Tag Archives: vinyl

Rocks In The Attic #649: Bryan Ferry – ‘Let’s Stick Together’ (1976)

The one good thing about your wonderful wife bringing home a box of LPs that she picked up at a local car-boot sale is the potential to add something new to your collection; something that you might not have arrived at otherwise. I like everything I’ve ever heard from Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry, but I’ve just never got around to buying anything by them. Shame on me.

Three Bryan Ferry solo albums later, and I can finally hear what I’ve been missing out on. This is his third solo album, but his first following the split of Roxy Music. It’s an odd album – comprised of five remakes of existing Roxy Music songs, complimented by six covers – so not a straightforward studio album by any means.

I love the sax-blast of Let’s Stick Together, I always have. Ferry seems to straddle the line between new wave and cabaret, without ever sounding like a product of either genre.

Hit: Let’s Stick Together

Hidden Gem: Casanova

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Rocks In The Attic #648: Rod Stewart – ‘Greatest Hits’ (1979)

RITA#648A couple of weekends ago, my wife left the house to go the supermarket. She phoned me five minutes later, with a degree of urgency in her voice. On her way to the supermarket, she spotted a car-boot sale in a church car-park. She had found a man selling three boxes of records. Her call was to see if I wanted any of the classic rock LPs he was selling at the princely sum of a dollar each.

“Have you got Green River by Creedence Clearwater?”

“No, get it.”

“Rod Stewart – Greatest Hits?”

“No, get it”

“The Travelling Wilburys?”

“Yes, but get it anyway.”

And so on. She eventually brought back a box of forty six records, which the seller only took thirty dollars for. Result. I would have paid close to that for the Creedence record alone.

Nine of the records are Rod Stewart albums, and a further four are Faces albums with Rod singing on them. That’s a twenty-eight per cent Stewart penetration rate. Maximum Rod.

Hit: Maggie May

Hidden Gem: Hot Legs

Rocks In The Attic #647: The Guess Who – ‘The Best of The Guess Who Volume II’ (1973)

RITA#647Idea for music festival.

Opening band, to get everybody in the right frame of mind: The The.

Lots of audience participation between performances, with things like cryptic crossword clues that are so illogical they only make the vaguest bit of sense to the LSD-addled stage announcer who makes them up on the spot.

Mid-afternoon sets by Camper Van Beethoven, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Kathleen Turner Overdrive.

Early-evening set by The Guess Who, playing an hour long rendition of American Woman that includes a 27-minute instrumental intro section just as the sun is setting.

Headliners: The Who. Not to be outdone by the Guess Who, the Who pull out all the stops with a 4-hour set including a 53-minute opening section of Who Are You.

Festival name: Wordstock.

Potential crowd-funding opportunity.

Requires further thought.

Hit: Broken

Hidden Gem: Rain Dance

Rocks In The Attic #646: John Williams – ‘Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom’ (1984)

RITA#646The other night, after a hard week at work, I sat down to watch Kingsman: The Golden Circle with my wife. I wasn’t expecting much – I hadn’t heard good things – but I wasn’t prepared for how stunningly average it was. Would I say it is a bad film? No, not really. It was technically well made, by a more than competent director (Matthew Vaughn), but it was instantly forgettable.

When I grew up through the 1980s, there seemed to be fantastic genre films coming out all the time, dotted with the occasional howler (Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, Jaws IV: The Revenge – possibly anything with “IV” in the title, although Rocky IV was a banger). These days, the howlers are relatively easy to avoid. Production of big marquee films tends to be spread across multiple studios sharing the risk of a multi-million dollar budget, and as a result they don’t seem to let a franchise die at the hands of a bad script or a deluded director.

Hollywood’s destructive habit in the last decade is movie-making by numbers; a manifesto of mediocrity. The sheer amount of unremarkable genre films it has produced is testament to the absence of risk that directors and producers are willing to take in order to make something that stands out.

I remember reading an interview with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige back in 2009, where he outlined his plans for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). His strategy of an overloaded release schedule – 4 or 5 films a year – seemed too good to be true. That’ll never happen, I thought. But it now feels like there’s a new Marvel film out every other month.

The other unbelievable aspect of his strategy was talk of bringing Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk together for an Avengers movie. That will definitely never happen, I thought. The Hulk and Iron Man had been revitalised in film by Marvel already, and I just couldn’t see Robert Downey Jr. and Ed Norton sharing a film together with whatever big names they had lined up to play Captain America and Thor. In a way I was right, as they eventually replaced Norton with a different (cheaper?) actor in Mark Ruffalo, but Feige’s vision ultimately proved true. Ensemble genre films are a dime a dozen these days, and it’s rare for a superhero film to be limited to only one or two key roles. This week saw the release of the trailer for the third (?) Avengers film, introducing the Guardians Of The Galaxy into the earth-bound world of the Avengers. Around and around it goes. Pop will eat itself.

But when Feige sits down in his old age – in his superhero-sized mansion – and tells his privileged grandchildren about his life’s work, how will he feel? For the – by my count – seventeen (!) MCU films that have seen the light of day since 2008, I can really only put my finger on one or two that I would hold up as being great films. Iron Man (2008) and The Avengers (2012) stand head and shoulders above the rest, and while there have been great moments among the others, in general they’re all junk; popcorn escapism for the masses.

The rot set in early on, with 2010’s Iron Man 2. How could they get the sequel so wrong, when they got the first Iron Man so right? I spoke to a fan of the series upon its release, and he couldn’t see any difference between the two. That’s the problem with casual film viewers. They just want what they expect, and they’ll happily visit the cinema every time for that hit of familiarity – Coca-cola in their veins, popcorn in their arteries, and the anticipation of safe storytelling that’s not going to push any boundaries and make them feel uncomfortable. Narrative left-turns in cinema these days are met with whispered conversations in the dark as couples explain to each other what is happening on screen.

Marvel’s now-misguided strategy to steady the ship was to deliver a third iteration in the Iron Man series (2013) which was so incredibly poor, that they should have developed a new category at the Academy Awards to recognise it. ‘And the ‘Best Mediocre Picture’ Oscar goes to…’

If Marvel’s attempts at serious filmmaking are to be laughed at, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to think of their rivals’ efforts at DC. Christopher Nolan reinvigorated the modern superhero film with Batman Begins in 2005, and so you’d think his successors might have learnt a thing or two from him. But as soon as he stepped away from the director’s chair, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) kicked off with one of the dullest superhero films ever committed to celluloid (Man Of Steel, 2013).

Where Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (1978) was a glorious piece of wondrous entertainment, setting a high bar that wasn’t really challenged until Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel is a turgid mess. I seem to remember a fight sequence at the end that lasted around three hours. I didn’t care about any of the characters, and I secretly hoped that mankind would have been wiped off the screen just so that it would have put me out of my misery.

I might have watched Donner’s Superman and Richard Lester’s Superman II close to a hundred times each. I wouldn’t watch Man Of Steel again if my life depended on it.

Which brings me to Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom. Now, Steven Spielberg knew how to make a good genre film back in the ‘80s. Easily the weakest of the original trilogy – although not according to my old buddy Quentin Tarantino, who sees it as the strongest of the three – it’s still an infinitely more enjoyable film than the unremarkable dross dealt out to us by Hollywood in the twenty-first century.

Hit: Anything Goes

Hidden Gem: Finale And End Credits

Rocks In The Attic #643: The Commodores – ‘Nightshift’ (1985)

RITA#643I work in an office. My colleagues and I are all early starters, so we tend to arrive early and leave early. For some reason, the powers that be have decided that this isn’t good enough, and that we need to have some sort of physical presence in the pod between 4pm and 5pm, just in case somebody needs to ask us a question.

It’s such a pointless directive; the rest of the building seems to start leaving for the day around 4pm. To point out the preposterousness of the situation, one of my colleagues, tasked with putting a rota together to cover this timeframe, has labelled it ‘The Night Shift’.

“It’s like that ‘80s jam, Nightshift, by the Commodores” he laughed.

That same weekend, at the Auckland record fair, I came across the album in the racks. I just had to buy it. As far as Commodores records go, it falls into the post-Lionel Richie years, and so his incredible songwriting is clearly missing. Give me Machine Gun any day over this smooth shit.

I’ve added a themed ‘80s playlist to the Night Shift rota, just to help my colleagues get into the right frame of mind. Alongside the Commodore’s song is Lionel Richie’s All Night Long and Running With The Night, and Iron Maiden’s 2 Minutes To Midnight. It’s a work in progress.

I did my first stint on the night shift last week. Nobody asked me any questions. Listened to some great songs though.

Hit: Nightshift

Hidden Gem: Slip Of The Tongue

Rocks In The Attic #642: Nirvana – ‘In Utero’ (1993)

RITA#642Last weekend I found a pair of perfectly good speakers on the side of the road. A handwritten sign – ‘FREE’ – was standing next to them. I did a quick u-turn and threw them in my car. New Zealand’s attitude to freecycling occasionally delivers gems like this. You could probably drive around all weekend and furnish your entire house with kerbside treasures that people are throwing away. The speakers are a lovely pair of Technics, standing 18” tall and my vinyl-collecting friend at work, who’s far more knowledgeable about hi-fi equipment, assures me they’re a very, very good find.

That’s if they still work, of course, because who in their right minds would throw away a perfectly good set of speakers? A quick trip to the local electronics store to get some speaker cable, and I can rest assured that not only do they work perfectly, but they also sound fucking awesome. It makes a world of difference to the set of (perfectly good for purpose) surround speakers I was running my turntable through previously.

Whenever I’m testing a new set-up – be it a new turntable, or a new amp, or a new set of speakers – the album I always turn to is Nirvana’s In Utero. My clear favourite of their three studio albums, it towers over their unripe debut, and their too-slick crossover follow-up. Steve Albini’s production sounds more like what I imagine the band’s natural sound to be, and it was the record I turned to when Kurt died as it was their final studio album.

The reason it’s so good to test hi-fi equipment is that it’s so dynamic, and so well recorded that it doesn’t sound like the product of pro-tools. After Albini’s initial production (foreshadowed by a great letter to the band), Geffen Records attempted to fix what they saw as an uncommercial record by employing Robert Ludwig to master it. Still unhappy, the master tapes were then given to REM producer Scott Litt, who remixed the singles alongside Andy Wallace (who had mixed Nevermind). With so many cooks in the kitchen, the album should sound conflicted, but to my ears it sounds perfect.

RITA#642aThe hi-fi recommendations in the inside cover of the CD booklet, something that you just don’t usually see in liner notes, have always made me chuckle. I suspect that rather than being a genuine instruction to listeners (unlikely), it’s an irreverent poke at the casual music fans the band were attracting (a more obscure jab than the lyrics to In Bloom).

RITA#642dAlthough I own a late ‘90s reissue of In Utero, I jumped at the chance to get the Steve Albini mix of the record, released to mark the album’s 20th anniversary. Running at 45rpm, and split across two discs, it’s a wonderful package. But while it’s very interesting to hear, I think I’ll always prefer the original version. Albini’s mix of the singles sound so much more in line with the rest of the album, and if anything the contrast shows how much the Scott Litt mix of those songs sounds like the range of dynamics you would hear on an REM single.

One thing I really liked around the 20th anniversary re-release was a memo that did the rounds on the internet, mocked up to look like a letter to record store owners, pleading with them to get behind the album’s reissue. I seem to remember some discussion at the time around whether it was genuine or not, but it’s clearly a joke – it’s dripping in cynicism, and reads like something that Kurt Cobain might have composed from beyond the grave.

I don’t usually pay much attention to the ‘thank you’ lists in liner notes, but there is one particular name on the In Utero sleeve that is deserving of a mention. The band listed Quentin Tarantino in this section – in 1993 a relatively cult director with only one film, Reservoir Dogs, to his name (and Pulp Fiction yet to be released). When the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction eventually saw the light of day in September 1994, Quentin repaid the favour and thanked the now-departed Cobain.

Hit: Heart Shaped Box

Hidden Gem: Radio Friendly Unit Shifter

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RITA#642c

Rocks In The Attic #641: Blondie – ‘The Hunter’ (1982)

RITA#641I really dig these late-era Blondie albums, particularly this one and its predecessor, Autoamerican. They don’t sound too much like classic-era Blondie – well, Debbie Harry’s vocals do – but in terms of instrumentation and songwriting, they’re much closer to the emerging trend of New Wave bands than their pop-punk past.

The highlight of this record – aside from the cover photo, where Debbie Harry is wearing the craziest wig this side of Tina Turner’s appearance in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – is the inclusion of the ‘lost’ Bond theme, For Your Eyes Only, originally recorded for the 1981 film of the same name. As far as Blondie songs go, it isn’t the worst thing they’ve recorded, but like Alice Cooper’s version of The Man With The Golden Gun, it’s definitely not Bond-worthy. You can understand why they were turned down by the Bond producers. Blondie were then asked to record the Bill Conti composition that was ultimately recorded by Sheena Easton, but declined the offer. That, to me, sounds like a much more exciting prospect, but unfortunately I can only imagine what it would sound like.

This was the final Blondie record until 1999’s No Exit. You can hear the band coming to the end of their natural life-cycle on The Hunter. A Debbie Harry solo career was dawning, with her first record, KooKoo, appearing a year prior in 1981. But more than anything, the split of the group was caused by Chris Stein’s illness with the rare auto-immune disease, pemphigus – which he would ultimately overcome before their late-‘90s comeback.

Hit: Island of Lost Souls

Hidden Gem: The Hunter