Back in Black

1980: In Depth Stream with Mike and Deke!

Thanks to Rob Daniels for this episode’s title!  This week Deke and I took a trip back to 1980 to discuss some 40 year old albums, in a little more depth than usual.  We each chose three to reminisce on.  There are dozens of critical albums we could have picked from that year, so we each chose three that we important to us on a personal level.

The stories flow like beer, and the laughter can be heard from one side of Ontario to the other.  Join us as Mike mocks the Leafs and Deke praises Buried On Mars.  (There is a good story about Mars’ site and one of the most important albums from 1980.)

Points of interest:

To start with some unboxings, go to 0:02:55 of the stream

The 1980 retrospective starts at 0:09:45 in the stream.

Attention:  Geoff Stephen!!  0:14:00.

For the Back In Black shenanigans skip to 1:28:20.

There’s some audio lag on the latter part of the video; sorry about that.  I hope you enjoy this chat as much as we did!

REVIEW: AC/DC – Back In Black (2004 DualDisc edition)

AC/DC – Back In Black (originally 1980, 2004 Epic DualDisc)

How many times have I bought Back in Black?  How many times have you bought it?  I know that I purchased it on CD first in 1990, and then four more times since.  I currently own two copies:  this DualDisc, and the one that came in the Bonfire box set.  I don’t think I have it on vinyl, but I could be wrong.  The DualDisc has a DVD side with some neat stuff including a documentary.

“The Story of Back In Black” begins in 1979, with Highway to Hell,  fame and glory.  New interviews with all five AC/DC members (Angus & Malcolm Young, Cliff Williams, Phil Rudd and Brian Johnson) provides a little bit of insight.  We all know the story: February 19 1980, the death of Bon Scott, and the brave decision to carry on have become rock legend.  But according to Angus, it was Malcolm who kept the band playing, if only to distract them from the pain of their loss.  The band continued to jam and write without a singer, but producer Mutt Lange knew of one from a band called Geordie.  Brian recalls a hilarious story of being invited to audition for the band.  He went down to London and played “Whole Lotta Rosie” with AC/DC for the first time.  They then went to the Bahamas with Mutt to record.

ACDC BIB DUAL_0005The band tells the stories behind several songs:  “Hells Bells”, “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, “You Shook Me All Night Long”, “Back in Black”, and “Shoot to Thrill”, while Angus and Malcolm demonstrate the riffs up close.  Brian reveals “Back in Black” was a challenge, since it was intended as a tribute in song to Bon.  No small feat to get the mood right.  The 30 minute mini-doc ends with Back in Black selling 10 million copies.  I guess they got it right!

You know the songs.  You’ve heard ’em the radio, seen ’em on the video, hummed them in your sleep.  “Hells Bells” is one of those archetypal AC/DC songs.  When one pictures the “ominous AC/DC headbanger” song, “Hells Bells” should certainly come to mind.  Then you can get your stompin’ shoes on for “Shoot to Thrill”.  I do miss Bon Scott’s sly playfulness, but there’s nothing wrong with Brian Johnson’s full-speed-ahead screech either.  “What Do You Do For Money Honey” is as catchy today as it was then, and has the benefit of being one of the songs that doesn’t get played every single day on the radio.  I’m not as burned out on it.  Same with “Givin the Dog a Bone”, but on that song all I can do is wonder what Bon would have done with that groove.

One truly outstanding track is the last song on side one, “Let Me Put My Love Into You”.  Yes, that title is hardly clever.  But the song kicks ass all over the place.  It’s one of those late night prowls that AC/DC do so well, and it perfectly closes the first side.

ACDC BIB DUAL_0004

The title track opens the second side with a bang.  Then “You Shook Me All Night Long”, a classic that also needs no introduction.  If you don’t know this song then you probably don’t listen to rock music.  I can’t add anything to the discussion there.

“Have A Drink On Me” and “Shake A Leg” are both fine AC/DC songs.  Nothing wrong with ’em, nothing exceptional about them.  Thankfully they saved one of the best songs for last:  “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”.  This has been my favourite track since first getting the album 24 years ago.  It’s an anthem, the kind of thing we can all agree on.  Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution, baby.  I’ll drink to that.

I don’t think Back In Black is the best AC/DC album, but it might be the best Brian Johnson album.  It’s certainly the most important AC/DC album historically, and it’s a must for any serious rock fan to own.  Choose your format according to your own wishes, but this DualDisc edition satisfies me fine.

4/5 stars

For those times when you can’t use the internet to tell you what songs are on what albums.

REVIEW: AC/DC – Bonfire (5 CD box set with extras)

AC/DC – Bonfire (1997 EastWest)

Bonfire is less of an AC/DC box set, but more of a tribute to Bon Scott.  LeBrain readers know that Bon was the late great second AC/DC lead singer.  (They did one single, “Can I Get Close to You” / “Rocking in the Parlor” with original singer Dave Evans.)   In every other meaningful way, Bon Scott is the first and best lead singer. That’s not a slight against Brian Johnson because he’s proven himself and then some.  I don’t always listen to AC/DC, but when I do, I prefer Bon Scott.

Featuring four special albums spread over five CDs, Bonfire is largely live. Early versions of this box, which I am lucky enough to own, were loaded to the gills with extras. More on that later, but I highly recommend the original box set rather than the reissue that comes in a digipack book.  Still, the music is what most people will buy this for, and most of it is previously unreleased.

BONFIRE_0006Part 1 – Live at Atlantic Studios. This was an old live set once released as a promotional LP to radio stations. As much as possible was remastered from the original tapes, which were partially erased. The rest of the music was taken from an actual LP and spliced. Sounds as great as can be expected, and I love the sound of AC/DC playing away in a small venue. This disc is more proof that AC/DC could gel like no other.  This is really an outstanding disc.

BONFIRE_0008Part 2 – Let There Be Rock: The Movie. Spread out over 2 CDs, this is the complete concert. It is heavy, it is fast, and it is awesome. To hear the old band jam away on a 10 minute + version of “Rocker” is simply amazing.  It’s this kind of thing we’ll never hear again.  It’s a good thing they recorded it, and the audio on these discs is perfect.  The concert was recorded in France mere months before Bon’s death.  I would consider this set to be the definitive live AC/DC album.

BONFIRE_0010Part 3 – Volts. This was the disc I was most interested in, and it’s a little strange. It’s partly rare and demo material, with a couple album hits (“Ride On” and “It’s A Long Way”) sprinkled in. Obviously AC/DC cleared out their vaults of rare stuff with the Backtracks box last year, but this is a fun taster. I’m not sure how they arrived at this track listing, considering how much material they had to pick from, and the disc’s running time is fairly short. The end of the disc has hidden stuff, interviews with Bon himself.

As for the rarities, five are early AC/DC demos, some with alternate titles and lyrics.  Two are more tracks are live rarities. Among the demos, there are some songs here that I like better than the released versions — “Back Seat Confidential” is superior to “Beating Around ths Bush” to my ears.

BONFIRE_0012Part 4 – Back In Black. Including this disc on Bonfire, I have bought Back In Black on CD five times. (Original CD issue, first remaster, Bonfire, second remaster, dual disc.) I’m sure if you’re reading this, you own Back In Black too.  I believe this to be the same music tracks as the first Back In Black CD remaster. It comes in a little digipack, which is unique to this set, although similar to later releases. I’m not going to review Back In Black here. It’s a great album, albeit I’m bored to death with hearing most of these songs over and over today. I don’t think it’s as good as the early Bon stuff, but it was a remarkable comeback. It was included here as a tribute to Bon, as a final coda for this box set. I guess.  But seriously, what AC/DC fan was buying Bonfire that didn’t already have Back in Black?  This is completely redundant.  I think the set would have been better off if they didn’t include it.  Cheaper at least.

And, the box.  The first release of Bonfire was loaded with great fun extras. There’s a long and informative book full of photos. There’s a poster. A bottle opener/keychain thingy.  On used copies, this is almost always missing.  Most people kept the good stuff, and sold the box set assuming the kid at the CD store wouldn’t notice.  There was also a sticker, a rub-on tattoo, and a guitar pick. Be careful when buying this used and make sure all this stuff is present, particularly the ever-popular pick. If it’s not, ask the clerk for a discount.

4.5/5 stars

Part 231: Top 5…of all time?

RECORD STORE TALES Part 231:  Top 5…of all time?

I put in just shy of 12 years at the record store.  That’s a lot of time to work retail.  If you’ve worked retail, you know what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t, it has its ups and downs.  The ups include discounts.  The downs entail being abused by the general public on a daily basis.

I have a nice plaque around here somewhere, commemorating 7 years at the store.  It was a pretty cool gift.  It was a total surprise, how it happened.  My boss phoned me out of the blue one day.

“Mike,” he said.  “I need a list of the top 5 albums of all time.  It’s for an article we’re doing.”

“Cool!” I responded eagerly.  “But what are the parameters?  Is it like rock, or all genres?  Because that’s just a wide-open question.”

“Just what you think are the top albums of all time, that’s all I really need.”

Cool!  I started work on it.  I wanted to be objective, fair.  If I were making a personalized list of a top 5, it would be easy, I know there would be some Kiss and Sabbath in there.  I wanted to discount my own personal biases and try to be as open as possible for this particular list.

First of all, I chose The Wall.  I admit that I chose this over Dark Side due to personal preference, also I think a double album like The Wall deserves many accolades.  I obviously had to give respect to two of the greatest bands of all time, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles.  I chose Zeppelin IV and Abbey Road.  I really couldn’t choose a Zeppelin, so I went with IV as kind of a default answer.  Abbey Road is arguably the most genius the Beatles ever were, so I could easily choose that over Sgt. Pepper’s.

OK, three down!  Even though all three artists I chose were different from each other, they were all rock, so I needed to go outside that box.  To represent country, I decided on Folson Prison by Johnny Cash.  Were this a more personalized list, I would choose San Quentin, but I went with Folsom as it seems to be the best known.

I didn’t know what to pick last, so I went with a cop-out answer.  Back In Black.  What a weak, spineless choice!  What am I a college student?  Anyway, again I decided to be open and think about how many copies it sold, not about the many superior AC/DC albums.

I submitted my list.  A month or two later, I was presented with this plaque!  And these five albums were on the plaque!  My boss had collected lists from a few of us who had been there a while, and given us custom made plaques, with the CDs and everything.  It was really cool and I treasured mine for years.

I only wish he had worded his question differently!  If I had known in advance what he was really asking (thus spoiling the surprise) I would have chosen these five:

5. Iron MaidenPiece of Mind

4. KissAlive

3. Kiss Hotter Than Hell

2. Deep PurpleFireball

1. Black SabbathBorn Again

The original plaque is packed up in a box, as Mrs. LeBrain and I are planning a move to a bigger place.  Here’s the five albums that made it onto the plaque though, at least all albums I proudly own.  And because I don’t do anything small, I own them all in some kind of crazy deluxe box set.  Enjoy.

REVIEW: AC/DC – Live at River Plate (2012 German edition with bonus tracks)

ACDC FRONT

AC/DC – Live at River Plate (2012 Sony Music Germany edition with three bonus tracks)

ACDC DOMESTIC STICKERTime moves agonizingly slow in AC/DC Land.  Witness the nine years between Stiff Upper Lip and the band’s latest studio album Black Ice.  Even more astonishing is the fact that Live at River Plate is AC/DC’s first live album in 20 years!  Granted, only three studio albums came between AC/DC Live and this record.  Still, most bands of AC/DC’s ilk tend to release live albums as if it’s an annual occasion.

I’ll give AC/DC credit for something:  value.  Of Live at River Plate‘s 22 tracks, only 12 were on the last live album.  Live at River Plate is a lot more Bon-heavy.  It also draws several tracks from Black Ice itself, which is nice, but you get the feeling that these were the “let’s go take a piss” songs in concert.

“We don’t speak very good Spanish,” says Brian, “but we speak Rock and Roll pretty good!  Let’s go!”  Then the band tear into the golden oldie, “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be”, which last time, was relegated to B-side status, on the 1992 live “Highway to Hell” single.  Brian Johnson’s voice is noticeably more whispery.  This is inevitable, singing this kind of music.  Considering this, it’s astonishing to hear Brian as ferocious as ever on “Let There Be Rock”.  How the man still has a voice after all these years is a mystery to science.

Hit after hit with new tracks mixed in, AC/DC roll ’em out:  “Black in Black”, “Dirty Deeds”, “Thunderstruck”, “Hells Bells”, “The Jack” along with newbies like “Black Ice”.  Meanwhile, Angus struts out his unmistakable guitar glee in extended solos and trade-offs with Brian.  The most exciting thing about AC/DC on stage remains Angus Young.  Even without the visuals of the shorts and the stomping, Angus continues to entrance, just doing what he does and making it all sound easy.

Disc 2 is just as heavy on the hits:  “You Shook Me All Night Long”, “Rosie”, “T.N.T.”, “Highway”, “For Those About to Rock”.     “War Machine” from Black Ice gives the audience a chance to get a beer, even though it’s as menacingly good as classics like “The Razors Edge”.

One thing that hasn’t been highly publicized is that the German edition of this album includes three bonus tracks.  These bonus tracks are real treats, of the underplayed AC/DC variety!  All three are taken from the Live at Circus Krone DVD, which was only available with the massive AC/DC Backtracks box set.  Sweet.

COLOURSEverybody loves “Rock ‘N’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, and it’s still as entertaining as ever, if a little less energetic.  “If You Want Blood” is another favourite, from the Bon era.  Bon used to sing this one at maximum lung power, but Bon was a 33 year old man.  Brian was 55 when he sang this.  I’m glad for its inclusion, as it’s still a high voltage head banger.  But the real treat is “What’s Next to the Moon”, an oldie from Powerage that isn’t on any AC/DC live album except this German edition.  And it prowls like a wolf, with teeth.

Live at River Plate was released in three colours (red, yellow, blue) in North America, but I don’t know about this German edition.  The only pictures I’ve seen of it were red, like mine.

The single from this album was the Record Store Day 2011 exclusive “Shoot to Thrill” / “War Machine”.  I don’t have anything in particular to say about the single, except it sure took them long enough to put out a full live album!

4/5 stars