Tuesday, August 14, 2018
AC/DC - “Who Made Who”
For my money, one of the more enjoyable sounds of the eighties was when the Young brothers of AC/DC spent a few songs trying to get their guitars to replicate the sounds Pete Townshend of The Who made with a synthesizer on the Who’s Next album. “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)”, “Sink the Pink”, “Who Made Who”, “Thunderstruck” ... these bring a smile to my face. “For Those About to Rock” was their first attempt at this —and had a very Spinal Tap-ish move of using actual cannons on the recording — but “Who Made Who” might be my favorite, it’s also their best attempt to meet the eighties halfway.* It’s a slow burn with a chanted chorus and Brian Johnson’s voice moves slightly more towards soul and less from his usual razors. The first line is: “The video game says ‘play me.’”** and the rest of the lyrics are all about data, satellites, and whether we made the machines or whether they now make us. (I think, maybe they were just taking a stab at a Cliffs Notes version of Townshend’s Lifehouse project.)
The Who Made Who album was the soundtrack the band put out for Maximum Overdrive, a movie that was supposed to be remarkable for being Stephen King’s directorial debut, but is most memorable to my friends and I for King doing a TV ad where he takes a minute and twenty seconds to declare “I’M GONNA SCARE THE HELL OUT OF YOU”, while pointing at the camera. My buds and I never saw the movie, it ended up being a big flop, and yet King was smart enough to hire AC/DC for the soundtrack so let’s call it a wash***. Not to mention that after the Flick of the Switch and Fly on the Wall albums, AC/DC seemed to be slipping off the map with the dreaded “where are they now” tag looming. Instead, they unleashed this tune and it set the stage for "Heatseeker" and their being Pillars of Hard Rock into the nineties and beyond. Every subsequent release of theirs was worth it because the singles were always great.
*One could argue that since it was AC/DC, they didn’t meet the eighties halfway as much as they won.
**I always thought the lyric was: “The video games they play me”, probably because Maximum Overdrive star Emilio Estevez played a character who got trapped in a video game in the Nightmares movie a few years earlier.
*** Think King would take a 2018 contract to take out a fictional hit on Lucinda Williams for her butchering of “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)"?
Tuesday, August 07, 2018
Kool & the Gang - “Fresh”
Note: This an excerpt from my upcoming memoir Waiting for the Frost, which will be sent to the publisher once I finish the Joe Walsh Think Piece™.
It wasn’t even that I liked Kool & the Gang all that much. But I didn’t dislike them. I remember badmouthing them in high school to a math class buddy — “Celebration” had been played to death on the radio in the early eighties — while we were doing algebra in the library during a free period and he challenged me to name one specific reason why I didn’t like them. I was stumped. Rather than fight it, I decided to give them a shot.
I’m not sure where I got the poster, all I remember was that is was free. It probably came with a music magazine I had purchased. I slapped it up on the outside of my dorm room’s door, and anytime anybody would ask if I liked Kool & the Gang, I said “Hell yeah.” The dorm was filled with almost all white guys who liked AOR and usually didn’t like what they referred to as “black music.” My music collection at the time lacked diversity and I wasn’t well-schooled in old soul and rhythm and blues. But it just seemed like the right thing to do to embrace Kool & the Gang, their gleeful R&B was certainly just as worthy of a listen as whatever was on the radio or MTV. To this day I’ll gladly take something like “Fresh” or “Misled” over anything by popular mid-eighties whiteboy mediocrities like The Outfield or Mike + The Mechanics.
The poster ended up getting ripped in half in the midst of a prank war and was repaired with Scotch tape and continued to stay on the door. I proceeded to buy the “Fresh” 12-inch single.
By the end of the decade any time I came across a bar that had a ladies night of drink specials I would annoy friends by singing the chorus of “Ladies’ Night”. In the nineties I finally put my money where my mouth was (and dorm room door had been) and bought The Very Best of Kool & the Gang — “As seen on TV!” the sticker on the jewel box proclaimed — and added the Gang to living room dance party playlists for those times that there was no “job” in “day job”. My math buddy would have been proud.