to a sleep-inducing  twenty seven minute rendition of Dazed And Confused? Not me, that’s for sure. Where prog bands such as Pink Floyd can easily fill one side of a record with one song, Zeppelin really struggle to keep interest levels up. It may have been a joy if you were there, stoned out of your mind, but you’d need a lot of drugs to find this song exciting at home. The concert film struggles to pique my interest too – so ponderous that they had to intersperse it with cinematic cut-scenes. There are great moments on this record – not least Bonham’s amazing drum work – but this is probably the Zeppelin record I play the least.

Best compilation: Remasters (1990, Atlantic Records)

LZ7My introduction to the band, Remasters was the first Zeppelin compilation; a greatest hits set from a band that didn’t release any singles in the UK (until Atlantic spoiled it with a 1997 release of Whole Lotta Love). What to include? What to leave out? The decision, as always, went to Jimmy Page – still very much the leader and figurehead for the band ten years after they split. The double-CD / triple-LP set was just a sampler for the full box set of recorded material that Page had digitally remastered, but is now universally seen as the definitive Zeppelin collection, no matter how many times they repackage it.

Best live album: How The West Was Won (2003, Atlantic Records)

LZ8Still to see the light of day on vinyl, How The West Was Won was released to very little fanfare in 2003 as a triple-CD; which is a shame as it’s by far their most exciting live album. The result of two West Coast shows on their 1972 American tour, the band sound very energetic and the atmosphere is electric. Page considered the band to be at their artistic peak during this period, and it shows. There’s definitely something to be found here that just isn’t evident on the Song Remains The Same soundtrack / snoozefest. By that time, Zeppelin were just going through the motions, showing the fatigue of another endless American tour. On How The West Was Won, they sound very much like what you’d expect from the band that had just released Led Zeppelin IV; the biggest band in the world.

I don’t tend to listen to much Led Zeppelin these days. I played their records so much through my teens that I know them like the back of my hands. When I do hear them though, blasting out of a car on a summer’s day or on the stereo as I’m flipping through the racks at a record store, it brings a massive smile to my face. I understand Led Zeppelin aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. I get that. Not everybody can have great taste in music.

LZ9

Rocks In The Attic #420: Alice Cooper – ‘Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits’ (1974)

RITA#420I stole this one out of my Dad’s small collection of vinyl when I was about fourteen. At that point, I only knew School’s Out and nothing else, but this whole record quickly became a firm favourite of mine. In fact, I’d say it’s one of my favourite rock compilations.

There’s something about the quality of the Alice Cooper band at this stage – when the band was called Alice Cooper, not the man – that Alice has never managed to recapture during his solo years. I saw him play live in Auckland a few years ago, and just like Ozzy he seems to take the approach that the heavier the band the better. So we got a lot of the songs from this album, but performed by a group of young guys in a band that was closer to metal than rock.

It’s such a shame because you lose a lot of the appeal of classic rock songs when you amp them up to metal. Imagine if Metallica did an album of Doobie Brothers covers – all the subtleties and nuances would fly out the door as soon as they plugged in. You can hear this in Metallica’s cover of Whiskey In The Jar, which just sounds like a metal-by-numbers imitation of the Thin Lizzy version.

I was stoked when Richard Linklater included two songs from Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits on the soundtrack to Dazed And Confused. Both songs used – School’s Out and No More Mr Nice Guy are used in the scenes with Wiley Wiggins’s character Mitch Kramer. School’s Out, not surprisingly, soundtracks the moment that school finishes; and No More Mr Nice Guy plays over the scene where Mitch gets captured – and paddled – by the seniors.

Years later, while watching Julien Temple’s fantastic Sex Pistols documentary The Filth And The Fury, I found out that John Lydon auditioned for the Pistols by singing Alice Cooper’s I’m Eighteen next to a jukebox.

Hit: School’s Out

Hidden Gem: Hello, Hurray

Rocks In The Attic #306: Bob Dylan – ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ (1965)

RITA#306I’m liking Dylan more and more these days. I was listening to Roger McGuinn’s version of It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) on the Easy Rider soundtrack the other day and it just made me want to listen to Dylan’s version – a seven and a half minute highlight from this album, his first of 1965.

I think this was the second Dylan album I ever heard, after Highway 61 Revisited, and it always used to annoy me that production-wise, Maggie’s Farm is so similar sounding to Subterranean Homesick Blues. The instrumentation on both songs is almost identical, to the extent that you can imagine Dylan and his band running from one song into the other while the tape’s still rolling. If the songs bled into one another, I wouldn’t have a problem but the fact that they put a song between them on the album reeks of hopeful misdirection. A similar accompaniment can be heard after the false start on Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream, so maybe the backing band only knew one style of playing and were hoping Bob wouldn’t notice.

That’s not to say that Subterranean Homesick Blues isn’t every kind of awesome. One of my favourite Dylan tracks, it’s one of those timeless records – gibberish lyrics wrapped up in a punk spirit, twelve years before the Sex Pistols and the Clash turned up.

Listening to Dylan’s own version of Mr. Tambourine Man always reminds me of a Dylan poster that used to hang in our Sixth Form assembly area. From memory, I think it just had Dylan’s face with ‘Hey Mr. Tambourine Man’ printed below. I don’t know who put it there, or how long it had been there, but I get the impression that it had been there for a while. It’s probably still there now.

Hit: Subterranean Homesick Blues

Hidden Gem: It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)