41 minutes is all it takes to rock the world. We needed AC/DC in 2020, and we got it. This isn’t the first time AC/DC have put guitars on magnetic tape without Malcolm. That era began with 2014’s Rock Or Bust, but this album is better. The riffs are Malcolm’s, and nephew Stevie Young performs them admirably as he always has. As for Brian Johnson, he sounds as if time stopped back in 1995.
“Realize” is catchier than the average AC/DC, with a few guitar overdubs to sweeten it up. “Rejection” is similarly fun, despite its title. Good tunes. Not immortal classics in the making, just good album cuts as AC/DC have done for decades. Even the first single “Shot in the Dark” doesn’t sound like the kind of AC/DC tune that radio will be pounding out in 10 years, even though they sure are playing the crap out of it today. Good songs all, but comparison to the back catalogue is a doomed endeavour.
The one tune that does sound like a future staple is “Through the Mists of Time”, a title that seems more like Zep than Acca Dacca. Focused on melody and spare guitar picking, it’s a bit softer than what most people expect. The “Ahh-ah” backing vocals sell it. This is probably the song you’ll remember years from now.
Moving on down the tracklist, we have a few songs with potential to grow. “Kick You When You’re Down” has some cool pickin’ rhythm. Also cool is “Witch’s Spell”, another title that doesn’t seem like AC/DC at first. It’s among the most memorable tunes thanks to a stuttery guitars and a fun chorus. The mood changes on “Demon Fire”, an excellent song similar in style to “Safe in New York City” from 20 years ago. It’s got that fast 4/4 beat, coupled with a low Brian Johnson growl (at first).
After “Demon Fire”, we’re in for a series of workmanlike AC/DC tracks without a lot of distinction. There’s “Bad Reputation” (mid-tempo), “No Man’s Land” (slow and menacing), “Systems Down” (mid-tempo), “Money Shot” (mid-tempo with bite), and “Code Red” (slinky). Power Up, like any AC/DC album since about Flick of the Switch, gets the job done. The only true classic is “Through the Mists of Time”, but there is plenty of strong material headlined by “Demon Fire”, “Shot in the Dark”, “Realize”, “Witch’s Spell” and “Money Shot”. It’s still early of course, and in three months you might have some clear favourites. This album has room to grow.
Now, the $60 “Light Box” is…disappointing. It’s a box, made of cardboard, with a sound chip that plays exactly 17 seconds of “Shot in the Dark” through a little speaker in the top, while flashing. (I call it a “Seizure Box”!) It stays lit for a few more seconds, and then stops. You can push the button as many times as you like, because it comes with a handy-dandy USB charging cable. (I bet you needed another one of those!) So that’s all it does. Inside is the standard CD digipack wedged between two sturdy foam slats. On the left hand side with the button and charging port, a cardboard strip is attached to prevent the button from being pushed in the stores. Removing this piece, which you need to do to recharge the box, is difficult and I tore mine. I glued it back, but you can still see it. $60 box, ripped just like that. Bummer.
AC/DC sound like AC/DC the most when Phil Rudd is in the band. With Phil, Brian Johnson and Cliff Williams all back for one more round, authenticity is not an issue. This is an album that deserves multiple listens. You’ll have your own favourites too.
Be honest with me. Until recently, did you really expect a new AC/DC album in 2020? The notoriously private band were spotted at a studio in Vancouver a while ago, but aside from that it’s been total radio silence.
Until now. Power Up!
Brian “Beano” Johnson found himself the recipient of brand new, high-tech in-ear monitors enabling him to sing live once again. Phil Rudd put his past behind him. This was enough to get Cliff Williams back on board. Angus Young had been sorting through dozens of riffs written by Malcolm. With nephew Stevie Young still in the fold to play those riffs, AC/DC were a band once more.
2020’s Power Up (or PWRϟUP) will be the first AC/DC album since the death of both George and Malcolm Young.
“Shot in the Dark” is the first single, available now on iTunes when you pre-order the album. “Shot in the dark, beats a walk in the park.” I highly doubt that it was a walk in the park, but the thing about AC/DC is that they make everything better. (This week’s episode of the LeBrain Train was supposed to be about AC/DC bringing us exactly what we needed in 2020. It has obviously been postponed so we can talk about Eddie Van Halen instead.) If Black Sabbath’s “Rock and Roll Doctor” was a real person, there is little question that they would have prescribed us some AC/DC in 2020. We needed this. Like an Aspirin when your head is achin’, we needed a “Shot” of AC/DC. Something bright and shiny to look forward to.
What AC/DC do, only they can do right. There’s nothing even remotely unique about “Shot in the Dark”. It’s AC/DC. It is what it is and does what it does, and it’s pretty simple. All you need is a beat, a catchy guitar lick, and a belting singer. “Shot in the Dark” has all that. The things that do jump out this time are Angus’ solo — slidey goodness — and the sheer joie de vivre of it all. Brian is sounding great. Some have noted that AC/DC sounds more like the genuine article when Phil Rudd is on drums. His thrift and pocket groove are peanut butter and jelly.
Rating a new AC/DC song is kind of pointless. They always come out with something good, albeit familiar, for a first single. 1990’s “Thunderstruck” was an exception. It’s been this way since 1995’s “Hard As a Rock”. AC/DC drop a new single, and it’s always the same. Good and familiar. Same thing here. Ratings are meaningless so we’ll call it a perfect score just because we should all be happy as fuck that AC/DC are back.
The 80s were bumpy for AC/DC. Back In Black was massive. For Those About to Rock was almost as big. Flick of the Switch was a solid ball of rock, but things were uneven and some songs were filler. Fly on the Wall has its detractors for its muddy sound, and Blow Up Your Video was mostly a snooze. For their 1990 comeback, AC/DC got Canadian mega-producer Bruce Fairbairn involved.* He had a huge run of hit albums most notably by Bon Jovi and Aerosmith. Could he work his magic with AC/DC?
Bruce was one of the biggest names around, but having a hitmaker like him working with AC/DC was bound to affect their sound. Not too much of course; this was AC/DC after all. But Bruce did offer a cleaner sound, and there is no question it worked. To the tune of five million copies! Another change was bringing in ex-The Firm drummer Chris Slade after the departure of Simon Wright, who joined Dio. The bald-headed beat keeper became a fan favourite very quickly. (Slade is once again the drummer of AC/DC today after replacing Phil Rudd.)
Debut single “Thunderstruck” has deservedly become a classic in the pantheon of AC/DC classics. It was immediately obvious that AC/DC toned down the bluesy leanings of Blow Up Your Video in favour of rock and even arguably metal. “Thunderstruck” is heavy metal, especially with that fluttery Angus Young lick that dominates the song.
Chris Slade’s hyper-caffeinated drum stylings really impact “Fire Your Guns”, one of the fastest and most fun AC/DC tracks in recorded history. Any AC/DC song that involves them yelling “fire!” is guaranteed to thrill. Not to be ignored is bassist Cliff Williams who is effortlessly locked in with Slade. And sonically this is the best sounding AC/DC stuff since Back in Black. Singer Brian Johnson said at the time that Bruce Fairbairn encouraged him to scream more like the old days.
Another huge single was the plucky “Moneytalks”, bringing the groove down to a perfect mid-tempo. The main thing is the hook of the chorus. Though all songs were written solely by the Brothers Young, you can hear Bruce Fairbairn’s impact. It’s tight and focused more than AC/DC had been last time out. No doubt Bruce acted as a brutal editor in the studio when necessary, and must have had a role in shaping the songs to their final form. Listen to the layers of vocals on the chorus and tell me that’s not Bruce’s doing.
Some of the best AC/DC tracks in history have been deeper album cuts. The title track is one such song, an ominous almost-epic. “The Razors Edge” refers to a storm front on the horizon, and the song has that kind of foreboding feel. Unfortunately this friggin’ incredible construction of guitars and screams is followed by a novelty track. A seasonal novelty track. “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all day the day. I can’t wait til’ Christmas time when I roll you in the hay.” This song should have been axed and saved for a compilation or single, where it actually could have had some impact. Not that it’s not fun; it is! But who wants to listen to jingle bells on track five of an AC/DC album? “Rock Your Heart Out” closed the side with the dubious distinction of being the first obvious filler song.
The third single “Are You Ready” was the opening track for side two. Good tune, nothing particularly special, but good enough for an AC/DC album. “Got You By the Balls” is an amusing title, but not a memorable song. It has a menacing bite, but not enough hooks. There’s a definite “side two slump” as none of these songs are as good as the first batch on side one. “Shot of Love” is OK. Things get back on track with “Let’s Make It” which might have made a great single itself. It has an old-timey rock and roll feel, and a slow groove. That classic rock and roll sound isn’t heard frequently on The Razors Edge. “Goodbye and Good Riddance to Bad Luck” isn’t shabby but veers close to that filler territory. Finally The Razors Edge comes to a campy end with the unusual “If You Dare”. Fortunately it’s a great, hooky little closer.
As it turns out, The Razors Edge was a one-off of sorts. It spun off a successful live album, also produced by Bruce Fairbairn, but that was the end of their partnership. A 1993 single called “Big Gun” sported a ballsier sound provided by Rick Rubin who went on to do their next album as well. The Razors Edge is also the only studio album with Chris Slade. Phil Rudd returned, reuniting the classic Back In Black lineup. No one will question that Rudd is the best fitting drummer that AC/DC have ever had, but that doesn’t negate Chris Slade’s contribution. Slade and Rudd do not sound alike, and therefore AC/DC acquires a different flavour with him in the band. His cymbal work is enviable and nobody can play “Thunderstruck” like Chris Slade, period.
*Much to the upset of the Scorpions who had tapped Bruce to do their next album Crazy World. That didn’t happen because of the AC/DC job.
With all the head-banging going on, it’s no surprise that the majority of rockers do not wear hats on stage. The flailing around in musical ecstasy means that hats don’t stay on top for long. Also, with those hot stage lights beating down, nobody needs to preserve their body heat with a hat.
Yet some rockers have managed to make hats a trademark. Let’s have a look at five of the best.*
5. Jeff Ament’s whatever hat
During the Ten period, Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament used to sport some cool, huge hats. We have no idea what you call these hats, but there is no denying their 90’s cool-ness. If I had long hair again, I’d want one of these hats.
4.Ritchie Blackmore’s pilgrim hat
Blackmore is well known for his anachronistic mixture of time periods. Playing medieval music with electric guitars? Sure, why not. We don’t know why Blackmore wants to look like a passenger on the Mayflower, but it does not matter. The hat has become iconic, though not as iconic as…
3.Lemmy Kilmister’s assortment of Motorhats
God bless Lemmy, for he had a fine collection of headgear, usually emblazoned with skulls, crossbones, and World War II symbology. Lemmy may not have been a fashion icon, but he did own some pretty cool hats.
2.Brian Johnson’s newsboy hat
This one is near and dear to my heart. Brian’s hat was to cover a receding hairline, but I had one just like it. It was perfect for keeping a tangled mess of hair under cover. Best of all, I could use it as a “hair mold”. I would comb my hair in the morning, tuck it under the hat to “set” it, and an hour later it would come out looking perfect!
1.Slash’s top hat
At LeBrain HQ, we think Slash’s hat has become the most iconic rock and roll piece of headgear. One look at that hat, and you automatically know who is underneath it. The fact that Slash hid his face behind curtains of hair meant that fans had to recognize him in other ways. That’s where the hat comes in! Even if you wouldn’t recognize Slash’s face in a crowd, it’s a guarantee that you know his hat.
AC/DC – Live (1992, 2003 Epic remastered collector’s edition)
AC/DC and their label did something very clever for their first live album with Brian Johnson in 1992. Instead of putting out a full-on and expensive double live album (well over $30 on CD in the 90’s) they allowed fans to choose a more economic option. A single “highlights” version of AC/DC Live was released simultaneously with 14 of the 23 tracks on one disc. AC/DC must have been one of the first bands to release a “collector’s edition” of an album with an extra CD at a higher price.
Of course to a real AC/DC fan, the single disc is for rookies. Sure, its firepower can’t be denied, but anybody with the dollars and a hard-on for AC/DC shelled out for the double. Their last live release was 1978’s If You Want Blood You’ve Got It with Bon Scott, a mere single disc.
Here’s the only serious flaw with AC/DC Live (either version). Like The Razors Edge, it was produced by Bruce Fairbairn. Why would AC/DC need a studio guy like Fairbairn to produce a live album? Astute fans have picked apart the release and compared it to bootleg recordings from the same shows. Like most live albums, even AC/DC succumbed to post-concert studio overdubs. This is not particularly obvious on one listen, but it was always suspected due to the clean and near-perfect sound of AC/DC Live. Where is the raunch? Mixed out and overdubbed. That’s unfortunate. More bands should just pick the version of a song they like best, suck it up and put it on the album as-is.
Since 1992, AC/DC have released a lot of live material, both current and from the Bon era. Notable is Live at River Plate(2012), another double, with Phil Rudd on drums. A valid question would be, “How badly does a fan really need AC/DC Live in 2016?” With so much to choose from, especially on DVD, AC/DC Live serves today as an historic document. The Razors Edge album was a huge comeback for a band that never stopped, the tour was massive, and the resultant album is a document of this period. With period hits like “Moneytalks” and “Heatseeker”, there are a few songs you won’t get live on some other releases. (These two are even on the single CD version.) There are also a couple nice long extended Angus jams, if you’re into the solos. Lastly, AC/DC Live is the only live album with then (and present) drummer Chris Slade. While no one will deny that Phil Rudd is “the man” when it comes to AC/DC, Chris Slade is well-liked and deserves his place in history. He’s even on the album cover.
Of note, the original (non-remastered) printing of AC/DC Live came with a neat bonus: a little Angus $1 bill, like the ones they used to drop on the crowd during “Moneytalks”. This memento was not included in the remaster, so when I traded my original copy in for a remaster I said “fuck it” and kept the $1 bill. It’s too cool to throw away, and I’m sure many of those old Angus bills have been lost or destroyed since.
Ever so lucky, the Japanese fans received a bonus track: “Hell Ain’t A Bad Place to Be”. Fear not, everyone else. This track was included on the live 1992 “Highway to Hell” single, which is fairly common. Worth tracking down; it’s also on the Backtracks box set.
Today’s movie soundtrack comes by no coincidence. Today’s my birthday! And I got this album on this day in 1987 from my partner in crime for many years, Bob!
AC/DC – Who Made Who (1986 Epic soundtrack to Maximum Overdrive, 2003 remaster)
As a movie director, Stephen King is a great novelist.
30 years ago, Maximum Overdrive was King’s directorial debut. The movies based on his books had been box office gold so far, but King always complained about the adaptations of his original material. So why not hand the reins over to him?
King’s goal was to make “the loudest movie ever made”, and part of that was leaving the soundtrack to AC/DC. King issued the film with instructions that “this film is to be played as loud as possible.” The funny thing, according to him, was that most theaters did it.
AC/DC did the entire soundtrack, a mixture of old and new material. It was an unorthodox move and it left AC/DC with what some consider to be their first real “greatest hits” album; this coming from a band who in 2016 has yet to issue an actual greatest hits album!
The robotic pulse of “Who Made Who” commences the affair, a massive hit still a radio staple today. One of AC/DC’s most recognisable tunes, “Who Made Who” was a bigger smash than the movie that spawned it. That’s Simon Wright on drums, emulating the perfect beats of Phil Rudd before him, creating a fine facsimile. The keys to the song though are the simple and catchy guitars of Angus and Malcolm Young. Having nailed down the art of writing catchy bases for songs, the brothers Young really perfected it here.
They also perfected it on 1980’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”. Placing the biggest AC/DC hit of all time second in line is almost like nailing the coup de grâce prematurely, but there is plenty more firepower on the album. It works in the second position, cleaning up anyone left standing and getting them shakin’ on the dance floor.
AC/DC added two brand new instrumentals to this soundtrack (“Johnson was sick that day”, joked Angus). “D.T.” is the first of them, somewhat unremarkable and echoey on the drums. But this is designed as background music for movie scenes, so it really shouldn’t be measured by the same yardstick as, say, a Rush instrumental. The second on side two is the peppier “Chase the Ace”. Punctuated with some cool Angus licks, “Chase the Ace” is simple and effective like “D.T.”.
There were a few tunes from the recent Fly on the Wall album, all killers. “Sink the Pink” (oh, Brian!) is recorded so muddy that you can’t hear the words, but it does rock. Angus’ guitar break is pure fun, and the song gets your ass moving. That leads into the sole Bon Scott inclusion, “Ride On”, from a quieter moment in the film. What’s really cool is that even though these songs are from all over the place, Who Made Who sounds like a fairly cohesive trip.
Side two commences ominously with “Hells Bells”, a fine way to distribute classic tunes evenly across the sides. “Shake Your Foundations” is on its tail, hitting you with another blast of AC/DC right in the face. One of the better tunes from Fly on the Wall, “Shake Your Foundations” does its advertised job. Yet, I do believe there was only one way to properly end this album. That would have to be the cannon-fire of “For Those About to Rock”.
Who Made Who was actually my first Johnson-era AC/DC album, given to me by my buddy Bob on this day in 1987. If this review is slanted ever so slightly in the “pro” direction, so be it.
AC/DC – No Bull: The Director’s Cut (originally 1996, DVD 2008 Sony)
The Plaza de Toro in Madrid is an incredible looking venue. “Nice place you got here!” understates Brian Johnson. To film a concert video here seems an easy decision. A crane and giant wrecking ball dominate the scene. The ball swings and bowls over the backdrop! Enter: Angus Young!
“Back in Black”* is a natural opener: Everybody knows it, and the groove is impossible to ignore. Johnson’s voice is ragged and weak compared to the old days, although I think Brian sounds better in general today. A pre-crystal meth Phil Rudd dons spectacles, and hammers out the beat that, truthfully, he invented and does best. Having Phil back for that period of the band was a coup. It’s back to the Bon Scott years then, with “Shot Down in Flames”. Now Brian sounds more in his element, somehow seeming more in control on a Bon song. As if it took them one song to warm up, everything feels in gear now. Then, “Thunderstruck” is an interesting take, because Phil didn’t play this song before. Chris Slade was in the band at that time, and Phil doesn’t even try to imitate his style. He plays “Thunderstruck” his own way, which is fine. There’s a live version, with Slade, on AC/DC Live. With Phil on the kit, “Thunderstruck” is no longer filled with nervous energy, but is more in the pocket. It’s an interesting evolution. Contrast this with any live video of the current lineup playing the song with Slade today.
“Girls Got Rhythm” is an easy classic, which warms the crowd up with a newbie: “Hard as a Rock”*, the single from Ballbreaker. All but instantly, it sounds like a familiar classic. This is high quality rock, with Johnson’s voice in full shred. Colourful lights illuminate the stage, but only Brian and Angus are really mobile. Cliff Williams and Malcolm Young rock steadily, sticking to their respective sides, and stepping up to the mic for the big chorus. The crowd goes nuts when Angus himself speaks. The stage is huge, but Brian Johnson runs across every inch, interacting with the massive crowd as a veteran frontman can. Then AC/DC knock ’em down (down down) easily on “Shoot to Thrill”. There is a rock and roll purity to this show: A bunch of guys in jeans (Angus excepted), playing hard rock and roll, but contrasted with that is the massive stage. AC/DC can do it because people love the personalities of the band. Angus doesn’t miss a note, no matter where he’s running off to next.
Phil smokes a cigarette during the blues number “Boogie Man”. Starting sluggishly, “Boogie Man” nails it as soon as Brian gets screaming. I’m sure AC/DC can play this kind of thing in their sleep! Angus has an extended solo during which he gets the crowd riled up and ready with his strip-tease moment. When he finally drops his drawers, his undies have the Spanish flag on them. Madrid eats every bit of it up. AC/DC clustered a bunch of new songs close to each other at this point, and “Hail Caesar”** is next. It’s time for a heavy prowler, and Caesar brings it on.
When the bell tolls, you know what’s happening. “Hell’s Bells”! Songs like this, “Dog Eat Dog”** and “The Jack” require no commentary. The sight of Johnson descending from a giant iron bell is pretty cool.
Last newbie of the night is “Ballbreaker”* itself, a blast of “shut the fuck up and listen t0 this” right in the face. This time, Brian is swinging from the wrecking ball, singing the whole time, kicking his feet in the air. AC/DC have crushed it…but there’s still lots more to go. “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, “Dirty Deeds”, “You Shook Me All Night Long”**, “Rosie”*, “T.N.T.”…it’s all a good time, and you know them all. The only real critique is there is a gap in the setlist, with no songs from 1983-1988 appearing anywhere.
“Let There Be Rock” is, as usual, extended to epic length with Angus’ brilliant solo. First of all, it’s incredible that Angus still has this much energy after playing and stomping through a show this long. What’s really amazing is that everybody in the band is fully fueled for this full-speed song. Malcolm sips from a water bottle — that’s the key, folks. Hydration.
The cool part here is when Angus departs the stage (band playing on), to re-emerge atop the massive shoulders of a bodyguard and taken to a flying platform in the middle of the crowd! Many thrills later, Brian says goodnight, but you know he’s teasing. “Highway to Hell” commences with explosions, flames and Angus’ devil horns. And then, finally,the cannons” “For Those About to Rock” is the salute to Madrid , who witnessed an absolutely incredible AC/DC concert.
The DVD bonus features are cool, as you should expect. The “Angus Cam” versions of four songs is plenty fun, by focusing solely on Angus in the edit. It’s quite incredible to just watch the man play, because it seems as if he is entranced, on auto-pilot, but totally in command. If there wasn’t a guitar around his neck you might think he’s having a seizure! Then come the moments when he looks the crowd in the eye, and the playing only gets more intense! Like I said: this is plenty fun.
Then we have two bonus tracks not included in the Madrid set: “Cover You in Oil” (Sweden) and “Down Payment Blues” (Florida). “Cover You in Oil” is raw and sweaty. I don’t think the song is particularly strong, sounding a bit like a Blow Up Your Video outtake. Still, it’s always nice to get another new song on the DVD, since it’s doubtful a track like this will ever re-enter the setlists. The stupid music video footage that is edited into the tracks is annoying, however. Instead of watching Angus take a solo live, I’m watching him doing it in a music video. Bad editing decision. I like how Brian introduces “Down Payment Blues”: “This is from one of the albums…back in the 70’s…” Shit, he doesn’t know, he wasn’t there! But he gets the job done anyhow. And guess what? Brian Johnson is wearing the same damn blue shirt and hat at every show! His snarl adds to this version of the song.
What’s with the “Director’s Cut”? It seems the original 1996 VHS release (which I never saw) was rushed out for the Christmas season to the dissatisfaction of award winning director David Mallet. He did a new edit, and new stereo and 5.1 mixes for the DVD release.
*Indicates this version is available in audio form on the 2 CD edition ofStiff Upper Lip.
**Indicates this version is available in audio form on the deluxeBacktracksbox set.
ALICE COOPER / HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES – Hollywood Vampires(2015 Universal Japan)
Ignore the hype. The press has been going ga-ga over this new supergroup featuring movie star Johnny Depp (rhythm guitar), Joe Perry (lead guitar), and Alice Cooper (lead vocals). Just ignore the hype completely. Cooper fans know what this is. This is the covers album that Alice has been talking about doing ever since Welcome 2 My Nightmare in 2011. Alice has even been playing a number of these tunes, in these arrangements, live. Check out his Raise the Dead double live album/video for a few.
According to an interview with Ultimate Classic Rock earlier this year, “I can’t tell you who’s on what right now, ’cause it’s not gonna be released yet, but it’s the ‘who’s who’ of everything. It was one of those things where, at one point, I’m looking around in the studio and I’m going, ‘Holy crap! Look who’s in the studio.” Bob Ezrin, Alice’s long-time producer and musical collaborator came up with the concept. Alice continues: “Bob came up with the idea, ‘Let’s concentrate it on all the guys that you drank with in L.A., the Hollywood Vampires, the ones that are all dead.’ I like the title All My Dead Drunk Friends. It’s just offensive enough to work, but all those guys would have totally got it. They had the same sense of humor. If you told them you were going to do an album after they were gone called All My Dead Drunk Friends, they would have died laughing.” Ultimately the album was simply called Hollywood Vampires. That’s also the name of this “supergroup” which is essentially just Alice with Depp and guests.
I have this album filed in my Alice Cooper section, and that’s how I’m treating this review.
Hollywood Vampires consists of 14 tracks, except in Japan who have 15. Two of these are brand-new songs, and one is an intro called “The Last Vampire”. Fittingly, this features the narration of Sir Christopher Lee, who passed away earlier this year. Lee’s old friend from the Hammer horror days, Vincent Price, appeared on Cooper’s original Welcome to my Nightmare in 1975. Today, Alice Cooper truly is the last vampire left from those old days. Lee’s rich voice is backed by spooky keys and theremin by Ezrin, Depp and engineer Justin Cortelyou. “Listen to them, children of the night…what music they make.”
Alice then kicks it with “Raise the Dead”. Depp appears on every track, and Alice’s drummer Glen Sobol plays on this one and several others. It’s an upbeat stomper of a track, and a perfect introduction to this covers album that is also a concept album. The first of Alice’s dead drunk friends to be covered is Keith Moon on “My Generation”, an authentic and pounding version. Alice Cooper is one of the few that does justice to it. Bassist Bruce Witkin perfectly tackles John Entwistle’s signature bass solo. One thing that is immediately obvious is how massive this album sounds. Ezrin wrought a monster-sounding disc, so full and heavy, but textured when required.
John Bonham is up next. “Whole Lotta Love” was handled in a completely different way than you’d expect. Starting as a low, prowling Cooper blues it soon blasts into gear. Alice isn’t known for hitting those high Plant notes, so who joins him? None other than Brian Johnson of AC/DC, who kicks my ass completely. Joe Walsh and Cooper’s former lead guitarist Orianthi play some jaw droppingly greasy guitars, but Alice’s harmonica work is also worthy of praise! Even though very few can cover Led Zeppelin, “Whole Lotta Love” turned out to be my favourite track. It’s also the heaviest sounding, like a skid of concrete blocks assaulting your face! That’s Zak Starkey (son of Ringo) on drums.
Cooper has covered “I Got a Line on You” (Spirit) before, on the soundtrack to Iron Eagle 3, of all things. That 1988 take is my preferred version, but Alice remade it on Hollywood Vampires. Abe Laboriel Jr., Joe Walsh, and Alice’s old bassist Kip Winger join as guests. Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction helps Alice out on the lead vocals, but his part isn’t prominent. Then it’s time for the Doors, and a medley of “Five to One” and “Break on Through”. Alice had been playing “Break on Through” live, but this version has Robby Krieger! Alice heavies both of them up, but he is also one of the few singers who can do Morrison.
Farrell and Krieger return for a Harry Nilsson medley, joined by David E. Grohl on drums. “One” is rendered as a haunting, creepy piece as if Alice himself wrote it. This merges into “Jump Into the Fire”, a strangely upbeat companion which rocks in a vintage 70’s fashion. It’s like guitar nirvana. There’s also a cute outro of “Coconut”, also by Nilsson.
Sir Paul himself, rock royalty if there ever was one, shows up for Badfinger’s “Come and Get It”, which Paul wrote. Joe Perry has spoken about how incredible it was when McCartney showed up in the studio with his Hofner bass, and actually allowed them to hold it! “Come and Get It” is simple rock/pop, not the kind of timeless thing that happened when Paul wrote with John, but certainly a notch above what mere mortals can write. I love hearing Paul’s “screaming” voice, and I’m sure everybody in the studio had a great time. Sure sounds that way.
Marc Bolan’s “Jeepster” is one I could pass on. Alice makes it sound like an original from 1972’s School’s Out, but if you’re only going to skip one song, it’s probably going to be “Jeepster”. Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” featuring Joe Perry has more kick and grind to it, and it’s always a pleasure to hear Joe Perry do some Aero-jammin’ on lead guitar. (I think it would have been amazing to get McCartney to play bass on this Lennon classic — shame nobody thought of it. That could have been history made.)
The Japanese bonus track is “I’m A Boy”, the second Who cover. Once again, Alice nails it. This is such a difficult song to attempt. Alice makes it work, and if anybody can do it, it’s Alice. “My name is Alice I’m a head-case…” Just that one change makes the song work. “I’m a boy, I’m a boy, but my mom won’t admit it…I’m a boy, but if I say I am, I get it.” And he’s got the girl’s name. It’s perfect! This bonus track is worth tracking down if you’re a Cooper fan. You’ll definitely need it in your collection.
Jimi Hendrix was a Hollywood Vampire, and “Manic Depression” is the song Alice chose to cover. (He’d already done “Fire” back in the Hey Stoopid days.) Like “Jeepster”, this is one that could be skipped. Joe Walsh fans will enjoy his lead guitar work, but otherwise, it’s a stock cover. Way, way better is “Itchycoo Park”. Alice’s treatment of the Small Faces is far more entertaining, and its melodic base continue to deliver the hooks.
Brian Johnson returns to belt it out on the “School’s Out”/”Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” medley. This arrangement is similar to the way Alice did it live, and it’s cool how the two songs work together perfectly. It’s a genius mashup. Guests include Slash, and original Cooper band members Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith. “School’s Out”, of course, is here for Glen Buxton, of the original Alice Cooper band. Buxton had suffered the consequences of alcohol abuse, and dropped out of music completely when the original band split in ’74. Buxton died in 1997.
The final song is an original, “My Dead Drunk Friends,” the song that Alice wanted to use as a title track. If you don’t mind some black comedy, you will love this tribute to all the lost Hollywood Vampires. It’s irresistible, and also sounds vintage Alice. So chants the crowd: “We drink and we fight and we fight and we puke and we puke and we fight and we drink!” Doesn’t sound particularly glamorous, but Alice isn’t about to have a mournful wake. Alice is about entertainment, and even though a brilliant artist who drinks themselves to death is sad, Alice has thrown a party for them instead. “My Dead Drunk Friends” ends the party on a darkly celebrating note, as only he can. Job well done.
Hollywood Vampires is pleasantly surprising. 9/10 covers albums are not worth the money you paid for them. Alice’s is. They call it a supergroup for marketing purposes but it only takes one listen to know what this is. This is a project that Alice, Bob Ezrin and friends have been passionate about for years, and has finally been finished. It is an apt follow-up to Welcome 2 My Nightmare, and another killer concept album from the kings of concept albums.
AC/DC – Blow Up Your Video(1988, 2003 Epic remaster)
By 1988, AC/DC had abandoned the bare-bones live-style music videos they had been doing for the last few years, and went into full-on productions. That became AC/DC’s trademark style from that point forward: the band playing in front of an eager crowd, and crazy stuff going on around them. Explosions, lights, wrecking balls or what have you — this all became part of the AC/DC music video experience, with Angus stomping around front and center. “Who Made Who” was really the first of the big AC/DC videos of this style. “Heatseeker” continued the tradition, with Angus popping out of a missile!
“Heatseeker” was an explosive first single, but unexpectedly, it was not really representative of Blow Up Your Video as an album. The highschool halls were filled with mutterings that the new AC/DC was “not as good” as past AC/DC, and that was troubling. Blow Up Your Video proved to be a transitional album, as many changes were afoot for AC/DC.
Malcolm Young had hit rock bottom, in the depths of a drinking problem that was starting to take its toll on the band on the concert stage. He was unable to tour. Angus and Malcolm’s nephew Stevie Young stepped up, and helped the boys out on tour. (Nobody would ever imagine that Stevie would have to do it permanently in 2014 when Malcolm withdrew from the band due to dementia.) Drummer Simon Wright wouldn’t last either. After the tour, he left to join Dio. It was also the last album to which Brian Johnson wrote any lyrics.
On the other hand, the chemistry with producers Harry Vanda and George Young (an older brother) had never been better. They helmed the classic AC/DC albums with Bon Scott, as well as three more recent songs on 1986’s Who Made Who. It was thought that they would bring that old time rock and roll slant back to AC/DC, so they were retained for Blow Up Your Video.
“Heatseeker”, being so upbeat and catchy with just a hint of a jangle in the guitars, was certainly promising. Like a one-two punch, the second single “That’s the Way I Wanna Rock N Roll” is next. The production holds it back, lacking punch (especially on the drums), but it’s a killer AC/DC good time rock and roller. Weak sonics aside, few AC/DC albums begin with two big winners like this right from the get-go.
Things get funky from there. “Meanstreak” does have a bit of funk to it, but suffers again from a muddy sound and too much echo on the vocals and drums. The further one delves into Blow Up Your Video, it seems like the songs aren’t so bad, just the sound. Same with “Go Zone”. There’s nothing wrong with the tune, but it seems to drag and fumble in a muddy puddle with the tires spinning. The side one closer “Kissin’ Dynamite” has a smoky prowling guitar and so sounds more at home. At least the side is salvaged by this last tune.
Since AC/DC offloaded their two singles right off the bat on side one, the second side is a much more turgid affair. “Nick of Time” has a blasts of guitars exactly where you want them, but lacks hooks. “Some Sin For Nuthin'” is better, because it’s back to that menacing dusky prowl that AC/DC do so well. Finally, AC/DC hit all the buttons with “Ruff Stuff”, a mid-tempo rocker with an actual chorus and verses that you can remember! “Two’s Up” is of similar quality, another decent album rocker good enough for rock and roll.
Finally, “This Means War” ends the album on a frantic, unfocused note. It has the energy and fire lacking on earlier songs, but has nothing else. Simon Wright is perfectly behind the beat, and Angus’ fingers sure are flying…but is that enough? For AC/DC, it is not.
The album sold a measly million copies in the US and failed to crack the top ten. Needing to do better, Bruce Fairbairn was called upon when needed for The Razors Edge. Since then, Blow Up Your Video has remained under its large, looming shadow, and for good reason.
AC/DC – Rare…Rarer…Rarities(Flight records bootleg CD, year unknown)
Rare…Rarer…Rarities, huh? Indeed, this is a bootleg CD that includes rarities that most fans don’t have on an official release. The pretty comprehensive Backtracks box set, which came out later, covers most of these songs…but not all.
Most of these tracks are either single B-sides or songs that were exclusively released on the Australian versions of albums. Until Backtracks came out, those songs were very hard to find in North America. The only one I had was “Rock in Peace”, from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. I couldn’t believe my luck in scoring the Australian CD of that album.
There are, however, two songs that none of us are likely to ever own an original physical copy of. These two tracks alone make the bootleg CD purchase worth considering, since they are AC/DC’s first single from 1974, featuring original singer Dave Evans. Most fans have never heard anything with Dave Evans singing. These are ripped from an original 7″ single.
“Can I Sit Next to You Girl” is a song every AC/DC fan knows, because this golden oldie was re-recorded on T.N.T. (1975). Bon Scott’s cheeky delivery made all the difference in the world. Dave Evans is just some guy, asking to sit next to you. Bon was Bon fucking Scott asking to sit next to you…who do you think gets the girl? This early single was issued in the summer of ’74, and it has a completely different, much more laid back intro. It’s not nearly as heavy as it would later become. Evans does have a fine vibrato, I must say!
Every single has a B-side, and “Rockin’ in the Parlour” was AC/DC’s first. It’s much more “rock and roll” than you expect from AC/DC, but it’s catchy and melodic. Angus and Malcolm have yet to fully develop their styles, but you can certainly tell its them. You can hear for yourself, that Dave Evans was not the lyricist that Bon Scott was. “She said, ‘I got some booze, around at my place, so come along and have some fun!'” Sorry Dave, but that just won’t cut it when the band is AC fucking DC.
The rest of these songs are all in print today, so they can be acquired on official AC/DC releases. “Love Song” (High Voltage) shocked me on the first number of listens. Is this AC/DC’s one and only ballad? I guess so! “Oh Jean, Oh Jean!” sings Bon, seemingly heart broken. Once you get used to it, and accept the fact that there are no other AC/DC songs that sound anything like it, you might enjoy it. I know that I do, from time to time.
I’m not sure what makes “She’s Got Balls” and “Little Lover” qualify as rarities. As far as I can tell these are the album versions. Next! “Stick Around” (High Voltage) is a cool tune, a laid-back AC/DC rocker with lots of space between the instruments. You can hear the air sizzle! The riff is about as simple as it gets: two chords. But they are the right chords! “High Voltage” is slightly longer than the album version, and this is also on Backtracks.
“School Days” is a Chuck Berry cover, one of very few covers AC/DC recorded. Chuck Berry is the prototype of AC/DC anyway, so this version fits like a glove. Hail hail rock and roll, indeed! This was originally on T.N.T., but you can get it on the Bonfire box set too. The aforementioned “Rock in Peace” is a shorty, heavy with that AC/DC stomp and the same damn riff they’ve been playing for 40 years.
AC/DC have always had tongue firmly in cheek, but “Crabsody in Blue” is probably the jokiest song they ever recorded. A slow blues similar to “Ride On” deserves to have some down-and-out lyrics. Bon takes that to a descriptive extreme!
“Oh, and when they start to bite, Then it’s time you saw the light, For an appointment. Before you start to scream, That’s when you apply the cream, Blues ointment.”
Only Bon Scott can really write a lyric about venereal disease. Nobody else seems quite as qualified.
“Carry Me Home” was the heavy and instantly likeable B-side to “Dog Eat Dog” (1977). Using his speaking voice to full effect, Bon proves to me why he is one of rock’s all time greatest frontman. His animated vocal performance here is something that very few singers can pull off. (Ian Gillan is one such singer — think “No Laughing in Heaven”.) Then, “Down on the Borderline” is Brian Johnson’s only showing on this CD. This was the B-side from “Moneytalks” (The Razors Edge), but it sounds little like that album. Sonically and vocally, it resembles Blow Up Your Video, right down to the muddy finish. I have no doubt it was recorded for that album.
“Fling Thing” is AC/DC’s take on “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond”, which they cheekily credited to Young/Young! It sounds like quite a party was going on during the recording, which falls apart after a mere two minutes! This was originally the B-side to “Jailbreak”. The final song is “Cold Hearted Man”, which was recently dusted off for the Iron Man 2 soundtrack album. It was on Powerage (1978) first, and a dark prowler it is.
A lot of people like to joke that all of AC/DC’s songs sound the exactly the same. This CD of also-ran’s has proven otherwise, and “Cold Hearted Man” is a perfect closer for a solid collection of rock.