Music

American Idol: Denver Auditions

It is the penultimate audition show before taking to Hollywood and weeding out the golden tickets, and it is clear that the process, both in the audition room and the editing booth, is starting to run on fumes. This episode had little in the way of either memorable performances, freakazoids, or sob stories. The judges agreed to send 26 total singers from Denver on to the next round, but we saw very few of them. Instead, the show spliced together more montages than usual—of quirky audition preparation rituals, of pissed-off rejects being hounded by American Idol cameras, of the upbeat yes-fest from Denver, and of the zany costume gimmicks.

To stay consistent with the general mendacity at this point, Denver saw the return of Victoria Beckham, heretofore the most reticent of the guest judges, who in this round was far more talkative, approaching outright astuteness. She was able to level that criticism first on a paunchy wiseacre named Mark Labriola, a guy who thinks he looks like Jack Black so he tries to act like him. His personal history offers some drama; his mom was a fugitive mother, hiding little Mark around the country since he was four-years old. Mark, now a father himself, sang Squeeze's “Tempted”, which was passable, so all that backstory wasn't in vain.

Even the abysmal auditions were less interesting than usual, although one contestant who scatted gibberish gave rise to Simon's best line of the season: “That was like having Paula back on the show”. Beyond that, the trainwrecks were particularly tame or otherwise boring. When Mario, a fella with a nervous laugh who limped through “Jailhouse Rock”, or a dude in a bikini counts as entertainment value, the show is grasping pathetically for filler where it badly needs to move on. Slightly compelling was the case of the long-snapper for the Colorado Buffaloes, Austin Paul, whose 42nd biggest dream is to get a golden ticket on Idol. Paul has no musical talent to speak of, so that dream will have to fester over, and I'm going to go ahead and pile on by blaming Paul for the Buffs' 3-9 record last season, worst in the Big 12.

Perhaps the most indicative of the AI culture among tonight's auditions was Kenny Everett, only because he's one of those guys who morbidly overrates his own abilities. Kenny is the guy yelling in the subway thinking that people are enjoying his public service, and it's a contestant like him that you don't mind seeing Simon crucify. Tonight, Simon told Kenny that he sounded like he was "being punched”. When the rest of the gang gave him the no-brainer thumbs down, Kenny, quite genuinely, said, “You've got to be kidding me”. Even if this kid could sing he would have fallen victim to the insidious demon of modern R&B singing: melisma overkill. There's plenty of blame to go around over the last 20 years for this abuse, and Mariah Carey certainly has blood on her larynx; however, American Idol itself is a major culprit, and now these judges judges are reaping what they've sown with some of these intolerable auditions.

So who were the keepers? Kimberly Kerbow, maybe. She wasn't much of a singer, but she showed up with her cute five-year-old daughter (they wore matching dresses), and she ad-libbed a line about buying Rogaine for Simon if he ever goes bald. After she left, golden ticket in hand, Simon theorized that Kerbow was wearing a wig. Only Randy disagreed. How's that for a cliffhanger?

The evenings's nailbiter came in the form of Casey James, a hunky 27-year-old Texan and taciturn country singer with a pleasant but non-descript voice. Simon rightly called it a boring audition and voted no, but the girls liked him and coaxed him into letting his hair down and taking his shirt off. Randy sided with the girls, following a trend we've seen several times already.

How far do you suppose Tori Kelly will go? She's a sunny, 16-year-old California high schooler who brought out her little sister; she had drawn pictures of each of the four judges to soften them up, a stunt that worked on all of them except, predictably, Simon. Again, the girls liked her and Randy fell in line. All of the judges liked Haeley Vaughn, another high schooler, who wants to be the first black female country singer of note, despite a distracting lisp.

Then we met the singer with the best rock-star name of the bunch, Nikki Nix—she got the looks that kill!—a girl with a speaking voice like Robin Williams when he does that baby impression and who flew 14 hours to get to the audition, presumably why the judges were so nice to her despite a mediocre performance. Finally, we may have found this year's rock chick, a Seattle cover-band singer, Danelle Hayes, who took on Melissa Etheridge's “I'm the Only One” in a convincing rough wail. She was emotional at the audition, after have grown tired of the cover-band circuit. Simon told her, “You may have come in here just at the right time”, alluding to the burnout that was about to do Danelle in. Funny, you could say the same thing about these auditions.

Tomorrow: Thankfully, the final audition show before Hollywood.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

Next Page

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image