Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Album project: The journey begins

AC/DC, For Those About To Rock We Salute You (1981): Back in my Wichita days, I sometimes hung out with a couple of characters named Steve and Tony. Tony was a sometime student at Wichita State, where I first met him. His buddy Steve did little besides drink, fight, fuck, and listen to heavy metal. Steve's favorite group by far was AC/DC.

Whenever I had nothing better to do, I'd go over to their ramshackle house to drink tall Budweisers, get high, and hang out with the assortment of white trash that drifted in and out of the place at all hours. Steve and Tony, however, had a fondness for gin - the cheap stuff, the kind that you could use to take paint off of metal surfaces. I had enough respect for my stomach not to partake of that crap, and usually had the good sense to get the hell out of that place when they broke out the gin. For under the influence of the rotgut, Steve and Tony were transformed into "Bon Scott" and "Jim Morrison", and they would commence a night of brawling and petty thievery that would often end with a trip to the Sedgwick County Jail.

Many times we'd be drinking and listening to music when Steve would launch into a besotted oration on how AC/DC was by far the greatest band of all time. Back then, I didn't think much of the Aussie hard rockers. I'd note that Angus Young could play a lick or two, but Bon Scott's screech of a voice was something I just couldn't get past. If I was potted enough I'd let Steve know my low opinion of the group, which of course only wound him up further and I'd always end up backing down, for I wanted no part of having to contend with that 6'3" veteran of numerous jailhouse scuffles.

Over the years, though, I've come to appreciate AC/DC's talent for no-frills hard rock. Angus Young was equally adept at sledgehammer riffing and fluid, bluesy soloing, while Malcolm Young (Angus' brother), Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd provided rock-solid support. Bon Scott's gutbucket vocals were the perfect compliment to all this, and he also could surprise as a songwriter, with the dark humor of songs like "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" and "The Jack". Highway To Hell is a heavy metal masterpiece, a rock 'n' roll assault that doesn't let up on you from beginning to end. After Scott's passing following a night of heavy drinking, the band regrouped with Brian Johnson and released Back In Black, another triumph, with "You Shook Me All Night Long", "Hells Bells", and the title track becoming instant classics. Back In Black has sold 42 million copies worldwide, the biggest selling disc by any Australian artists.

By the time of For Those About To Rock, AC/DC were battle-hardened pros delivering a solid followup to two monster LP's. The title track literally kicks off the album with a cannon blast of metallic glory. "For Those About To Rock" salutes the group's fans, while in "Let's Get It Up" it's Johnson's penis that's standing at attention and ready for action. Tracks like "Evil Walks", "C.O.D.", and "Breaking The Rules" inject a vague sense of menace into the proceedings. Although For Those About To Rock is a decent effort, it does tend to drag in places, and were I to recommend an AC/DC disc today, I'd suggest either Highway To Hell or Back In Black over the title I own.

The last I heard of Steve and Tony, they got caught hotwiring a pickup truck during one of their gin-fueled escapades, which earned them a trip to the state penitentiary. Lord only knows what became of Steve, if he's still living - but I've gotta admit to him that I was wrong about his favorite band.

As a bonus, I'm taking a cue from Beth and throwing in "It's A Long Way To The Top", one of AC/DC's first successes, to start our journey, complete with bagpipes.

Ace, Five-A-Side (1974): Ace was one of the leaders of the "pub rock" sound popular in the UK for a time in the mid-70's. Pub rock was R&B-influenced light rock favored by many of the London-area bar bands of the time. "How Long" was the big hit from this disc, while "Sniffin' About" and "Time Ain't Long" are other notable tracks. Ace would record two more albums before breaking up in 1977. They are best remembered today for launching the career of Paul Carrack, who would go on to considerable success as a vocalist with Squeeze, Mike + The Mechanics, and solo recordings.