Best of 2000: Jim Hayes

Jim Hayes

My phone never rings. On the rare occasion, I make sure to grumble with a guttural: "yeah." I want the caller to think that I'm busiest underground rock writer in the world constantly being interrupted by interview call backs, A & R people wanting to know my T-shirt size, local bands asking me to make a flyer ("Something spooky but not deviating from Mao y'know? Cos our CD is a concept album about the shining path). After the ring it's an out of town rock band needing a connection. I wanna make it seem like I'm more important than I really am, the world of the rock writer being so generally negative and at best so self serving, rock writers are the shoe shine boys of the rock and roll elite. Ahem. I figure a best of 2000 list is a good way to introduce myself, my critickal biases and my general distain, especially to an audience that doesn't know me. Some background: I've written a column for the venerated LA rock rag Flipside for almost three years, called "The Post-Modernist Always Rings Twice". I wrote a manuscript called "Power, Sex & Magick: Royal Trux in Ohio", about seeing that ensemble for four days last year. It came out in edition of Eight last summer. Right now I'm working on a manuscript about another band, a Georgia band. It'll come out in an edition of Eight after the Superbowl. Then God knows what subject I'll write about, but I will of course continue to document my eternal soundtrack. I try to focus in on what music I've been obsessing on and how it all relates. I'd rather be on the side of the gentle nudge, the simple shoulder tap of suggestion. As a "critick", and I throw the 'k' upon it to help deflect the sometime negative connotations associated with this nomenclature, as a rock critick: I'd rather turn people on rather than make them shy away, the notion of the negative "write-up" only serves to sell the product in a different slant, a different demographic appeal: if the product is really that bad, why waste your time writing about it? With that said, this is my best of 2000, and thank you for your gracious attention.

1. Johnny Cash, American III-Solitary Man (American)
Yeah! Johnny sings my favorite Will Oldham song, and Will sings the backing. I think this is a song about some fuck up who's involved with a lady and he tells her in spite of the gloom "you know I have a love for everyone I know" and then I see I darkness, "did you know how much I love you?" Mr. Oldham knows how to cut it, he can explain things I think I feel. Things I think, situations I've been in cos y'know at my age you've been around the block and then to have Johnny Cash explain it, put an underline on it, it just sort of shocks you into that epiphany mode. The rest of the record is okay. It's Johnny Cash, he's cool, he the man.

2. Royal Trux, Pound For Pound (Drag City)
Yeah I wrote the liner notes. Yeah they paid me with a hotel room north of Baltimore. Real nice, a multi story Holiday Inn in Aberdeen and as I look at the receipt Jennifer penned "sig on file". My favorite band on the planet with their sturdiest line-up, this record sums up their post punk blues-ness with the best rhythm section in America: Dan Brown on bass, Chris Pyle on percussion and Ken Nasta on drums. Just stunning. I'm so transfixed by their blues, by their casual abandonment, their relentless experimentation. I haven't heard from them in months. They're Raider fans and I'm down with the Eagles. Neil's first concert was Queen in Europe during "News of the World". My first concert was Queen in Portland Oregon during the "Jazz" tour.

3. Man Or Astroman?, A Spectrum of Infinite Scale (Touch and Go)
I understand that MOAM have a reputation for wearing costumes and having a sorta vaudeville act schtick about outer space or something. An act is not something I'm usually interested in. Since I rarely venture out and I own no VCR I am not a member of MOAM's target audience which I am told is built upon their continual criss-crossings of the continent as well as forays into the foreign hinterlands. Originally from Alabama (and that's where their main engineer guy Jim, he's burly and he shakes yer hand tightly, that's where he still lives driving the five hours when it's time to open the doors of their new studio in a slowly gentrifying Atlanta community next to the rail road tracks in a current of industrial and fading cotton awareness. It's an old granary, the inside of Zero Return studios is hollowed out and you can look down on where the musicians play from this hollowed screened room of controls and data banks-upstairs somebody lives up a pale wooden deck. Last month they played the John Peel show and I'd love to get a bootleg -I bet it was cool. And that shows you how far I've come with MOAM-yeah I heard of 'em, heard a flip side of a Gearhead single a few years back and it was cool, it was drone like surf rock and it didn't offend me. I liked it. This record is the unbelievable, shades and tones and drones all instrumental 'cept for the cut where they record their dot matrix printer-I dig this, like seriously and I play it loud. Mr. Albini's best job behind the board since Whitehouse. Looking forward to seeing these gentlemen one of these days.

4. Stool Sample, Masterpiece of Shit (CD Visionary)
They're a three piece now, Rotgut Roger on bass singing 'em out with his tattoos like a trenchfoot grasping his neck so he can spout some graphics about his bath tub ring around the collar life. Cholo on the lead, spiny accusations mostly, like driving his motorcycle around a pool table and the latest addition, the nutty professor alias Captain No-Burn: Angry Todd Killings pounding them out a top a kit that reads "I'm not an alcoholic." Their type of sexist drunk punk, shock rock they rant is so startling in it's crudity and its lack of decorum that it is easy to rather dismiss them as just another case of arrested development, or disorderly conduct charges channeled into more positive expressive routes. Once you cut the trunks open and count the rings it's obvious that these are punks, that they are here to stay. After a myriad of comp appearances and splits the men of Kennesaw are presenting their first full length on the Nihilistics label. Songs like "my dick your mouth" bring it all back home. Essential, the only punk band that matters, that will endure to the end.

5. Jucifer, Calling All Cars on the Vegas Strip (Capricorn)
Ms. Amber Valentine plays guitar and has three Marshall amps, her best friend Ed Livengood plays drums and practices martial arts. He's tense and tightly wired, wound up and he lets go on the semi-circle of drums. He pounds and bangs on them in time with them while Amber sledgehammer chords, just walls of sound. This past summer they blew the roof off a capacity Knitting Factory waiting for Royal Trux, such power wielded with such precision. Headshaking, from Athens, Georgia. New album in February.

6. Men Of Porn, Men Of Porn (Man's Ruin)
Great surprise this Fall, I hadn't heard them till I saw 'em play a sprawling heavy metal club out the outskirts of Spartanburg, heavy is the optimum word, three piece, Tim Moss from Ritual Device plays guitar but he sorta scrapes tones over it-a long gated edge type of playing, right on top of Sean, drums man, the rhythms he was in El Dopa and the middle ground is staked out by Brain who usta be in Richmond's Buzzoven. I use the discussion about their lineage the show that the Men of Porn is the logical extension of these bands. To use a short cut to thinking I was postulate an approximation: the instrumental Black Flag album, "the Process of Weeding out." After a long wait at a check in counter, Sean explained that it's called "Days Inn" because it takes days to check in. Cool, hard rock, intelligent, loud.

7. The X-Impossibles, White Knuckle Ride (Cargo/Headhunter)
Every Wednesday night this past April, the X-Impossibles played a beer wrenching populated set, they roll over their classic punk ness, their retrograde coolness with two guitars, power undercarriage and sing along notch vocals-Dead Boys & Clash covers, but so much more-they demonstrate a real comfort with the form, shaping it into something one can chug beer and cheer to and not mind that it's 2001. They'll be on the West Coast in the spring.

8. The Subsonics live in Central Park 26 August 2000
Atlanta's garage rock maestros! Live in Central Park, for free! Guitar, bass & drums. Kinetic live, the songs are where it all starts, Buffi Aquero's solid slamming drum beat, she stands up and it's just like granite, Christi Montero in gold lame pants handles the fat bass and then the man Clay Reed, in a skin tight leather outfit with painted toenails, he hovers on the mike stand just leaning out and snarling,the lyrics "it'll all come back to haunt you." The firstest with the mostest in a l923 band shell on the East Side and about 200 people stand up at the energy, the photographers rush the stage and the drums sound tripled bouncing off the John Phillip Sousa walls. They recording now but don't have a deal. They're playing with the Blues Explosion in Nashville on New Year's Eve.

9. The White Lights, (five song demo)
This is an Atlanta band that recorded at Zero Return. Buffi from the Subsonics leads this band playing guitar and writing the songs. It's a huge work, Sam on organ, Stewart on vibes, Ana on violin, Johnny on guitar, Keith on bass and of course Clay Reed on drums. It has a different feel, the White Lights have an ability to create a mood, the supply a feel wrapped around their songs. I saw 'em at a Christmas party the other night and wished they would have kept playing. In the spirit of disclosure, my girlfriend plays violin. Unlike Springsteen apologist Dave Marsh who likes to forget his wife works for the Boss, I wear my heart of my sleeve.

10. Radiolaria "The Last Matinee" final gig in Cincinnati 15 April 2000
Cincinnati's homegrown Sonic Youth, two guitars space rock, ethereal planning and dropping into empty spaces. A good band, a nice sound; they were a long running quartet and they went out in a last waltz type of food and booze extravaganza in a l940's movie theater. I got impossibly drunk and enjoyed myself.

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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