New Band of the Month: October – Reflection

For the ninth month of the New Band feature, I selected Australian metal pioneers, AC/DC (read my initial thoughts here).

Was I ready to rock!? Aaaaaoooooooooooooaaaaya!

I guess.

Like  some of the other acts I’ve focused on in this feature, AC/DC is a band that has existed so long that they’ve amassed a back catalog I could never hope to get through in one month. So, instead of attempting that fool’s errand, I took the advice of a commentator and focused on two of the band’s biggest albums, Highway to Hell and Back in Black. These two albums represent the band immediately before and after the death of their original iconic singer, Ben Scott, respectively, with Back in Black being the debut of Brian Johnson. The latter album would go on to become the second highest album of all time, after Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

So, with such pedigree, what did I think?

Well, outside of the singers, there are some other notable differences between the two albums. Highway to Hell seems a bit more ‘hardrocking’ than its successor, with songs that feel less radio-friendly than those on Back to Black. Now, having said that, I realize that calling any of AC/DC’s music ‘radio-friendly’ is the product of time. I know when these albums came out in the late 70s/early 80s, the radio wasn’t awash with heavy metal music. But as history has proven, there is a place in our classic rock hearts for the Angus’ brothers riff heavy music.

For that reason, listening to Highway to Hell feels like listening to a classic of metal, whereas Back in Black feels more generally like a rock classic. It might be a fine distinction for some, but it’s significant. If metal were more my bag, I’d much rather put on Highway than Black if I were in need of a kick in the pants. The solos are harsher, the lyrics feel nastier and just generally the atmosphere is dripping with sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, all without having to put up a banner that says “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.”

Then again, as I’m still not a metal head after this month of listening to AC/DC (I know, shocking), if I were looking for a rock album to just throw on in the background, it’d likely be Back in Black, what with it’s one-two punch of rock classics, “Back in Black” and “You Shook Me All Night Long.” The catchier hooks make it the kind of album that would make for good casual listening, especially when less interesting songs like “Have a Drink on Me” come on.

Will I Buy An Album?  I don’t feel any great need to own either one of these albums. If someone gave them to me, I’d gladly load them on my computer where classic singles, “Back in Black,” “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Highway to Hell” would get a fair amount of play, but the other songs would almost certainly stay in the single digit play counts. If I had to choose between the albums, I guess it would depend on my mood at the moment. Musically, I appreciate Highway to Hell quite a bit more, and I think it represents a greater achievement as a band. But there’s no denying the Rock-someness of Back in Black‘s classic singles. I’d probably just be better off paying $2 to get those songs.

Favorite Song:  Of the singles, I have to go with “You Shook Me All Night Long.” It’s not the hardest rocking, it’s not an example of perfect song craftsmanship (though, some might disagree), but damn if it isn’t exactly what a rock song should be: Sexy and propulsive, a song to run, party or screw to. “Beating Around the Bush” and “Shot Down in Flames” are a great pairing on Highway to Hell and represent why the album, to me, is more interesting and fulfilling as a listen. But when it comes to AC/DC, I’m still just a singles guy, so “You Shook Me All Night Long” wins hands down.

Next Month: Hot Fuzz

New Band of the Month: October – AC/DC

Every month this year, I’m dedicating myself to getting into a new band.  By ‘new band’, what I really mean is an old band who I’ve known of for awhile but have for one reason or another never checked out.  Maybe they were a genre I wasn’t into, maybe they were the favorite band of someone I didn’t like, maybe I was just lazy.  Whatever reason, I’m going to spend the month trying to get into them.

If, at the end of the month, I find myself enjoying the music I’ll buy an album.  And if not, I’ll save my money for something else.

I missed September. I had had every intention of running this feature straight through the move, but then I went half a month without internet and the whole thing just became a kind of debacle. So, I skipped a month. Oh well.

My New Band for October is:

AC/DC

From the wiki page

AC/DC are an Australian rock band, formed in 1973 by brothers Malcolm and Angus Young, who have remained the sole constant members. Commonly classified as hard rock, they are considered pioneers of heavy metal and are sometimes classified as such, though they themselves have always classified their music as simply “rock and roll”. To date they are one of the highest grossing bands of all time.

My personal history with AC/DC:

This is one of those bands that is so massive and so popular, both nationally and internationally, that it’s kind of ridiculous that I’ve never listened to them. Unlike, say, Metallica or Van Halen, I don’t have an instinctive repulsion at the mention of AC/DC. I’ve just never given them the time of day. It’s purely a case of genre bias: I don’t listen to Heavy Metal.

There are a variety of reasons for this, though probably the most important was that by the time I was old enough to pay attention to such things, Heavy Metal had turned into Hair Metal (at least, on the radio), and I find that to be, perhaps, the worst category of rock music ever.

My first real dive into harder rock (in other words, not the 60s rock of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones) didn’t occur until the 90s, by which time Nirvana and their grunge brethren had usurped the big hair and ridiculous posturing of the 80s rock acts. Now, just like Heavy Metal, Grunge Rock led to its own share of generic, radio-ready hacks riding on the wave of better bands (Nickelback and Creed are the worst offenders). I feel it’s important not to blame a genre for the crap that it’s originators never could have predicted, so I’m going to give Heavy Metal a shot here.

Of course, I’ve heard my share of AC/DC songs. “Back in Black” is fairly inescapable, and that rift is undeniable. Pure badassery, there’s no denying it. I’m sure there are even more I’d recognize, though that’s the only one I can name off the top of my head. I’m not of the impression that by the end of this month I’ll suddenly be into Metal. But I think I could come to appreciate the gold standard of the genre, and I think most fans would list AC/DC as one of the best of the best.

So, I’ve got my devil horns cocked and my black t-shirts all laid out. If you’re like me and never gone full metal jacket, maybe give AC/DC a chance this month with me. And if you’ve long been on the bandwagon, comment and let me know what songs and albums are must-listens.

New Band of the Month: March – Reflection

This marks the end of my third month of the new feature.

For my third month of the New Band feature, I chose Hall of Fame rocker, Bruce Springsteen (read my initial thoughts here).

So, with March over, what are my thoughts?

Like I said in the original post, Bruce Springsteen is one of those artists who everybody’s heard, even if only in bars.  That was pretty much my experience of the man and his music.  As ubiquitous as his music is, I’ve frankly never had much serious exposure to it.  Listening to music in a bar is a blast, but it’s hardly the best way to experience it, especially if you want to gain a true appreciation for it.

What I noticed most of all listening to the albums (predominantly Born in The USA, Nebraska and Darkness on the Edge of Town), was that I was fairly familiar with some of the songs, not through jukebox plays, but because his songs have been covered quite a bit by a variety of artists.  Now, this isn’t a surprise.  An artist of his stature and longevity is obviously going to have a wide influence.  I’ve long loved Pete Yorn’s cover of “New York City Serenade,” but I (ignorantly) never realized that the Chromatics’ “I’m On Fire” was a Bruce Springsteen original.  Silly me.

That said, while there was a pleasant familiarity to many of the songs and the albums are clearly pop classics, I found myself most drawn to the stripped down and barren landscape of Nebraska.  Bruce’s voice over solo guitar – without the somewhat dated sounds of a backing band – feels very timeless.  I think that album could be released today and feel no less fresh, mainly because it sounds so old, but in a traditional sense.

Will I Buy An Album?  As I’ve already stated, Nebraska is my favorite of the albums I heard.  I can see myself putting it on and listening to it all the way through from time to time.  Considering the era it came out in, I can understand why Born in The USA was such a zeitgeist defining album, but for me it feels just too of its moment in time, whereas I think Nebraska will always feel relevant.  Maybe that’s just me.

Favorite Song: The opening title track of Nebraska is pretty great and feels like it could be a Dylan cover.  I’m always a sucker for a harmonica.  The album closes out with another favorite, the excellent “Reason to Believe,” swathed in plenty of harmonica.

Next Month: It’s dance music.  No, it’s punk music.  Stop, you’re both right.

New Band of the Month: March – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Every month this year, I’m dedicating myself to getting into a new band.  By ‘new band’, what I really mean is an old band who I’ve known of for awhile but have for one reason or another never checked out.  Maybe they were a genre I wasn’t into, maybe they were the favorite band of someone I didn’t like, maybe I was just lazy.  Whatever reason, I’m going to spend the month trying to get into them.

If, at the end of the month, I find myself enjoying the music I’ll buy an album.  And if not, I’ll save my money for something else.

My New Band for March is:

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

From the wiki page:

Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen (born September 23, 1949), nicknamed “The Boss,” is an American singer-songwriter-performer who records and tours with the E Street Band. Springsteen is widely known for his brand of heartland rock, poetic lyrics, and Americana sentiments centered on his native New Jersey.

The E Street Band has been rock musician Bruce Springsteen’s primary backing band since 1972.

My personal history with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band:

Uh, Born In The U.S.A.  Seriously, that’s pretty  much it.  I mean, like anybody who has spent any amount of time in a bar in the last, oh, I don’t know, 30 years, I’ve heard my share of Bruce Springsteen.  Yet, I can’t really claim to know many of his songs and have never listened to him on my own.  Seriously, check out my Last.fm if you don’t believe me (one random play must have snuck through on their streaming radio).

I don’t know that there’s any great reason for it.  I was born right at the beginning of Springsteen’s rise to success, but by the time I was paying attention to music on my own, it was the 90s, and 80s rock was replaced with Nirvana and sarcasm.  That, of course, hasn’t stopped me from becoming a later-in-life fan of other 80s stalwarts like Talking Heads or The Cure.  No one in my life ever really listened to ‘the Boss’, so I never felt any inclination to care.

Which is why it’s always sort of blown me away how absolutely beloved Springsteen is throughout the country.  Obviously in New Jersey he’s bigger than Jesus, but people love this dude’s music all over the place, and while I can drunkenly mumble along to a few of his hits with the best of them, I have pretty much no knowledge of his vast library.

And vast it is.  Fugazi has a solid number of albums, but only a few that seemed ‘vital,’ and Digable Planets only produced two albums.  Having a representative experience of both band’s respective discography in a month was reasonable.  That won’t be the case with Bruce Springsteen.  I’ll likely focus on his most revered period, specifically Nebraska and Born in the U.S.A., but I know his fans would tell me there are a dozen other albums worth checking out (including a new one this month, I just realized; kismet).

I fully expect my frame of reference by the end of the month to be woefully incomplete, but I’m going to do my best.  Maybe by March 31st, I’ll see what I’ve been missing all these years, or maybe I’ll realize why I’ve never felt compelled to give the music a chance.  We’ll see.

Feel free to explore with me, or rediscover him if you’ve always been a fan.  And if you have suggestions for future bands I should feature, please mention them in the comments.