Music

Various Artists: I Like It Vol. 2

Tim O'Neil

I Like It is a fairly eclectic and quite schizophrenic entity -- but, as you might expect, the music on display is also pretty damn good.


Various Artists

I Like It Vol. 2

Label: Compost
US Release Date: 2005-11-01
UK Release Date: 2005-09-12
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The concept behind the I Like It series is remarkably simple. Each disc features a handful of favorite tracks selected by a handful of electronic music producers. It works differently than, say, a Back to Mine or DJ Kicks release, in that the necessity of only being able to choose three tracks forces each artist to pick their absolute favorites. No attempt is made to segue or mix the tracks into anything resembling a cohesive whole, so the result is a fairly eclectic and quite schizophrenic entity.

But, as you might expect, the music on display is also pretty damn good. The producers in question -- Trevor Jackson (who also produces under the name Playgroup), Pole, Rochard Dorfmeister and Trickski -- are all seasoned pros with many years' experience, in addition to massive record collections that inform the breadth and depth of their individual selections. In lieu of liner notes, the disc comes with "trading cards" for each producer, which include stats on the size of their record collections as well as other bits of related trivia, in addition to brief explanations relating to each of their chosen records.

Trevor Jackson's selections, as might be expected from someone so intimately associated with the New Wave revival, all hail from the frothy storm of the 1980s. Colourbox lead off with their cover of Augustus Pablo's "Baby I Love You So", an effectively deep reggae track that presages the subliminally heavy work of trip-hoppers such as Massive Attack. Julian Jonah's "Jealousy and Lies" is an electro-house ancestor with a funky, irresistably primitive 808 rhythm and a sultry vocal performance that presages every Trax hit ever recorded. Propaganda's 10-minute "Echo of Frozen Faces" is an epic in the vein of the Art of Noise, albeit with a much stronger backbeat. It was undoubtedly a killer track when it was first released, and despite a few squonky synth noises the structure and build is remarkably prescient -- this could still slay on any dancefloor across the land.

Pole's three selections are, as anyone familiar with the producer might expect, weird and not at all what you may have expected. David Thomas' "Monster Magee, King of the Sea" sounds more like something you might expect from one of the new breed of freak folk artists than one of the world's foremost minimal dub producers. Imagine a shambling accordian melody accompanying a strange Muppet-like singer who intones the track's title over and over again for just over two minutes: it's still probably a lot weirder than whatever you're thinking. And then we've got the Goats' "Do The Digs Dug", a hip-hop track from around 15 years ago (to judge by the political references to the first Bush administration) that seems unjustly forgotten, with an accomplished Daisy Age-by-way-of-the-Bomb Squad sound. Headset's "Grasping Claw" is the only track that hints at Pole's usual hypnotically minimal agenda, with burbles and blips rising out of a primal smog, accompanied by clattering snare drums and bilingual rapping -- in both Japanese and english.

Richard Dorfmeister's selections, on the other hand, are almost exactly what you would expect from such an iconic and distinctive producer. Freidrich Guida's "The Air from Other Planets" is a solo piano jazz record that betrays its composer's reputation as one of the most esteemed Mozart players of his day in its well-elaborated melodic structure, a far cry from the crowded space-jazz of the day while still appropriately mind-expanding. Allez Allez' "African Queen", much like Dorfmeister's own production, features the distinctive combination of a deep, jazz-influenced groove and spacey, smokey melodic elements. Can's "Shikato Maru Ten", while only two minutes long, still manages to communicate that group's distinctive and unmistakable dedication to the deep groove -- a dedication, and an ethos, shared by Dorfmeister.

Of the producers involved in the compiling of this disc, I was least familiar with Trickski, but their selections prove their allegiance to the most sublime aspects of the old school. Walt J and Dave Peoples' "Starting Over" is one of the very first Detroit techno tunes, and it still carries a commanding authority. Elbee Bad's "Just Don't Stop The Dance" is, similarly, a classic that still sounds utterly unique. The stuttering kick-drum juxtaposed with a quiet, whispering voice and a handful of extra melodic elements is a template that was decades ahead of its time -- in the liner notes, Trickski compare the production to the Neptunes, and certainly there's an argument to be made that this track presages "Drop It Like It's Hot" by a good two decades. The P-Funk All-Stars' "Hydrulic Pump" is a funky, percussive proto-house tune that confirms George Clinton's status as a dance music innovator, as if such a self-evident fact ever needed confirming.

The compilers have chosen to round the disc off with a Tricksi track, "Hormony". It is interesting that they chose to do this, considering the fact that I was least familiar with Trickski's output prior to receiving this disc. Based on this sample, I think I may just seek out more, because there is a lot to like here: it sounds slightly retro, in terms of the omnipresent 1/32 note hi-hat tap, but there is also a thoroughly modern approach to melodic color that reminds me of the Chemical Brothers at their most trancey. Interesting stuff, and hardly a bad way to end such an exemplarary disc.

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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