Reviews

King Tutankhamun: The Mystery Unsealed

Dan MacIntosh

The never ending mystery of King Tut's life and death is explored here.


King Tutankhamun

Subtitle: The Mystery Unsealed
Network: A&E;
US Release Date: 2006-01-31
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Whenever the King Tut exhibit comes to town it's easy to get lost in the shear beauty of the voluminous gold that was discovered in his tomb. But this DVD is less about Tut glitter, and much more about the story behind this Egyptian pharaoh's amazing life, as well as the tale of his archeological discovery. It's told from a number of different angles here, but no matter how many different ways you care to look at it, this is an eternally fascinating bit of history.

The main portion of this DVD is an overview of Howard Carter's 1922 archaeological dig, which amazingly turned up King Tut's tomb. Taken from a History Channel cable TV program, and narrated by actor Frank Langella, this DVD puts the viewer into Carter's shoes, so to speak. It's also illustrated with old photographs, newspaper clippings, and sometimes with the voiceover of an old-time radio broadcaster. Langella begins by telling us that, before Carter struck his gold, it was assumed that most of these sacred pharaoh sites had already been plundered beyond recognition. Other tombs had been found before, but few had been preserved as well as Tut's. Experts believe tomb raiders may have been scared out of Tut's resting place before they could take all its good stuff, which is why we were left with so many rare treasures.

As the story goes, another explorer, Theodore Davis, had dug in and around the same general region of Tut's tomb before Carter came along. Although he found Tut's name written on the walls of its vicinity, he did not experience the glory of excavating this wonderful historical booty. Later, Carter picked up where Davis left off by partnering with Lord Canarvan. Just as these two curious men were about to give up on the whole project, the team discovered an enticing descending staircase. Once these stairs were cleared, and the wall at the bottom was punctured, Canarvan asked Carter, "Can you see anything?" To which Carter excitedly replied, "Yes, wonderful things!" And these "wonderful things" have left the world awestruck ever since.

Tutankhamun's life story is just as fascinating as the gold that decorated his ornate gravesite. He was young, approximately 18 years old, when he died. Experts here speculate that his untimely death -- whatever its cause -- was probably a sudden one. One clue to his young age was a small glove that was found there, because it's too tiny to fit an adult. Many of the objects left in his tomb appear to have been originally designed for somebody else and for someone else's burial. Plan-B, so to speak, was to hastily re-make these expensive after-life curios and put them into Tut's final resting place.

While his earthly life may have been short, it's speculated that King Tut was nevertheless a beloved and respected leader. This belief is based upon many of the events that led up to his brief reign. The man that experts believe was Tut's father, Akhetaten, was viewed as a heretic for trying to establish an extreme change in Egypt's religious practices. To put it simply, Akhenaten replaced Egypt's polytheism with monotheism, which then put a lot of priests out of work. He also went on close down all the sacred temples. Then when Tut began his rule, he also reinstated the priestly religious practices that existed prior to Arkhetaten, which certainly made a lot of unemployed religious men happy again.

In addition to the primary program on this disc, there is also a segment called "The Curse of King Tut". As legend has it, there is said to be a deathly curse placed upon anybody that disturbs Tut's tomb. Experts here, however, don't believe such a curse was ever instituted by the ancient Egyptians. Granted, a few archeologists passed away in strange ways. But it'd be foolish to tie such deaths to any kind of a supposed curse. Additionally, there's another bonus program called "Howard Carter: Triumph & Treasure," which is an A&E Biography show. This segment tells the story of this fortunate explorer's storied life.

Nothing can ever replace the eye-opening experience of witnessing the contents of King Tug's tomb in person. But if you want to learn the story behind all the jewels, King Tutankhamun: The Mystery Unsealed is an excellent place to start.

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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