Tag Archives: Various Artists

Rocks In The Attic #683: Various Artists – ‘Spectacular Sound Effects In Stereo’ (1967)

RITA#683Somebody somewhere walked into a record store in 1967 and purchased this together with Sgt. Pepper’s.

Here’s hoping they got the records mixed up in the wrong sleeves, took some strong acid and settled down to listen to the Beatles’ latest.

Hit: DC-8 Engines Starting Up

Hidden Gem: Orchestra Tuning Up

Advertisements

Rocks In The Attic #672: Various Artists – ‘More Pennies From Heaven (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#672.jpgI think I might be reincarnated from some 1930’s Big Band musician or something; this kind of music really resonates with me for some reason. I always get the same feeling of intense familiarity when I hear Hang Out The Stars In Indiana from the Withnail & I soundtrack.

Either that, or I was asleep in my cot while my Mum & Dad watched this show after I was born in 1978. That sounds more believable I guess, with the old-timey music seeping into my DNA as they watched Bob Hoskins on the telly.

Hit: Cheek To Cheek – Lew Stone & His Band

Hidden Gem: Down Sunnyside Lane – Jack Payne & His BBC Dance Orchestra

Rocks In The Attic #669: Various Artists – ‘Stand By Me (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#669There were a number of films released through the 1980s which went some way in redefining the seminal singles of the 1950s and 1960s. Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill kicked off the nostalgia in 1983, before Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me and Oliver Stone’s Platoon landed in 1986. By the time of 1988’s Good Morning Vietnam, it was almost commonplace for a Hollywood film to feature a ‘golden oldies’ soundtrack.

Along the more obvious hits on this soundtrack – Buddy Holly’s Everyday, Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls Of Fire, and of course, Ben E. King’s Stand By Me – there’s one very interesting addition. The Del-Viking’s Come Go With Me might sound like any other late-‘50s R&B, but it was actually the song that a teenage Paul McCartney first saw (a teenage) John Lennon playing with the Quarrymen on the fateful day that they met (July 6th 1957) in Liverpool.

RITA#669aIt’s hard not to like Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me. Adapted from a Stephen King short-story, it has an impressive young cast (Wil Wheaton, River Pheonix, Corey Feldman and Kiefer Sutherland) and a lovely, wry narration by Richard Dreyfuss. Reiner’s film almost perfectly balances nostalgia with the thrill of youth. The script’s perspective might be of an older man looking backwards, but instead the film is driven by the optimism of the young leads looking forward to the future.

Hit: Stand By Me – Ben E. King

Hidden Gem: Come Go With Me – The Del-Vikings

Rocks In The Attic #664: Various Artists – ‘White Nights (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

RITA#664In the Spring of 1986, my grandmother took me on holiday. I was seven years old. The trip to North Wales was cemented in my memory by two events – the first was a visit to an arcade, where I played Spy Hunter endlessly; the second was a trip to the cinema.

The last time I had holidayed with my grandmother was in 1983 in Torquay – the jewel of the English Riviera! On that trip, we had seen Octopussy at the cinema – my first experience watching James Bond on the big screen.

Three years later, I remember standing in front of the cinema, begging my grandmother to let me watch a film I vaguely recognised by the poster outside in the lobby. “Are you sure?” I remember her asking. She wanted to take me into a children’s film instead, as the one I was pointing at looking at little too mature for my age, even though it was only a PG certificate. But I held firm. “No, I want to see that one.” The man at the box office smiled at my grandmother. She paid, and we were in the darkness of the cinema.

The film was a little too mature for me after all. My grandmother had been right. Still I enjoyed it, even though a lot of it went over my head. I raved about some of the sequences when we left the cinema, and she seemed relieved that I wasn’t mentally scarred by any of it.

And herein lies one of the most frustrating little mysteries of my life. For many years afterwards, I didn’t know what the film was that we had seen on that trip. I remembered a couple of key moments, and the tone of the film, but I didn’t know what it was called, or who any of the actors and actresses were.

Life before the internet was hard. You couldn’t just look shit up all the time. So every now and again, when I thought about the film, I would ask friends if they remembered a film about a male Russian ballet dancer, who escapes from somewhere with a black fella. That’s all I could remember. As you can imagine, this didn’t ring any bells with anybody.

If pushed, I could probably describe the film’s first eventful moment. The Russian ballet dancer was on a plane, which was crashing, and in a moment of panic, he fell backwards against the front of the cabin and the drinks trolley rolled into him at force, smashing into his face.

For year and years, I drew blanks whenever I described it to people, but it was always so clear in my mind. Of course, as soon as the internet made such things possible, I looked it up. The whole process took about three minutes. What a time to be alive!

The film, as you have probably guessed it by now, was Taylor Hackford’s White Nights, originally released in 1985 in the USA, but which didn’t see cinemas in the UK until the following March.

I’ve just watched it for the second time, some thirty-two years later. Due to a technical issue, I had to watch the film without any of the Russian dialogue being subtitled. This probably gave me the same level of understanding as I had when I was seven years old.

RITA#664aThe film opens with a world-famous ballet-dancer, Nikolai Rodchenko (Mikhail Baryshnikov), who has defected from the USSR, flying to Japan in a commercial jet. The jet runs into problems over Siberia and is forced to perform an emergency landing. Rodchenko suffers injuries during the crash – which I had remembered surprisingly well – and is picked up by the KGB who brand him a traitor. Unable to escape, he is installed in a Leningrad apartment with a black American tap-dancer, Raymond Greenwood (Gregory Hines) and his wife, Darya (a young Isabella Rossellini in her first credited screen role). Anxious to present the return of their famous son to the rest of the word, the authorities arrange for him to return to the stage with his former dancing partner (Helen Mirren). Rodchenko escapes to the American Embassy, with Darya – in a very tense sequence – while Raymond stays behind to delay the authorities. The film’s finale finds Raymond about to be executed by firing squad, an event which is then revealed to be a prisoner exchange between East and West. He is traded for a political prisoner and walks over the border, to freedom and into the arms of his wife.

The film’s key selling point is the culture clash between East and West, between black and white, and between ballet and tap, as Baryshnikov and Hines’ characters bond over dancing to American pop music. The soundtrack is a typical slice of ‘80s pop and rock, with Phil Collins taking prime position with Separate Lives, a duet with Marilyn Martin (and written by Stephen Bishop of Tootsie fame).

Sadly absent from the soundtrack album is the film’s biggest song – Lionel Richie’s Say You, Say Me. This won the Oscar for Best Song at the 1986 Academy Awards, beating Separate Lives from the same film, as well as competition from Huey Lewis & The News’ The Power Of Love.

Hit: Separate Lives (Love Theme From White Nights)­ – Phil Collins & Marilyn Martin

Hidden Gem: My Love Is Chemical – Lou Reed

Rocks In The Attic #635: Various Artists – ‘Hannah And Her Sisters (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#635A group of wealthy, intellectual Manhattanites fall in and out of love with other as they discuss their neuroses and insecurities.

So goes the synopsis for a good many Woody Allen films. The trouble is, once you’ve seen Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979), all of the others in this realm tend to pale in significance. Hannah And Her Sisters may be endlessly watchable, but it fits into the same bracket as the light-hearted half of Crimes And Misdemeanors (1989) and the very similar-in-tone Husbands And Wives (1992). They’re enjoyable films, relatively inoffensive, yet feel like they’re cut from the same cloth. You could probably intercut scenes from all three films and not tell the difference.

One small flaw of Hannah And Her Sisters comes from Allen’s intent on showing quick, naturalist dialogue between the principle characters. While I like the approach, there are a couple of moments where it doesn’t really work, when a character starts responding to a line of dialogue from another character before they’ve finished saying it. These moments ultimately turn into actors churning through their lines, with little thought given to how a conversation actually works.

Allen’s at his most interesting when he’s not doing the bittersweet New York romantic comedies. The brilliant mock-documentary Zelig (1983) never fails to provoke a wry smile for all of its madcap ideas, and the seemingly throwaway Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) is one of his consistently funniest films. Recent clangers like Match Point (2005) show that not everything he touches turns to gold, yet mainstream hits like the time-travelling Midnight In Paris (2011) prove that there’s life in the old dog yet, particularly in commercially appealing genre films. I’m still holding out that he’ll direct a Star Wars film one day.

I’m currently reading John Baxter’s Woody Allen: A Biography, a book I bought – and started – back in the late ‘90s, but abandoned for some reason. It’s always stuck in my craw that I didn’t finish it at the time, but it’s good to finally get back to it, despite it now only covering half of his career.

Hit: I’ve Heard That Song Before – Harry James

Hidden Gem: Back To The Apple – The Count Basie Orchestra

Rocks In The Attic #608: Various Artists – ‘True Romance (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#608.jpgIn the early 1990s, director Tony Scott was handed a piece of gold dust. Quentin Tarantino, a cocky, young up-start had been circling Hollywood for a few years trying to develop his first script, True Romance. Tarantino decided to sell the script, and Warner Brothers snapped it up greedily. In hindsight it would have been too large a project for a first-time director anyway.

Instead Tarantino turned his attention to his next script, a simpler heist story called Reservoir Dogs. This would have been an easier film to pitch with him as director – the heist is never seen, only referred to, and much of the film takes place in one location.

By the time he was handed Tarantino’s script, Tony Scott was already a blockbuster director, arguably more commercially successful than his older brother Ridley. While Ridley had scored critical successes with Alien and Blade Runner, Scott had directed Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II and Days Of Thunder. His collaborations with super-producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer say more about his directing style than anything else.

True Romance then, becomes the lost Tarantino picture. His trademark dialogue is evident throughout the film – all pop-culture references and cooler than cool soundbites – but Scott’s input muddies the water somewhat. The cinematographers that Scott worked with throughout his ‘80s and ‘90s films had a very peculiar style. Lots of obtrusive close-ups, too many filtered interiors, and a very synthetic, staged camera set-up. By the time you get to something like 1996’s The Fan, the cinematography is so overbearing that the film is practically unwatchable.

Looking back, True Romance has one of the greatest ensemble casts of all time, featuring several actors who would go onto bigger things. Joining leads Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette were Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pinchot, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Samuel L. Jackson and a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini.

RITA#608aThe soundtrack also differs from most Tarantino films in that it has both a pop soundtrack and an original score, by Hans Zimmer (the only soundtrack of Tarantino’s to mix pop songs with an original score is The Hateful Eight). Zimmer’s score is delightful – practically a proto-Thomas Newman score before he rewrote the rulebook on esoteric, oddball soundtracks with 1996’s American Beauty.

Some of the pop songs wouldn’t be out of place on a Tarantino soundtrack. Charlie Sexton’s Graceland, Robert Palmer’s (Love Is) The Tender Trap and Chris Isaak’s Two Hearts feel like they belong in QT’s record collection, but mediocre tracks like Charles & Eddie’s Wounded Bird and John Waite’s In Dreams reminds you that this really is just a typical run of the mill blockbuster soundtrack, and wasn’t curated in any way by Tarantino. Even Soundgarden’s Outshined sounds a little too obvious. The absence of Aerosmith’s The Other Side – presumably due to rights reasons – is personally disappointing, but it would have just dated the soundtrack even more.

Hit: Outshined – Soundgarden

Hidden Gem: Graceland – Charlie Sexton

Rocks In The Attic #605: Various Artists – ‘Stax Funx’ (1997)

RITA#605This is an awesome compilation of some of the funkier moments from the Stax label in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The first side is all instrumentals – always a good thing with funk in my book (see the Average White Band’s Pick Up The Pieces or the Commodores’ Machine Gun) – but the vocal tracks on the flip-side are just as good.

The interesting thing about this collection is that a few years following its 1997 release, Quentin Tarantino would pick up the record’s first cut, Isaac Hayes’ Run Fay Run, for use on the soundtrack to 2003’ Kill Bill. It’s a good chance he heard the song on this release, or perhaps he already knew it from its original use on the soundtrack to the 1974 Blaxploitation flick Three Tough Guys (also known as Tough Guys). Of course, it’s entirely possible that both is true – he could have already known the song from the film, and potentially this compilation just reminded him of the song. Remember, this is the guy who complimented me on my Stax t-shirt.

The record is a great tester of the more harder-edged sounding material from the Stax vaults. And whether it spinned on Tarantino’s turntable or not, it serves as a great reminder of the strength of the kind of material than would otherwise have been referred to as a deep cut, or worse, forgotten completely.

Hit: Run Fay Run – Isaac Hayes

Hidden Gem: L.A.S. – South Memphis Horns