AC / Deceased

 

From ultimateclassicrockcom

 

One of the saddest things I’ve seen in recent years is the gradual but relentless demise of the heavy metal band AC/DC.

 

First of all, in 2014, AC/DC lost its founder member and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young after memory-loss and concentration-loss caused by dementia left him unable to play.  Later that same year, the band parted company with long-time drummer Phil Rudd after he ended up in court on drugs charges and, bizarrely, an allegation of ‘attempting to procure a murder’ (though this was dropped soon after).  And then early in 2016, its cap-wearing gravel-voiced Geordie vocalist Brian Johnson departed due to damaged hearing, although Johnson claimed this was caused less by his fronting one of the world’s loudest bands than by his love of auto-racing.  And finally, a week ago, AC/DC’s veteran bassist Cliff Williams, who’d announced his retirement in July, played his final gig with the band.

 

It reminds me of one of those Final Destination horror movies, wherein a group of people manage somehow to cheat death.  But then by way of revenge, Death – though in AC/DC’s case it’s plain old Bad Luck – starts to ruthlessly hunt them down one by one.

 

AC/DC and myself go back a long time together, so seeing the band disintegrate like this feels as painful as seeing a once-strong friend grow old and succumb to infirmity and senility.  Their 1979 album Highway to Hell was among the first albums I ever bought and rarely have the opening chords to an album (and its title track) sounded so much like a statement of intent: DUH-DUH-DUH!  DUH-DUH-DUH!  DUH-DUH-DUH, DUH, DUH-DUH!  Here were an outfit, it seemed, who were seriously determined to blow your arse off with their guitars.  Which was surely what heavy metal – and for that matter, rock and roll itself – was all about.

 

© Atlantic Records

 

Around the same time I took it upon myself to throw a party for my school friends at my family’s farmhouse near Peebles, Scotland, one Friday while my parents were away for the evening.  The inevitable happened.  Most of the guests turned up armed not only with copious and illegitimately-purchased bottles and cans of booze but also armed with AC/DC records.  Indeed, it seemed that the AC/DC song Touch Too Much, recently released as a single, wasn’t off the turntable for the entire, chaotic, alcohol-drenched evening.  No wonder that after that the music of AC/DC was indelibly linked in my mind with images of drunken teenage debauchery.

 

(During the short margin of time between the party ending and my parents returning, I managed to cram all the empty bottles and cans into two big sacks and hide them in the rarely-accessed roof-space of a rarely-used outhouse, where they remained undiscovered for nearly 20 years.  They weren’t found until the late 1990s when my parents had the outhouse converted into a holiday cottage.  After the discovery, the building contractor jokingly asked my Dad if he was a secret drinker.)

 

Briefly, it looked like I’d discovered the band too late, for in 1980 AC/DC’s original vocalist Bon Scott died a sudden and very rock-and-roll death – heavy-partying-related alcohol poisoning.  The band’s two driving forces, Malcolm Young and his brother and fellow guitarist Angus Young, considered calling it a day at this point.  Instead, though, they recruited Brian Johnson as a replacement and AC/DC rumbled on for a further three-and-a-half decades.  It helped that the band’s first post-Bon Scott album was a cracker – 1980’s Back in Black, featuring such splendid tunes as the title track, You Shook Me All Night Long and the epic Hell’s Bells, which begins with the clanging of a huge church-bell before Johnson starts hollering apocalyptic lines like “Lightning flashing across the sky / You’re only young but you’re gonna die!”  By now I was a senior pupil at Peebles High School and Hell’s Bells never seemed to be off the turntable of the stereo in the senior-school common room.

 

The nice thing about AC/DC was that they never changed.  No matter what terrible events took place in the world – wars, revolutions, earthquakes, droughts, famines, plagues, Simon Cowell – they just carried on, churning out the same (or very similar) riffs and singing songs about partying, shagging, boozing and having a generally good time.  I tracked down and listened to their back catalogue: albums like 1976’s High Voltage (whose opening track It’s a Long Way to the Top if You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll exposed me to the lethal combination of electric guitars and bagpipes – despite being officially Australian, the Young brothers and Bon Scott had been born in Scotland and liked to honour their Caledonian roots); the same year’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, with its storming title track and the naughty music-hall pastiche Big Balls (whose lyrics included such gems as “Some balls are held for charity / Some balls are held for less / But when they’re held for pleasure / They’re the balls that I like best” – yes, it’s sad that I still remember this stuff); and 1978’s Powerage, which no less a personage than Keith Richards has identified as one of his favourite albums ever.

 

From teamrock.com

 

There was a lot of love for AC/DC in the world, though you wouldn’t have thought so reading the music press then.  Writers in 1980s music magazines like the New Musical Express and Melody Maker, if they got around to acknowledging the band’s existence at all, were of the opinion that AC/DC and heavy metal generally represented everything ignorant, crass and embarrassing in modern culture – unlike the two ‘in’ musical genres at the time, punk rock and indie music.  (For the record, I should point out I’m a big fan of punk and indie too.)

 

This disdain was shared by many people I met when I went to college in the early-1980s, who seemed to be either Smiths fans or Style Council fans or Simple Minds fans.  I remember one early college flatmate, a supercilious type who’d been schooled at the prestigious Glasgow Academy, wandering into my room one day, finding me listening to Highway to Hell, and demanding, “How can you listen to that shit?”

 

To be honest, AC/DC didn’t help their cause during the 1980s because they released a series of shonky albums that were shadows of their 1970s predecessors: 1983’s Flick of the Switch, 1985’s Fly on the Wall and 1988’s Blow Up Your Video.  In 1986 they also did the music for the dire Stephen King movie Maximum Overdrive, released as an album under the title Who Made Who.  Stephen King is a huge AC/DC fan, by the way.

 

It wasn’t until 1990 that the band rediscovered their mojo with The Razor’s Edge.  Although it wasn’t great, it served up two of their best songs for a long time, Are You Ready and Thunderstruck.  The latter track is still considered so rousing that, Wikipedia informs me, Atlético Madrid play it on their team coach every time they approach their opponents’ stadium for an away game.

 

Another reason why the band’s star was back in the ascendant was because those pretentious music critics who’d dissed them in the 1980s had been replaced by a younger generation of critics who, like me, had grown up listening to and loving AC/DC and were happy to give them some praise.  AC/DC had also proved more influential than anyone had predicted – their sound imprinted on the DNA of acts like the Cult, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age and the Beastie Boys.  It’s even said that Back in Black was the first song a 14-year-old Kurt Cobain learned to play on guitar.

 

Thankfully, the band managed to preserve their reputation through the 1990s and early 21st century with a series of albums that, while not earth-shattering, at least delivered the goods and always yielded a single or two that sounded satisfyingly AC/DC-ish: 1995’s Ballbreaker, 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip, 2008’s Black Ice and 2014’s Rock or Bust, which contained the jolly single Play Ball.  As you may have gathered, the word ‘ball’ has an important place in the AC/DC lexicon.

 

But sadly, it now looks like it’s almost over for AC/DC.  I say ‘almost’ because since Brian Johnson left the line-up, the band has continued performing with vocals provided by Axl Rose of the legendary Los Angeles metal band Guns n’ Roses; and it’s lately been reported that Angus Young and Axl Rose intend to keep recording and performing under the AC/DC moniker.  Rose’s recruitment was met with dismay by many fans, though I have to say I don’t dislike Axl Rose or Guns n’ Roses.  Indeed, I have their albums Appetite for Destruction (1987), Use Your Illusion I and II (1991) and The Spaghetti Incident (1993) in my record collection.  It’s just that Rose’s tremulous American voice doesn’t sound right singing the AC/DC back catalogue.

 

And call me superstitious if you like…  But the fact that he debuted with AC/DC confined to a wheelchair, with a broken foot, and looking like a heavy metal version of Doctor Strangelove, doesn’t seem a good omen for the vitality and longevity of this weird new incarnation of the band.

 

© Metro

 

No, I can’t help but think of AC/DC now in the past tense.  But I’m sure I’ll be reliving that past in years to come by listening to Highway to Hell, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Powerage and Back in Black a billion more times.

 

Thank God for The Pogues

 

(c) Pogue Mahone

 

Christmas, which involves forced bonhomie in the workplace, family politics at home, and raw naked commercialism just about everywhere else, is for many people an endurance test.  It becomes even more of an endurance test as, from the radio, from PA systems in department stores and from the soundtracks of countless TV advertisements, you’re bombarded by Christmas music – or by the drivel that mostly passes for music at Christmas-time.  Wham’s Last Christmas, Wizzard’s I Wish it could be Christmas Every Day, Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is you, the overrated Bruce Springsteen croaking and wheezing his way through Santa Claus is Coming to Town…  I almost had a psychotic episode in my local Sainsbury the other evening while I was combing the shelves, trying to find a maddeningly elusive bottle of lemon juice, and Cliff Richard started to seriously get to me with Mistletoe and Wine.

 

So for yet another Christmas I find myself filling a glass with Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey and raising it in honour of the mighty Celtic punk / folk band The Pogues.  Their anthem Fairy Tale of New York, which first made the Christmas charts back in 1987, is possibly the only good popular song to have ever cashed in on the festive season.  When you’re struggling with your yuletide shopping and being subjected to an endless loop of Christmas-music torture by Shakin’ Stevens, Slade and all the other usual suspects, those opening chords of Fairy Tale of New York come like a gentle, soothing massage to your frazzled synapses.  I just hope that the Irish author J.P. Donleavy, from whose novel Fairy Tale of New York the song’s writers Jem Finer and Shane McGowan nicked the title, was so charmed by the tune that he never bothered to sue.

 

Yes, Fairy Tale of New York evokes such familiarity and affection from me these days that, hearing it, I almost feel I’ve bumped into an old friend at Christmas-time and am exchanging season’s greetings with him or her.  Like a proper friend, you know the person’s idiosyncrasies and character nuances – their negative traits as well as their positive ones.

 

You’re aware of a charming, expectant innocence – “They’ve cars big as bars / They’ve rivers of gold” – that at times bursts into a joyous euphoria – “The boys of the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay / And the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day.”  (Actually, the New York Police Department doesn’t have a choir at all, just a pipes-and-drums band, which you catch a glimpse of during the song’s video.  But we’ll let that pass.)

 

At the same time, you sense a stubborn streak of melancholia – “An old man said to me, ‘Won’t see another one…’”  And you know there’s even a worrying potential for violence, as is demonstrated when singers McGowan and the late Kirsty MacColl start tearing into each other with lines like, “Ye’re an old slut on junk!” and “Ye scumbag, ye maggot, ye cheap lousy faggot!” – lyrics that have always caused discomfort amongst the politically-correct watchdogs of the Radio One playlist and amongst lily-livered light-entertainment singers who, over the years, have attempted to do cover versions of the song.  (Ronan Keating from the Irish boy-band Boyzone, when doing his own take on Fairy Tale of New York, changed the “ye cheap lousy faggot” line to “ye’re cheap and ye’re haggard”.  That was brave of you, Ronan.)

 

Kirsty MacColl’s death on the Mexican island of Cozumel 13 years ago – whilst swimming with her two sons she was struck by a speedboat belonging to Guillermo Gonzalez Nova, a supermarket magnate and one of Mexico’s richest men, in an dodgy accident that’s never been investigated to her family’s satisfaction – only makes the song sound more poignant now.  McGowan, thankfully and against all odds, is still with us.  I saw him discussing the song the other night on a TV survey of the nation’s 50 favourite Christmas songs, in which Fairy Tale of New York got to number ten – ten! – and he looked like a man who’d done some serious living in his time.  He was wearing an eye-patch, which I hope doesn’t indicate he’s reached a point in his dissolution where parts of him have started to drop off.

 

The Guardian saw fit to interview McGowan about his ‘family values’ the other day.  Here’s a link to the article, although none of the information will come as a surprise to anybody who’s read his entertaining book of memoirs, A Drink with Shane McGowan.

 

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/dec/20/shane-macgowan-musician-my-family-values

 

Incidentally, in the same issue of the Guardian, I see there’s an article about this Christmas’s appeal by music fans (proper music fans) to the Ancient Rock Gods to deliver them from Simon-Cowell-orchestrated / X-Factor-winner / Christmas-number-one evil.  This time they have launched a campaign to get Highway to Hell by the venerable Australian heavy-metal outfit AC/DC to the top of the Christmas charts, thus thwarting the single released by this year’s X-Factor victor, Sam Bailey.

 

There…  I’ve just written her name and already I’ve forgotten what it is.  Can anybody out there remember the names of anyone who’s won The X-Factor in previous years and gone on to enjoy a musical career of mayfly-like longevity?  Maybe apart from, you know, what’s-her-name?  Lennox Lewis.  Or Jerry Lewis.  Or whatever.

 

http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2013/dec/21/acdc-highway-to-hell-christmas

 

I always thought it said volumes about the cultural differences between Australia and Britain that in Australia Highway to Hell is the song that is most requested by people to be played at their funerals.  Whereas in Britain the number-one funeral song is the vomit-inducing Angels by Robbie Williams.

 

(c) Atlantic

 

The AC/DC campaign, of course, is inspired by the success in Christmas 2009 of a similar campaign to frustrate the Christmas-single ambitions of the then-latest wimp-bot to roll off the Cowell Conveyor Belt of Karaoke.  This involved getting Rage Against The Machine’s Killing in the Name of to the number-one slot instead.  (How gratifying it must have been for the nation’s parents on the morning of December 25th, 2009, to discover their young offspring jumping up and down on their beds and shouting out a new Christmas anthem: “F**k you, I won’t do what you tell me!”)

 

However, for me, the Christmas musical moment that rekindled my faith in humanity actually came long before Simon Cowell, The X-Factor and Internet campaigns.  In Christmas 1990, Cliff Richard released Saviour’s Day – following the success of Mistletoe and Wine in 1988, Cliff had obviously decided that his best bet for a pension plan was to corner the ‘old grannies’ market by releasing a heart-warming Christmas single every couple of years.  But after one week, Cliff was knocked off the number-one position by Iron Maiden singing Bring your Daughter to the Slaughter, a song that Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson had originally written for the fifth Nightmare on Elm Street movie.  This was despite the BBC refusing to play the song on Radio One and giving it almost zero coverage on Top of the Pops.

 

At the time, this unexpected yuletide turn-of-events prompted the As We See It editorial column in Scotland’s old-granny-loving newspaper the Sunday Post to lament that we were living in a sad, sick world.  Nonsense.  In my book, any world where Iron Maiden can usurp Cliff Richard from the Christmas number-one slot is a wonderful world indeed.

 

From thedrum.com

From last.fm