Music

Various: The Rough Guide to the Music of Paris

It's as if World Music Network wanted to release a follow-up to their Rough Guide to Paris Café Music but for some reason decided that it wasn't complete without a bit of Putumayo tucked in front of it.


Various Artists

The Rough Guide to the Music of Paris

Label: World Music Network
US Release Date: 2007-10-16
UK Release Date: 2007-10-15
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The Rough Guides have been disappointing me lately. It's not that the compilations are bad in themselves, it's that the themes they choose are unadventurous. The Rough Guide to Indian Lounge plopped down like a sponge-tipped arrow aimed at an ethnically aspirational subset of the Buddha Bar market, and a title like North African Café squeaks timidity. "Amble … past the cafés filled with the aromatic smoke of hookah pipes," smarms the blurb. There's something squashy and fogged about that word "amble," and about the blurb as a whole with its tourist-brochure invocations. The absence of sharpness, of action, seems to be asking for a corresponding softening of expectations on the part of the audience. "Oh come on," it smiles. "Relax. Don't expect the earth."

The Rough Guide to the Music of Paris sounds like another safe bet. Paris is romantic, Paris is chic, Paris is the grand and familiar city of unreal dreams, and just in case we're missing the mystique the album comes with a suggestive, pink-lit shot of the Eiffel Tower on the front to jog our memories. Lovely Paris. The lost world of Benjamin's Arcades, the boulevards, the cafés, the wine, the art, etc, etc, ah Paris! And yet this Rough Guide is a clunky, unsmooth thing, more like two albums jammed together than a single united compilation. The first sub-album is short, only an EP really, and it's made up of the same kind of easily-lovable chanson that we heard on last year's Paris compilation from Putumayo. Here we have Emily Loizeau, wonderfully languid and sunny on "L'Autre Bout du Monde", David Lafore giving a rich twist to every word on "Plat À Gratin", and Nouvelle Vague's Olivier Libaux skipping through "Le Petit Succès" behind Barbara Carlotti.

Then, at about track seven, Music of Paris changes direction and jaunts off into café jazz, gypsy swing, and musette. Now we're in Django Reinhardt territory. This second mini-album is longer than the first, and if you were enjoying the little EP that sounded like a visit to the Filles Sourires blog then this change is going to come as an unpleasant surprise. Where has the relaxed, delicious singing gone? Why are we being hit with an accordion? The musette of Les Costauds De La Lune, crisp and frilled as the edges of a well-fried egg, where did that spring from all of a sudden? We jump from the modern "Quand Je Suis Ivre" of Pauline Croze to tracks from, to quote the notes, "the golden age of recorded Parisian music: the 1930s and 1940s." There's old Jo Privat, Tony Murena, and Sidney Bechet who died in 1959. They rollick and twiddle. The mood of the album performs an abrupt and lasting switch. The atmosphere of Loizeau and Lafore is shattered and never returns.

It's as if World Music Network wanted to release a follow-up to their Rough Guide to Paris Café Music but for some reason decided that it wasn't complete without a bit of Putumayo tucked in front of it. Surely there's more to Paris than this? If you're going to include recent examples of chanson then what about some of the post-musette genres? Where is the slangy French hip-hop, the experimental electronic tracks? The compiler tries to get around it by mentioning rock and rap and the music of "Migrants from the former French empire [who] added their sounds to this melting pot," then insisting that "including all these styles on the compilation would have turned The Rough Guide to the Music of Paris into The Rough Guide to the Music of the World" but this sort of argument, which sounded convincing when it showed up in the notes to The Rough Guide to the Music of Brazil, sounds less convincing here. If there was room for more than one example of chanson and more than one example of jazz then there was room for a few of those other things as well. These compilers are supposed to be our authorities, our guides, but in this instance it sounds as if our man has decided not to lead us but instead shrugged, decided that we'd be satisfied with some music that sounded generally charming and French, and given up.

5

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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