TV

'Only in America With Larry the Cable Guy' Series Premiere

Only in America finds Larry the Cable Guy traveling across the United States in character and talking to various people about (supposedly) interesting stories in American history and more importantly, Americana.

Only in America With Larry the Cable Guy

Airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm ET
Cast: Larry the Cable Guy
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: History Channel
Air date: 2011-02-08
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Daniel Whitney has made a name for himself over the past decade as Larry the Cable Guy. As popular as his redneck act has been in standup comedy, his only success elsewhere has been his voice work as Mater in Pixar's Cars. The movies where he's been the star (Larry the Cable Guy as Health Inspector, in Delta Farce or Witless Protection) have flopped badly, suggesting he has a limited appeal for broad audiences.

The History Channel, however, is not looking to appeal to a broad audience. The channel has found niches with tangentially history-related shows like Pawn Stars and American Pickers and not-very-history-related-at-all nonfiction shows like Ice Road Truckers and Ax Men.

Its status as a mid-tier cable network will not be improved with the inclusion of Only in America With Larry the Cable Guy. If the show draws a good chunk of Larry's target audience, History will have a minor success on a previously dead programming night (Tuesday). If it doesn't, the channel doesn’t lose much on the gamble. As for the show itself, well, it's not very good. And yes, that's mostly because of the host.

Only in America finds Larry the Cable Guy traveling across the United States in character and talking to various people about (supposedly) interesting stories in American history and more importantly, Americana. Take the cross-country vibe of American Pickers, throw in a bit of Pawn Stars' knuckleheads Corey and Chumlee, and some of the blue collar work ethic of Dirty Jobs, and you have Only in America. Unlike the affable Mike Rowe or the enthusiastic Pickers, though, Larry the Cable Guy is not a good host for this type of show. Everything about Only in America feels lazy and disingenuous.

Each episode features three or four segments in different places, chosen either because they reinforce Larry's persona or because they're the polar opposite. In Dawsonville, Georgia, he learns about the history of moonshine and how moonshine running during Prohibition eventually led to NASCAR racing. It would be a fascinating story, but the segment is full of clichés. Larry is blindfolded by modern-day moonshiners so he won't reveal their location, and then they have him carry a case of the homemade liquor through the forest and out into dirt roads, where he just happens to run into an expert on the cars the old moonshiners drove. Eventually Larry gets around to meeting Dawsonville resident and NASCAR legend Bill Elliott, who takes him out back to do donuts in a souped-up car. And that's about it. The interesting historical parts of the story take a backseat to Larry's antics.

In Calveras County, California, setting of the famous Mark Twain story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," we learn the species of frog from the story has almost been driven to extinction by bullfrogs. Larry performs his shtick for a variety of folks, first at the home of some frog-jumping specialists and later at the County Fair. The bit with Larry in the Wisconsin Dells is similar. He and some locals discuss historical stories, but Larry is more concerned with the abundance of mosquitoes than talking to the expert. He spends most of the segment water-skiing and walking around one of the dozens of local water parks.

The polar opposite-style segments are worse. Larry travels to Burlington, Vermont, to discuss etiquette with the descendants of Emily Post. They try their best to explain why rules were in place in the time of Ms. Post, but Larry mostly goofs around. Following etiquette, his hosts laugh weakly at his dated standup material. Larry's trip to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston could have been interesting, but his fixation on how space toilets operate takes up too much time. Not that bodily functions in space aren't a worthwhile topic: it's just better to have a host that's actually interested in how these things work than a guy who wants to make poop jokes while his guides look uncomfortable.

The host never seems genuinely interested in the places he visits. Because Larry the Cable Guy is a character and not a real person, his interactions feel calculated. Imagine Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat hosting a show about Eastern European history, and you have a good idea of what Only in America With Larry the Cable Guy is like.

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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.

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