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.

 

 

 

And last but not least, the song I named a book after… for good reason. So much energy. Relentless.

RIP, Louis Zamperini. Beyond Unbroken.

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Today I pay respects to Louis Zamperini. Olympian. Member of a WWII bomber crew. A hero who survived a brutal Japanese POW camp, and went back to FORGIVE “the Bird,” the man who beat and starved him for years in an attempt to break his spirit.

I pay him homage in Blade of Dishonor for his unwavering perseverance. Rather than let his hate consume him, he pursued what to many of us would be the unthinkable, and lived a long and prosperous life because of it.
Read the book UNBROKEN before the movie comes out. Who knows what they’ll change. The book was written by Laura Hillenbrand with his assistance.

The full obit on NPR.

RIP HR Giger

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The man who first really scared the living shit out of me was HR Giger.

Oh, Ridley Scott gets some credit. And Bolaji Badejo, the guy in the alien suit. One of the most memorable and effective horror movies of all time, Alien played on HBO in 1980. I crept out of my bedroom to sneak-watch it, ignoring my mother’s warnings that it’ll give you nightmares.

And boy, was she right.

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It plays equally well to men and women. The creature that crawls from the eggs those astronauts find in the belly of the wrecked ship makes impregnation by rape an equal opportunity nightmare. Everyone remembers the scene at the table where John Hurt really gets hurt. Talk about an unwanted childbirth. For men, these scenes give a horrific glimpse of what it’s like to not have control of your own body, to imagine what it’s like to know there’s a creature out there that wants to use your body for its own purposes. The story is pure genius that way. Apparently, that’s how tsetse flies reproduce. I’ve never been happier to be a mammal, than after learning that.

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Giger’s creature gave me great nightmares. The one I remember most is a huge fly with the face of the alien chasing me, with its toothy double mouth. I told you so, Mom said. But I didn’t care. I loved being scared. Especially by an eyeless black monstrosity made of bones and fangs, the stuff of pure nightmares that looks as if it crawled from the cesspit of the human id.

Giger’s art was hard to find back then. I found it on the cover of a Debbie Harry album. And then one of my favorite bands of the time, Dead Kennedys, became embroiled in a pornography trial. Which made listening to them all the more rebellious. Their album Frankenchrist included a poster with some HR Giger art of decaying sex organs lined up in a row. It grossed me out, but I mailed in for the poster- they couldn’t sell it with the album during the trial- and hung it on my wall to be shocking.

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I still don’t know what Giger was trying to say with it. Or any of his art, except the more overtly political stuff, with guns and jackbooted thugs. Over the years I collected many of his books, such as Necronomicon II. His art was disturbing on the subconscious level, reminding us that we’re all meat and parts, like offal at the slaughterhouse. He had a unique imagination, and I am glad he lived a long life and shared it with us.

Goodbye, CatLoaf

Goodbye, CatLoaf

My not-so-little arm warmer succumbed to kidney disease yesterday. When we adopted him from an acquaintance, she said his name was Shadow. We called him CatLoaf. We quickly surmised that he was called ‘Shadow’  not for his dark fur but for his preferred loafing spot, behind you in direct opposition to the sun. When he wasn’t desperately attempting to sneak underfoot, he would sit on the couch behind your head and give you a scalp massage whether you wanted it or not, find devious ways to climb on the table and sit on your hand or stuff his entire head into a drinking glass like a feline Jerry Lewis, or knead the pillow by your head and purr in your ear.

CatLoaf needed to be within three feet of a human at all times, but not touched by one. He was a feline electron, negatively charged, in a rigid orbit around you. Petting was okay, sometimes. Holding was forbidden. He never achieved his dream of living inside our refrigerator, sleeping on Firecracker’s keyboard, or climbing on top of my head while I used the toilet, but he never quit trying. His last days were spent loafing, getting stroked, and eating treats and drinking tuna water when he could keep it down.

He was a friendly cat who would approach any stranger without an inkling of fear, only an expression of deep curiosity and comradeship. He would let you pet him, and when he had enough, he would tell you in his way, which was by nipping the tender skin between your fingers. The only things he ever ran from were his nemesis and nap buddy Charlie Crookedpaw, our rescued Siamese, and his own droppings, which when caught in the fur of his prodigious hindquarters must have felt like the very jaws of death snapping at his empty scrotum. I have wrestled 300lb athletes to submission, but was not able to hold CatLoaf still for more than a few moments during his prime. He would rather die than give you control. And he was of course, black as your soul.

He was a companion that grew on you, and stepped on you, sat on you, leaned on you, sneezed on you, and occasionally hawked hairballs on your shoes, bed, and clothing, but over the years he became a beloved part of our lives, and we will miss him terribly. But not his breath. No, not his breath, which fellow cat-lover H.P. Lovecraft would tenderly describe as more wretchedly unwholesome than the fetid emissions of Azathoth’s hindmost parts.

Goodbye, sweet CatLoaf. We made you happy for a time, and you returned the favor.

Remember the Cost.

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Remembrance Day. Armistice Day. Veteran’s Day. Whatever you call it, take time today to think about those who serve and have served, and pledge to never waste their efforts for anything but causes worth the blood, limbs, and lives that war costs. Help a vet or donate to an organization who will.

RIP, Lou Reed.

I don’t know enough about Lou Reed as a person to mourn his passing, but his contribution to rock music is undeniable. Other than “Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” during my senior year in high school he released the concept album “New York,” which I bought after hearing the catchy single “Dirty Blvd.” It’s an excellent picture of New York in the ’80s. Here is the entire album.
You can also buy it here:
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RIP, Tom Clancy.

Reports are in that Tom Clancy, the king of the military technothriller, has passed into the great beyond. Whether you were a fan of his work or not, his influence cannot be denied. I remember back in the late ’80s when I was working at the local VFW, and a vet who worked the weekly coin show handed me a copy of The Hunt for Red October. I burned through it, but couldn’t get into Red Storm Rising for some reason. I was on a big fantasy kick then, and perhaps the all too real fear of nuclear annihilation turned me off to a book about war with the Soviet union.

I also enjoyed Patriot Games, though I found the revenge angle a bit hard to swallow. I also found it amusing that to make an IRA terrorist a palatable villain, he made him a Maoist. Politics aside, Clancy wrote a good yarn.

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