Friday 26 June 2020

Bought In Error - But a Good Error

In an attempt to broaden my musical horizons, I happened upon a documentary about Outlaw Country.
Now Country & Western has always left me cold - all that "my woman gone and left me", "my granny has fallen over a cliff", "my doggie is dead", "too much booze isn't a bad thing", "my sister and my wife are the same person".
But Outlaw Country piqued an interest - it seemed to take C&W and imbue it with Blues, Folk, and Rock signatures.  Less Yee-hah, more introspective and reality based.
So I watched it, read about it, thought about it some more, and arrived at the conclusion that the one single album that would provide me an entrance to this genre would be:
'Wanted! The Outlaws' featuring Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser.

Fast forward a couple of months, and I'm wandering around a Record Shop (yes, I know, a very unlikely thing for me to be doing) looking for both something, and nothing in particular.
(Basically, having a good old brows - something Mrs D has never understood the concept of).
And then I remember - Outlaw Country - let's see if I can find any of that (that should get me another half hour in this shop).
Found: The Highwaymen - Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson - that was one I remember reading about.
What was the other one?  The Outlaws.  A quick move to the O section, and there it is - a double Best Of compilation.  That must be it ...
Well, it wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but there was not a single ounce of upset as the CD player started to play.

Now what flew out of my speakers was not Willie Nelson's (sometimes whiny) voice or Waylon Jennings paying tribute to Cowboy Heroes - oh no, the air was filled with a slab of Southern Boogie Rock from a similar stable as Lynyrd Skynyrd or The Allman Brothers.
The fact there was a slight Country twang going in too meant I wasn't too far from the original intention, at least.
I listened, and then listened some more, and went on listening - if this purchase was a mistake, I'm pretty glad I made this mistake.
And their snuck away at track 5 is the key song (for me) - the one that pips Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird" to the title of Best Southern Rock Song with A Long Guitar Solo - "Green Grass And High Tides"

There is only so much information the human brain can hold.  There's bound to be a bit of leakage at times (and not just from the brain ...), but this was one moment of befuddlement that I'm glad I befuddled.

Post Script: I did eventually get 'Wanted! The Outlaws' a couple of months later, and I wasn't disappointed.  It's a fine album, but is it as fine as this erroneous purchase?

Green Grass And High Tides

Wednesday 17 June 2020


Definition of Alchemy: The ability to turn base metal into Gold

Or in the case of a Dire Straits Live album, the ability to turn 12" of plastic (and 5" of chrome) into Platinum.
It's one of those live albums that never seems to make the list of "Greatest Live Albums".
It should - because it is chock full of fine tunes, fine playing, and there is enough difference in the delivery of the tracks to warrant it's existence - rather than just a facsimile of the studio tracks in a live setting.
Maybe it's just too clean (and a bit downbeat in places) to fire the sort of enthusiasm of 'Live At Leeds', 'No Sleep Til Hammersmith' or 'Live An Dangerous'.
Hmm ... the sub-title for this album could be 'Live And Seriously Competent'.
The version I have on CD could benefit from a re-master to create some more separation between the performance and the crowd noise.  Although, the crowd noise is also somewhat subdued and relatively polite.
Do you know what?  I think I've found another reason why 'Alchemy' is often missing from those lists - it's all a bit "nice".
"Nice" it may be, but this is the band at the top of their game - and I don't think they reached those same heights of performance, commitment, or even musicianship again.

'Alchemy' was Dire Straits fifth album, and first live album, and came out in 1984.
1984 marked a turn in Dire Straits existence.  Their first 4 albums had fused a musically astute form of Pub-Rock to a less self-indulgent form of Prog Rock.  They'd had a taste of singles chart success ("Private Investigations" surprisingly getting to number 2) which was pushed further by "Twisting By The Pool" - a track that sounded like Dire Straits, but was one step removed from what the band were about.
Also by this stage, Mark Knopfler had had solos success with the film soundtrack for Local Hero.  The theme tune ("Going Home") is tacked on the end of the album suggesting equal dibs for the band and his solo career.
But it's also clear (looking at what came after) that Dire Straits were rapidly becoming a vehicle or flag of convenience for Mark Knopfler's musical aspirations.

Showcasing their musical chops and competence, many tracks are lengthened - "Once Upon A Time In The West" is nearly 3 times longer than the version on their debut album.  But they also manage to shorten two tracks - "Telegraph Road" loses nearly a minute, whilst "Love Over Gold" is halved in length.
Of all the tracks though, the near 11 minute version of "Sultans Of Swing" that closes CD one is perhaps the definitive statement of the song and the band.
The next album - 'Brothers In Arms' - re-wrote the Dire Straits story.  It's a product of the studio, and it's all a bit clean and clinical.  Just right for the burgeoning CD market in it's in-offensive glory.  It's a good album, but for me never reaches the same heights of their previous offerings.
Mainstream Dire Straits are now represented by "Money For Nothing" or "Walk Of Life" as the default choice of radio programmers, with "Sultans Of Swing" and "Romeo and Juliet" supplementing those more "adventurous" jocks. 
'Brothers In Arms' may have sold 200million (or whatever), but Dire Straits truly peaked a couple of years before.
'Alchemy' is the showcase package, and proof, of that peaking.

Sultans Of Swing

Thursday 11 June 2020

Films - The Facebook Challenge I Haven't Been Invited To Do

There have been quite a few Facebook thread challenges "Post 10 ... 1 per day no explanations"

I've done Albums, Albums Of Influence, Football Teams, Footballers, Cars (Owned and Desired), and TV Sitcoms.
But not Films (yet ...)

So, before I'm challenged to do just that, I'm going to post them here (complete with explanations / gushing hyperbole as to why I have ranked them as such).
This started as a Long List of about 35, I've edited, cogitated, beaten myself up, and arrived at a list of 10 (and am still apologising to myself the ones I had to leave out)

The story of Teenage angst, confusion, belonging, and wanting to "fit in".  Universal themes that seem to apply to most (all?) teenagers between leaving school and "settling down" (old-fashioned view and phraseology,  but it's the best I can think of).
The storyline lifted from Pete Townsend's story in the original album - part scripted, part ad-libbed by a group of rookie actors (many of them in their first professional job), and the Gang mentality shines through.
The end is the beginning, and 40 years on still conjures interest.  Just glad they never felt the need to make Quadrophenia II - that would've killed it.
Superb soundtrack too.

Blues Brothers
This one has a blinding soundtrack too (hmm ... is there a theme developing?).
Elwood picks up his brother Jake from Prison - and there'e the first joke.  One's thin and tall, the other is short and squat.  And he's in a Police Car - another joke.  Jake lights his cigarette and throws the cars cigarette lighter out of the window - and another gag.  Keep 'em coming.
This bombed at the cinema when first released, but is now seen as probably the best thing Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi ever did.
Unfortunately, this legacy was besmirched by Blues Brothers 200 (but let's just ignore that)

This Is Spinal Tap
Like the two above, this is another one I have seen so often I know the script word-for-word.  One of the most quotable films ever produced.  Just about every band refers to their "Spinal Tap Moments" whether it's getting lost on the way to the stage, bad album reviews, playing in smaller venues being passed off as "developing a selective appeal", or drummers exploding on stage (OK, the last one is fairly unlikely).
The soundtrack?  This is no after thought of songs written to order employing all know Heavy |Rock cliches.  As songs go, there are some bands who'd be happy with them in their cannon.
And the blurring of reality and fiction is added again whenNigel Tufnell and David St Hubbins appeared on Ronnie James Dio's Heavy Metal Band Aid project Hear n Aid.

The Long Good Friday
Gangster Harold Shand has a vision - regeneration of Docklands and the influx of Foreign money will transform London and they will host the 2008 Olympics.  Well, he was right just 24 years too early.
The only problem is he's somehow got on the wrong side of the IRA, and has upset the American Mafia.  The silent ending is proof (if it were needed) that Bob Hoskin's was a great actor.  He does very little, but the emotion, confusion, and a bit of fear can be clerly picked up from his little round face.

Life Of Brain
Fighting it out with Spinal Tap for the title of "Most Quotable Film" is undoubtedly this.  A film that started life as a throwaway joke (Eric Idle's response when asked about the next Python film: Jesus Christ - Lust For Glory), and would never have been made if The Beatles hadn't split up.
From "What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us?" to "The Peoples Front of Judea" to "Biggus Dickus", "Fwee Woderwick" - this has some of the best Python comedy moments.  And it closes with that song, which resonates still now.
Blasphemous?  Not a bit of it, and more foll those that just didn't "get it" - chiefly Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood (the Bishop of Southwark).

Love, Honour & Obey
It might've been relatively low budget with little distribution, but it can still boast a cast list including: Ray Winstone, Rhys Ifans, Sadie Frost, Jonny Lee Miller, Jude Law, Kathy Burke, Sean Pertwee, and Denise Van Outen.
A courier looking for a way out of couriering calls up an old school friend (who just happens to be the nephew of a local gangster) to seek a career change.  Once "in", he becomes obsessed with starting a turf war with a rival gang.
The majority of the cast retain their own names.  This gives a combination of script reading and improvisation - no one gets lost because they (or versions of themselves) are the characters.
Gangstering takes second place to karaoke for this Firm - the soundtrack on this one is provided by the cast delivering karaoke versions old TV Themes.

Still Crazy
Old boys from the 70s get the band back together (in some cases begrudgingly, in other cases gladly).
After initial struggles (and a fair amount of argument), it all starts to come together culminating in a festival stopping performance.
And how will they contrive to f**k it up this time?
Written by Clement and La Frenais, and starring Bill Nighy, Tom Spall, Jimmy Nail, and Billy Connolly.
And yes, the soundtrack is a fine piece of work featuring contributions from Clive Langer, Chris Difford, and Mick Jones (the Foreigner variant, not the Clash bloke (or the Leeds centre-forward from the 1970s))

Italian Job
Charlie Croker is released from Prison, gets wind of a big job to relieve the Italians of £4million of Gold, and then breaks back into Prison to ask for Noel Coward's help in bankrolling the job.
OK, the storyline and set-up may seem secondary as the bulk of this Film centres around the car chase exit from Turin - specifically the antics of 3 Red, White and Blue Minis.
They eventually escape Turn, get the cars onto the coach and unload.
The film ends with a literal cliff-hanger, and Michael Caine's immortal line "Ang on lads, I've got a great idea"
Also home to the second most popular line fro budding Caine impersonators:
"You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off"

Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels
"Ang on lads, I've got a great idea" may also have been the line used by Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughn when casting this film.
"Let's get Vinnie Jones to do some acting".
Sounds like a laughable idea, but Vinnie puts in a top performance in the film that started it all for both Ritchie and Vaughn.
The film startd on a relatively simple story - gang of mates get some money together for a genius card player to take part in a big money game.  He loses, and they find themselves in debt to a Gangland villain.  And then it all gets a bit confusing with several storylines weaving together.  It seems everybody is trying to steal from everyone else.  It all goes a bit mad - like Vinnie Jones slamming someone's head in a car door - but (sort of) makes sense in the end.
Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaugn have come close, but I don't think they've ever bettered this outing.

The Rutles - All You Need Is Cash
The story of the Prefab Four - Dirk, Nasty, Barry & Stig - from the early days in The Cavern Rutland, and their first single ("Twist and Rut", they went on to be legends in thier own lunchtimes until it fell apart.  Final album 'Let It Rot' was released as a film, record and a lawsuit.
Starting life as a single song sketch on Rutlan Weekend Television, Eric Idle developed the idea into a script charting the rise of The Rutles, in a parrallel universe where The Beatles never existed.  Neil Innes produced a clutch of near perfect Beatles-parody songs to soundtrack the story (one of which was excluded from the album after John Lennon described it as "a bit to close for comfort and law suits".

Bubbling Under:

Rise Of The Footsoldier
There are a number of films (of varying quality and substance) relating to the Rettendon Murders where 3 Southend Drug Dealers were executed.
This is the best of the bunch - and as it's drawn from the stories of someone who was actually there, it has that added element of belief.
It has also spawned a number of sequels, each of which has become progressively fanciful and further from the truth.

Treads similar ground to Quadrophenia as a "rites of passage" / gang nentality / discovery of self teenage thing (in my head at least).  Well written, well acted, and not a bad little soundtrack as well.  The sequel - 20 years later - may (on the face of it) be a cynical attempt to cash in on the name, but is not as bad as the accusations suggest.

High Fidelity
Loses points for being set in America, rather than North London (as it was in the original book), but very well done, and doesn't veer massively (as you often expect from Americana-fications) from the base story.
Gains points for the soundtrack (most notably "Dry The Rain" by The Beta Band)

Holy Grail
Monty Python's first foray into the big screen.  Beset by budget problems. and arguments between the directors Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam (each did a one day on, one day off shift pattern) the resulting film is probably the best filmic production, but just doesn't have the ease or quotability of Life Of Brian.

Toy Story (all 4 of them)
Kids film(s)?  Probably.  Entertaining?  Most definitely.

Team America
F**k yeah!

Pulp Fiction
Just edges it over Jackie Brown as the best Tarantino - although Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is rapidly assuming that title.
Three seemingly unrealted stories intertwine - who said a film should have a linear narrative?
Special note to Samual L Jackson whose character has just the right amount of likability and bad motherfucker (it even says so on his wallet)

Shameless enjoyment (whether anyone likes them or not):
Smokey & The Bandit
Particularly 1 and 2 - by 3 the joke was wearing thin, but still enjoyable escapism.
Basically a lorry driver and his mate (in a Pontiac Trans-Am) accept a bet to transport something (Beer in 1, and an elephant in 2) across state lines.  All the way they are chased down by an inept Sherrif and his dopey son.

Cannonball Run 1 & 2
The sequel squeezes the pips out of a relatively lame set-up, but both 90 minutes of prime no-thinking entertainment.
Basically, lots of cars with famous drivers (in character) race each other across America and amusing things happen.

Carry On
The name is a stamp of (low budget and low values) quality.  The set-ups are predictable, the storylines often threadbare, you can see the jokes coming a mile-off, but they still have you laughing (or at least tittering).  Comedy played by straight actors (as many of them were originally) - a recipe for success in most cases.
Artistically threadbare, and a Seaside postcard on celluloid.  But if it's on, I'll watch it (again and again and again)

Of all the soundtracks, incidental tracks, and selected dialogue from the above selection, there can only be one winner of the title "Best Theme Toon"

Jerry Reed - East Bound And Down