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Ani DiFranco, His Name Is Alive...

Ani DiFranco --"Both Hands (brand new studio version)"

From Canon on Righteous Babe

Ani DiFranco to release first ever career retrospective studio album Canon, on Righteous Babe Records. Experience the evolution of a true original over two discs hand-picked by Ani, including songs from her first album to her 19th, as well as five newly recorded classics.

His Name Is Alive -- "Go To Hell Mountain"

From XMMER on Silver Mountain

His Name is Alive is well known for their ethereal, late night moods but on this new album the band picks straight up where last year's Detrola left off and fires up an army of homemade electronics and freaked out songs that are equal parts organic and mysterious. David Bowie put Detrola in his top ten recommendations for 2006 and said it has “an early '70s singer/songwriter vibe plus it comes on like Karen Carpenter.” This year’s XMMER album is all that plus way more. His Name is Alive continues to create an astounding body of work that is exclusively their own.

  Shout Out Louds -- "Tonight I Have To Leave It"

From Our Ill Wills on Merge

"Tonight I Have to Leave It" is the first single from Stockholm's Shout Out Louds upcoming Merge debut full-length, Our Ill Wills. With a video for the title track, two remixes and two non-LP "b-sides" this is a great reintroduction to a Swedish band whose extraordinary 2005 debut, Howl Howl Gaff Gaff (Capitol) garnered worldwide critical acclaim and placed them squarely in the middle of the current Swedish pop explosion.

Carolyn Mark -- "The 1 That Got Away (with it)"

From Nothing Is Free on Mint

Nothing Is Free is a woodsy and introspective album. The recording brings an immediacy to the music that conjures up a Sunday evening spent playing instruments and singing songs on the back porch of the cabin. You know, one of those days where everything seems all Emily Carr... and, although the city seems miles away for the moment, it still looms in the corner of your mind, nodding and smirking and saying, "you'll be back". Carolyn knows... not even a carefree getaway to the back woods is free, it comes with the price of eventually having to leave. Fortunately for the listener, her introspection finds many other things too, not the least of which is a (sometimes dark) sense of humour and a willingness to throw caution under the truck, have all the fun humanly possible.

C.O.C.O. -- "You Think But You Don't/Tamara Dobson"

From Play Drums + Bass on K

Up from the swamps of the death disco comes a new offering from the minimalist soul group all the heads call C.O.C.O. Olivia Ness (bass, drums, vocals) and Chris Sutton (drums, bass, vocals) have been tapping the primal groove for a while now using only the most basic of instrumentation, but this time our explorers have decided to travel to the outer limits of the beat. C.O.C.O.'s mission is simple: "Play Drums + Bass" and that credo was the inspiration for their third – without a doubt their best - record. The musical spectrum continues to expand into the nether regions of dub reggae (for a tribute to the late great Tamara Dobson) all the way to the sunny side of surf rock (the album's closer, aptly titled "The End").

Seabear -- "I Sing I Swim"

From The Ghost That Carried Us Away on Morr Music

This album doesn’t blurt it out: There is no loud “Ta-Dah!”, no exclamation mark. The Ghost That Carried Us Away flatters in a rather unobtrusive way. However, it has encircled you after the third song at the latest. Fragile hymns of nonchalant casualness, created by the 24-year-old Sindri Már Sigfússon. Guitars, piano, his almost bashful and yet so present voice. “Nature, mortality, love”, these are the topics of his debut album.

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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