Review

Fox News has 'Red Eye' in the wee hours

Kate O'Hare
Zap2it.com (MCT)

"If beauty were an onion, I'd cry while chopping her to pieces."

That's Greg Gutfeld, host of Fox News' late-night pop-culture/news chatfest "Red Eye w/Greg Gutfeld," introducing a recurring guest, entertainment reporter Courtney Friel. And it's also about the only one of these introductions that can be printed in a family publication.

Lucky, then, that "Red Eye" airs weeknights at 3 a.m. EDT (2 a.m. on weekends).

"Once you start doing them," says Gutfeld of the introductions, "you can't stop. But the thing is, you always have this argument, this option to say, that you're just playing with language.

"It's fun, but it's clean."

Launched in February 2007 ("We're trying to throw an anniversary party," says Gutfeld, "but we're two months late. That's how lazy we are."), "Red Eye" is a sort of alternate-reality version of a news and political roundtable.

Gutfeld and his guests make outrageous, sometimes-bleeped comments, Gutfeld draws the news - always featuring Unicorn Jones and sidekick Fluffy McNutter, a cat/dog hybrid - and there's no real dividing line between satire and seriousness.

"It's a weird animal," says Gutfeld. "It does feel more British-y, because I lived there for a while. They do have these reckless British shows, these weird, wacky news shows.

"It completely flies in the face of conventional wisdom about Fox being recalcitrant or conservative, when this is the most daring show on television."

Northern California native Gutfeld, 44, began his career in print, working at Prevention and Men's Health magazines. He later became editor-in-chief of Stuff magazine and then editor of Maxim magazine in the U.K.

He blogged for the Huffington Post from its launch until July 2007 and has his own blog, "The Daily Gut."

"I was one of the first bloggers on the Huffington Post," Gutfeld says, "and the only one who wasn't a complete progressive loon, so I stood out like a sore thumb.

"I was writing there, and the blogs were getting circulated around Fox. Then I started The Daily Gut, and I think that raised interest, that there was a younger voice that was more of what you'd call a `South Park'-ian conservative. I don't know what it is.

"So they flew me over, and I met with people. It really is an interesting experiment ... where (Fox News says), `We're taking people that have never done a TV show, and we're going to let you do something without any of the pretension or any of the things that are attached to experience.'

"So, we don't talk like TV people. We don't act like TV people. What you have is a really honest show, and you have guests that come on that don't act like they normally do on other shows."

The guest roster includes ex-CIA agent Mike Baker, various Fox News anchors and reporters, comedians, actors, musicians, Gutfeld's mother (who calls in as the show's "senior correspondent") and pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, the "death correspondent."

"He's fantastic," Gutfeld says. "He answers every question."

Unicorn Jones came from an idea that Gutfeld had about how funny it would be if a forty-something man purported to have the same interests as a 13-year-old girl. He also endlessly jokes on-air about his much-abused stable of imaginary multicultural houseboys.

Asked how his wife, Elena Moussa, feels about the houseboys, Gutfeld quips, "The houseboys are the ones that are terrified, and the unicorns that live under the bed."

Among the "Red Eye" regulars are two of Gutfeld's friends, his "disgusting" sidekick, Bill Schulz, whom Gutfeld met when he was a "fearless" Stuff writer, and Andrew Levy, who functions as the show's "ombudsman," doing a fact-checking "Halftime Report" and "Post-Game Wrap-Up."

"Andy was just a guy who was commenting on my blogs at the Huffington Post," Gutfeld says. "He would add comments that would anger people, and I thought this guy was really smart. His comments were often better than the stuff I wrote, so we met at a bar in Hell's Kitchen.

"He was in the military. I guess he worked for the Academy Awards. He did PR for that. He's into NASCAR and has two cats, Pixel and Stormy."

Gutfeld introduces Levy's "Halftime Report" by enumerating the features of the "cat toy of the day."

"He really doesn't like it when I do that," Gutfeld admits.

The show also features a monologue on the news of the day, called "The Greg-alogue," which is reproduced on The Daily Gut. Each one ends with the line, "And if you disagree with me, then you, sir, are worse than Hitler."

"I think I am serious," Gutfeld says. "I basically use absurdity, when I'm doing the Greg-alogues, to make a serious point. (If) it's about global warming and carbon offsets, I'll talk about cannibalism. Basically I'm talking about how we think less of humans than we do of the Earth, and I'll come up with something absurd.

"So I actually am serious. But if you don't get the joke, you missed that part, I guess."

In the future, Gutfeld hopes to somehow take "Red Eye" to the political conventions and maybe add an audience or even a band. He'd also like the presidential contenders to continue dropping by.

"We invited Obama last week," Gutfeld says, "but the two we had on dropped out - Kucinich and Ron Paul. I don't think we're going to get Hillary on the show. We tried to get McCain's daughter. She's a nice girl.

"It's hard for us. A lot of people look at the show and think, `I'm not going on there.' ... When we do guest segments, we're pretty solid. We don't try to surprise people or embarrass. We're not mean to anybody. When we have somebody on the show, we ask questions that will make them look smart, too."

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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