Tag Archives: vinyl

Rocks In The Attic #807: Michael Hoenig – ‘The Blob (O.S.T.)’ (1988)

RITA#807I’m not usually a fan of remakes. They’re either a cynical attempt to recreate the magic of the original (see 2003’s The Italian Job, 2006’s The Wicker Man, 2016’s Ghostbusters) or a remake of a foreign-language film to placate lazy American audiences who don’t like to read subtitles (see 2006’s The Departed, 2011’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, 2013’s Oldboy). Sometimes, remakes are just offensive. I remember seeing Gus Van Sant’s 1998 shot-for-shot remake of Psycho, and people were laughing out loud in the cinema. It wasn’t intended to be one of the year’s best comedies.

There are exceptions, of course. Batman Begins (2005) and Casino Royale (2006) proved that reboots could provide a new perspective on a tired franchise, and some remakes – Philip Kaufman’s Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978), John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) – offer enough innovation to justify the new version.

I’m not sure we needed two different versions of the Spider-Man origin story (2002, 2012) only ten years apart though. I’m just glad Andrew ‘mouth-breather’ Garfield isn’t the webbed-wonder anymore.

RITA#807aGiven the three good examples, it seems that 50s sci-fi films generally offer rich material to base a remake on. This could be due to the 30-year gap between original and remake, but we’re seeing remakes of ‘80s and ‘90s films nowadays, and the hit-rate isn’t good. It’s more likely that the advent of new technology enhanced the films and their special effects. I suspect the evolution of film in that specific 30-year period – from B-movies in the ‘50s, to New Hollywood at the end of the ‘60s, and the film-school generation of the ‘70s – is the main culprit.

And so we arrive at Chuck Russell’s The Blob, another ‘50s sci-fi b-movie remake. The original film was directed by Irvin Yeaworth and starred Steve McQueen in his leading-man debut. The remake’s co-writer Frank Darabont is the biggest clue of what lies ahead, as the film has a small-town setting and small-town mentality as his later works (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Majestic, The Mist).

First, we’re treated to the classic Tri-Star studio ident, an evergreen favourite. A white stallion runs in slow-motion toward the screen. It sprouts wings and flies above the Tri-Star logo. Everything is going to be alright! Until Michael Hoenig’s ominous synth score over the opening credits tells us otherwise.

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The Blob
was an early favourite when my family first got Sky Movies, and for some reason I’ve been placing Matt Dillon in this film for the last thirty years. It’s actually older brother Kevin Dillon who plays the lead role of Brian – Brian! – but the two look so similar it’s not hard to mix them up. Looking back, it now looks more like Ethan Hawke playing the part of Matt Dillon, with the worst wig ever, in a biopic of his young life as a greaser.

RITA#807bThe Blob itself looks like the genesis for the slime in the following year’s Ghostbusters II. It looks lovely. Nice and pink, but not that threatening when you think about it. And if you thought the Blob was slow, you should have seen Slugs, another slow-moving horror which crawled into cinemas six months before The Blob. It was so non-threatening, I watched it with my Mum!

And yet, despite its beauty and slow pace, the Blob is threatening as a malevolent force. At least in the first half of the picture, before it becomes too big for the screen and the filmmakers resort to rear-screen projection to show its scale. The special effects by Tony Gardner are awesome: wonderful practical effects, akin to the groundbreaking effects by Rob Bottin in John Carpenter’s The Thing; all the more terrifying because they look and feel real.

My favourite effects shot is in the hospital when the Blob takes its second victim, the football-player Paul. His date Meg hears his scream from another room, and races in to find him screaming from within the Blob, as he tries to escape its clutches. That one shot is genuinely terrifying. Another fantastic sequence takes place in the diner, when the short-order cook is sucked head-first through a plughole. Mamma mia!

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I always chuckle at the finale in which the townsfolk figure out that the Blob’s weakness is cold temperatures. Brian’s solution is to go and steal the town’s snow-maker truck, and use its tanks of liquid nitrogen to freeze it to death. Now, you may ask yourself why a small town has a snow-making truck. It’s not like they explicitly state that the town is a ski-resort. As a plot-point, this is problematic.

The performances are mostly great and the script isn’t too bad. At least it doesn’t try to be anything that it isn’t. In fact, the film’s major weakness is Michael Hoenig’s score. I usually love synth soundtracks, but not this one. I’d expect better from a member of Tangerine Dream. Apart from the main title theme and a couple of other cues, it mostly sounds tacky and melodramatic; like the High School AV club got use of the school’s cheap Casio keyboard.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Into The Sewer

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Rocks In The Attic #806: Various Artists – ‘Inside Llewyn Davis (O.S.T.)’ (2013)

RITA#806“What does the ‘N’ stand for?”

Inside Llewyn Davis is another latter day gem from the Coen brothers. Coming straight off the success of 2010 western remake True Grit, this film finds them exploring the pre-folk explosion music scene in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s.

Oscar Isaac plays the titular character, a down-on-his-luck folk singer earning just enough to keep him going from couch to couch, while he chases a lucky break. The Coens paint a painfully bleak picture of New York heading into winter, as life and responsibility begin to take their toll on Llewyn.

RITA#806aThe soundtrack, produced by the Coens with T. Bone Burnett, is, as usual, superb. The starting point for the character of Llewyn Davis is Dave Van Ronk, a contemporary of Bob Dylan, and so the soundtrack features several songs associated with Van Ronk, many of which are performed by Isaac. The cover of Davis’ poorly selling solo album, the Inside Llewyn Davis from the title, is a direct replica of Van Ronk’s album Inside Dave Van Ronk, minus the peeking cat, and the film strikes just the right balance of Davis just missing out on stardom as Van Ronk did. Right place, wrong time.

It has been reported that the Coens view the music of Inside Llewyn Davis as a direct descendant of the music in O Brother, Where Art Thou? It’s not hard to hear this connection: there’s definitely a country folk / travelling tale ethos in the songwriting; pure folk from the well, before folk-rock muddied the water. The music is so beautiful, and well performed, that it’s almost heartbreaking to see a despondent Davis catch a glimpse of Dylan in the film’s closing scene. The folk music world is about to turn on its axis, and Llewyn Davis, like Dave Van Ronk, is not going to be at the forefront of the charge.

I’m a huge fan of True Grit and The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, but Inside Llewyn Davis is definitely my favourite of the Coens’ output from this decade. Hail, Caesar! didn’t do anything for me, and we’re unlikely to see another film from them until their adaption of Macbeth, starring Denzel Washington and Coen-alumn / spouse Frances McDormand, which is only in pre-production at the time of writing.

RITA#806bIt is the bleak and gloomy atmosphere of Inside Llewyn Davis that resonates with me the most. This onslaught of misery only lets up for a brief couple of minutes when Davis is contracted to play and sing on a studio session – the side-splitting novelty song Please Mr. Kennedy – alongside Justin Timberlake’s effervescent Jim Berkey and Adam Driver’s no-nonsense Al Cody. It’s the film’s rare moment of illumination, and potentially a lucky break for our protagonist, but his circumstances dictate that he takes a one-off payment for the work, thereby writing off any chances of receiving any of the song’s eventual royalties.

Like a lot of the Coens’ work, the film has a weird streak running through it: the elusive ginger cat echoes the peeling wallpaper of Barton Fink or the pencil-strewn anxiety of Jerry Lundegaard’s falsified loan form in Fargo; a small obsession that ultimately means nothing. And perhaps most interesting of all, the Coens’ mastery of character and narrative expertly maneuvers an unseen character in the film: the cruel hand of fate that leads Llewyn Davis in one direction and opens the door to somebody else.

Hit: Hang Me, Oh Hang Me – Oscar Isaac

Hidden Gem: Please Mr. Kennedy – Justin Timberlake, Oscar Isaac & Adam Driver

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Rocks In The Attic #804: The Band – ‘Moondog Matinee’ (1973)

RITA#804If The Band had been born thirty years later, and were from Southport, they’d be called Gomez. Stay with me here…

Not only is there a rootsy vibe going on in both bands, but they both feature multiple vocalists and occasionally swap instruments. The biggest difference, apart from time itself, is their nationality. The Band are Americana incarnate whereas Gomez couldn’t be more English. Members of The Band have strange North American names like Levon and Garth, while Gomez have middle-class English names like Tom, Ben and Olly.

I first saw Gomez when they were touring second album Liquid Skin, on the Other Stage at Glastonbury 1999. Last week, twenty years later, I finally saw them for the second time. They played at Auckland’s fantastic Powerstation, as part of their Liquid Skin 20th Anniversary tour, a full seven years after the last time they graced our shores. I missed the 2012 show for some reason, but really glad I caught this one: a full play-through of their 1998 debut Bring It On, followed by a full performance of Liquid Skin.

RITA#804aI’m glad to report the years have been kind. When I first saw them, I was as curious as everyone else at the voice of guitarist Ben Ottewell. In 1999, he was just a podgy twenty-something with a much bigger voice than himself. He’s now grown into his vocal chords, a genial bear of a man. Performing live, he was dependant on too much reverb, but you could still hear the magic in his soulful voice. It reminded me a bit of Simon Fowler from Ocean Colour Scene, another band I recently saw at the same venue.

The rest of the band were exactly the same as I remember them from ’99. The genial Tom Gray (vocals / guitar / keyboards) talked the most to the audience. Twenty years ago I remember him telling the Glastonbury crowd to turn around a look at the sunset. He hasn’t changed a bit. Neither has the other guitarist / vocalist Ian Ball. Still as scrawny as he was all those years ago, he’s the most cocky and aloof of the three frontmen. Drummer Olly Peacock hasn’t aged a day, and the only real casualty of the band is the hairline of bassist Paul Blackburn, now fully shaved.

Given the type of material of the three songwriters, it is Ball’s songs that seem the most normal – straightforward post-Oasis Britpop that you would hear in any band (including my own) from that time around the late ‘90s. It’s the mixture of Ottewell’s southern-fried soul and Gray’s jazzy melodies that gives Gomez their unique sound. If anything, it feels like Ball is the lucky one of the three, for finding other songwriters that would provide an interesting counterbalance to the ordinariness of his own material.

After they played through both albums, they returned to the stage for just one song – a frantic, AC/DC-inspired version of Whippin’ Picadilly, played ‘like we did when we were teenagers.’ A magical night, for sure, and I still made it home to watch the All Blacks beat Wales to take bronze in the World Cup.

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I’m serious about the comparison to The Band though. And of all the Band’s LPs, studio album number five, Moondog Matinee, is perhaps the most Gomez-ey. It’s one of the more kookier entries in the Band’s back catalogue, and finds them recording an entire album’s worth of cover songs.

The original idea was to replicate their mid-‘60s setlists, when they were known as Levon & The Hawks, but only one song – Share Your Love (With Me) – from this period appears. It sounds like a happy album, but the reality was a band starting to come apart at the seams. ‘That was all we could do at the time,’ Levon Helm later explained. ‘We couldn’t get along; we all knew that fairness was a bunch of shit. We all knew we were getting screwed, so we couldn’t sit down and create no more music. Up on Cripple Creek and all that stuff was over—all that collaboration was over, and that type of song was all we could do.’

Hit: Ain’t Got No Home

Hidden Gem: Mystery Train

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Rocks In The Attic #803: Sister Sledge – ‘We Are Family’ (1979)

RITA#803I’ve been looking for a nice clean copy of Sister Sledge’s debut album, We Are Family, ever since I’ve been collecting records. I finally found a reasonably priced ($9.95 USD) copy courtesy of my favourite Discogs seller, Vinylizking.

This album might just be the single greatest achievement of the partnership between Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. The pair have produced many albums by other artists, and of course have produced themselves in Chic, but this particular album is arguably the strongest of the bunch. He’s The Greatest Dancer, Lost In Music, Thinking Of You, and the title track are four of the greatest songs from the soul and funk genre, and the fact that all four are on the same studio album is just mind-blowing. This record might as well be called Sister Sledge’s Greatest Hits. Even Nile Rodgers agrees, saying in his 2011 autobiography that ‘pound for pound, I think We Are Family is our best album hands down.’

Sister Sledge Portrait

CIRCA 1977: (Clockwise from bottom left) Kathy Sledge, Joni Sledge, Kim Sledge and Debbie Sledge of the vocal group “Sister Sledge” pose for a portrait in circa 1977. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The hefty package I received in the mail last week – nine LPs in total; a mixture of soul, funk and soundtracks – is probably going to be my last decent-sized haul from Discogs. Up to now, the country where I live has been relatively relaxed about charging GST taxes at the border. Anything under $400NZD has been exempt from charges. This has been great as a record collector, as I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but New Zealand is at the edge of the world.

Our national carrier, NZ Post, has even provided a service called YouShop where they have provided mailing addresses in the USA, the UK and China, where you can send parcels from online stores in those countries, and they will collect them and mail back to NZ at a competitive shipping rate. The service only started in 2012, but I’ve used it over a hundred times. It’s fantastic whenever overseas stores either don’t offer international shipping, or charge an arm and a leg for it (presumably to deter the hassle of dealing with overseas buyers).

From December, under pressure from New Zealand retailers, the Government has announced that all shipments from overseas will be eligible for a 15% GST charge. These are the same New Zealand retailers who will, for example, import paperback novels with a UK RRP of £7.99 GBP and charge $35 NZD for it. Despite a (current) exchange rate of $2.02 NZD to £1 GBP, this means they’re effectively charging more than double for the price of goods. Granted the UK RRP will include some element of shipping and overheads – it’s not a cost price – but even though shipping to New Zealand will be significantly more than shipping around the UK, there’s still something very wrong with the price we’re faced with.

As a result, to keep going with the book example, the small percentage of New Zealanders who do read, have been ordering them from overseas – either from Amazon or Book Depository. I purchased a book for my wife from Book Depository – it arrived with free shipping for $15 NZD. If I had purchased it from a New Zealand retailer, it would have cost $26 NZD.

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As a result of this economic quirk, nearly all of the bookshop chains in New Zealand have closed down in the last decade. Only a few remain, and for those stores, the sale of books only makes up a small percentage of their revenue. A number of well-run independent bookstores remain (Unity Books on Auckland’s High Street is a particular favourite), but they’re still charging those same ridiculous prices and so you have to wonder how they stay afloat. However, the pricing structure is down to the distributors, I think, rather than the stores themselves.

As a country, we need to make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen to our independent record shops. I shop at Auckland’s record stores as regularly as I can. Real Groovy, Southbound, Marbecks and Flying Out all get a decent proportion of my disposable income. But sometimes these stores don’t always stock the titles I want. Whether it’s limited releases from small boutique soundtrack labels (Waxwork, Mondo, Enjoy The Ride, Real Gone), or simply hard-to-find titles on Discogs, I’ve enjoyed the freedom to purchase these without any restrictions…until now.

NZ Post have said that they will automatically apply the GST charge on all parcels they ship into New Zealand via YouShop. So I’ll simply stop using the service. There are already loopholes around the restrictions though, which hopefully mean I’ll still be able to purchase directly from overseas vendors without incurring extra charges (the GST component will only be applied by vendors who supply $60,000 NZD in goods to New Zealand residents per annum). Many of the small, boutique record labels I purchase from will supply nowhere near that value of goods to our shores, and so I hope that they don’t get bullied by our government to comply.

On paper, I support the new charge if it were to assist the ability of New Zealand retailers to compete with the international marketplace. But I only see this legislation as justification for the ridiculous increased prices distributors pass on to our captive market.

I don’t know what this has all got to do with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, but I think they’d be similarly angry that my government is making it harder for me to buy their records.

Hit: We Are Family

Hidden Gem: You’re A Friend To Me

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Rocks In The Attic #802: Arthur B. Rubinstein – ‘Blue Thunder (O.S.T.)’ (1983)

RITA#802Another Roy Scheider film, coming shortly after post #792’s 2010 – The Year We make Contact. This time Roy takes his likable masculinity to the skies of Los Angeles. He plays Frank Murphy, a police helicopter pilot charged with looking after rookie flight-engineer Richard Lymangood (played by a fresh-out-of-the-womb Daniel Stern). There’s something not quite right about Murphy though. He spends a lot of time in the locker room, pre-shift, with his eyes shut as he times himself against his digital watch. IT’S VIETNAM, MAN! YOU DON’T KNOW, YOU WEREN’T THERE!

RITA#802aMurphy and Lymangood spend their time in the air peeping at a naked chick doing yoga in her living room, before they’re rudely interrupted by having to do some actual work. A city councilwoman is murdered in a seemingly random murder, and Murphy starts investigating it himself.

Meanwhile, Malcolm McDowell’s Colonel Cochrane turns up with a prototype military helicopter – codename: Blue Thunder – presumably named after x-rated flatulence. Murphy and Lymangood are tasked with testing the new helicopter, which has been developed for riot control at the 1984 Olympics. Things are not as they seem, and the film finds Murphy battling Cochrane in the skies in the thrilling finale.

I have a strong memory of watching Blue Thunder on video when it was first released, which would place me around the age of five. Something happens to Daniel Stern’s character mid-way through the movie, and I definitely remember being shielded from the scene by a parent who was starting to figure out that the film’s ‘15’ rating was justified. Aside from this bit of nastiness, the rest of the film is an easy-going thriller, with aspects of gung-ho heroism. Directed by John Badham and co-written by Dan O’Bannon, it prefaces the late-1980s action-thriller boom at the hands of producers like Joel Silver.

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The soundtrack score, composed, conducted and produced by Arthur B. Rubinstein is fantastic, expertly making use of the Synclavier II alongside Moog, Jupiter and Prophet analogue synths. The main title feels like one of the great, lost action themes of the 1980s, and definitely deserves a listen if you’ve never heard it.

In terms of casting, McDowell’s character may be a cartoon cut-out but Roy Scheider and Daniel Stern are so damn affable, it’s a shame the film didn’t lead to a sequel. If it had been made five years later, it probably would have led to a franchise. A short-lived TV spinoff (featuring Dana Carvey in the flight-engineer role) aired for one season in 1984 before being overshadowed by the sleeker Airwolf, which took off in the same year, eventually running for 4 four seasons and eighty episodes.

Hit: Main Title / Dusting

Hidden Gem: Thermographics

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Rocks In The Attic’s buyer’s guide to….Aerosmith (The Columbia Years)

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

It used to be easy to categorise the different phases of Aerosmith’s career. By the 1990s, there were two distinct phases – old Aerosmith and new Aerosmith, or – if you knew your stuff – good Aerosmith and bad Aerosmith. But looking back now in 2019, those iffy albums recorded for Geffen between 1985 and 1993 can now been seen as some kind of weird, golden mid-period for the band. Because no matter what you thought of Dude (Looks Like A Lady) or Love In An Elevator, things got far, far worse when the band entered the 21st century.

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As horrific as the band’s newer material is, one thing is for sure: that classic first run of studio albums recorded on the Columbia label between 1973 and 1982 is brilliant. Blistering rock and roll, with each album building on the last until it all started to fall apart in a drug-fuelled blaze of glory. Just like the editions on AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones this Buyer’s Guide will take you through the highlights and lowlights of Aerosmith’s first decade.

Start off with: Toys In The Attic (1975, Columbia Records)

Aero2It might include two of the band’s biggest showpieces – Walk This Way and Sweet Emotion – but the brilliance of the their third album is in the space it has to breathe. From the non-stop rock of the title track through to the piano-ballad of You See Me Crying, Aerosmith show that they’re more than just long-haired heavy rockers. The plaintive Uncle Salty shows a band tackling a serious topic, Adam’s Apple proves that Joe Perry can write a sick guitar riff equal to Steven Tyler’s raspy vocals, and Big Ten Inch Record is sure to put a dirty smirk on your face. On the flipside, No More No More might just be the greatest song about touring in a rock and roll band, and Round And Round shows a heavier side of the group. Jack Douglas, given full production duties after co-producing their previous record, manages to capture the essence of a band just as they changed from New England wannabes to national rock stars.

Follow that with: Get Your Wings (1974, Columbia Records)

Aero3There’s a charm to the band’s sophomore release that they only ever got close to recapturing on 1985’s Done With Mirrors, another album which pre-empted bigger things. If their tentative, toe-in-the-water debut proved they can play, the follow-up showed a maturity in their songwriting skills. The band sounds like America’s best-kept secret, and co-producers Jack Douglas and Ray Colcord are struggling to keep a lid on everything. With the same sense of space as its breakthrough follow-up, Get Your Wings finds Aerosmith starting to hit their stride, with Lord Of The Thighs – strangely not picked as a single – serving as the blueprint for the band’s sleazy rock for the rest of the decade.

Then get: Rocks (1976, Columbia Records)

Aero4Public opinion usually places this record as the band’s greatest achievement, but for me it’s a little overcooked. Gone are the nuances of Get Your Wings and Toys In The Attic, and I instead we get 34 minutes of balls-to-the-wall rock and roll, that doesn’t let up for a second. By this time, Aerosmith and Jack Douglas were masters at their game, and the album sounds effortless as a result. But if anything, it’s just too much. Even the now-traditional piano ballad closer Home Tonight is far from subtle; it feels like enjoying a meal too quickly, and burning your mouth as a result.

Criminally overlooked: Night In The Ruts (1979, Columbia Records)

Aero5Joe Perry claimed that by 1978 they had gone from musicians dabbling with drugs, to drug addicts dabbling with music. A year later, things were really starting to come off the rails. Mid-way through recording sessions, Perry literally quit the band over spilt milk (Perry’s wife Elyssa threw a glass of milk over Tom Hamilton’s wife Terri, in a heated argument backstage). With Perry only contributing guitar parts for five songs, the remaining parts were completed by  Brad Whitford, Richie Supa, Neil Thompson, and Jimmy Crespo. Perry-clone Crespo stayed on as the band’s lead guitarist as the album, originally titled Off Your Rocker, was released as Night In The Ruts. It’s an uneven affair but definitely has its moments. Chiquita is perhaps the greatest deep cut the band ever recorded and Cheese Cake, Three Mile Smile and Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy) all show the band at their best.

The long-shot: Rock In A Hard Place (1982, Columbia Records)

Aero6The band limped on into the new decade as rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford followed Joe Perry out the door. Replaced by another Perry-clone, Rick Dufay, the new blood revitalised the band into a record that is far stronger than it deserves to be. Costing an estimate $1.5 million to record (a fortune at the time) due to Tyler’s constant drug-fuelled procrastinations, the album reunited them with Jack Douglas. The opening salvo of Jailbait, Lightning Strikes, Bitch’s Brew and Bolivian Ragamuffin feels like the last death-rattle of a band that could really have imploded there and then, had fate not intervened a couple of years later.

Avoid like the plague: Classics Live! (1986, Columbia Records)

Aero7After the band reunited and decamped to greener pastures with Geffen Records, their old record label was left with the rights to the material from their first decade. Both Classic Live! and Classics Live II feel like cynical cash-ins, to benefit from the band’s resurgence, but the first volume is particularly bad. Featuring overdubs by stand-in guitarist Jimmy Crespo, and re-touched drum sounds akin to ZZ Top’s re-worked CD remasters of their ‘70s albums, it doesn’t sound like a genuine live album. The album’s only saving grace is the inclusion of a studio outtake, Major Barbra, originally recorded for Get Your Wings.

Best compilation: Gems (1988, Columbia Records)

Aero8After 1980’s Greatest Hits included a couple of singles edited for radio (effectively removing key elements of songs, e.g. Sweet Emotion without the talk-box intro section!), Columbia issued a more representative compilation in 1988. Cashing-in on the band’s Permanent Vacation comeback, with cover-art reminiscent of the Rocks cover, Gems is a heavier album of deep cuts drawing from their first seven studio albums. The cherry on top is the studio version of Richie Supa’s Chip Away The Stone, previously only available as a live version.

Best live album: Live! Bootleg (1978, Columbia Records)

Aero9A sloppy mess of a double-LP live album, Live! Bootleg was released while the band were in no state to record a follow-up to Draw The Line. It was originally intended to be a warts-and-all recording, akin to the bootleg live recordings the cover art suggests. It actually sounds great; the band are just a mess, full of flubbed-guitar lines and incoherent vocals, and I love every minute of it. It’s not all stadium-rock bonanza though – we get a club recording of Last Child, a rehearsal space run-through of Come Together and a 1973 radio broadcast of I Ain’t Got You and Mother Popcorn.

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Yes, Aerosmith might not sail the same seas as the Led Zeppelins and Rolling Stones of the stadium-rock world, but to me they’re essential. I’m so glad this was the first band that really stung me; I’ve always found it easy to look beyond the questionable Geffen years and everything that came after it. Their first decade was brilliant and includes everything I look for in a rock band. For me, there’s simply nothing better than Toys In The Attic blasting out of the stereo on a hot summer’s day.

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Rocks In The Attic #801: Stevie Wonder – ‘The Woman In Red (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

RITA#801Crikey, I’m not sure this film would get made these days. It wouldn’t fare well in the #metoo era.

A remake of the French film, Pardon Mon Affaire Gene Wilder writes and directs himself in a male super-fantasy where he attempts to start an extra-marital affair with a model at the advertising agency he works at. It’s a super-fantasy because he’s Gene Wilder and she’s Kelly LeBrock. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but it just comes off tasting bad.

Gene Wilder is one of my favourite comedic actors. He’s easily the best thing about Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, fantastic in the early Mel Brooks films, and his partnership with Richard Pryor is wonderful from Silver Streak (featuring a pre-The Spy Who Loved Me Richard Kiel playing a besuited henchman with steel teeth) to Stir Crazy (“I can’t feel my legs!”) and See No Evil Hear No Evil (“Fuzzy Wuzzy was a woman?”). This film feels like a bit of a mis-step though. I’m sure it was very amusing back in 1984, and I certainly enjoyed it in my youth when I didn’t know any better, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

It has its moments – mainly from the supporting cast of Gilda Radner and Charles Grodin – but the whole thing just feels awful. Somehow, I always remember that collection of inner-city vignettes (including a man copping a feel of a woman whose shoe gets stuck in a grate) to be from the opening section of this film, but that’s from Stir Crazy. I must mix up Gene Wilder films in my mind.

RITA#801aThe music is brilliant though; the film’s saving grace. Essentially a Stevie Wonder album (it comes four years after the brilliant Hotter Than July), all but one song was written by him. He shares vocal duties with Dionne Warwick on two songs, and Warwick sings lead on one track. Officially, I’m not sure if it would be credited to ‘Various Artists’, or to Stevie Wonder & Dionne Warwick, but I like to see it as a Stevie Wonder album, with a guest singer.

Like Hotter Than July, the album has its moments of pure synth gold – from the funky title song, to Love Light In Flight to Don’t Drive Drunk. The last song ended up being used in an educational video for the Department of Transportation’s drunk-driving prevention PSA. I’m not sure if Stevie Wonder is the kind of person to take driving advice from, but I appreciate any promotion for such a great cause.

But like Hotter Than July, The Woman In Red also has its one startling moment of pure cheese. Mega-hit I Just Called To Say I Love You echoes the horrible feel of the previous album’s Happy Birthday, not to mention 1982’s clanger with Paul McCartney, Ebony And Ivory. These songs feel like the technology starting to detract from the songwriting, and the trouble is that the synths Stevie was using in the early ‘80s were starting to become widely available. As a result, these songs sound like everything bad about ‘80s music that followed after.

Hit: I Just Called To Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder

Hidden Gem: The Woman In Red – Stevie Wonder

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