Tag Archives: Joe Perry

Rocks In The Attic #656: Rick Dufay – ‘Tender Loving Abuse’ (1980)

RITA#656Rick Dufay was, for one brief period, instantly famous as rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford’s temporary replacement in Aerosmith.

‘Steven [Tyler]’s motorcycle thing happened and everything just stopped,’ Whitford recounts in Walk This Way, the band’s semi-autobiography with Stephen Davis. ‘Nothing was going on and I was bored and very frustrated. We all were. Aerosmith was in chaos, with Steven in and out of drugs and rehab.’

During the Rock In A Hard Place sessions, which began in September 1981, Whitford didn’t gel with Jimmy Crespo, the lead guitarist drafted in to replace Joe Perry. ‘Jimmy was a trained musician, a stickler for getting things precise. I found it hard to work with that attitude. Joe and I, we didn’t have to say two words to each other about the guitar parts. It was a big part of the guitar magic that had sustained Aerosmith for ten years.’ He called the band’s manager and quit the band. ‘Tell the guys, okay? Sorry, man. Goodbye.’

RITA#656aAlthough Whitford had contributed to the sessions, they erased his parts and the resulting album was performed by Crespo with drummer Joey Kramer and bassist Tom Hamilton. Only a guitar part on Lightning Strikes remains as Whitford’s solitary contribution.

The band needed a new rhythm guitarist, and producer Jack Douglas had just the right guy in mind. He had just produced the first solo album of an emerging rock guitarist. ‘So I brought in Rick Dufay, a true character, a kindred spirit. I thought he would mesh well with the band, so we flew him to Florida and he joined Aerosmith. I think he played on one track on the album, Lightning Strikes.’

Dufay couldn’t have been more of a contrast to the quiet, reserved Brad Whitford. ‘Rick Dufay was a friend of Jack’s, a guitar player, a total asshole, and we loved him,’ Tyler remembers. ‘Rick just so defined what a fuckin’ asshole is. He would come up and spit in my face. He would do something brain-dead and just beg Jack to beat the shit out of him.’

RITA#656bIt wasn’t a great combination. By this time, Tyler was strung out on heroin on a daily basis, and Dufay more than anything enabled this kind of behaviour. The lead singer had found a new partner in crime. ‘Rick would try anything. He’d been in a mental institution, broke out of his cell, jumped out of a third-floor window and survived. I used to make him explain this to me over and over. “How high were you? Weren’t you afraid you were gonna kill yourself?” “Yeah,” Dufay replied, “but the birds were calling me.”’

Onstage, things were even worse. ‘Dufay didn’t give a shit,’ Kramer recounts, ‘because for him it was all an image thing. Rick would fix his hair onstage, his guitar just hanging there loose and ringing, while Jimmy’s playing his fuckin’ heart out. It drove Jimmy to drugs.’

When Perry’s manager Tim Collins orchestrated Perry and Whitford’s return to Aerosmith in 1984, the writing was on the wall for Crespo and Dufay. ‘It was obvious what had to happen,’ Hamilton remembers. ‘Rick Dufay was even telling us we had to get back together with Joe. But I still feel kind of bad about Jimmy Crespo. I feel weird that we never sat down with Jimmy and said, “Man, you did so fuckin’ great, but we gotta put the band back together and someday we hope we can make it right for you.” Always meant to call him. Never did.’ [Hamilton’s thoughts on playing with Crespo and Dufay can be found here in this great 1982 interview).

RITA#656cOther than his guitar part on Lightning Strikes – and who knows who played what on that song, between Crespo, Whitford and Dufay – his only other appearance on an official Aerosmith release is in the music video for Lightning Strikes. Here he’s every bit as cocksure and arrogant as his reputation suggests, swaggering through the song looking like his idol Ron Wood. In contrast, Crespo just looks like a reanimated scarecrow. As well as showing the band playing the song in a recording studio, the video is interspersed with cut-scenes in which they stand in a dark alley, hamming it up for the cameras, as a gang of greased-up street punks. It has the charm of early MTV, and bizarrely the guitar solo is accompanied by a montage of exploding cantaloupe melons.

Dufay’s solo album Tender Loving Abuse isn’t the greatest rock record you’ve never heard. It exists purely as a curio for Aerosmith fans. It’s well produced – thanks to Douglas – and is perhaps the most sleaziest, most ­Aerosmith-sounding solo record by any of the band members. Whitford / St.Holmes is too AOR-sounding, and Perry’s run of ever-decreasing-circles solo albums suffer from a number of mediocre lead vocalists. In fact, if anything it’s the vocals which let Dufay’s record down also. He tackles lead vocals himself but it’s clear that he doesn’t have the range to pull off such a feat and as a result, the blistering guitar work is sidelined by his overstretched vocal delivery.

One can only wonder what an Aerosmith album would have sounded like with Dufay contributing to the sessions. Alongside Perry or Crespo, or even in a combination somehow with Whitford, I imagine it would have sounded awesome.

Hit: Love Is The Only Way

Hidden Gem: Straight Jacket

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Rocks In The Attic #600: Aerosmith – ‘Get A Grip’ (1993)

RITA#600During their formation in the early 1970s, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry initially rejected Steven Tyler’s proto-power ballad Dream On, believing that the only type of slow song the band should play was a slow blues. Perry was somehow won over (overruled? blackmailed?) by Tyler and they recorded the song in late 1972. It was a high point on the band’s self-titled 1973 debut, eventually becoming one of the band’s biggest hits, peaking at #6 on the U.S. Billboard Top 200 upon its re-release as a single in 1976.

Twenty years on, and Perry’s principles have been left behind in rehab with his various drug addictions. Either that or his accountant has managed to point out how many Ferraris and swimming pools Tyler’s ballads have paid for in the intervening decades. Their eleventh studio album, Get A Grip shows that Perry has all but given up in the struggle against Tyler’s proclivity towards slower, commercial songs.

Things don’t start well, with Tyler rapping – yes, rapping – over a drum loop. A snippet of their well-known Walk This Way riff completes the heavy-handed reference to the band’s crossover hit with Run-D.M.C., before making way for some Polynesian drums and the first song proper, Eat The Rich. It sets the scene well, with a heavy riff and a ballsy production by Bruce Fairbairn aimed at a grunge / alternative rock audience.

Something isn’t quite right though. Over their two previous records, Permanent Vacation (1987) and Pump (1989), Aerosmith showed that they could succeed by employing external songwriters. But Pump, the more successful of those albums, still had a decent proportion – 60% – of self-penned songs. With Get A Grip however, Aerosmith put almost all of the album – thirteen out of fifteen songs – into the hands of ‘song doctors’. As a result, the band sound less and less like the 1970s classic rock versions of themselves, and more and more like something created in a school for performing arts.

The album has no less than seven singles (released over a fourteen-month span), and this is where the album loses focus. It’s almost as if they were trying to create an album of singles, a ready-made Greatest Hits compilation. Released smack-bang in that early-‘90s period when nearly all rock albums tended to be sixty-plus minute affairs, the only limits were the band’s imagination (and the running length of a compact disc). As a result, it lacks the cohesion of Pump, and has far too much filler material.

Joe Perry should be happy though. The album contains a more than adequate dose of straightforward rockers, and he even gets to sing a self-penned number (the refreshing Walk On Down). However, it isn’t power ballads that Perry should be looking out for; Steven Tyler has a new weapon in his arsenal – country-rock. Be afraid, be very afraid.

One of the most joyous moments on Pump was its final song What It Takes – a slow-burning country-tinged ballad, co-written by Tyler and Perry with Desmond Child. Something about it didn’t seem serious though. Tyler hams it up by singing the lyrics in a southern drawl, and it sounds more like the band is having fun playing in a different style than a serious attempt at a change in genre.

Fast forward four years and either Tyler has been bitten by the country bug or somebody has pointed out how lucrative the country market is. Two of Get A Grip’s singles – Cryin’ and Crazy – are unashamedly country rock, and this time the band aren’t playing around. They’re deadly serious. By 1993, two of Garth Brooks’ four albums had debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 – a feat Aerosmith could only dream of at that point – so it’s difficult to view their change of direction without a degree of cynicism. Get A Grip would be their first record to peak at #1, so maybe the left turn into country music paid off.

The album does have some high-points– the cosmic jam of Gotta Love It finds them channelling the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Line Up is a welcome collaboration with Lenny Kravitz and Boogie Man might just be the weirdest, most soothing guitar instrumental you’ve ever heard after Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross.

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The Get A Grip tour programme

But it’s the big singles that are the showcase of the album. Released a month in advance, Living On The Edge is a weighty rocker, with the band in important-message-to-the-youth-of-today mode. It’s so earnest; a million miles away from the band who had recently been singing about transvestites and sex in elevators. The other notable hits – the Alicia Silverstone music video trilogy of Cryin’, Amazing and Crazy – are as commercial sounding as possible. Chart fodder, indistinguishable from a Bon Jovi record.

I saw Aerosmith on the Get A Grip tour, in Sheffield on Thursday October 21st 1993, the very first concert I went to, and so the record means a lot to me. I just wish that such an important record in my musical upbringing was a better record.

If Pump represented a high water-mark for the second age of Aerosmith, Get A Grip signals the beginning of a long, slippery slope downhill.

Hit: Livin’ On The Edge

Hidden Gem: Gotta Love It

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Rocks In The Attic #517: U.F.O. – ‘Strangers In The Night’ (1979)

RITA#517“Hello Chicago!…”

I felt like a blast of heavy metal, given that I’ve just watched Heavy Metal Parking Lot – the documentary love-letter to being young, dumb, full of booze and standing around waiting for your favourite band to play in your hometown.

The premise of the film is very simple – two documentary filmmakers, Jeff Krulik and John Heyn, took a movie camera and a microphone to the parking lot of the Capitol Centre arena in Landover, Maryland on May 31st 1986 to film heavy metal fans who had congregated there to see Judas Priest on their Fuel For Life tour.

As you might expect, the short film is full of idiots – boozed-up, shirtless and, for the most part, willing participants for the filmmakers who are obviously there to poke fun at their subjects. Krulik and Heyn don’t get too involved in fact, and the only ridiculing evident is self-inflicted, with some gentle prompting by way of questions to the interviewees.

The film did make me think about how I was at that age – in my mid-teens and with a love of heavy metal. I know my behaviour wasn’t quite as extreme as the teens in this film, but I definitely saw a lot of people acting like this as soon as they had a couple of beers inside them. Only a couple of years ago I was standing in the crowd at  Black Sabbath concert, and the young, overweight girl next to me was asleep on her feet, drunk out of her head, and smelling of vomit as she bounced against each of the people stood around her, like an intoxicated ball in a pinball machine.

I’ve always been staunchly against anything coming close to ‘laddish’ behaviour, but this film is full of it. The young teens are emboldened not just by their drunkenness, but by being safely amongst their own kind. It’s a kind of pack mentality; an innocent kind, without any negative consequences.

Even more interesting than the 1986 film, is Krulik and Heyn’s follow-up documentary which traces a handful of Heavy Metal Parking Lot’s original interviewees. Most of the subjects are happy to have been tracked down and can view the film with good-natured nostalgia for the days of their youth, but the final segment is slightly different. In their search for ‘Zebraman’ – a youth dressed in a zebra patterned two-piece outfit, Krulik and Heyn knock on a door of a suburban house to be greeted by the man himself. Only he has his arms crossed and doesn’t look to happy that they’ve found him. He seems to be the only one to regret his involvement in the film, but still manages to crack a smile or two.

U.F.O.’s Strangers In The Night is a double live album from 1979, featuring songs recorded during the band’s North American tour promoting the Obsession album. It’s the last album to feature guitarist Michael Schenker, who almost went on to replace the recently departed Joe Perry in Aerosmith.

I know hardly anything about U.F.O. Their music, like a lot of classic heavy metal, bores me to tears. I think I first heard about the album in a special edition of Q or Mojo espousing essential rock albums. I never think a live album is a good way to first hear a band (although AC/DC Live worked wonders for me) and so this record just washes over me. As my wife once famously said to me at a Steely Dan concert, ‘I can’t tell when one song finishes and the next one starts’.

Hit: Doctor Doctor

Hidden Gem: Only You Can Rock Me

Rocks In The Attic #512: Aerosmith – ‘Anthology’ (1988)

RITA#512Last night I finally watched Penelope Spheeris’ documentary The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. It’s something I’ve been looking for ever since I saw the first instalment on the 1979 L.A. punk rock scene. I’d heard about Part II ever since I’ve been an Aerosmith fan, and it didn’t disappoint.

Spheeris’ second film in the trilogy charts the comings and goings of L.A.’s glam metal bands from 1986 to 1988, all vying for stardom and attempting to out-do each other in the process. At first glance it’s not immediately clear who’s male and who’s female; the make-up and hairspray is so thick. And speaking of thick, there doesn’t seem to be a smart person among them. They’re the embodiment of Spinal Tap, without a trace of irony or self-awareness.

Intercut with these interviews and live performances are context-providing talking heads with the elder statesmen of the genre: Kiss’ Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy from Motörhead, Dave Mustaine from Megadeth, and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.

Aside from the absurdity of  the sections featuring Paul Stanley (lying in a bed with four lace-wearing groupies) and Gene Simmons (standing in a ladies’ clothes store, ogling at women), these interviews are reasonably candid and they come across much better than the young upstarts who are trying to make a name for themselves in the dingy Sunset Strip bars.

Alice Cooper particularly is as lucid as ever, and it’s refreshing to see Ozzy talk openly about the metal scene without the mumble he’s now commonly associated with. Tyler and Perry come across well, with the pair being able to talk with an air of stateliness, having recently hit the big time for a second time with 1987’s Permanent Vacation album.

Their sections are not too different from the content of the interviews in 1989’s The Making Of Pump documentary, with Tyler reeling off soundbites about his drug addictions, and Perry sounding as lugubrious as usual. It must be hard to summon the effort to talk about anything with enthusiasm when your adrenaline reserves have been destroyed through years of drug abuse.

One short shot in the film doesn’t ring quite true. After we’ve seen a domesticated Ozzy cook a fried breakfast with no issues, he goes to pour a bottle of orange juice into some glasses on the kitchen table, and Spheeris cynically inserts a shot of him spilling the orange juice as though he has the shakes. It’s obvious that it’s fake, and exists solely to make Ozzy look like he can’t handle sobriety. The end result is that you lose respect for Spheeris as a filmmaker. She might point her cameras at subjects she believes to be ridiculous, but at least they’re being honest.

Anthology is a rare West German compilation of Aerosmith’s early Columbia output, released on the UK label Castle Communications in 1988. It includes a heap of tracks that don’t feature on any other compilation, so you get, for example, the likes of Push Comes To Shove and the title track from 1982’s Rock In A Hard Place, the mis-titled Bite The Hand That Feeds and Sight For Sore Eyes from 1977’s Draw The Line, and several tracks from 1978’s Live! Bootleg – stadium performances of Walk This Way and Back In The Saddle, and the awesome 1973 Paul’s Mall performance of James Brown’s Mother Popcorn.

Hit: Sweet Emotion

Hidden Gem: Mother Popcorn (Live)

Write Moo A Letter (My Top-10 Aerosmith Songs)

A few weeks ago my good friend Moo emailed me out of the blue and asked me to list my top ten Aerosmith songs. I nearly spat out my tea. You see, Moo doesn’t like Aerosmith. In fact, that’s the understatement of the twenty first century. Out of all the bands in the world that Moo likes to pour scorn on, it’s Aerosmith. He doesn’t like to just pour scorn on them though, opting instead to apply the scorn with a high-pressure hose.

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There are plenty of reasons for his disapproval of course. Aerosmith are now a terrible band (Moo would say they always have been), they’ve pissed all over their legacy (he’d ask ‘what legacy?’) and in Steven Tyler the band are fronted by one of the most annoying men in the history of music (no argument there). The main reason he targets them though is that they’re my favourite band. A healthy friendship is all about holding your friend’s loves up to the light. Checks and balances and all that. It provides good banter too.

Of course, when it comes to criticism of Aerosmith, I have a hide as tough as a rhinoceros. I’ve written  about my love for them before, and there’s no stopping that now. I’m too old to change my ways – and anyway, for me the good easily outweighs the bad, even if the ‘bad’ gets progressively more challenging every year. Only the other day I heard that Tyler and co hinted at a farewell tour in 2017. Was I sad to hear the news? No, just like finding out your abusive parent was hit by a bus, it’ll be nice for them to go away to a place where they can’t do any more harm. And anyway, the news of Steven Tyler’s forthcoming country album was the thing that really filled me with dread.

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Moo looks for Aerosmith news in the French newspapers

So Moo was curious I guess, maybe wanting to know what makes me tick, and a woeful list in the Guardian prompted him to ask me for mine. He promised to make a Spotify playlist of the offending tracks, give it a fair listen and report back accordingly.

So the challenge: boil down my love of Aerosmith into just ten songs, and put together a list of tracks that Moo won’t turn up his nose to; an impossible feat. Aerosmith’s songs are in my DNA, my favourites change on a weekly basis, and they’d change drastically depending on who was asking.

I decided from the start to avoid the ‘big three’ – Dream On, Walk This Way and Sweet Emotion. I didn’t want to waste my precious ten choices on songs that everybody knows (even though Moo claimed to have never heard Dream On before). The other important thing for me was to draw heavily from the pre-Geffen years. I can find things I like about the Geffen years and beyond, but I think most true Aerosmith fans know that those years pale in comparison to the magic that was put down to tape in the 1970s.

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First of all, my ten and my reasons behind my choices:

1. Rattlesnake Shake (Live) (Pandora’s Box, 1991 – recording from 1971)

I chose this as it’s a great example of where the band came from. Early Fleetwood Mac extended into a Yardbirds-style jam. The guitar work-out that takes up the second portion of the song is awesome.

2. Lord Of The Thighs (Get Your Wings, 1974)

After the under-produced and somewhat workaday feel of their first album, this is possibly the first real example of the band showing their cards. Of course it helps to have a decent producer on board in the form of ‘sixth-Aero’ Jack Douglas.

3. Seasons Of Wither (Get Your Wings, 1974)

Just bloody lovely. I refuse to classify this as a power ballad – there’s more to it than that – and I would offer that this is the band’s first successful attempt at creating an otherness that is usually absent from their straight-ahead rockers and slower ballads.

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How Joe Perry could see anything at all in the mid-’70s is a complete mystery

4. Adam’s Apple (Toys In The Attic, 1975)

A sick guitar riff. By this time, it feels like Joe Perry could come up with a riff – no matter how backwards it sounds – and the band would just effortlessly bring it to life. The dictionary definition of a deep cut, the song did eventually enjoy a brief moment in the spotlight on 1988’s Gems compilation and an even sicker live version on 1991’s Pandora’s Box.

5. No More No More(Toys In The Attic, 1975)

A sunny tale of life on the road in a rock and roll band, you can almost smell the dusty tour-bus and imagine the crumbling walls of the cheap motels. The band would have been travelling more comfortably and staying at a better class of accommodation after their stratospheric rise in the wake of this album. No matter where I am, no matter what time of day it is, the sun always shines in my mind when I play this song.

6. Last Child (Rocks, 1976)

A great example of the band’s funk-inspired beginnings (drummer Joey Kramer’s gig prior to joining the band was in a Meters-style funk outfit). It definitely sounds like white man’s funk though. You could dance to it, but it might give you a headache if you over-think it.

7. Sick As A Dog (Rocks, 1976)

From the same album, Sick As A Dog is the jewel in the crown on Rocks. This rocker features an instrumental break half way through, giving the band the chance to switch instruments. The song starts off with Joe Perry on bass and Tom Hamilton on rhythm guitar. Then in the break, Steven Tyler takes over on bass while Perry resumes guitar duties for the end solo. Awesome.

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Breaking down walls with Run DMC

8. Krawhitham(Pandora’s Box, 1991 – recording from 1977)

This one’s an unreleased instrumental track written and played by the ‘other three’ – Joey Kramer, Brad Whitfordand Tom Hamilton – while they were waiting, bored, for Tyler and Perry to turn up to the studio. It’s my jam, to use the common parlance of the time.

9. Chiquita (Night In The Ruts, 1979)

This was being recorded just as Joe Perry walked out of the band in 1979. In his absence, Tyler took what Perry had intended to be a guitar line and turned it into a great horn part, reminiscent of the Who’s 5.15, or the Beatles’ Savoy Truffle.

10. Monkey On My Back (Pump, 1989)

This is the only post-sobriety one I’ve bothered to include. There are good songs from this period, but they’re definitely fewer and farther between. And it doesn’t make sense to include more at the expense of a song from their golden period. The Geffen years weirdly correlate with the advent of compact discs and as a result everything sounds a little too cold and clinical from here on in.

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Vini and Moo singing along to some Aerosmith classics


I flicked off the email to Moo and waited for the criticism to come back. It didn’t take long. Over to Moo…

Rattlesnake Shake

“OK, I suppose. Like a million other early ‘70s bands. Nice Eddie Vedder-ish vocals though. I dispute the awesomeness of the jam at the end. It went on for far too long. At one point I thought it was never going to end.”

Lord Of The Thighs

“This is pretty good, the guitar riff and piano line sound quite sinister. Like something from a gritty ‘70s cop film. Although I’m impressed that they can sing the lyrics without laughing.”

Aero3Seasons Of Wither

“This isn’t too bad. Almost as good as early Boston.”

Adam’s Apple

“This is much better. Although I’d stop short of saying it’s good.”

No More No More

“At this point, I start to think that I just won’t like them. There’s nothing wrong with this exactly, it’s just dull.”

Last Child

“Is it me or does this sound like Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick? But this is the best so far; really good song.”

Sick As A Dog

“This is not very good.”

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Krawitham

“Not bad, but it feels like a song with the singing missing, which I guess is what it is.”

Chiquita

“This is pretty good. Nice horns as you say. It shows that they had listened to punk and (almost) understood it.”

Monkey On My Back

*listens to the first half then presses skip*

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With the benefit of hindsight, maybe I should have chosen different songs? I did think about including Aerosmith’s live cover of James Brown’s Mother Popcorn from 1978’s Live! Bootleg. It’s a funky gem, but the eleven-minute track includes a ‘hidden’ version of Draw The Line which might have tested his patience even further.

I also toyed with the idea of including the Live! Bootleg version of Walk This Way. Yes, everybody and their grandmother might have heard the song, but this version has Joe Perry playing the main riff through the talk-box effect (famous for its appearance on the intro to Sweet Emotion). It could have been very different if they had applied this guitar effect to all of their songs from this point onwards – Peter Frampton eat your heart out – but hearing it on this track just sounds weirdly out of place; a curio for sure.

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The band should be applauded for sticking with their blind clothes designer

Well, you can’t please all the people all the time, can you? I once gave Moo a spare copy of AC/DC’s Powerage, which turned him onto the mighty ‘DC in a way I could never have imagined. It’s a shame that a similar thing isn’t going to happen here. Perhaps Moo is hardwired to like bad Aerosmith only? I could have easily put together a Top 10 Worst Aerosmith song list, but I wouldn’t want to put him through this. Maybe I should have bought him a copy of Just Push Play and be done with it.

Ah, fuck it. For Moo it really is just a case of No More, No More.

For another ‘alternative best of Aerosmith playlist’ check out this post on the Every Record Tells A Story blog , a great site put together by fellow Aero-head Steve Carr.

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The band take a break in the breakfast nook of the Campbell household

Rocks In The Attic #435: Freddie King – ‘Getting Ready…’ (1971)

RITA#435A few weekends ago it was the bi-annual record collector’s fair in Auckland. I really look forward to these events, held six months apart in March and October – they’re like Christmas Day for me, only without the turkey, Queen’s speech or unwanted socks and jumpers as gifts. In fact, they’re probably my favourite days of the year – one just as summer is about to start and one just as summer is about to finish.

I always go along with a budget in mind – $100 or so – but I’ll take more with me as a safety net. You never know if you’ll come across something autographed by a band you love when you’ve only got $5 left in your pocket. That would be a horrible situation to be in. I’d have to grab it and do a runner.

This year, I very quickly spent $100 – and just kept on going. I usually pick up albums for around $5 each, and usually end up spending so much just to capitalise on the opportunity – knowing that the same albums would cost me upwards of $15 or $20 each at Real Groovy in the same condition. I ended up spending upwards of $200 – budget well and truly blown. But I averaged around $6 per record – for thirty eight records in total, so I came home well and truly happy.

The thing that made me the happiest was my final purchase. I knew I had exceeded the $200 mark, so I was just about to leave when I had a look at just one more stall (don’t addicts always talk about ‘just having one more’?).

There it was – a nice copy of Freddie King’s Getting Ready… from 1971, an album I had been looking for for quite some time. Last year, while doing some research for my failed / unwanted 33 1/3 book submission, I came across an old interview with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. He mentioned that in preparing to write and record their 1989 album Pump, he had been listening to a lot of blues records from his youth – one of which, Freddie King’s Going Down had really reminded him of the music that used to get him up in the morning, before he replaced music with drugs.

I found the album digitally easy enough, but a vinyl copy remained elusive. Until I saw it at the fair. My heart stopped for a moment when I first saw it, but then I looked at the price. A full $15. This was not only more than I had paid for everything else in my bag at that point, but it completely made a joke of the $100 budget I had set myself. Fuck it, I thought. I had been looking for the record so long, what difference does another $15 make when I’ve already gone 100% over my budget.

I’m so glad I have this in my collection. Joe’s right too – Going Down is one of the most upbeat blues stompers you’re likely ever to hear. It could almost be the rootsy precursor to Supergrass’ Alright – sunny, effervescent, truly uplifting blues.

Hit: Going Down

Hidden Gem: Walking By Myself

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…
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