Best of 2000: Wayne Heyward

Wayne Heyward

This is the first year in several that I have heard enough good new music to make it worth worth creating a top five or top 10 list. Mainly because several of my old favorites finally got something out this year, but there are some noteworthy newcomers as well. This is my top-somewhere-between- five-and-10 list:

1. Poe, Haunted (FEI/Atlantic)
When Hello came out in 1995, it stayed in the CD player for weeks. When Poe went on tour with the full band, I wondered how she would adapt her trippy electronics and loops to the stage, and she did it by not trying to do it; her touring band was a basic four-piece alt-rock band playing arrangements that bore only passing resemblance to the originals from Hello. Five long years later, she has finally released Haunted, an homage to her father, musical compliment to her brother's book House of Leaves, and a perfect blend of the Hello's electronica and the alt-rock spice of her touring band. A shame Cameron Stone and his amazing electric cello is nowhere to be seen, though.

2. BT, Movement in Still Life (Nettwerk)
The UK release of this was in 1999, but the 2000 US release is different in both order and choice of tracks (four here are not on the UK version; four on the UK version are missing here). Regardless, it is an amazing work. BT started as a progressive trance musician, producer, and mixer, but his tastes range widely, and Movement proves it, from the trance groove of "Dreaming" to the breakbeats of "Hip-Hip Phenomenon" to the rocking "Never Gonna Come Back Down". Even better, he has mastered every style, so the dabbling doesn't degrade the quality.

3. Radiohead, Kid A (Capitol)
Radiohead are to the late '90s, early 2000 what Pink Floyd was to the late '70s, early '80s. Like Floyd did, they are putting out concept albums with little intrinsic commercial appeal, yet which manage to be immensely popular despite it. With luck Thom Yorke does not have the delusions of grandeur that Roger Waters had, and the band will not put out a Final Cut-style self indulgence followed by the destruction of the band. (Face it... today's Pink Floyd is a mere shadow of its former self.)

4. Björk, Selmasongs (Elektra)
She didn't write them, but she performs these songs from the van Trier film Dancer in the Dark, thus they have a sound that only Björk can give them. These songs are the soundtracks of the dreams Selma has as she retreats from the real world, influenced by the movie musicals she loves. Thus, they are a beautiful and bizarre twist on old movie musical styles, reminsicent of "It's Oh So Quiet" from her second CD, Post.

The remaining CDs in this list are unranked because their ranking depends on my mood, but they are still in my top... er... whatever.

XTC, Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol 2)
Part two of the comeback of one of the UK's best post-punk power-pop bands. The acoustic Apple Venus Vol. 1 was filled with beautiful, lush string arrangements and soft singing that sometimes betray the bitterness beneath ("Your Dictionary").

Shelby Lynne, I Am Shelby Lynne
The fifth record from this country singer is more delta country blues (with Memphis strings) than straight country. It's definitely not that awful "new country". It's music to sit on the porch swing and sip your lemonade to. You'll need to move to Alabama for full effect.

Hybrid, Wide Angle
A friend of mine got me to listen to some songs from Hybrid to help him decide exactly which of the many subgenres of electronica they fall into. After listening to some Napster-downloaded tracks, I declared it cinematic in feel -- like a film soundtrack -- and bought the CD as soon as I found it..

Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks, Beatin' the Heat
I just love his style. The remake of "I Scare Myself" is not quite as good as his original version, even if it does have Rickie Lee Jones. For that matter, it's not quite as good as Thomas Dolby's version from his second LP. Doesn't matter. Dan Hicks is where the Squirrel Nut Zippers and, to an extent, the Asylum Street Spankers come from musically.

Joan Osborne, Righteous Love
Another release that is way too long in the waiting. After having two previous versions of her record refused by Mercury (neither of them had anything nearly as commercially viable as "One of Us"), the label dropped her and she was picked up by Interscope. It's a small disappointment that the material is not as bluesy as her live shows are, but it's still very satisfying all the same.

Honorable Mention:
P J Olsson, Words for Living
Olive, Trickle
Mocean Worker, Aural & Hearty
Squirrel Nut Zippers, Bedroom Bedlam
Belle and Sebastian, fold your hands child you walk like a peasant
Sven Vath, Contact

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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