Tag Archives: Francis Rossi

Rocks In The Attic #585: Genesis – ‘Nursery Cryme’ (1971)

RITA#585
Thanks to a recommendation from comedian Josh Widdicombe, I’ve just finished watching Brian Pern – A Life In Rock, a BBC mock/rockumentary starring The Fast Show’s Simon Day. Over three three-episode series, the show tells the story of a Peter Gabriel-like character (Day) and his Genesis-like band, Thotch, all framed in the context of rock and roll history from the 1960s onwards.

As with This Is Spinal Tap, and every over mock/rockumentary since, the power of Brian Pern – A Life In Rock comes from affectionately poking fun at real people and real events. In a great scene-setting opening, Pern egotistically claims a number of ridiculous accomplishments: ‘I invented world music. I was the first musician to use plasticine in videos. The first musician to record with animals. My last album had the lowest bass line ever recorded. And long before Bob Geldof and Bono, I was staging charity concerts and writing songs to raise awareness for the helpless and hopeless.’ This then segues into one of the very well done pieces of “archive” footage, with Pern singing one of his hard-hitting message songs: ‘Why no black folk in Jersey? / Why no black folk in Sark? / Why no black folk in Guernsey? / Are they having a lark?’

One of my favourite recurring jokes in the show is the deliberating mislabelling of real-life musicians and entertainers who contribute in talking head clips. For example, in the first episode Queen’s Roger Taylor is labelled as ‘Roger Taylor – Duran Duran’ – a subtle joke on the fact that Duran Duran’s original drummer was also called Roger Taylor (alongside two other unrelated Taylors in the same band). It’s something that a young BBC researcher potentially could get wrong – and that’s where the humour lies. The joke is oft-repeated – Roger Moore is introduced as ‘George Lazenby’, Rick Parfitt as ‘Francis Rossi’, etc – but it never gets old.

It’s a credit to these celebrities that they obviously don’t mind being taken fun of. Even Peter Gabriel appears from time to time, as a villainous double of the titular character. ‘It made me laugh a lot…’ he has said of the show. ‘…even though it was at my expense. I love to laugh. Spike Milligan was a hero to me and I was a big Fast Show fan, but I’m not sure that part of me comes across when I bore people about politics and social stuff. People can’t always see who you really are.’

My other favourite moment of the show was the partly fabricated tale of Phil Collins drumming with Led Zeppelin at 1985’s Live Aid. In real life, Collins performed at the British leg of Live Aid before hopping onto Concorde and drumming with Zeppelin at the American leg. Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page blamed his band’s sluggish performance on Collins – claiming that the jet-lag suffered from his trans-Atlantic journey resulted in bad timekeeping during Stairway To Heaven (hmm, I’m not sure that Jimmy Page really understands jet-lag). In the Brian Pern version of events, an in-on-the-joke Phil Collins references Page’s allegation, before a clip of Collins drumming along to Stairway To Heaven in Philadelphia is tweaked to sound like he keeps bringing in the drum fill from In The Air Tonight at all the wrong moments.

Nursery Cryme is Genesis’ third studio album, and serves as another reminder to me that I’m just not a prog guy, particularly if the prog is rooted in English folk (Genesis, Jethro Tull, Yes) rather than the more electric, pysch/blues-inflected prog of a band like Pink Floyd.

Hit: Seven Stones

Hidden Gem: The Musical Box

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Rocks In The Attic #395: Status Quo – ’12 Gold Bars’ (1980)

RITA#395Why not?

That was a rhetorical question, by the way. I think of few reasons as to ‘why’, but a multitude of reasons as to ‘why not’. I recently read the autobiography of Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt – embarrassingly called XS All Areas – and I can quite honestly say it was the worst rock autobiography I’ve ever read. And I’ve read Steven Tyler’s autobiography.

The really damning thing about Status Quo’s story is that they just come across as dullards who got lucky playing pub rock. They then screwed founding member Alan Lancaster over by dissolving the band in 1985 and then regrouping without him. Nice, really nice. Rock and roll seems to be full of those nasty stories – whether it be Pink Floyd simply not bothering to pick up Syd Barrett on the way to the recording studio one night, or Lennon, McCartney and Harrison getting Brian Epstein to do their dirty work for them by breaking the news to Pete Best that he was out of the band.

Still, Quo were a fantastic choice to open Live Aid, only because Rockin’ All Over The World was so apt. It couldn’t have been more appropriate unless they had opened with an obscure b-side about Ethiopians starving to death.

But that’s it. That day in July 1985, with Alan Lancaster’s very last appearance on bass guitar, is where Quo stopped for me. The Status Quo finally changed. They turned into a lame ‘80s band with shorter hair, trendy ‘80s clothes and a younger backline. I can’t listen to something like In The Army Now without cringing. And what a fall – working with fellow nostalgia hawkers the Beach Boys, or bringing out songs extolling the virtues of Manchester United – it just got worse and worse, like a car crash happening in super slow motion. Is it over yet?

Hit: Rockin’ All Over The World

Hidden Gem: Living On An Island

Rocks In The Attic’s buyer’s guide to…AC/DC

  – 3 essential albums, an overlooked gem, a wildcard, one to avoid, and the best of the rest –

“I’m sick to death of people saying we’ve made eleven albums that sounds exactly the same. In fact, we’ve made twelve albums that sound exactly the same.” So says, AC/DC lead guitarist and fifty-nine year old Scottish Australian schoolboy, Angus Young. While other bands have been cursed by following the same formula over and over again (Francis Rossi, please stand up), AC/DC have turned it to their advantage.
ACDC0Over fourteen studio albums, the band have stuck to a blueprint of blues-based heavy rock. 99% of their songs follow the same format – counterpoint guitar riffs from brothers Angus and Malcolm, steady 4/4 drum beats, driving bass lines, soaring vocals and finally, a solo from Angus. There’s no room for piano, no room for strings and the only backing vocals you get are from the rest of the band, who are about as tuneful as an after-hours pub karaoke session.

Lead vocal duties divide the band into two eras – the band’s formative years were helmed by fellow Scottish Australian Bon Scott, but his untimely death in 1980 saw the band enter a more commercial phase under the screams of flat-cap loving Geordie Brian Johnson.

But regardless of what you may have heard, there are differences between their albums. Each of their 1970s albums follow a progressive arc, until they settled on their massive world conquering sound as they entered the 1980s. Albums since that point have struggled to find that same high level of quality, acting mainly as a springboard for the band to go out on the road for yet another world tour.

Start off with: Highway To Hell (1979, Atlantic Records)

ACDC1The album that saw the AC/DC break America was also their swansong with Bon Scott, who would die just months later. Up to this point all the studio albums were produced by former ‘60s Australian beat group stars Harry Vanda and George (older brother of Angus and Malcolm) Young.  For Highway To Hell, the band would enlist the production duties of Robert John “Mutt” Lange – notable amongst other things for producing Def Leppard’s Hysteria, and marrying Shania Twain.

Lange’s production revitalised the band. Overnight they changed from a noisy rock band from the backwaters of Australia into a household-name stadium rock band. Aside from the title track – typically played by the band in their live shows to open their encore – not much else from the album has survived into the band’s live set to this day; but this is probably the most consistent of all their albums.

Follow that with: Back In Black (1980, Atlantic Records)

ACDC2After Bon Scott’s death, the band could have called it a day. Most bands would have, if they’d lost their lead singer. But AC/DC were always more about guitars than vocals. After auditioning half of London for the job (including Gary Holton who would go on to play Wayne in TV’s Auf Wiedersehen, Pet), the band settled on Brian Johnson. The resulting album is a tribute – a relatively sincere one, considering the medium – to their fallen bandmate. Opener Hells Bells sets the scene with a tolling bell, before the band slowly introduce their new banshee vocalist.

Back In Black, also produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, is probably AC/DC’s most commercial-sounding record. Singles such as the title track and You Shook Me All Night Long saw the album become the best-selling rock album of the 1980s. It’s currently tied with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon as the second best-selling album of all time (after Michael Jackson’s Thriller).

Just like VHS beat Betamax as the consumer’s choice of video in the 1980s (a fact commonly attributed to the pornography industry selecting the fledgling VHS technology as the way forward), Back In Black outstripped all other contenders in record sales by being purchased by every strip club in America. You Shook Me All Night Long has soundtracked a lot of lapdances – it’s not heavy rock, it’s stripper rock! Def Leppard would achieve the same feat later in the decade with Pour Some Sugar On Me, from their best-selling Hysteria album – a song that sounds like it’s describing a sexual act, but was probably written about their one-armed drummer Rick Allen making a cup of tea.

Oh, and Shoot To Thrill? The best middle-eight instrumental section in rock music, hands down.

Then get: Powerage (1978, Atlantic Records)

ACDC3Powerage is AC/DC’s greatest achievement – the last thing they did before they crossed over into the mainstream. At this point, it’s all still them; there’s no ‘hit-making’ hot-shot producer in the background to claim any credit. The album is no-frills rock ‘n roll from start to finish, although it does come with a celebrity endorsement – Rolling Stone Keith Richards earmarked it as his favourite AC/DC record.

Aside from Sin City, not much else from the record has survived into the band’s live set to this day. Still, opener Rock ‘N Roll Damnation is almost the quintessential AC/DC song, and Riff Raff has one of the band’s longest intros, building up for over a minute and finally released when Angus Young bends an open D-chord that sounds as sick as anything.

But it’s the slow-burn of songs like Down Payment Blues that really wins people over, on Powerage, the most introspective of their records.

Criminally overlooked: The Razor’s Edge (1990, Atco Records)

ACDC4In March 1990, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry mentioned to Guitar World magazine that ‘people put us down for [using outside songwriters], but I wonder how an AC/DC record would sound if they’d pull somebody like Jim Vallance into the songwriting process. Would they get another one-song record with Heatseeker, or would you get a whole album that was that cool?”

At the time, AC/DC were actually in the process of doing something along these lines. While that September’s The Razor’s Edge was written in its entirety by Angus and Malcolm Young, it was produced by Bruce Fairbairn – the man who had produced Aerosmith’s successful comeback albums, Permanent Vacation (1987) and Pump (1989).

It’s almost a cliché to disregard any of the post-Back In Black albums as cannon-fodder (pun very much intended); but The Razor’s Edge saw the end of a run of ‘80s albums where the band had very much lost their way. From this point on, with albums produced by the likes of Rick Rubin and Brendan O’Brien, they spent a bit more time and effort on their studio output.

The album’s opener, Thunderstruck, is another contender for the quintessential AC/DC song and concrete proof that they were still as relevant to ‘90s rock music as they were in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The long-shot: For Those About to Rock (We Salute You) (1981, Atlantic Records)

ACDC5The third and final album produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange fails to match the quality of its two predecessors, but it does have its moments. It’s so close to Back In Black and Highway To Hell in its chronology that you can almost hear some of the magic of those records in its grooves. Of course, on the other side of the coin, the album’s other next-door neighbour is 1983’s Flick Of The Switch, where their mid-‘80s rot really set in.

The album-opening title trackremains a firm live fixture – they’ve closed their sets with the track for the last thirty three years – and the track serves as the true peak of their creative accomplishments. It was all steadily downhill from this point on.

Avoid like the plague: ’74 Jailbreak (1984, Atlantic Records)

ACDC6An EP – usually priced as a full-length album – containing just twenty four minutes of material, ’74 Jailbreak is a cynical cash-in release on the behalf of Atlantic Records. It’s essentially a small collection of leftover songs that didn’t make the international releases at the start of the band’s career (several of these early albums were combinations of songs from more than one Australian release, with some omissions made in the interests of running time).

This really is what you buy only when you have all of the other AC/DC albums, even the questionable mid-‘80s ones.

Best compilation: Iron Man 2 (O.S.T.) (2010)

ACDC7AC/DC must be one of the only major bands in the world without an official ‘greatest hits’ compilation. Sure, there are box-sets – Bonfire (1997) and BackTracks (2009) – but these aren’t compilations in the true sense of the word. The band has avoided issuing a simple collection of their singles – something I really respect them for.

Of the two soundtracks they have released – 1986’s Who Made Who (the soundtrack to Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive) and 2010’s Iron Man 2 – it is the later release that stands as the nearest thing to a ‘greatest hits’ release, split roughly 50/50 between the Bon Scott and Brian Johnson eras.

It’s just a shame the film is so boring!

Best live album: AC/DC Live (1992, Atco Records)

ACDC81978’s If You Want Blood You’ve Got It captured the live sound of the Bon Scott era, but its raw energy was plagued by a muddy Vanda / Young production. 1992’s AC/DC Live doesn’t suffer from that problem. Taken from 1991’s The Razor’s Edge tour, the album offered an authentic live recording of the band. Bruce Fairbairn had got close to capturing that sound on record (on The Razor’s Edge) and was invited back to produce the live record.

Live At Donington, the album’s companion piece video, is also worth checking out. Recording during their third headlining appearance at the British rock festival, it’s essentially the same set as can be found on the AC/DC Live record (and on every subsequent tour for that matter). One nice little bonus extra on the DVD / Blu Ray version is a commentary track comprised of an interview with the Young brothers as they talk though the concepts and directions behind each of their albums. You know, those albums that are supposedly all the same…
ACDC9