Feb 192010

The wisdom of The Hall continues to amaze me. For as many knowledgeable individuals who dazzle with their rock knowledge, it is the collective wisdom of our participants that I find most dazzling.

It is in this spirit that I want to allow for further amazement—not only for the people but by the people. I was going to try to turn this into my own original post, maybe even do a few minutes of research on the Web, but then I thought better of it. Instead, I’d like to pose a question to the collective wisdom of The Orockle.

The question I’d like to pose – and one that I hope will inspire other questions we’d like to have asked when we had more time to find the answers ourselves – will follow a little bit of background. Read on, please.
My wife was having a stressful start to her week, and lo and behold, while we were away last weekend she recorded one of her favorite pick-me-up movies was on TCM, Pillow Talk. She watched it and felt much better. She was still stressed out the next night, so she watched it again. I’d seen this movie, at least in bits and pieces, many times over the years with her. After being terrified of Doris Day for ages, I finally warmed up to her charms after watching Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, a Hitchcock film that has risen to the top of my list of his films, for the sixth time. Anyhow, now when Pillow Talk or some other movie with Day’s giant, bleached head shows up on TV I don’t feel like jumping out a window. Pillow Talk is a well-done movie, and watching it the other night with my wife I realized how great Rock Hudson is in it. This has been old hat since he died of AIDS in 1985, but the way Hudson plays a straight guy playing a gay guy etc is fascinating. He does it all so well, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s the rare big man who’s both “manly” – towering over his co-stars with that square jaw, broad shoulders, and an obvious need to shave in the morning and the evening – and an honest-to-goodness “pretty boy.” How many hulking 6′ 5″ guys also get to be pretty? But I digress.

While watching Hudson’s performance I kept trying to think if he’d ever discussed what was going on in his mind while playing this subversive role. I’m pretty sure no such interview exists. Didn’t he die reluctant or refusing to admit that he had AIDS and had been homosexual? It would have been great to hear from him what went into his Hollywood image, his performance in that movie, and what it all meant to him, but we can only imagine. Now onto the musical question that I’m not sure has ever been asked but that sprang to my mind the day after watching Pillow Talk yet again…

What went into the making of “She’s a Rainbow,” by The Rolling Stones? I don’t recall ever reading anything about the recording of the Stones’ brief forays into psychedelia. It seems rare that anything is ever written about how the Stones recorded all their great records. There’s no Mark Lewisohn book chronicling the day-by-day recording sessions for even a single Stones album, is there?

“She’s a Rainbow” is a weird song, especially for the Stones. It’s nothing but a chorus and those instrumental segments for the first three cycles of the song. How many songs begin with nothing but three choruses and instrumental breaks? Who’s playing piano, Nicky Hopkins? More importantly, who in the Stones came up with the idea for that arrangement? I can’t imagine Keef or Mick even attempting to bang out a rudimentary frame for those piano breaks. So I ask the Orockle, in part because I’m too busy to research this stuff for myself, Have the Stones ever commented on the making of that song?

As the Orockle ponders my question, please feel free to leave your own musical questions that you wish someone had asked. Thank you.


  34 Responses to “Consult the Orockle: Questions We’d Like to Have Asked”

  1. 2000 Man

    There’s a ton of books about The Stones. Half of them are pure fabrication and the other half are chock full of mistakes, but if you cobble together a small library you can figure it out, usually. Yes, that’s Nicky Hopkins on piano. John Paul Jones handled the Strings (he didn’t play them all, he got them all to play together).

    I think Mick came up with the original song, though it was more of a collaboration with Keith back then. Once they had the main idea down, they just added things until it was what they wanted. It was originally titled Flowers in Your Hair” (you can hear the producer say “Flowers in Your Hair, take one” on the outtake). I’m sure Nicky was given a lot of freedom to fill in around the guitar any way he wanted, but just directed for a feel. The piano really hardly changes from the first take to the final version. I’d bet Mick or Keith came up with the piano part where “Have you seen her all in blue” is and then Nicky did the rest.

    They don’t usually comment on the making of single songs from that album. There were all the drug busts going on, nights spent in jail and lot’s of court dates, so Charlie and Bill got to do a lot on their own. I really like a quote by Keith about the whole Flower Power Summer of Love era, though. “I’m quite proud that I never did go and kiss the goddamned Maharishi’s feet.”

    They say funny things about the album on a whole. But they went back and grabbed 2000 Light Years From Home and played it on the Steel Wheels Tour. It was one of the big hits of the night and they even released it as a B-side.

  2. Mr. Moderator

    I knew I could count on you, 2K. diskojoe also contacted me offlist with the following info:

    In regards to that question you have at RTH re: “She’s A Rainbow”, I was reading a book called Please, Please, Me: Sixties British Pop, Inside Out by Gordon Thompson, last night, which is basically about the British music industry from 1956-1968 (producers, musical directors, session musicians, songwriters). Anyway, there was a bit about John Paul Jones in his pre-Zep career as arranger, which included the following:

    “I did one session for Andrew [Loog Oldham] and the Stones for Santanic Majesties, the arrangement of ‘She’s A Rainbow’. I just remember waiting for them forever. I just thought they were unprofessional and boring.”

  3. hrrundivbakshi

    Appreciate the question, and the answers, but I did get a chuckle out of a guy who’s “too busy” to spend a few minutes with Google, but can spend who knows how long writing a 10-paragraph essay on the intersection of Rock Hudson’s suppressed homosexuality and Rolling Stones psychedelia! This is why we love, love, LOVE the Mod!

  4. 2000 Man

    Charlie said at around the 25 year mark that working with The Stones was “20 years of waiting around and five years of work.” I guess Led Zeppelin worked much harder. Then again, I never heard any rock n roll I liked that made me say, “Hey! Doesn’t that sound like a bunch of hard work!”

    Jimmy Miller said when he recorded them they could go from the absolute worst band he’d ever heard to the best in a second, and that’s why you had to roll tape all the time.

  5. diskojoe

    Mr. Mod, thanks for posting my comment. I’m back @ my regular computer.

    A thought that I had re: “She’s A Rainbow” is that the Stones probably thought it was just going to be a B-Side. I think they put more effort on “We Love You”, even doing a video for that song comparing their legal troubles @ the time w/Oscar Wilde’s trial (which goes back to Mr. Mod’s comparsion w/Rock Hudson in some weird way).

  6. BigSteve

    Mod, it’s the Stewart/Day version of The Man Who Knew Too Much that is at the top of your list? I saw that in the theater not long ago, and I thought it was completely ludicrous.

    Rainbow has traces of ludicrosity, but I still like it. Love the helium background voices. And that piano sound — is it compression that makes it sound bell-like like that?

  7. hrrundivbakshi

    Steve wonders:

    And that piano sound — is it compression that makes it sound bell-like like that?

    I answer:

    Yes. A hell of a lot of it.

  8. Mr. Moderator

    Yes, BigSteve, that’s the version. I’m not a big plot guy, so if that’s what you find ludicrous it probably passed me by.

    I saw it years ago, when 5 Hitchcock films were restored and re-released in theaters. I liked it then, but it was nowhere near my favorite. Truth be told, each time I’ve seen it since we’ve had kids I love it more. It plays heavily on anxieties related to parenthood, so I’m well aware that I’m making what mwall and dr john might consider an “easy” choice;) I get a charge out of the visceral performances of the actors. Granted, it’s not among the “cool” Hitchcock films that I also love.

  9. BigSteve

    It’s partly that I have a hard time accepting Stewart as a leading man. But it’s mostly the social context I found ridiculous. The country doctor who marries a Broadway star. Dark people from Morocco are inherently mysterious. A husband has the right to drug his wife into unconsciousness for her own good. The whole cold war thing with the imaginary eastern European country and evil assassins with fake accents. I just couldn’t take any of it seriously.

  10. Nellie McKay this year released a tribute album to Doris Day, Normal As Blueberry Pie.

    Day once turned down the role of Mrs. Robinson, telling Mike Nichols that “it insults my values.”

    And, Hitchcock seemed to have considerable difficulty relating to people who weren’t well-bred, white males. That’s what makes his films to me so limiting, almost myopic.

  11. Mr. Moderator

    dr john wrote:

    And, Hitchcock seemed to have considerable difficulty relating to people who weren’t well-bred, white males. That’s what makes his films to me so limiting, almost myopic.

    Are you referring to Hitchcock in his personal life or in his films, in his role as director? Either way, this may need to be inscribed on your RTH Hall of Fame plaque for the way is captures your dr johnessence.

  12. Seriously, can anyone tell me why Hitchcock, the director, should get any recognition beyond these three attributes?

    1) Gives you the same sense of suspense as being at a decent haunted house

    2) Cold war realism/psychology

    3) Kitsch value and/or nostalgia

  13. Mr. Moderator

    dr john, you have truly posed a question that only The Orockle can tackle! I don’t think my attempts at answering your question will help, but I find a great deal of core humanity in his movies as well as a ton of highly engaging craft. I am certain that the term “core humanity” will trouble you, especially since I use it in a broad, idealistic way, but I don’t know how else to explain it. I’m usually not attracted to film makers who “think big” (eg, Spielberg), but I’m dazzled by Hitchcock’s ability to do so in a way that makes me feel part of his idea of our “big” world.

  14. I suppose I’m pressing a bit, but how does Hitchcock make you feel part of his idea of our “big” world? What is this idea, do ya think?

    Because, as I said previously, his films for me conjure a claustrophobic world.

  15. Mr. Moderator

    Well, I guess the obvious start to most Hitchcock films is that there are threats all around – real and perceived – but there’s also a sense of humor, love, and decency that is worth holding onto and that often delivers the “truth.” I feel like I’m reciting the lessons of my childhood, and maybe that’s what I’m getting at. I find his films highly idealistic in a world that can go mad. And they look great.

    My other faves include Dial M for Murder (LOVE the detective, who especially upholds all the idealistic things I listed in this one), Notorious (even the Claude Raines character is sympathetic and attempts to maintain some decency), Rear Window (HIGHLY entertaining), Shadow of a Doubt (I’m a sucker for Joseph Cotten, and the kids make this film work), and Rebecca (although my judgment on that film is surely clouded by my love for both Joan Fontaine and George Sanders).

    I can’t stand Rope, and anything good about Vertigo is ruined by Kim Novak. (I bet Hrrundi has a poster of her above his bed, right next to his Jason Falkner poster!) There’s a lot to like about North by Northwest, although the homoerotic psycho killer device is as distracting and tired in this movie as I find it to be in almost any movie (see its role as the final nail in the coffin of the terrible American Beauty).

  16. hrrundivbakshi

    Mockcarr is the resident Kim Novak obssessive. I watched “Rope” for the first time a few months ago, and enjoyed it in a campy kind of way.

  17. Mr. Moderator

    Come to think of it Rope is all about the homoerotic psycho killer device. Even though, in this case, the story is based on an actual case, I’m offended for gay people for the ongoing fictional obsession with that notion. I forsee a movie involving that device and somehow working in an African American robed choir backing a Satanic rock singer with a British accent.

  18. mockcarr

    Hunh, obsessed with Kim Novak? She’s pretty sexy, so what? Grace Kelly in Rear Window is the dame to get obsessed with, and it’s just as unbelievable that the Stewart character would be able to attract her for long. In fact, I think Doris Day is about what Jimmy deserves.

    I was the guy saying Rope was a chance for Jimmy Stewart to act like a dick a while back. That one is gimmickier than most because of the

  19. But how can Hitchcock films be idealistic when they hew so closely to Cold War-era cultural stereotypes?

  20. mockcarr

    continuous shooting thing that had a time limit. There was some really bad stagey acting going on in that actually, but it was an interesting premise I suppose.

  21. mockcarr

    Dr John, how do you feel about The 39 Steps?

  22. Teresa Wright is fantastic in Shadow of a Doubt. I had a crush on her when I first saw it as teenybopper, and it was 40 years old then.

    She is my ideal of 40s teenager-dom.

  23. Mr. Moderator

    dr john, why do I have to see the world in terms of “Cold War-era cultural stereotypes” that you only think you know by reading about them? I’ve tried to explain that I get a sense of LIFE and VALUES from the films that is greater than anything we might have learned from some TIME/WARNER series on the Cold War. I’d be happy to discuss this more, but let’s try to find some common ground. I lived through the tail end of the Cold War, and it didn’t color my life that much except for the Olympics and regrets over all the great boxers and baseball players who couldn’t make it to the US. I’ve lived my entire life in color. You have too. Is it really Cold War cultural stereotypes that affect your reactions to those movies or something you can point to in your own experiences?

  24. Mr. Moderator

    I’m with you on Teresa Wright, funoka. I didn’t want to take it to this level so soon, but Hitchcock has a way of capturing his women on film. I’m still awaiting an answer from dr john re: his initial comment on Hitchcock’s inability to relate to anything but well-bred white males, or whatever he said, but my eye tells me he knew how to relate to well-bred white females as well as any director.

  25. Sorry for the delayed response, Mod–busy meeting students and applying for jobs.

    First, I know about the Cold War from researching and teaching it (it’s a vital part of Am Lit, and I could give you the readings if yr interested).

    Second, from that, and being part of the Reagan, Bush, Bush II years that tried to take us BACK to the fifties, I will say with conviction that the cultural upheaval of the sixties was extremely necessary and significant. You simply couldn’t have had the artistic developments (film, music, lit.) in a fifties era mindset.

    MAD MEN does give a general sense of the unhappiness of the fifties, but there is no fact that I find more compelling than the sale of tranquilizers went through the roof at the time.

    I hope this will provide some sort of middle ground for a continuing discussion re: Hitchcock.

  26. Mr. Moderator

    dr john, sorry for minimizing the role Cold War history plays in your life. I’m willing to continue discussing this, because it’s fun and any time we tangle it ends up being fun, challenging, and educational. My personal sense of history doesn’t feel too tied to the Cold War era. My older family members never spoke of it. I went to a a Friends school for 12 years. I’m about personal expression, maaannnn🙂

    My family does express a culture from the ’50s, but it seems to have nothing to do with that George Clooney movie, Good Night and Good Luck (?); the Cuban Missile Crisis; and other landmark historical events related to the Cold War.

    So anyhow, I’ve taken a lot of time to try to express how those Hitchcock movies make me feel. I find them to be mostly positive and idealistic, while being wholly aware of the darker aspects of the surrounding culture and the main characters’ faults. Again, getting personal, I can’t shake the belief that life is a letdown and the world is screwed, so my idea of idealism may be more like your idea of claustrophobia than either of us know.

    I will say that notions such as a particular decade being “unhappy” are way outside my way of thinking. I don’t believe that the Reagan or Bush II or any other years like that were much worse than any other period. Now if we’re talking the Hitler years that’s another matter. But I find our current cultural state as repressed and bland as the ’50s must have been. I’m totally with you re: the need for the ’60s and all the great things brought about by those cultural forces, but Hitchcock wasn’t making his best movies in the ’60s. I have no problem with seeing his movies for the culture in which they were made. If I have to limit myself to watching Sidney Poitier movies because he was the only working black movie star for a long time I might as well shoot myself.

  27. BigSteve

    dr john gets at some of what I was talking about regarding Hitchcock. He just feels so tied to the sexual politics and um political politics of his time. He never seems to transcend them.

    The view of relations between the sexes just seem to be very adolescent. The women are total babes, and the camera drools all over them. Our discussion of Prince’s sexuality a while back is apropos here.

    These women are often paired with a much older man. I revisited Rear Window recently, and the Grace Kelly and James Stewart pairing was just not credible. I was expecting to enjoy the movie, and I just couldn’t get into it. The affair in To Catch A Thief felt utterly silly to me, and don’t get me started on the tomboy character.

    The way men treat women just seems so retrograde. The traditional gender roles just make the seem like they’re from a world we left behind for a reason. The way the creepy villains tend be given a homo vibe is another example of this.

    It’s the same with the politics. The WWII era films are straight anti-German propaganda, and then in the 50 and 60s Hitchcock trades that for anti-commie scenarios. All artists work in the context of their times, but in this case there just doesn’t seem to be any challenge at all to the conventional worldview. And I think I just expect artists of stature to challenge convention on some level. I find I just can’t take Hitchcock seriously anymore.

  28. I’m not an anti-Hitchcock person at all. Jeez, guys, of course his films show their era: they’re pop masterpieces, a concept I thought at least a few people around here understood, and they played a lot with the problems of their era; read some Zizek or Edelman, please. You especially, Good Doctor.

    Still, I’ve always felt that The Man Who Knew Too Much is one of his weaker films, entertaining at moments, draggy at others, and unconvincing at its supposedly most suspenseful moments. The best part is the early weirdness in Morocco (right country?) but it really strains after that, if you ask me.

    What am I missing?

  29. Mr. Moderator

    At the risk of coming off like legendary Townsman Berlyant, who in our old “basement” version of RTH once said that you had to be from the zip code in which the film Garden State was set to get that movie, could you be missing kids, mwall? I said initially that my feelings on the film are colored by my experiences as a parent. I don’t know if others with kids feel that way. For me the movie taps into the anxiety I’m prone to feel as a parent on a weekly basis, when I get that flash feeling that one of my kids could be gone – like that! I liked the movie when I first saw it at the age of 20 or so, but it gets better as my anxieties deepen.

  30. BigSteve

    Yes, but you wouldn’t slip your wife a mickey to get her out of the way while you saved your kid because obviously women are too stupid and frail to be of any use. They sure are purty though.

  31. Mr. Moderator

    BigSteve, in this case I focus on the more plausible, relevant parts of the story? Do you take me for a guy who gets distracted by stuff like glue-on sideburns when Oliver Stone’s trying to paint a picture of the revolution that was going on in the late-60s?

    To me that comes off like outdated, stupid ’50s stuff. It doesn’t bother me the way some stupid ’50s stuff that, sadly, has not gone out of date might, like the homoerotic motivation behind 90% of movie psycho killers.

  32. Mod, the film is clearly about the anxiety of having children, as most Hitchcock films are about the anxiety of having to live in a world with other people, which I think we probably all know something about. I just don’t think it does the anxiety thing that well compared to what Hitchcock can do at his best. On the anxiety of having children specifically: I think we could come up with films by other people, and even by Hitchcock (The Birds), that do it much better. Let’s put that thread up.

    That said, the thread here has been a long one, and I was paying more attention to the (weak if you ask me) attacks on Hitchcock than on your personal attachment to this film, which, as personal attachments go, is fine–says the Judas Priest fan.

    And then that said, you’re relying a little bit too much on personal story lately in your analysis of things. Are we talking about a Top Ten Hitchcock film here? I’m asking you for an answer here: yes or no. No, I say.

  33. Mr. Moderator

    I hear you, mwall. I totally appreciated your down-to-earth support for what’s good about Hitchcock. I meant to express my thanks, but I got distracted by the thrill of petty RTH-style bickering!

    Yes, *I* consider it a Top 10 Hitchcock film. This ranking of films and albums definitely falls under the category of competition rather than sport, to refer to another silly side-thread. To me there’s enough objectively fine about that movie that, mixed with my personal feelings about the movie, it can creep into his Top 10. Personal feelings aside, I’d be willing to agree there are probably at least three of his films that are “objectively” “better.” Does that satisfy the IOC critics?

    All this is said with full knowledge that some real film buff like dbuskirk is tamping his pipe and scoffing at my ignorance of the majesty of Hitch’s 1921 storyboards, drawn up in preparation for one of his early British films.

  34. mwall, while Hitchcock films do address the problems of their times, they too often seem blissfully unaware of their own complicity in these problems, as they deploy cultural stereotypes–especially concerning gender relations as Big Steve noted–many of which are the underlying cause of these problems (such as masculine anxiety fueling Cold War paranoia).

    I’m sure you could say this of many films, but what bugs me about Hitchcock are his films are packed to the hilt with superficial Freudian-isms and bad faith moments. In North by Northwest (a film I can watch), the super-spy heroine inexplicably has her cover blown so the Cary Grant character (rich of course and has mommy issues) can conveniently rescue her. The ending blows.

    Compared to a film maker like Douglas Sirk, who generated some real insight about contemporary gender relations, Hitchcock doesn’t even rate well in his own period.

    As for a film about having kids, check out John Cassavetes’s A Woman Under the Influence. The realism is almost uncomfortable at times.

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