RIP Malcolm Young: Tom’s list of AC/DC’s greatest guitar songs

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If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know that my favorite band is AC/DC, and has been since I first heard “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” on the radio when I was seven years old. Their rhythm guitarist and founder Malcolm Young died this week from complications of dementia. Rockers from all over paid tribute to him after his death. You don’t see a lot of rhythm guitar these days. It was seen as indulgent, but it build a foundation that gave AC/DC their iconic onslaught of sound.

I’ve expounded on the original lineup’s raw power and outlaw heart. In the States they debuted at CBGB and were as revolutionary at the time as the Ramones, blistering through sets and bringing rock ‘n roll back to its animal roots. They took a lot of ribbing over the years for sophomoric lyrics (which veered into parody after Bon Scott’s death) but Angus Young wore a schoolboy outfit, so that was what they were meant to be. Anyone who says “they made the same album over and over” never listened to the first five, when they developed a rough style that referred to down & out living as much as sex, which is what rock ‘n roll literally means. Over at Andrew Nette’s crime fiction site Pulp Curry, I chose my favorite crime-themed AC/DC songs. Today I’ll share a few overall favorites.

I was less a fan of the Brian Johnson era. Back in Black is their biggest selling album, and it has a handful of great songs- “You Shook Me,” the title track. “Hells Bells” (sic), “Shoot to Thrill,” and “Shake a Leg”, and “Have a Drink on Me,” while the rest of the album tries for Bon’s sly humor but derails into misogyny, with “Given the Dog a Bone” (sic), “What Do You Do For Money Honey.” and “Let Me Put My Love Into You,” which explicitly says “don’t you struggle, don’t you fight, it’s your turn tonight” when Bon never compared women to dogs when he expounded on his love of fellatio, in “Go Down”. My favorite song of his is a love tribute to a big woman, a Tasmanian named Rosie, who he became obsessed with after a one night stand:

Now, I give Bon a lot of credit but every song is written by Young/Young/Scott, and their method was to have the Young brothers jam up a riff and then Bon would alter lyrics from his notebooks to fit the beat. Listen to the guitar solo in this song. Hear Bon’s raw need. I wish someone had interviewed Rosie or tracked her down.

They didn’t exactly turn to frat boy garbage after Johnson came aboard, but they lost their way and never got it back. My favorite underrated album is Flick of the Switch, with songs inspired by westerns, arrests, and cops raiding the stage in Belgium after the crowd refused to leave (based on a concert when Bon was singer). This gives the tiniest bit of credence to the fan conspiracy theory that they cribbed from Bon’s lyric notebooks after he died, and started to go downhill when they ran out of songs. My next book, tentatively titled Death to Hipsters, uses this as a subplot. The main character was told by his cult rockstar mother than he is Bon’s son, and he doesn’t believe her, so I have a lot of fun with my love of the band in that one. I hope you’ll get to read it soon!

“Guns for Hire” off Flick of the Switch got a revival in Iron Man 2, the soundtrack of which serves as a great AC/DC “best of” album. Jon Favreau even dug up the lost Bon single “Cold Hearted Man,” about Leroy Kincaid, an ice cold killer from Bon’s youth. Astute readers will remember the real name of “Okie”, Jay Desmarteaux’s convict mentor, is Leroy Kincaid. A little nod to a great song:

A lesser known great song off Flick of the Switch is “Badlands” which reminds me of Mad Max out in the wastelands:

As for pure guitar work, these are my favorites:

“Shake a Leg,” from Back in Black

“Kicked in the Teeth” from Powerage, one of their best albums.

“Hail Caesar” from Ballbreaker

“Heatseeker” from Blow Up Your Video

This is the tour I saw them on, high school 1989. I was disheartened that Angus no longer mooned the crowd, bowing to censors. He kept boxers on. And the band started going our of their way to not use foul language. I think “Thunderstruck” off The Razor’s Edge was the final nail in the coffin, a nonsensical song written for arenas that made them giants again. Johnson’s voice was gone and the songs did indeed begin to sound all the same.

The less said about “For Those About to Rock” the better. The title track is boring and the rest of the album only gets worse. They did create an amazing rock anthem that pays tribute to the black R&B artists who invented rock ‘n roll, and that song is called “Let There Be Rock.” I’ll leave you with it. It’s light-hearted and fun and still blisters the paint off the walls. Friends who love hardcore and speed metal and act “harder than thou” … sorry, to me that’s like hot sauces made in a lab to have high scoville units but no flavor. There are harder rock tunes (“Brain Shake” off Flick of the Switch is AC/DC’s nod to thrash) but at some point you’re just showing off.

This one’s got heart.

Joey Ramone on my Atari!

When I was thirteen, me and my friends Jeff and Lonnie started a software company. Not Apple, Microsoft… we were Eclipse Software Productions, and we wrote software for Atari personal computers (not the game consoles, the 800, 800XL, ST, etc). We started by creating images for Broderbund Software’s The Print Shop, which let you print greeting cards, flyers, and so on, on your noisy dot matrix printer. By the end we were writing primitive Word Processing and Check Balancing programs for cheap, selling them all on a floppy disk for $10 when the professional versions cost $49.99 each.

We made a few hundred bucks over a year or so, but we didn’t stick with it, and went our separate ways. As I dive into ’80s nostalgia for a book project, this all came back to me, and one of my favorite memories as a computer nerd in that time was when my hero Joey Ramone appeared in K-Power magazine, a rag for Apple, Atari, TRS-80, and Commodore 64 users and programmers. He gave them an unrecorded demo called “S.L.U.G.” and the staff wrote a BASIC program that would play the tune in all its 8-bit glory, while the lyrics blinked in time to the music. I keyed it in and was overjoyed! The Ramones! on my Atari 800XL! Totally awesome! (that’s ’80s speak for “OMG”). The song is hilariously silly, a love song about a slug, in the ’50s doo-wop vein. It would go really well with a viewing of Slither.

Here are the pages from the magazine with an interview with Joey. If you want the programs to try out on an emulator, the whole issue of K-Power is archived here. Click to embiggen:

Listen to the 8-bit version. But what did it sound like, really? When the Ramones released their “All the Stuff, and More” collections in the late ’90s, the original demo of “S.L.U.G.” was included:

And here’s a video of Joey singing it live in 1998, a few years before he died.

Joey was a hero of mine, a gangly goof who became a legendary rock star by being true to himself and singing about what he wanted, not what was expected of him. And he’s buried in the same cemetery as my grandmother:

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AC/DC Noir: do the bad boy boogie

If you’ve only listened to recent AC/DC you’d think they’ve always been an arena rock band with a fondness for simple chords and double entendre, coasting on their big hits. But once they were young and hungry, and led by outlaw rocker Bon Scott, they told stories dark as Rory Gallagher’s that rebelled against the shackles of the status quo. Over at Andrew Nette’s Pulp Curry website, I guest blog about some of my favorite forgotten songs of theirs.

One of which is “Bad Boy Boogie,” which I chose for the title of the first Jay Desmarteaux crime novel.

AC/DC Noir at Pulp Curry

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Happy Thanksgiving, Swiss Krissly Yours from Louis Armstrong…

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Louis Armstrong was a devout missionary of Swiss Kriss herbal laxatives, and even sent some to the British royals. He loved a good meal, red beans and rice especially, and would sign letters “Red Beans and Ricely Yours” or “Swiss Krissly Yours.”

The above is a photo of his family at Thanksgiving dinner, thanks to the Louis Armstrong Museum twitter feed, and below is a package of Swiss Kriss and the postcard he would send to adoring fans, extoling the benefits of the product, complete with a photo of him using the toilet after its effects took hold.

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For the record, just eat plenty of fiber, and your butt trumpet will remain clean…

I’m gonna listen to the Hot 5’s and 7’s collection before I head out to dinner with the fam.

For a full article on the musical genius and his love of Swiss Kriss, here’s the NPR article that introduced me to the story.

 

In which I dare to be stupid

My friend Jay Amabile, behind the Jersey geekdom site The Sexy Armpit (which is not an armpit sex site, I swear) mentioned that the one and only Weird Al Yankovic would be signing books in New Jersey yesterday. At the Clifton Commons, which is on my way home from work.

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So I had to go. Who cares that my niece won’t be able to read the book for some years, it is inscribed to her, and that means she will know who “Weird Al” is, which is a good thing. Mr. Yankovic is one of the pioneers of pop culture satire who proved that if you love something, you should make fun of it, a philosophy I believe to my core. I told him I’ve been a fan since “I love Rocky Road” (which is a terrifying 31 years old) and he was a friendly gent, despite having the plastic gleam of those brave souls who’ve made their living in front of the camera for decades. (You know, when people look more like an airbrushed speedboat than flesh? or is that just me?)

Blade of Dishonor Playlist

When I write or edit a book, I make a huge playlist and put it on repeat. For my current work in progress that means a lot of Creedence and AC/DC. For Blade of Dishonor, I listened to a lot of classic rock, Japanese rock ‘n roll and pop, and some ’30s era roots music.

Here is a highlighted playlist that will make good accompaniment to the book.

“The Devil and Me” – Clutch
“Barracuda” – Heart
“I Just Want to Make Love to You” – Foghat
“Tick Tick Tick Boom” – The Hives
“Precious Deal” – Tomoyasu Hotei
“Setting the Woods on Fire” – Hank Williams
“American Girl” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
“Fighting My Way Back” – Thin Lizzy
“Boom Boom Mancini” – Warren Zevon
“When the Lights Go On Again All Over the World” – Vera Lynn
“Gimme the Prize” – Queen
“It’ll be a Hot Time in the Town of Berlin” – Bing Crosby/The Andrews Sisters
“Woman from Tokyo” – Deep Purple
“Howling” – Tomoyasu Hotei
“Dragon Attack” – Queen
“The Sentinel” – Judas Priest
“Man with a Harmonica (remix)” – Ennio Morricone and Apollo 440

Topless Activism and Bad-ass Librarians

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Topless at the NY Public Library.

I wrote about the Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation society for The Good Men Project. Not because I enjoy admiring brave and beautiful women, but because they struck me as a force for change. First something is shocking, then it becomes controversial, then it becomes something you barely notice. Our bodies will always be sexualized to a degree, but if we stop seeing each other as consumables, it’s a good thing.

And now, Librarians recreate the Beastie Boys video for SABOTAGE:

Listen alla y’all, your book’s OVER DUE!

http://vimeo.com/66169135