On Occasions When I’m Up For Heavy Action

A collection of favorite hard rock tunes

My recent “desert island” collection of 10 studio albums included Deep Purple’s Machine Head, which after more than 40 years of listening remains the ultimate hard rock album to me. In that post, I also noted that these days heavy rock no longer is my primary music choice. But occasionally, I still enjoy it, which triggered the idea to put together this playlist. I guess just like with many other things, when it comes to music, it’s all about moderation, except of course for The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Neil Young, live concerts, music equipment… 🙂

As more frequent visitors of the blog know, I find doing rankings nearly impossible. But since I suppose there needs to be some system to the madness, the following list is in chronological order from oldest to most recent. And, yes, I suppose in some cases you could question whether a pick is really hard, heavy or metal rock, or is it just rock? The boundaries can be pretty fluid. Plus, to some extent, it’s also a bit subjective. At the end of the day, it’s all about music I dig when the occasion is right. With all these caveats out of the way, let’s get to it.

SteppenwolfBorn to be Wild

This classic from Steppenwolf’s eponymous debut album from January 1968 sometimes has been called the first heavy metal song – in part because of the second line of the second verse, “heavy metal thunder.”Born to be Wild was written by Canadian rock musician and songwriter Dennis Edmonton, aka Mars Bonfire. The tune also appeared separately as a single in June 1968 and became Steppenwolf’s biggest hit next to Magic Carpet Ride. It will forever be associated with the 1969 biker cult picture Easy Rider. Every time I hear that opening line Get your motor runnin’, I feel like climbing on my chopper and heading down Route 18 to the Jersey shore. Then reality sets in. I don’t own a bike, not to mention the minor detail I don’t really know how to ride one. But when I get the urge to look for adventure, there’s always my sexy family crossover SUV! 🙂

Led ZeppelinWhole Lotta Love

While Led Zeppelin IV is my favorite Zep album, Whole Lotta Love possibly is my favorite tune among their crunchy rockers. Credited to all four members, the track first appeared on Led Zeppelin’s sophomore album that came out in October 1969, ingeniously titled Led Zeppelin II. The following month, Whole Lotta Love was also released as a single and became their best chart-performing song, reaching no. 1 in Australia and Germany, and peaking at no. 4 in the U.S. Notably, it didn’t chart in their home country. From today’s perspective, the fact that Whole Lotta Love became such a big hit looks unreal. You need cooling/Baby I’m not fooling/I’m gonna send ya/Back to schooling//A-way down inside/A-honey you need it/I’m gonna give you my love/I’m gonna give you my love//Want to whole lotta love/Want to whole lotta love/Want to whole lotta love/Want to whole lotta love…

Deep PurpleSpeed King

Obviously, it was only a matter of time until I would feature a Deep Purple tune in this post. But while Machine Head was their Mount Rushmore, there’s more to the British hard rockers than this 1972 gem. One great example is the opener to the band’s fourth studio album Deep Purple in Rock released in June 1970: Speed King. Credited to the entire band, the song’s lyrics are made up of titles of classic rock & roll tunes by Chuck Berry and Little Richard, which I always thought was a cool idea. Good golly, said little Miss Molly/When she was rockin’ in the house of blue light/Tutti Frutti was oh so rooty/Rockin’ to the east and west/Lucille was oh so real/When she didn’t do her daddies will/Come on baby, drive me crazy, do it, do it.. This is one kick-ass rocker!

Black SabbathParanoid

While I can’t claim to be a Black Sabbath fan, there’s just no way you can leave out these English rockers from any heavy rock collection. It would be like doing a post about the British Invasion and excluding The Beatles. And, to be clear, I’m not just featuring Sabbath because I felt I had to. I’ve always loved Paranoid, the title track of their second studio album that came out in September 1970. Credited to the entire band, Paranoid first appeared as a single in August of the same year. It became their biggest hit, topping the charts in Germany, and reaching no. 2, 3 and 4 in Switzerland, Austria and the UK, respectively. Apparently, audiences were less receptive in America, where the tune stalled at no. 61 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a cool official clip, even though it’s all playback. Check out Tony Iommi’s cool Gibson SG. One day when I grow up I’m gonna get an ax like this – it even plays rhythm and solo at the same time! 🙂

Uriah HeepBird of Prey

Yep, Uriah Heep with their crazy high vocals can border a bit on the weird, but these guys were rockin’, especially in their early days. I seem to remember when I bought the album Salisbury as a young teenager, my six-year older sister who accompanied me to the record store was a bit embarrassed about my choice. Come on, sis’, while with Carole King’s Tapestry, CSNY’s Déjà Vu and Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, to name a few, you undoubtedly introduced me to some of the best recorded music ever, your taste also varied – let’s just leave it at that! 🙂 Credited to the band members Ken Hensley, Mick Box, Paul Newton and Keith Baker, Bird of Prey is the furious opener of Heep’s sophomore album from February 1971. That tune rumbles just like the tank on the album cover – “geil,” as was fashionable to say in Germany back in the day!

RainbowLong Live Rock ‘n’ Roll

I don’t care how you feel about Rainbow, and my thoughts about them are mixed these days, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll just is an epic rocker. Co-written by former Deep Purple guitarist and Rainbow founder Ritchie Blackmore and the band’s powerhouse lead vocalist Ronnie James Dio, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll was the title track of Rainbow’s third studio album released in April 1978. It also became the record’s lead single in March of the same year. To me, this is Rainbow’s best song. Apparently, audiences felt differently, at least the time, and far preferred some of their later songs, on which Blackmore adopted a more commercial sound along the lines of Foreigner.

Gary MooreVictims of the Future

Before Gary Moore fully embraced electric blues during his solo career, the Irish guitarist released heavy rock album Victims of the Future in December 1983. The big hit off that record was the power ballad Empty Rooms, which was played to death on the radio in Germany. I don’t even recall hearing the title track, which was co-written by Moore, Neil Carter (keyboards), Neil Murray (bass) and Ian Paice (drums) – and, yep, that’s the Ian Paice from Deep Purple. The song wasn’t released as a single; clocking in at more than six minutes, it wouldn’t have been radio-friendly to begin with. Admittedly, this is a pretty aggressive tune I can only tolerate occasionally, but when I’m in the mood for some heavy action, I still enjoy it. According to Wikipedia, Moore later dismissed the record as “just one of my feeble attempts at heavy rock”. It’s certainly quite different from his electric blues music he released starting in the early ’90s all the way until his premature death at age 58 in February 2011.

Guns N’ RosesSweet Child o’ Mine

My sentiments about Guns N’ Roses in general are similar to the previous pick. Sometimes, their music is simply too aggressive, so again, I need to be in the right mood. When I am, I actually enjoy a good number of their tunes. On these occasions, Sweet Child o’ Mine is one of my favorites. It’s a track off their debut album Appetite for Destruction from July 1987. Credited to the entire band, the tune also became the album’s third single in August of the same year. It was one of the songs that fueled the record’s massive international chart success, turning it into Guns N’ Roses’ biggest album. The guitar work on this song is just killer!

ScorpionsRaised on Rock

I suppose writing a post about heavy rock without acknowledging German veterans Scorpions would border on treason. The band from the city of Hannover first entered my radar screen with Love at First Sting, their hugely successful ninth studio album they released in March 1984, 12 years into their recording career. I seem to recall reading somewhere there were times before then when Scorpions were more famous elsewhere than in their home country. With hits, such as Rock You Like a Hurricane, Big City Nights and Still Loving You, Love at First Sting definitely changed that. Scorpions continue to rock and roll to this day. In April, they released a new tune, Sign of Hope, a classic Scorpions-style ballad, inspired by COVID-19. According to a statement on their website, they have been working on songs for a new album. The tune I decided to feature here appeared 26 years after Love at First Sting. Raised on Rock is the opener to the band’s 17th studio album Sting in the Tail from March 2010, which together with the supporting tour was positioned as their farewell. Then, they decided they simply couldn’t stop.

AC/DCPlay Ball

Let’s wrap up things with a great late-career rocker by AC/DC. Play Ball is from their 16th studio album Rock or Bust, which is the band’s most recent to date from November 2014. There have been reports about a new album for some time, largely fueled by Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, who apparently is close to AC/DC. According to this NME story from late July, the album is already in the can, but it’s release has been delayed due to COVID-19. It sounds like thanks to some technology wizardry, it will feature the classic lineup including Malcolm Young and be the band’s final album. For now, let’s focus on actually released AC/DC music. Co-written by Malcolm Young prior to his forced retirement due to dementia and his younger brother Angus Young, Play Ball was the lead single from Rock or Bust, which appeared in October 2014, preceding the album by one month – a classic AC/DC rocker!

Jeez, after listening to ten heavy rock tunes, my ears are exhausted. Yesterday, the long-awaited reissue of The Rolling Stones’ Goat Heads Soup came out. I think I’m just about ready for Angie. A-Angie, A-Angie/When will this hard rock disappear/Angie, Angie/where will it lead from here…

Sources: Wikipedia; Scorpions website; NME; YouTube

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