My Playlist: AC/DC

Yesterday, I found myself listening to AC/DC and once again was reminded what a kick-ass rock band they were. While I’ve covered them on previous occasions, it occurred to me that I had not put together a playlist. Well, the time has come, but before getting to some music, a bit of history is in order.

AC/DC were formed in Sydney, Australia in November 1973 by Scottish-born brothers Malcolm Young (rhythm guitar) and Angus Young (lead guitar) who teamed up with Larry Van Kriedt (bass), Colin Burgess (drums) and Dave Evans (vocals). Apparently, the Young brothers came up with the band’s name after their sister Margaret Young had seen the initials “AC/DC” on a sewing machine. Margaret also inspired Angus Young’s characteristic school uniform stage outfit.

In September 1974, Evans was replaced by vocalist Bon Scott. Like the Young brothers, Scott had been born in Scotland and come to Australia as a child. In October 1974, AC/DC recorded their first studio album High Voltage. It was produced by Malcolm’s and Angus’ older brother George Young and Harry Vanda, who both were also members of The Easybeats. The album was released in February 1975 in Australia only.

AC/DC in 1979 (from left): Malcolm Young, Bon Scott, Agus Young, Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd

By the time AC/DC started work on their sophomore record T.N.T. in the summer of 1975, Mark Evans (bass) and Phil Rudd (drums) had joined the band. Not only saw the record, another Australia only release that appeared in December 1975, the band’s classic lineup but also the hard-edged R&B-based rock & roll that would become AC/DC’s trademark sound.

The next important stage in the band’s history was the signing with Atlantic Records and their first international release in April 1976, an album that was also titled High Voltage. The record was a compilation of tracks from the band’s first two albums. AC/DC have since recorded 14 additional studio albums, and released various live and soundtrack records, one EP and two box-sets. The band has also gone through numerous lineup changes, with Angus Young being the only remaining original member. Let’s get to some rock & roll!

I’d like to kick it off with Love Song, a tune from AC/DC’s first record, the aforementioned Australia-only release High Voltage. Like all their songs until the Highway to Hell album, it was co-written by Angus Young, Malcolm Young and Bon Scott. The track is one of two tunes from that album that were never officially released internationally until 2009 when they were included in the box-set Backtracks.

AC/DC’s first international release, which as noted above was also titled High Voltage, includes two of their early classics: It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll) and T.N.T. It was a tough choice since I dig both of these tunes. I decided to go with the former song, which also became the album’s second single. Who would have thought bagpipes and hard rock guitar form such a friggin’ perfect harmony!

For the next tune, I’m jumping to Let There Be Rock, AC/DC’s fifth album from July 1977. It was the last record with bassist Mark Evans, who after clashes with Angus was replaced by Cliff Williams. Here’s one of my favorite tunes from that record, the fantastic closer Whole Lotta Rosie.

Highway to Hell marked another important milestone for AC/DC’s. The band’s seventh studio album released in July 1979 was the last with Bon Scott, who died in February 1980 after a night out in London. The official cause of death was acute alcohol poisoning, but according to a book by British-Australian author Jesse Fink, heroin was involved as well. While the album’s title track certainly hasn’t lacked exposure, I think it remains one of the greatest rock songs of all time, with a beautifully simple, instantly recognizable guitar riff. Here’s the official video.

Perhaps not surprisingly, AC/DC almost called it quits after Bon Scott’s death. But they decided to carry on and, apparently with the Scott family’s encouragement, hired Brian Johnson. Not only did Johnson become the band’s new vocalist, but throughout the ’80s, he also assumed Scott’s role in co-writing songs with the Young brothers. Five months after Scott’s death, AC/DC released Back in Black. The title and the all-black cover were in honor of Scott. With more than 50 million copies sold worldwide, Back in Black not only became AC/DC’s most successful record but one of the best-selling albums in music history. Here’s the official video of the great title track, another tune with a brilliant guitar riff.

For the next tune, let’s jump to January 1988 and AC/DC’s 12th album Blow Up Your Video, the last produced by Harry Vanda and George Young. That’s the Way I Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll also came out separately as the record’s second single in March 1988. Here’s the official video.

After releasing five albums during the ’80s, which certainly was a remarkable pace, AC/DC started to slow down. The ’90s only saw two new records. Another change was that the two Young brothers took over all of the song-writing. Here’s Hard as a Rock, the great opener from Ballbreaker, the second of the two albums that appeared in September 1995. Phil Rudd, who had left during the recording sessions for the Flick of the Switch album from August 1983 due to drug problems and frictions with Malcolm Young, returned as the band’s drummer.

Stiff Upper Lip, AC/DC’s 15th studio album from February 2000, saw the return of George Young as producer. Here’s the opener and title track. It also became the album’s lead single.

In October 2008, AC/DC released Black Ice. With an eight-year span since Stiff Upper Lip, it marked the longest gap between the band’s successive studio albums. The record’s development was delayed due to an injury bassist Cliff Williams had sustained and the band’s switch from Elektra Records to Sony Music Entertainment. But I guess AC/DC made it count by making Black Ice their longest-running studio album to date. Here’s the official video of opener and lead single Rock ‘n’ Roll Train.

The last track I’d like to highlight is from AC/DC’s most recent record Rock or Bust, which came out in November 2014. While all songs were co-written by Angus Young and Malcolm Young, Malcolm had retired earlier in the year because of his declining health due to dementia. All of his guitar parts were recorded by his nephew Stevie Young. Here’s the fantastic Play Ball, a true late career gem, in my opinion.

Sadly, AC/DC’s story has been pretty grim since Malcolm Young’s departure. Shortly before Rock or Bust’s appearance, Phil Rudd was arrested and charged with attempting to procure a murder, threatening to kill, possession of methamphetamine and possession of cannabis, following a police raid on his home. While the murder procurement charge was subsequently dropped, Rudd was convicted of the other charges and sentenced to eight months home detention and a fine of NZ$120,000 in July 2015. As a result, he missed the 2015-2016 supporting tour for Rock or Bust.

Things got worse. In April 2016 during the Rock or Bust tour, AC/DC announced the departure of Johnson due to hearing issues. Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose was brought in to complete the tour’s remaining gigs. In July 2016, bassist Cliff Williams announced his retirement from the band at the end of the tour. On November 18, 2017, Malcolm Young passed away at the age of 64. Three weeks earlier, George Young had died. A cause of death wasn’t reported. He was 70 years old.

AC/DC have sold over 200 million albums worldwide, including approximately 71 million in the U.S. alone. And the story may not be over yet. Over the past couple of years, there have been rumors about a new AC/DC album in the making. And it appears they weren’t just rumors.

In February this year, heavy metal vocalist Dee Snider told Blabbermouth.net that Brian Johnson not only had confirmed to him that he was working with the band again, but that AC/DC was indeed recording a new album. Apparently, Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams are back in the fold. Supposedly, the material includes recordings of Malcolm Young from the early 2000s. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Sources: Wikipedia; Blabbermouth.net; YouTube

Shocking Blue, Shockingly Underappreciated

The Dutch rock band was much more than a one-hit wonder

The other day, fellow blogger Hanspostcard highlighted Mighty Joe, one of only two tunes by Shocking Blue, which made the top 50 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The second one was Venus, a chart-topper in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Norway and France, and a top 10 hit in various other European countries. Like I had done, many folks probably think of the Dutch rock band from The Hague as a one-hit wonder, but as I discovered over the past few days, there is much more to Shocking Blue. And I’m somewhat puzzled, or should I saw shocked, this great band with a kick-ass lead vocalist wasn’t more successful beyond The Netherlands.

According to Wikipedia, Shocking Blue were founded in 1967 by Robbie van Leeuwen, a guitarist and sitarist, who was the band’s main songwriter and sang backing vocals. The other members of the initial line-up included Fred de Wild (lead vocals), Klaasje van der Wal (bass) and Cor van der Beek (drums). Following their eponymous debut album from November 1967, de Wild left to join the Dutch army, and van Leeuwen was introduced to Mariska Veres, a compelling vocalist who was singing with a club band at the time. The line-up for the single Venus and the band’s next three studio albums was in place.

After Shocking Blue’s fourth studio release, confusingly titled Third Album, and a tour in Japan that yielded a live record, van der Wahl departed in late 1971 and was replaced by Henk Smitskamp. At that time, Shocking Blue were a five-piece featuring Leo van de Ketterij as a second guitarist, who had joined in 1970. The band lasted for three more years until 1974, when founder van Leeuven quit and later that year was followed by Veres. Altogether, Shocking Blue’s catalog includes eight studio albums, the final being Good Times released in October 1974.

Shocking Blue 2
Shocking Blue’s best-known line-up (from left): Founder Robbie van Leeuwen (guitar, sitar, backing vocals), Klaasje van der Wal (bass), Mariska Veres (lead vocals) and Cor van der Beek (drums)

There’s some great music on these albums. Frankly, if you’re into late ’60s/early ’70s garage and psychedelic rock and only know Shocking Blue because of Venus and perhaps Never Marry a Railroad Man, you should check them out. Not only do some of their tunes remind me of Jefferson Airplane, but I would argue they are just as good! Let’s get to some music, and I’m deliberately skipping Venus, Mighty Joe and Never Marry a Railroad Man.

Here’s Shocking Blue’s first single Love Is in the Air, which also was the opener of their eponymous debut album. The tune was co-written by van Leeuwen and somebody who is just listed as Dimitri. While to me much of the band’s appeal stems from Mariska Veres, I think original lead vocalist Fred de Wild did a great job on lead vocals here. I also dig what sounds like seagulls you can hear in the background. It’s just a cool tune. Check it out!

At Home was Shocking Blue’s sophomore album and the first that featured Veres. It came out in September 1969, a few months following the release of the single Venus. Interestingly, that song wasn’t included in the initial version of the record, though it was added to later pressings. Ever heard a Dutch band play country honky tonk? Listen to this one called Boll Weevil, another tune written by van Leeuven. While I have no idea what the title means, I know one thing: That 2:40-minute tune rocks!

Ready for more? Let’s go to the band’s third album Scorpio’s Dance and Daemon Lover, yet another song penned by van Leeuven. The 6-minute psychedelic atmospheric beauty features great guitar and bass work and, of course, Veres’ killer voice. That woman just draws you in! Why didn’t this tune become better known? Well, to start with, it wasn’t released as a single. Plus, at 6 minutes, it definitely wasn’t radio-friendly. Nevertheless, it’s a strong track.

So how about something from that fourth studio album mysteriously titled Third Album? According to Wikipedia, this may reflect the fact that it was the third record with Veres. Whatever the reason, there’s more good stuff on this record, which marked the first with additional guitarist Leo van de Ketterij. Here’s I Saw Your Face. And, yes, the garage rocker was also written by van Leeuven.

I hope by now I got your full attention. Let’s highlight two additional songs. First up: The haunting Navajo Tears from Inkpot, the fifth studio album by Shocking Blue, which came out in March 1972. An excerpt from the lyrics: Man came to ruin in the land of the Tomahawk/Where wants the Buffalo graze do high way to call this place./Man shot them down to have some more fun./And only a few had a chance to run. Maybe the words were a little too much, especially for American audiences. Apparently, the following clip captured an appearance of the band on French television in 1973.

This brings me to the final tune, the title track of Shocking Blue’s last studio album Good Times, the only record without the band’s founder Robbie van Leeuwen. Since this isn’t an original tune, I was going to pick another song, but after listening to it, I just couldn’t resist. Good Times was co-written by George Young and Harry Vanda for The Easybeats, which first recorded and put out the tune as a single in 1968. Shocking Blue also released Good Times as a single, but it did not chart. Again, it’s puzzling to me. Perhaps it was the “wrong” song at the wrong time. In any case, the tune sounds pretty sweet to my ears.

Following their break-up in 1974, Shocking Blue had three short-lived reunions in 1979, 1980 and 1984. Mariska Veres launched a solo career after the band’s breakup. In 1993, she started the jazz group The Shocking Jazz Quintet, which performed jazz versions of Shocking Blue and other ’60s and ’70s tunes. From 1993 until her death from gallbladder cancer in December 2006 at the age of 59, Veres also performed in another Shocking Blue reincarnation.

Following his departure from Shocking Blue, founder Robbie van Leeuwen went on to form two other bands, Galaxy-Lin, and Mistral. He also released a few singles and produced two singles for Veres in 1977 and 1994. Van Leeuwen has withdrawn from the music business and remains the only surviving member of the band’s best-known four-piece line-up. Drummer Cor van der Beek passed away in April 1998 at the age of 49, while bassist Klaasje van der Wal died in February 2018. He was 69 years old.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Music From Down Under That Rocks: Part 2

A two-part musical journey to Australia

Here is the second and last part of this mini-series about music from Australia. You can read part I here. I also should point out that by “music from Australia” I mean bands that were founded down under.

Aphoristic Album Reviews noted New Zealand could claim Crowded House, one of the bands included in part I, as their own, given founding member Neil Finn is from there but lived in Melbourne when they were formed. Moreover, with three Finns, their current line-up has a clear majority of New Zealanders. Fair points. Plus, one could add Neil Finn has been the band’s key songwriter.

Australian Music Collage 2

I guess one could also challenge the notion that the Bee Gees, which were also highlighted in part I, are from Australia. After all, as I noted, the Gibb brothers were born in England, only lived in Australia for about nine years and didn’t become famous until after they had returned to England.

But like Crowded House, they were formed there. That’s why I included them. But I suppose, there is no perfect science behind the madness. With that being said, let’s stir up some more potential controversy!

The Easybeats

The Easybeats were formed in Sydney in late 1964. Their founding members were Stevie Wright (lead vocals), Harry Vanda (lead guitar), George Young (rhythm guitar),  Dick Diamonde (bass) and Gordon “Snowy Fleet (drums). All came from families that had emigrated from Europe to Australia: Wright and Fleet from England, Vanda and Diamonde from the Netherlands, and Young from Scotland. I let you be a judge whether that actually makes them an English-Scottish-Dutch band. What is undisputed was their inspiration by the British Invasion. After signing with Parlophone/Albert Productions, The Easybeats released their debut single For My Woman in March 1965, which reached no. 33 in the Australian charts. The follow-on She’s So Fine, which appeared in May 1965, marked their national breakthrough, climbing to no. 2 on the domestic charts. The tune was also included on their debut album Easy that came out in September of the same year. In July 1966, The Easybeats relocated to London. A couple of months later, they recorded what became their biggest hit, Friday On My Mind. Co-written by Young and Vanda, the song was released in October that year. It topped the Australian and Dutch charts, and reached no. 6 and 16 in the UK and U.S., respectively. Following international success in 1966 and 1967, the band’s popularity declined and eventually, they broke up in October 1969. Here’s Friday On My Mind. I just love that tune!

INXS

INXS were founded as The Farriss Brothers in Sydney in 1977 by Garry Gary Beers (bass), Andrew Farriss (keyboards), Jon Farriss (drums), Tim Farriss (guitar), Michael Hutchence (lead vocals) and Kirk Pengilly (guitar, saxophone). The following year, the band started to regularly support Midnight Oil and other local bands. In September 1979, they performed for the first time as INXS, a name that been suggested by a crew member of Midnight Oil. In early 1980, INXS signed a deal with Sydney independent label Deluxe Records and released their eponymous debut album in October that year. It wasn’t until their fourth studio record The Swing from April 1984 that the band gained recognition beyond Australia. The lead single Original Sin, which was recorded in New York with Nile Rodgers and featured Daryl Hall on backing vocals, became their first hit beyond Australia. The next studio album Listen Like Thieves from October 1985 marked their international breakthrough. A series of successful records followed. After Hutchence’s suicide in November 1997, INXS relied on guest vocalists before starting to work with a series of permanent lead vocalists. In November 2012 during a concert in Perth, Australia, the band announced they would no longer tour. Their final studio album Original Sin had appeared in November 2010. Here’s Need You Tonight, one of INXS’ biggest hits and their only no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Co-written by Andrew Farriss and Michael Hutchence, the song was included on their sixth studio album Kick from October 1987.

Men At Work

Men At Work were established in Melbourne in June 1979 by Colin (James) Hay (lead vocals, guitar) and Ron Stykert (bass), who had performed as an acoustic duo since 1978, and Jerry Speiser (drums). Soon thereafter, they were joined by Greg Ham (flute, saxophone, keyboards) and John Rees (bass). After Rees had entered, Stykert switched to lead guitar. In 1980, Men At Work self-financed their debut single Keypunch Operator, which was backed by Down Under. A slightly different version of the latter tune was included on the band’s debut album Business As Usual from November 1981 and became their biggest hit. In 1984, long-standing tensions between Hay and Speiser led to Speiser’s departure, along with Rees. Together with session musicians, Hay, Strykert and Ham recorded Men At Work’s third and final studio album Two Hearts released in April 1985. By early 1986, the band was toast and Hay started a solo career. In mid-1996, Hay and Ham brought Men At Work back together with a new lineup. They toured but did not record any new music. The band broke up a second time in 2002. Afterward, Hay and Ham periodically reunited to perform as Men At Work with guest musicians. In April 2012, Ham who had suffered from depression and anxiety over the loss of a copyright lawsuit related to his flute part in Down Under, passed away from a heart attack. Last June, Hay toured Europe with backing musicians as Men At Work. Here’s Who Can It Be Now?, the great lead single from the band’s debut record, which was written by Hay.

Midnight Oil

Midnight Oil were formed as Farm in Sydney in 1972, playing covers of Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Led Zeppelin. Since the previous year Rob Hirst (drums), Andrew James (bass) and Jim Moginie (keyboards, lead guitar) had performed together. After they had placed an ad for a band member, Peter Garrett joined as their new vocalist and synthesizer player. In late 1976, the band changed their name to Midnight Oil, a reference to the Jimi Hendrix tune Burning of the Midnight Lamp. Martin Rotsey (guitar) joined in 1977 and together with their manager Gary Morris, Midnight Oil founded their own record label Powderworks. Their eponymous debut album appeared in November 1978. In 1982, they broke through in Australia and internationally with their fourth studio album 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – yep, that’s the title! In 2002, Midnight Oil disbanded following Garrett’s decision to quit the band and focus on his political career. After temporary reunions in 2005 and 2009, Midnight Oil came back together in 2016. Last year, they announced plans for new material to be released this year. I knew about Midnight Oil because of their great 1987 tune Beds Are Burning. Here’s another song I like: Blue Sky Mine, credited to of the band’s members, and appearing on their seventh studio album Blue Sky Mining from February 1990.

Little River Band

Little River Band were founded in Melbourne in March 1975 by Glenn Shorrock (lead vocals), Beeb Birtles (guitar, vocals), Graeham Noble (guitar, vocals) and Derek Pellicci (drums), along with session musicians Graham Davidge (lead guitar) and Dave Orams (bass). In May 1975, they signed with EMI Records and released their eponymous debut album in November that year. The record was an instant success, peaking at no. 12 in Australia and no. 80 on the Billboard 200. The excellent single It’s a Long Way There, which was my introduction to the band, became their first top 40 hit in the U.S. Little River Band remain active to this day. They have had many lineup changes over the decades, and none of their original members are still around. The band’s most recent 17th studio album Cuts Like a Diamond was released in 2013. I only know a number of Little River Band songs until their May 1986 album No Reins. I generally dig their harmony singing on these tunes, which I think is comparable to other rock bands like the Eagles, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and The Doobie Brothers. Here’s Lonesome Loser, written by David Briggs, the band’s lead guitarist from 1976 until 1981. The song is the opener to their fifth studio record First Under the Wire from July 1979. It was one of six top 10 hits Little River Band scored in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube