Music

Various Artists: Red Hot + Rio 2

Red Hot + Rio 2 is a new compilation featuring Beck, Seu Jorge, Beirut and David Byrne performing songs inspired by tropicalia, a unique style of pop music from 1960s Brazil.


Various Artists

Red Hot + Rio 2

Label: Red Hot Organization
US Release Date: 2011-06-28
UK Release Date: 2011-06-27
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Red Hot + Rio 2 is the new compilation from the Red Hot Organization, responsible for 2009's Dark Is the Night compilation as well as Red Hot + Rio, a tribute to Brazilian music which came out in 1996, and No Alternative, a collection of songs from American indie bands in the early '90s. Red Hot + Rio 2 distinguishes itself from its predecessor of the same name by positioning itself as a tribute to tropicalia, the brilliantly-skewered brand of pop music that bubbled up from out of the cracks of Brazil's dictatorship in the late '60s and early '70s.

However, it is quite clear that this is a broad defining of the album, as along with covers of songs from the tropicália era, we get bossa nova, afrosamba, afoxé and even '80s kitsch in the shape of a cover of "Freak Le Boom Boom", as well as a number of original tracks. It's no great surprise then that the album, despite having a number of highlights, doesn't quite gel and struggles to hold together as a piece.

The first disc focuses on more soul-orientated material, beginning with a cover of a tropicalia classic, "Baby", by Alice Smith and Aloe Blacc. It's quite a brave decision to start the compilation with a song that many fans of the genre hold in their hearts and that is essentially a simple, love song. It's a decision that doesn't completely work. The decision to add extra strings and for the guitar to be lower in the mix than it was in the original version takes away from its perkiness as do the vocals, which are far too dreamy. Better is an alternative mix of the song later on, titled "Dirty Baby (Dub Version)", this time with Aloe Blacc taking the lead and Alice Smith on backing, which tries to imagine the song as a trippy affair but crucially has a vocal with a real sense of urgency that the first effort missed.

Aloe Blacc also offers "Nascimento (Birth) - Scene 2", a good song along the lines of Mos Def's "Umi Says", although one which has already featured on Blacc's own albums. One of Brazil's biggest stars also features on a number of tracks tracks; Seu Jorge offers his croon to a remix of Beck's “Tropicália” which adds little to the original, and on a collaboration with Vanessa da Mata and Kassim using his group Seu Jorge & Almaz. The result is a soul-samba which unfortunately isn't quite to the standard that any of these musicians normally provide.

Of greater originality is Superhuman Happiness and Cult's version of "Um Canto De Afoxé Para O Bloco Do Ilê", a song Caetano Veloso wrote for David Byrne's Brazil Classics 1: Beleza Tropical compilation in 1989. Essentially a chant featuring a group of youngsters from northeastern Brazil, the song is re-imagined with deep bass and trumpet blasts which leave it sounding closer to a dance classic from the New York Underground. Quite a feat if you know the original.

Prefuse 73 contributes with a remix of Veloso's "Terra", doing little more than adding ridiculous amounts of reverb to this classic, acoustically-strummed number. Yet, it works, increasing the song's grandeur, and providing one of the album's standouts, perhaps because it sounds so different to everything else on the disc. Other standouts on the first disc are the motorik modern soul of Quadron and their version of "Samba De Verão" and Mia Doi Todd's Los Angeles-based spirituality spilling out into her cover of the afro-inspired "Canto De Iemanjá".

The second disc starts with one of the highlights of the whole projects, "O Leãozinho" by Beirut. Another Veloso composition, this one is from Veloso's early career, before tropicalia even started, and is a perfect fit for Beirut, who add to the quirkiness of the song with their own European take on a simple but gorgeous melody. It's testament to just how original tropicália was that even Of Montreal, who notoriously push boundaries, can't get their version of “Bat Macumba" anywhere near the sheer exuberance of the original. The naive approach that Os Mutantes brought to the original, as well as their ear for shocking sounds, was just too singular to be copied, and though Of Montreal try their best, this never gets close.

One of the most thrilling live bands in Brazil is Orquestra Contemporânea De Olinda, whose northeastern grooves are impossible to resist. Here they cover Gilberto Gil's Roda with the assistance of up-and-coming Sao Paulo rapper Emicida, for a version that reeks of the musical playfulness of rural Brazil. It's one of the few points on the album where we get to appreciate the musicality and originality of Brazilian music. Too often artists interpret samba or bossa nova as being soothing or suave and forget that it's music with heart and with it's own unique style of guitar playing and rhythm. Only rarely, such as on the cover of João Gilberto's “Aguas De Março” by Atom™ and Toshiyuki Yasuda with Fernanda Takai and Moreno Veloso do we get to hear musicians who understand what makes a great Brazilian song; there's a swing to the groove, there's feel to the vocal, there's a naturalness to the playing. It's something which would need to happen more to make this album a true success.

That said, this is an album which should raise awareness in Brazilian music of the late '60s and' 70s as well as a few of the upcoming artists, though it doesn't get close to showing the sheer fearlessness that made tropicália such a unique genre and such an influence to many musicians across the world in the first place.

6

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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