Posts Tagged ‘AC/DC’

The Cult

When I was younger I wanted to find a band that rocked as hard as AC/DC but that didn’t view women as subhuman breeding stock. A band that was as heavy as Led Zeppelin minus all the mystical claptrap. I don’t know if this band has ever existed (I’m open to your recommendations), but I do know that there are albums that qualify. One is Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991). Another is my subject this evening.

Southern Death Cult was formed in 1981 by four boys from Yorkshire. By 2012, when they released their 40,000th comeback record, Choice of Weapon, 23 boys had worn the uniform. The only constants were Ian Astbury (vocals) and Billy Duffy (guitar). Ian and Billy were goths with a taste for metal and a fixation on North American Indians. Sure, why not.

Southern Death Cult gradually phased out the goth and the Indians and the Southern and the Death. (Why would you mess with a name as venomous as Southern Death Cult?) For their third album, they corralled a new producer, Rick Rubin, a man who eats transformation for breakfast, and with his help they broke the chains of gravity with their magnum opus, Electric.

What we have here are songs that embody the one thing we love about AC/DC – mindless butt-shaking – with the one thing we love about Led Zep – guitar solos that pull 4 or 5 G’s. There’s no moody-teenager philosophizing, no misogyny, no Middle Earth, and no intelligence. This album rocks like 12 Republican governors running for president inside a cement mixer.

Tracks 4 through 8, the heart of the order, hit harder than a brass knuckle barn dance. “Bad Fun” has so many layers, it’s as if somebody cloned every dork in Yes and suctioned them into a Yugo. The guitar solos – all of the guitar solos – are awesome because they all sound like metal guitar solo gibberish. Were The Cult subversive or satirical? There’s no way to tell. I don’t care. I love this shit.

An homage to “I Am the Walrus” or plain old drug abuse?
And yet Electric is also one of the funniest albums ever recorded. The lyrics have been brilliantly deconstructed and rebuilt, often with no translatable meaning, as in this unrhymed couplet from “Aphrodisiac Jacket” (a song that sounds like Cream has a brain tumor):

Sittin’ on a mountain looking at the sun
Plastic fantastic lobster telephone

In “Bad Fun,” a song that mixes atomic bombs, “fancy clothes,” and “ghetto stars” without telling you why, the boys break into a chorus about a woman alone with her personal assistant:

Spirit like a rumblin’ train
Spirit of the thunderin’ rain
Vibrations got you on the run
Electric child on bad fun

You can’t not laugh when Ian rolls his r’s or when they swing into their insightful commentary on intimate relationships, “Love Removal Machine,” a song my wife claims she has never heard and yet her life runs along just fine. You can’t not laugh when Billy lights this candle with another solo he checked out from the library, or when the band chants PEACE. DOG. PEACE. DOG. PEACE. DOG. on a song that’s called – let me see, what was it? I knew it a moment ago – yes, I have it: “Peace Dog.”

The only poor choice on this disc was covering “Born to Be Wild” at two-thirds the speed of Steppenwolf. If you’re headin’ down the highway and people on the sidewalk are passing you than you’re not born to be wild or even mischievous.

On The Cult’s previous release, Love (1985), you can hear the transition to a harder rock sound, but it was not until Electric that these ex-goths achieved nirvana. Oh right, “Nirvana” is a song on Love. “When the music is loud, we all get down,” Ian sings. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Postscript courtesy of the concert listings at
AC/DC, Tuesday, Feb. 2, Tacoma Dome
“The band isn’t playing Portland tonight – apparently we’re not good enough – but it’s probably worth the drive to Tacoma. Because, you know, they might die soon.”


It’s time for a wee bit of head-banging with today’s special guests, AC/DC. But before I tell you how to cope with these Australian wunderkinder, let’s deal with some of the more common reactions to their music. And people definitely react.

Former co-worker Karrie objects to AC/DC’s “misogynistic lyrics, badly rhyming lyrics, and badly rhyming misogynistic lyrics.”

Former co-worker Curt compares AC/DC to “an expensive, exotic cheese…smells horrid, leaves a bad taste in your mouth, but when paired with the proper wine and foods…it’s exquisite.”

Current wife Special D opines, “They’re really annoying if you’re not drunk.”

Critics: All their songs sound the same!!

Though I enjoy a big blast of AC/DC, I can’t refute these charges. (I never found out what former co-worker Curt thought you could pair them with. Prozac?) However, I believe that AC/DC is the one butt-kicking metal outfit you should listen to because, in today’s time-starved environment, they are by far the most efficient. From Anthrax to White Snake, you’ll never find a band that rocks this hard with all of these strengths:

1) All their songs sound the same? Of course they do. Angus and Malcolm Young only know a couple of riffs. They can’t even get the artillery on “For Those About to Rock” to go off at the right time. But those riffs are good riffs!

2) Because everything sounds the same, you can forget 17 of their 18 albums of original material and just buy Back in Black.

3) Back in Black is the second-biggest selling album of all time. (Thriller is first.) No one will make fun of you for having the vinyl, the CD, the eight-track, or the cassette in your collection because they’ve already seen it in 50 million other collections.

4) If you’re stealing this stuff online, why are you reading this?

5) The album cover is black.

As for the lyrics: You’re listening to the lyrics? Don’t do that. If you do, you’ll quickly realize that the members of AC/DC face some serious hurdles in establishing mutually respectful and beneficial relationships with women. Unfortunately there’s no patch you can download to improve these guys. I’ve grown adept at hearing the words without hearing the meaning. It helps to concentrate on the really loopy declarations, as when Brian Johnson threatens us with…a bell, or when he claims he doesn’t need to be hosed down or that he’s caught “in the middle of a railroad track.” Just step over one of the rails, Brian, you’ll free yourself in a jiffy.

Can women enjoy AC/DC responsibly? In 2003, Special D and I saw an all-female AC/DC tribute band called Hell’s Belles. The guitarist could mimic the Youngs perfectly, and in honor of Bon “Bon is gone” Scott she wore Australian-flag underwear. The singer was a black Janis Joplin who had us thunderstruck from the moment she opened her mouth. The ensemble restricted themselves to the less misogynistic epics, never resorted to bagpipes or cannons, and they even replaced the gong that opens “Hell’s Bells” with a triangle.

The spectacle of a stage full of women playing the music of these sexist birdbrains, coupled with some serious skills, made for an experience that was probably better than seeing the real thing. I’m sure they smelled better, too.

Thank you, AC/DC, for shaking me all night long, or at least for the 36-minute running time of Back in Black. You guys will always rock. Stay away from my wife.

Queen: Greatest Hits

I am never in the mood for Queen. There is no time of the day or night, no day of the week, no season in which I would choose to listen to Queen. This isn’t because I hate them; I don’t. They’re literate, which means a lot here at the Bureau. They use adjectives that are uncommon in a rock song (“warily”) and when the situation demands it they can concoct their own (“belladonic”). I’m just unmoved by their music.

One thing I do enjoy about Queen is that you can arrange their song titles to tell stories:

Fail Whale
It’s a Hard Life
I’m Going Slightly Mad
I Want to Break Free
I Want It All
Fight From the Inside
Keep Yourself Alive
Don’t Stop Me Now
Another One Bites the Dust

Get a Room
Get Down, Make Love
Spread Your Wings
We Will Rock You
Sheer Heart Attack
Sleeping on the Sidewalk

Placing them within the context of their ’70s contemporaries, Queen is less pompous than Yes, wittier than King Crimson, looser than Traffic, warmer than Pink Floyd, better dressed than Mountain, hipper than The Grateful Dead, kinkier than Steely Dan, nastier than Carole King, more electrifying than War, and smarter than Grand Funk Railroad, though that one is easy. My dog is smarter than Grand Funk Railroad. Queen could toast and eat Bread and wash them down with ELO without missing a beat. They are the Monitor to Black Sabbath’s Merrimack. They are not just superior to Chicago, they make Chicago look like Fall River, Massachusetts. Their song about women with overlarge derrieres is AC/DC with metaphors and flashbacks. AC/DC can barely manage a point of view. And their song about murder, the nature of reality, and Galileo made Wayne’s World possible.

Queen was obviously a respectable unit, but this is music, not quantum mechanics. If you could explain art you wouldn’t need misinformed critics like me. Honk if you love David Bowie.

Toys in the Attic

You don’t have to be a music critic to sense that Aerosmith sucks dead bears. If Led Zeppelin and AC/DC were battleships, Aerosmith would be barnacles. If my roof was leaking, I’d nail Aerosmith LPs over the leaks. Exposing their vinyl to acid rain could only improve the sound.

But you once loved these guys!
You know me too well, Mr. Subhead. I’ve played air guitar for years to Aerosmith’s version of “Train Kept A-Rollin’.” If it came on the radio right now I’d do it again, and then I’d call NPR to ask why they’re playing Aerosmith in the middle of Thistle and Shamrock.

As long as I’m confessing, I might as well confess it all. Some years ago, after the glaciers had retreated but before we speared the last saber-toothed tiger, the young Aerosmithers played an all-ages dance at the National Guard armory in Fall River, Massachusetts. We high school journalists-in-training wanted to interview them for our school paper, but we never got backstage. In my memory we were chased from the building by an enraged Steven Tyler wielding a flaming guitar, but if I could travel back to that moment I’d probably find it was just a Pabst-swilling roadie with a Carl Yastrzemski baseball bat.

Eventually I grew up, realized just what it was I was listening to, and traded my Aerosmith records for something better, like a frog.

Aerosmith: Plague or pestilence?
If scientists cannot answer this question, why am I suggesting you put yourself at the mercy of Toys in the Attic? Because Toys transcends the congealing sludge of the Aerosmith discography on the strength of one song, “Sweet Emotion.” How this band produced that song is a mystery. “Sweet Emotion” is one of the supreme driving songs in Western culture. It even sounds good when you’re parked.

Give the rest of this disc a chance and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the passably rockin’ title track, as well as “No More No More” and “You See Me Crying,” which showcases Tyler’s bargain-basement voice but somehow wins you over with its amateur theatrics. (I don’t include “Walk This Way” because I never saw the point of that song until it was hip-hopped by my namesakes.)

If you’re planning a party, “Sweet Emotion” pairs well with another winner by a loser band, Foghat’s “Slow Ride.” Don’t forget to invite Run-DMSteve.

Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time

Carlos Santana has been a cultural icon for 40 years. But how much do we really know about him? Let’s check the record.

Yay! Carlos Santana Fun Facts!

  • Has released more albums than The Rolling Stones, and they had a head start.
  • Wears a stupid hat.
  • Recorded the most popular versions of three Classic Rock mainstays: “Oye Como Va,” “Evil Ways,” and “Black Magic Marker.”
  • Made a comeback in 1999 with Supernatural, which was kinda cuddly coming from a Classic Rock guy.
  • Rolling Stone ranks him 15th on their list of 100 greatest guitarists, behind Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays.
  • I may be looking at the wrong list.

Guitar Heaven is a reinterpretation of 14 “greatest guitar classics of all time,” with guest vocalists (and Yo-Yo Ma?) adding their superpowers to Carlos Santana’s. Now we can learn more about Santana, and the first thing we learn is that he has brain damage. When did T-Rex’s “Bang A Gong” become a guitar classic? It has more sax than guitar. It has more lame than cool. It’s Golden Oldies, not Classic Rock. I couldn’t understand why this number was included until I remembered that T-Rex’s Marc Bolan, like Santana, wore a stupid hat. Oh, OK then.

Then there’s “Photograph.” Don’t get your hopes up. This isn’t “Photograph” by A Flock of Haircuts. I would’ve loved to hear what a Category 6 hurricane like Santana could have done with that New Wave dirge. Nor is it “Photograph” by The Verve Pipe. The guitar on that one is as lazy as an afternoon at Starbucks. Santana would’ve turned it into Alien vs. Predator. Alas, this is “Photograph” by No Depth Leppard. If you have to pick something by Leppard, why not “Rock of Ages”? It’s a much tougher song, probably because the lads were imitating someone a lot tougher than them, Joan Jett. Santana sounds bored on this track. Santana smash puny Leppards!

And couldn’t he fight the urge to include “Smoke on the Water”Rolling Stone ranks this immortal doorstop 426th on the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” By my math that means there are 425 other songs that are better. “Smoke on the Water” has already been covered by Pat Boone. I believe we can call his version definitive. Stop it!

Shut up and play the music already
Right. OMG! Leading off is the most hilarious song ever recorded: “Whole Lotta Love”! Led Zeppelin’s version enthusiastically rattled along like a Model T on a log road. Santana easily duplicates that effect, brightening Jimmy Page’s sound without blunting the song’s inherent stupidity. (You’re going to give me every inch of your love? You nut!) Santana jettisons the psychedelic on-ramp that Led Zep installed in the middle, but the replacement, a sort of highway rest area, is not an improvement. You’re still waiting for the pistons to start jerking again. Chris Cornell adds his strong yet curiously inexpressive voice, making the whole thing sound like Audioslave if anyone in that band could play guitar.

Next up: The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” Santana sizzles in the blues half of this song but loses his way in the jazz half. This from the man who played one of the two guitars on the jazz landmark Love Devotion Surrender…I blame Supernatural. Extra credit to Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots for standing in for Mick Jagger without sounding ridiculous.

Of all the vocalists, Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty turns in the best performance. He’s completely convincing on Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” and the music gives him the space he needs – Santana doesn’t fill every microsecond with fireworks. These well-chosen moments of quiet demonstrate what an awesome guitarist Santana is – one of the best in the history of pop. Only his stupid hat keeps him out of the front rank.

My favorite track is Santana and Nas’ collaboration on AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” (Sure, they’ve removed the air of danger, but admit it, after 30 years AC/DC are about as dangerous as The B-52s.) Santana rips the bones from its back. Nas alternates between rapping the lyrics and rapping about Santana.

Anything else any good? No.
Santana purees Creedence Clearwater Revival’s anti-war “Fortunate Son” into a fruit smoothie that suggests The Spencer Davis Group’s pro-sex “Gimme Some Lovin’.” Scott Stapp of Creed handles the vocal on this track, but for once something isn’t Creed’s fault.

Which brings us to Yo-Yo Ma, who adds something to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” though I can’t tell you what. He would’ve made more of a difference on the drums. The song is so sluggish you gradually lose the will to live.

And what’s the deal with “Little Wing”? Joe Cocker’s voice is mixed so far into the background, he sounds like Bruce Springsteen. Or was he singing his part from out in the parking lot? This version of “Little Wing” can’t touch Jimi Hendrix’s or Stevie Ray Vaughan’s, though it easily outpaces Sting’s La-Z-Boy go at it.

Scoreboard totals
25% of the 14 songs on Guitar Classics rawked (I gave “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” half a point). That’s a solid score in the elite world of Run-DMSteve. A tip of the hat to Santana! Don’t change your evil ways. Baby.