The Dollyrots: Because I'm Awesome

Power-pop/punk hasn't been this fun in a long time!

The Dollyrots

Because I'm Awesome

Label: Blackheart
US Release Date: 2008-03-26
UK Release Date: 2007-09-18

The Dollyrots haven't done too bad for a band begun under the premise that its members felt they had "no future". After seeing the results of the 2000 election, long-time pals lead singer/bassist Kelly Ogden and guitarist Luis Cabezas decided that the world was headed for certain doom. Instead of gunning for a traditional day job, the two friends decided that they could have a lot more fun and reach more people by starting a rock band.

The astute duo, who apparently had enough foresight to predict the job market taking a major dump, formed the Dollyrots and headed to Los Angeles. Adding drummer Amy Wood to the mix, the trio's self-released debut disc, Eat My Heart Out, grabbed enough attention to land one of their singles on an HP commercial and garnered the support of Joan Jett, who found the Dollyrots' fun, femme-fronted power pop/punk to be a natural match for her label, Blackheart Records.

While a lot of current pop-punk bands owe more to the Fall Out Boy/Avril Lavigne school of sound, the Dollyrots subscribe to an older institution of bubbly three-chord punk in the vein of the Blackhearts and the Ramones. This facet of the band's sound, particularly on their latest offering, Because I'm Awesome, is only enhanced by the appearance of frequent Joan Jett collaborator Kenny Laguna, who lends a hand with production alongside John Fields and Jacques Wait.

On their second offering, not much has changed since their debut, with the possible exception of Wood's departure from the band and the addition of Chris Black on drums (although Woods's drum tracks are still heard on Because I'm Awesome). The Dollyrots' sound is the same as it ever was, with clever, catchy lyrics running around a track of straightforward, chugging pop-punk.

The Dollyrots continue to gain more steam, a throng of fans, and even more media attention with their new album's tongue-in-cheek title track. "Because I'm Awesome" has found its way onto television shows like Ugly Betty and The Greek. While its subversive, sarcastic commentary may be lost on some ears, its cheerleader-esque burst of self-assured confidence nails the sycophantic feeding of the vast ego machine pervading the neo-Me Generation and its need for constant validation. Taking this attitude to task, the Dollyrots toss out condescending praise for miniscule achievements with lines like "You're stronger, faster and can spell!"

The three-piece doesn't linger too long in any one corner of subject matter, deftly maneuvering between broad scale social commentary and personal life experiences with a touch of humor. Taking a stab at blatant cultural criticism, the group issues a "A Desperate S.O.S." in the vein of R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It", and the scathing "17", an acrimonious indictment of cradle robbing sexual predators. Although the message behind the music is rather stern, the Dollyrots deliver it with all the joie de vivre of a colorful piñata bursting with fun.

Many of the tracks on Because I'm Awesome accurately tap into the zeitgeist of the expanse between the teen years and quarterlife crisis. At one end of the rejection spectrum, the band enthusiastically tackles the phenomenon of creepy, unwanted attention and/or unhealthy relationships. "Cat Calling", with its mock-leering "Hey baby, baby!" refrain, illustrates the plight of the attractive girl who fails to understand the mind of those who subscribe to the belief that yelling leering, insulting remarks will land them a date, while the instantly catchy "Turn You Down" is an open letter to manipulative masters of the mind-fuck.

Several songs succinctly sum up the experience of being banished to that cold, dark region known as the Friend Zone. Contrary to popular belief, the Friend Zone isn't a dimension populated solely by males, as evidenced by Kelly Ogden's cathartic musings. "My Best Friend's Hot" captures the futility of hooking up with a friend who sees you as nothing more than that. "This Crush" is reminiscent of pop-punk girl groups gone past like the Runaways' and the Donna's three-chord takes on '50s and '60s girl groups, replete with sighing background harmonies. Ogden's breathy vocals topped with a cynical dollop of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and conveyance of an all-consuming infatuation echo her mentor, Joan Jett's cover of "Crimson and Clover".

Speaking of covers, the Dollyrots' possible piece de resistance on Because I'm Awesome just may be their punchy cover of Melanie's "Brand New Key" -- which interprets surprisingly well over thirty years later. While chirping about "a brand new pair of rollerskates", Ogden's voice glistens with cheery sweetness that belies an unexpected layer of unflinching grit, the auditory equivalent of a rough and tumble roller derby girl wreaking havoc during "couple's skate-around" at the local skating rink. The folk factor of the original is neutralized, replaced with punky, poppy riffing and a steady backbeat that gives way to an aggressive mix of sugar and sexual innuendo and playing off of the suppositions of the original.

There is an utter lack of pretense about the Dollyrots on Because I'm Awesome. Nearly every piece on their sophomore effort flows without effort. In a genre clogged with contrivance, the Dollyrots manage to be catchy, radio-friendly, and still manage to separate themselves from the cookie-cutter pablum, balancing meaningful lyrics and mindless fun.


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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