Music

Taylor Swift - "Wildest Dreams" (video) (Singles Going Steady)

Is "Wildest Dream" excessively clever? Overly sophisticated? Ironic? Earnest? Anything?

Adrien Begrand: Well, if there's one artist with the clout and the cash to try to make a video on par with a David Lean film, it's Taylor Swift. Instead, sadly, it amounts to nothing more than a preening music video version of Out of Africa. Which, for the kids out there, was arguably the most boring movie to ever win the Best Picture Oscar. But who am I to say how good this is? My eight year-old niece watched this clip five times in a row, agog at the love triangle and Tay-Tay's black wig. [5/10]

Steve Horowitz: Taylor Swift may not be a Meryl Streep, and the guy many not be Robert Redford, but this meta-version of Out of Africa doesn’t pretend to be more than a travelogue with erotic connotations. Wild animals = wild emotions without having to be any more graphic than a kiss on red lips. The song works more as a soundtrack than a stand alone cut because it functions more as atmosphere than narrative, which makes the whole allusion to the world outside of the movie somewhat syrupy. The framing works to prevent the dream work from being taken too seriously. The romance is only a screen romance, and the performers know it, but still…. For all those who wonder if what they see in the cinema is real, Taylor lets you have it both ways. [8/10]

Colin McGuire: Because 1989 needed a ballad for a single and "This Love" was too optimistic. "Wildest Dreams", perhaps the weakest track from the singer's wildly successful 2014 pop music portfolio, was made into a music video, why? A few cursory glances would suggest that it continues the thread of victimizing our protagonist princess (honestly: look at all the other videos Swift has made for this record). She falls for him. He appears to fall for her. They combust. She sees him at a social function with (gasp!) a new girl. He watches the movie they made together. It reminds him of the good times. He wants her back. She's already gone. The upper hand, predictably, ends up in possession of Taylor Swift. "He's so tall and handsome as hell/He's so bad but he does it so well" is about as watered down a lyric as you can find on an otherwise-biting collection that deservedly won the hearts of so many skeptics when it was first released, nearly a year ago. Sure, the song already felt like it was written for the B-side of a made-for-Lifetime movie, but not even Joseph Kahn could make this track into something worth going to the movie theater for. It's hard for Taylor Swift to sound boring, cliched and cheesy in a world that mostly worships at her altar. "Wildest Dreams" embodies those detriments more so than anything else on 1989. [3/10]

Paul Duffus: The effect of this power ballad/dream pop and its accompanying video is of enormity, expense, and some manner of technological terror, such are its fizzes, booms, and gleaming carapace. The gurgle of capital and the babble of focus groups and the churn of all the resources being brought to bear form a howl of white noise. For all its overt charms there's something oppressive about a product created on this scale. Buy into it and it probably feels glorious, like being swept away on a fun slide greased with glitter and Willy Wonka's special soda pop. Don't buy into it, however, and you might well feel like Wile. E. Coyote, looking up, slowly being covered in shadow as a lump of cliff the size of a football field descends upon his head. Putting this aside, is "Wildest Dream" excessively clever? Overly sophisticated? Ironic? Earnest? Anything? The answer is always no, but that's the whole point of it. For this reason, the score below is neither high nor low. [5/10]

Brian Duricy: From the second the camera pans to Taylor, the Lana Del Rey impression goes from winking reference to full-on tribute. The melancholia brooding via the airy background vocals, slow tambourine claps, and the hook's emotional eruption are such a spot-on cover that Taylor proves two can play at that game when both play it so well. It's a testament to her talent that 1989 can sound so fresh this long after its release. There's no reason why every song shouldn't get the video treatment. [8/10]

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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