Music

Various Artists: Now That's What I Call Music, Volume 11

Nikki Tranter

Various Artists

Now That's What I Call Music, Volume 11

Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2002-11-19
UK Release Date: Available as import
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That the tricksters at Universal have released no less than 11 Now That's What I Call Music compilations since October of 1998 indicates just how rapidly brand new hits become stale oldies. Take their latest release, for example -- three months after the release of the CD, many of these songs are already old news, some having long ago left the Billboard charts.

This isn't really a problem, though, if you're the type of consumer who picks up these little packages in order to save money on CD singles, or because you haven't figured out how to steal them off the Net (count me among this group), or you could just dig some of the tracks, and hey, you've already got the other 10. Or maybe, you're one of those rare individuals who actually likes all the songs collected. If you are, you have my praise, because among them, I can only pick out six songs I actually know, and two I'd listen to again.

Whatever the case, a run down of the latest track listing instantly lets you know whether or not you're in line with the cool kids, because these songs, as the title suggests, are (or, at least, were) just so damn Now.

The first five songs on the CD -- Nelly's "Hot in Herre", N.O.R.E.'s "Nothin'", Eve and Alicia Keys pseudo-duet "Gangsta Lovin'", Beenie Man's "Feel it Boy" and Dirty Vegas' "Days Go By" -- suggest I'm way out of the musical loop. Hell, I'm not even in the ballpark. There may very well be some tasty grooves in there with Eve and Alicia, but it's the only thing even remotely familiar to me. I have no idea why Nelly chooses not to be able to spell a simple word in his song's title, and I couldn't begin to tell you what a Beenie Man is, but I digress -- these are obviously the moves of the moment, no matter how similar they sound, especially bunched together at the start of the disc.

Following this, we're given Kylie Minogue's "Love at First Sight". Now, while there's no denying Kylie's present popularity across the globe, the jury is still out on whether or not after 15 years making hits she's actually any good. "Love" doesn't help her cause any being that it's really a dumb song with a boring "dumb girl" chorus which just makes you want to tilt your head back and forth like a dog who doesn't quite understand the meaning of the word "sit".

The next six tracks are all by women and tend to slide back and forth between something mirroring Kylie's airhead gargling and something with a little more substance. Shakira's delicious "Objection (Tango)", Aaliyah's gorgeous Missy Elliott-penned "I Care 4 U" and the Dixie Chicks' "Landslide" (written by Stevie Nicks) make up the smart contingent. Each is a rare moment of musical goodness with just enough emotion to make them challenging and enough funk to make them fun.

Surrounding these tracks though, are a couple of annoying chart-toppers from Jennifer Love Hewitt, Vanessa Carlton, and No Doubt. Hewitt's "BareNaked" is just the kind of sexy-but-safe pap you'd expect from the girl who loves nothing more than to take most of her clothes off while ranting about how dirty she ain't, while Carlton adopt the cheese-laden, gloss-edged vocals of so many of her pop contemporaries on "Ordinary Day" -- she may play a few instruments and write her own songs but the girl's got a lot way to go before she makes anything genuinely affecting. And, though No Doubt's collaboration with Lady Saw (and Dave Stewart), "Underneath it All", is easy to listen to, it still reeks of the band's inability to develop their sound past the wop-wop-wop of "Just a Girl" all those years ago.

Apart from the welcome inclusion of Norah Jones's "Don't Know Why", the remainder of the album is all guys -- some good, some bad and some completely awful. Ginuwine's "Stingy" from the Barbershop soundtrack is an energetic fireball of a song, showcasing the singer's unique, tingling vocals which gave "Pony" its edge back in the late 90s. Chad Kroeger and Josey Scott's "Hero" is a neat power-rock tune with obligatory inspirational chorus fitting right in there alongside Bon Jovi's uplifting "Everyday", Our Lady Peace's fitful "Somewhere Out There" and Hoobastank's sultry "Running Away", yet they're sandwiched in amongst Creed (how are they still popular?) and Coldplay, who continue on their quest to release the same boring song over and over again.

There you have it, Universal Music's choices for the best songs of the October/November/December period of last year. I realise I probably like all the dorky tracks on here, but I don't mind all that much as in five minutes it's all gonna be dorky anyway making room for the new cool jams of Now 12.

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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