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Mag Review: Bitch

Rachel Smucker

Please, don't be intimidated. I, too, approached Bitch with caution, wary of man-hating columnists and Bush-bashing feminazis. But surprise! My shameful stereotypes were blown to bits after reading this self-proclaimed "feminist response to pop culture," and so I apologize to Bitch senior editor Rachel Fudge for all of my unprovoked generalizations. Bitch is one heck of a magazine.

The colorful and eye-catching cover was what first struck my interest and, looking back at its previous 34 issues, this seems to be a trend. Every issue has a theme; this season's is "The Super Issue," with articles on superheroes, supermoms and super-cool art. Previous themes: "Green," "Masculinity," and "Fake.”

But open the cover and receive a nasty surprise—no colour. It's a dramatic change from most magazines we read today, where pages are as slick as satin and covered with brightly-colored advertisements. Not so for Bitch, and perhaps that's the point.

The paper itself has a coarse and commercial feel to it, and nearly every page is content--no filler here. It's Bitch's way of slapping us in the face for even expecting to see half-naked Guess models here. Instead, we get ads like "Smitten Kitten: a truly feminist sex toy store!"

Once you get past the cover, Bitch starts off by doing exactly as it's name suggests: bitching. "Dear Bitch" and "Love it/shove it" are both opinionated features that appear every issue. While I do not have much to say about readers' letters to the editor (only that there were lots of them), "Love it/shove it" is a whole other matter entirely. It is a compilation of short articles that either bash or embrace various bits of culture, though from the very start it is apparent that there is a lot of bashing going on.

Celebrity racism, The New York Times and Donald Trump are all criticized in one way or another, as is Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens ("not funny, plus bloated and self-important") in a particularly scathing article. See a trend? It would have been nice to see a little more loving and less shoving, if only to preserve the integrity of the feature title.

But despite all of the shoving, none of the articles steered out of their realm of control and into states of incoherent ranting. The writers at Bitch seem calm, rational and, above all, in possession of a great sense of humor--definitely a must-have when it comes to dealing with controversial issues.

Jesse Rutherford, for instance, author of "Love it/shove it" article "My Little Calliponian," puts America's favorite toy on display in a new light: "The latest herd of ponies--called 'G3s'--look more like sexually available human children than anything remotely equine." The rest of the article continues in a similar fashion, but doesn't get diluted with one-liners. Rutherford manages to come out in the end with a valid argument about the sexualization of children's toys--which is not discussed nearly enough as it should be--and concludes that My Little Ponies are good for "everyone… who is ready, hot, and panting."

Another consistent feature in Bitch is "The Bitch List.” It's actually "an annotated guide to some of [Bitch's] favorite things,” and includes everything from music to Dorothy Gale to "Quick and Dirty Tips 4 Doing Things Better." This random collection has the same personal feel as a mix tape, and the accessibility of a grocery list. Many of the items are websites (check out nationstates.net), which makes actually experiencing "The Bitch List" a whole lot easier than, say, a list of "Spring Must-Haves Under $500!"

Aside from its staple features, Bitch has some great stand-alone articles--centered around the "super" theme, of course. "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters" describes the modern phenomenon of "the all-star girl"--Mommy's little valedictorian/track champion/student government president/model-thin daughter. "We are the daughters of feminists who said 'You can be anything,'" author Courtney E. Martin writes, "and we heard 'You have to be everything.'"

There is also "Wave Lengths," an article on third-wave feminism in America, and "Cold Shoulder," a column by Shannon Cochran that gives Batgirl and Wonder Woman the limelight they deserve.

And so I apologize once again, Bitch; you have truly impressed me. You handle the ups and downs of the female life with grace, covering everything from abortion to makeup to eating disorders--but with the humor of The Onion and a writing style that far surpasses that of other "girly magazines." Well done, Bitch. I'll see you next season.

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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