Music

Say Hi To Your Mom: Impeccable Blahs

Marc A. Price

An eclectic look into the world of vampires that tells us more about humans. Not a concept album, but an album with a concept.


Say Hi To Your Mom

Impeccable Blahs

Label: Rebel Group
US Release Date: 2006-07-25
UK Release Date: 2006-07-25
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Lets be honest, Say Hi To Your Mom is largely the work of one man, and Eric Elbogen's (for that is his name) fourth foray into the world of pop music is a strange, beguiling affair. Not to say that the previous three (Ferocious Mopes, Numbers and Mumbles, and Discosadness) were run of the mill releases. On the contrary, they were filled with wondrous and peculiar observations on life and relationships, masked as throwaway collage-boy poetry. A fine example of this being "Let's Talk About Spaceships" from Numbers and Mumbles. This tune sidesteps that uncomfortable silence that preludes the we-need-to-talk-about-our-relationship talk by simply saying "LOOK BEHIND YOU, A SPIDER!"

This time round Elbogen is preoccupied with the music of the night, Bela Lugosi style. Impeccable Blahs is an album with a concept (rather than a concept album); all of the songs are about vampires and their relationships with their human prey. The sleeve notes are clear that we are not talking about the "... creepy, goth vampires but rather people just like you and me who happen to get their nourishment from drinking blood." In as much, Elbogen plucks one of literature's most maligned inventions from the night sky and grounds it in his own version of the real world. Vampires, if Say Hi To Your Mom is to be believed, have feelings and needs just like the rest of us. They are funny too.

Lyrically, this record is as droll as it is observant, cutting in the "reality" of becoming a vampire with the poetic illusion. For example in "Blah Blah Blah" the vampire breathes to his potential victim, "If you want, I'll give you eternal life. Well not so much life, but have you ever seen a good zombie movie? Well like that, but you'll be smarter and you'll stay 23." It is this mixture of off-the-wall humour and crackingly catchy choruses that make this record such an enjoyable listen. It cannot fail to bring a smile to your face.

The textual content is counterpoint, with stripped bare musical arrangements that are almost so unadorned that they are in places missing altogether. It is at once a mixture of simple guitar lines, undemanding quirky electronic sounds, and lush layered puree. Still, this straightforwardness really kinda works. The music has a sincere personal feel, an honesty that you rarely find in pop these days. This may mean that it doesn't appeal to everyone's tastes. Those that like their pop all bloated with multi-part melodies may find this to be an unsatisfying morsel which will not sate their gourmet tastes. These people should get over themselves.

Most things about this release are about simplicity, from the pink artwork barely adorned with a small bat and a kooky drawing of a vamp, to the musical content described above. However, it would be a real mistake to think that this sparseness is detrimental. The structure of the 10 songs on Impeccable Blahs is pretty perfect. They may not be the shiniest buttons in the pop box, but they are the kind that exhibit an unusual quality that makes you want to keep them and take them out every once in a while to look at them.

In the grand scheme of things, this record is unlikely to prevent any wars. However, we live in an unjust world full of evil things that want to suck the life from us, whether that be taxes, Big Brother or vampires. So, any piece of work that goes some way to set the balance right by bringing these things to our attention so that we can snigger at them (well actually ourselves) is, quite frankly, more than welcome.

7

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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