If You Want Blood: The Deep Cuts of AC/DC

As an eight-year-old I swapped a handful of pocket money for Highway to Hell on cassette at a now defunct department store, FitzGerald’s, on Hobart’s eastern shore. If I’d even heard of AC/DC at the time it was only in passing. They weren’t on my mind when I walked in there. I have censorship to thank.

My neighbour’s older brother had several Guns ‘N’ Roses releases on CD. Among us kids, CDs were a sort of deluxe rarity. No one I knew’s parents had a CD player in their car. My parents had a CD player newly installed in their bedroom around this time, and that’s where the thing stayed. I didn’t have any CDs anyway and my parents had only one or two themselves. Cassettes were what we trafficked in—sometimes copies of copies. I had taped copies of several GNR albums and I was trying to buy one of my own. Accompanied by mum, I’d pointed over the counter to the G N’ R Lies cassette. The attendant obliged but, as was also her obligation, politely directed my mother’s attention to the sticker on the case. Mum wasn’t having it: “No, sorry,” she told me, “You can’t get that one.” The attendant sympathetically gestured to copies of Highway to Hell on the counter to her left, with its now discontinued Australian-release cover: the lads looming and leering out the inferno as a guitar fretboard-turned-highway vanishes into the flames: “You might like this one?” she suggested.  I took it, and from then on, with AC/DC, it was no stop signs, speed limits…


Highway to Hell, 1989 cassette re-release, Albert Productions. Originally released in 1979. Scan by Discogs.com

In fact, years later I bought Lies: hardly terrible but obviously at the inferior end of the GNR catalogue. Lady steered me right. Whoever she was—I remember a polite twenty-something, maybe even a teenager, just doing her job—she set me on a musical highway I’d still be cruising thirty-odd years later.

Having heard little of AC/DC on the radio at that age, and never watching music videos, I was left to explore the band alone. At the time I couldn’t have told you which songs from Highway to Hell were the singles. I gradually expanded my collection of tapes at a rate pocket- or birthday-money would permit. That wasn’t fast, so each album got played through over and over, really devoured and digested. This is still how I prefer to listen to the band today: album by album. Some may like Spotify to curate a dessert of hits but I still prefer the full-course meal.

And so I present, all of it according to me, the deep album cuts of AC/DC. The band might be a rock and roll phenomenon, but the fellas still have a horde of tearing tracks that are routinely ignored, underplayed or even unknown to the casual fan. What is a “deep cut” anyway? For my purposes it’ll mean a track from one of the studio albums that wasn’t released as a single. Additionally, it can’t have been part of the band’s live set for any real length of time. It also can’t be the title track: thumpers like “Fly on the Wall” or “Ballbreaker” might be underplayed, but they can’t count as deep album cuts. As we go I’ll highlight my favourites, then isolate only one “top pick”. Okay, enough Beating Around the Bush.

T.N.T. (1975, Australia only) and High Voltage (1976):

Singles: “Love Song” / “Baby, Please Don’t Go”, “High Voltage”, “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)”, “T.N.T.”

Deep cut cache: “Little Lover”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer”

Top pick: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer”

Comment: “Live Wire”, “Rocker” and “The Jack” are disqualified for getting a good run live. After “It’s a Long Way…” opens T.N.T. and the international edition of High Voltage, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer” maintains the momentum, with Bon barking a more anarchic account of yearning for the showbiz life. Rock and roll, stripped down and sweaty.

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976)

Singles: “Jailbreak”, “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”

Deep cut cache: “Ride On”, “Squealer”

Top pick: “Squealer”

Comment: “Rocker”, one of the album’s best, is disqualified for its live showings, most notably on the If You Want Blood live album. The melancholic cruiser “Ride On” has developed a reputation among fans but the amusingly tasteless “Squealer” takes number one spot for me for its classic AC/DC grunt and gutter-humour.

Let There Be Rock (1977)

Singles: “Dog Eat Dog”, “Let There Be Rock”, “Problem Child”, “Whole Lotta Rosie”

Deep cut cache: “Overdose”

Top pick: “Overdose”

Comment: “Bad Boy Boogie”, far and away my favourite of the album, is disqualified again for live popularity, as is “Hell Ain’t A Bad Place to Be”. That doesn’t leave a lot on this famously raw and raucous album. Nevertheless, the headbanging ode to obsession, “Overdose”, is just the right prescription.

Powerage (1978)

Singles: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation”

Deep cut cache: “Down Payment Blues”, “Gimme a Bullet”, “What’s Next to the Moon”, “Gone Shootin'”, “Up to My Neck in You”, “Kicked in the Teeth”

Top pick: “Gone Shootin'”

Comment: “Riff Raff” and “Sin City” disallowed for live popularity. Despite that there’s still plenty to pick from on the oft-overlooked Powerage (maybe it was that dreadful album cover?). For me it’s the easy-does-it, cruising momentum of “Gone Shootin'” that best hits the spot.

Highway to Hell (1979)

Singles: “Highway to Hell”, “Girls Got Rhythm”, “Touch Too Much”, “Beating Around the Bush”

Deep cut cache: “Walk All Over You”, “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)”, “Night Prowler”

Top pick: “Night Prowler”

Comment: Is there even a bad song on “Highway to Hell”? The pinnacle of the Bon Scott years seems to hit us at every turn with tracks filled with grunt, groove, humour and menace. And much of the menace comes from the closer, “Night Prowler”, an atmospheric and sinister sonic horror tale.

Back in Black (1980)

Singles: “You Shook Me All Night Long”, “Hells Bells”, “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, “Back in Black”

Deep cut cache: “Have a Drink on Me”, “Shake a Leg”

Top pick: “Have a Drink on Me”

Comment: Can anything on Back in Black, the second highest-selling album in music history, really be termed a “deep cut”? Well, I gave it a shot anyway. Their mischievious star Bon Scott having tragically burned out, AC/DC were reasonably expected to fade away. Instead, they released perhaps their most celebrated album, featuring the upbeat radio favourite “You Shook Me All Night Long”, the punch-crunch riffing of “Back in Black,” and the swaying menace of “Hells Bells”. It also contained some of the band’s most sexist songs: what was previously schoolboy (often self-effacing) humour attained a nastier tone in “Givin’ the Dog a Bone” and “What You Do for Money Honey” (also among the album’s weaker tracks). They’d get this horny-humor balance better into the future. Meanwhile, back on the deep cut question: it’s hardly unheard of, but “Have a Drink on Me” slams as good as the singles.

For Those About to Rock (1981)

Singles: “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)”, “Let’s Get It Up”

Deep cut cache: “Inject the Venom”, “Breaking the Rules”, “Spellbound”

Top pick: “Spellbound”

Comment: Opening with its epic, window-rattling title track, For Those About To Rock seems more than a match for its celebrated predecessor. Alas, the momentum slackens as we settle into a good if not outstanding album. I’m a big fan of “Inject the Venom”, a lumbering yet brutishly catchy tune about, apparently, administering lethal injections. However, for my number one pick it’s hard to overlook the album’s closer, “Spellbound”, a rough-edged and melancholic gem as entrancing as its title. Not too many AC/DC tracks like this one.

Flick of the Switch (1983)

Singles: “Flick of the Switch”, “Guns for Hire”, “Nervous Shakedown”

Deep cut cache: “Rising Power”, “This House is on Fire”,”Bedlam in Belgium”

Top pick: “This House is on Fire”

Comment: With the band on a downward slide commercially, the slapdash cover for Flick of the Switch probably didn’t help move any more units. Nevertheless, a raw and bruising album full of no-frills foot-stompers, including “This House is On Fire.”

Fly on the Wall (1985)

Singles: “Danger”, “Sink the Pink”, “Shake Your Foundations”

Deep cut cache: “Stand Up”, “Playing with Girls”, “Back in Business”

Top pick: “Stand Up”

Comment: With its rough-as-guts production, Fly on the Wall is often pegged as the band’s worst album. It isn’t. However, a medley of quirky videos that distracted and detracted from the Youngs’ crashing riffage did it no real favours. “Danger,” one of the album’s weaker tracks and an unfortunate choice for the first single, is cluttered by a weirdly shrill and ear-splitting solo from Angus and went over like a fart in church with the live crowd.

Here’s my two cents: don’t let Fly on the Wall‘s reputation deter you. Play it loud. Embrace the noise. It’s true that on a couple of tracks Brian sounds like he’s wailing from the bottom of a well somewhere in his native Durham. But the whole thing is characterised by a whiplashing, raucous charm. In songs such as “Sink the Pink” and “Shake Your Foundations” the lead guitar launches out in firey flourishes, supercharging an album already full of pounding, anthemic choruses. Fly on the Wall is a low-key favourite of mine, with several hidden gems, including the snarling gangster boast “Back in Business”; however, it’s “Stand Up” that sticks out most.

Blow Up Your Video (1988)

Singles: “Heatseeker”, “That’s the Way I Wanna Rock and Roll”

Deep cut cache: “Meanstreak”, “Go Zone”, “Sum Sin For Nuthin'”, “Ruff Stuff”, “Nick of Time”

Top pick: “Go Zone”

Comment: Look, I know a lot of people aren’t really fans of Blow Up Your Video, although I’m never really sure why that is. The production is a little staid, but I wouldn’t skip a single song on it. The singles are high-energy, but the album as a whole has a mix of moods and tempos, from the cocky strut of “Meanstreak” to the gloomier “Two’s Up”. I’ve selected “Go Zone” for top pick, but this is an album (ignored as it often is) that feels like it’s almost totally made up of decent deep cuts.

The Razors Edge (1990)

Singles: “Thunderstruck”, “Moneytalks” “Are You Ready”, “Rock Your Heart Out” (Australia only)

Deep cut cache: “Mistress for Christmas”, “Shot of Love”, “Goodbye & Good Riddance to Bad Luck”

Top pick: “Mistress for Christmas”

Comment: The Razors Edge came out around the time I was getting into AC/DC, and what a time to get into them: the release of a blockbuster album that spawned their biggest hit in the States. I remember the thrill and fascination of seeing the music video for “Thunderstruck” come on TV—of seeing a band I’d heard plenty but never before seen. The Razors sound is polished yet powerful, and  again the album carries a range of hard rock moods, from the surging and high-spirited Moneytalks to the fearsome title track. I’ve picked “Mistress for Christmas”: it’s nothing but fun, but with a tremendous build-up and blistering lead work from Angus. Deck the halls baby.

Ballbreaker (1995)

Singles: “Hard as a Rock”, “Cover You in Oil”, “Hail Caesar”

Deep cut cache: “The Furor”, “Burnin’ Alive”, “Whiskey on the Rocks”

Top pick: “The Furor”

One of the band’s most underrated albums, Ballbreaker features numerous songs that have that lean, crunchy and sinister sound that would all but disappear from the next album. Mysteriously cold-shouldered by critics, it nevetheless remains one of my favourites since its release. I’m really hard-pressed to pick a favourite deep cut here. But, balls in a vise, I’m going with “The Furor”.

Stiff Upper Lip (2001)

Singles: “Stuff Upper Lip”, “Safe in New York City”, “Satellite Blues”,

Deep cut cache: “Hold Me Back”, “Can’t Stand Still”, “Damned”

Top pick: “Damned”

Comment: Stiff Upper Lip really roars the engine with that title track—instant classic—but then largely settles down into a cruisier rhythm. With its steady-rolling bluesy swagger, this album has really grown on me over the years. Nevertheless, I’ll pick perhaps the slowest and heaviest song on there, “Damned”, as my choicest deep cut. Bon appetit.

Black Ice (2009)

Singles: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train”, “Big Jack”, “Anything Goes”

Deep cut cache: “Wheels”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Dream”

Top pick: “Wheels”

Comment: I’ll confess it here: I’ve tried hard to like Black Ice, but I found it largely disappointing then and find it disappointing today. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train” is enjoyable enough if a little too procedural, even calming, for the first single to a long-awaited album. “Big Jack” has some legs under it, but I don’t find it a standout. And if “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train” seems a little calming, “Anything Goes” is virtually cutesy: probably my least favourite single the band have released. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Dream”, with the band again in a mellow mood, is nevertheless a nicely dreamy distraction. But thank goodness for the nasty, muscular swing of that title track, right at the end of the album, Ballbreaker-style. Fantastic. Generally, though, on Black Ice there are too many songs and too few of them stand out. One that does, though, is “Wheels”: plenty of momentum on this polished, upbeat and unpretentious rocker.

Rock or Bust (2014)

Singles: “Rock or Bust”, “Play Ball”, “Rock the Blues Away”

Deep cut cache: “Miss Adventure”, Baptism by Fire”, “Rock the House”, “Sweet Candy”

Top pick: “Baptism by Fire”

Comment: Fifteen years after Black Ice, the band was back with Rock or Bust, although sadly with Malcolm’s health preventing his playing on either the album or the subsequent tour. A much shorter release than Black Ice, Rock or Bust (despite its generic title) features songs with more overall stand-out value than its predecessor. The gorgeously snappy guitar sound brings out the groove throughout on an album that, if not a classic, still holds its own in the band’s catalogue. For your deep immersion, I suggest “Baptism by Fire”. I know they gave this one a run on the album tour but it’s not (yet?) a setlist staple.

Power Up (2020)

Singles: “Realize”, “Shot in the Dark”, “Through the Mists of Time”, “Witch’s Spell”

Deep cut cache: “Kick You When You’re Down”, “Demon Fire”, “Money Shot,” “Systems Down”

Top pick: “Money Shot”

Comment: Along with Blue Öyster Cult, AC/DC came to the rescue during the pandemic’s lockdown era by releasing new material right when it was most needed. The latter gave us Power Up (styled as PWR/UP), charged and glowing in tribute to the departed Malcolm. In case you thought they’d lost their ribald sense of humour, though, we have here not only the cheeky single “Shot in the Dark” but also the dirty grandpa devilry of “Money Shot.” “Demon Fire” is a headlong scorcher, but having its own official video raised its profile enough. “Money Shot” can take the prize.

And that’s that. Did I miss any of your favourites? If so, I’d love to hear about them. Share your thoughts below.

Tyrant Queen (Whip of the Wind) – music

Tyrant QueenThe new track from Black Lotus, titled “Tyrant Queen (Whip of the Wind)”.

If you can’t handle Dave Mustaine’s early Megadeth vocals (or his later ones), this will be too much dirty rock power for you. But if you can, I hope you have fun with this.

Lyrics and free stream/download here.
You can also listen on Soundcloud or Youtube.

Tides of Death (music)

Tides of DeathNew song from my music project Black Lotus Cult, titled “Tides of Death“: now available for listening and free download. Fans of epic fantasy might enjoy this tale of woe and sacrilege. Lyrics for this track and others now available on the website (click the “More info . . .” link next to the track).

You can also listen to “Tides of Death” on Soundcloud (below) or Youtube. If you enjoy, feel free to share. Keep supporting underground music!

 

 

 

 

Blue Öyster Cult

Blue Öyster Cult

live in Sydney.

April 20, 2013, at the Hi-Fi.

Blue Oyster Cult, live in Sydney

In April of this year I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to see one of my very favorite bands, New York City’s veteran rockers Blue Öyster Cult, for the first time, on their first ever tour of Australia. I journeyed from Tasmania to Sydney to see them. Although it would have been closer, their Melbourne show wasn’t an option due to work commitments. Fortunately, the Sydney show allowed me to reunite with my younger brother (also a BOC fan) for the concert, making the experience even more memorable. In addition to such classic rock hits as “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and “Burnin’ for You,” BOC are noted for their influence on heavy metal, for their obscure and often fantastical lyrics, and for the blistering lead-work of guitarist Buck Dharma. The band’s current line-up includes original members Eric Bloom (vocals and “stun guitar”) and Buck Dharma (lead guitar, vocals), as well as newer additions including bassist Kasim Sulton (Utopia, Joan Jett, Patti Smith), drummer Jules Radino, and guitarist Richie Castellano.

Eric Bloom

Although the band maintained a famously heavy touring schedule (especially in the US) since they burst on to the scene in the early 70s, Australia had always eluded them. Invited to the antipodes by Australian classic rockers Hoodoo Gurus for their “Dig it Up” festival event, BOC booked additional concerts in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, playing these shows in their entirety without supports. Given the band wasn’t able to tour Australia during their most commercially successful years, it’s hardly an understatement to say that fans wouldn’t have dreamed of such a treat.

Many in attendance had been fans for forty years. Then there were those of us who suspect we were simply born too late to experience live the classic rock that undergirds and dominates so much of our musical taste. Particularly when we’re talking about BOC, who contributed their share to the classic rock canon, sure, but they don’t have the big touring power that comes with it. A group of impressive influence yet also a band who enjoyed their elusive imageultimately a cult band in name and nature. Yet here they were, rewarding their hard core on a strange shore, with a gig that was always going to have special and surreal resonance.

Blue Oyster Cult

All expectations were delighted by a momentous and powerful performance. The band tore through mainstays of their 70s catalogue like “The Red and the Black,” “Godzilla” and the ever-spellbinding “Then Came the Last Days of May,” as well as flashing gems from other periods of their multifaceted career, including the wistful “Shooting Shark” (from 1983’s The Revolution by Night), “The Vigil” (from the underrated Mirrors from 1979), and the screaming “Black Blade” (from 1980’s Cultosaurus Erectus). Frontman Eric Bloom commanded the stage with a veteran swagger, while gratefully acknowledging the crowd’s enthusiasm. Somewhere else in Sydney, Aerosmith and Van Halen were playing a show, one that (Bloom must have suspected) could equally have snagged the attention of the vintage rock fans in attendance. Bloom: “Thanks for coming out! I know you’ve got a lot on tonight… I hope it rains on those motherfuckers.” However, a quick glance around this crowd of glee-faced veteran rockers, many clad in faded and obscure merch from the band’s long history, would have confirmed that being elsewhere on this rare night was unthinkable.

Buck Dharma

Bloom-helmed standouts included “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll” and “Me262”; for the latter he brandished his guitar like a strafing cannon to “See these English planes go burn!” Bassist Kasim Sulton, a legendary classic rocker in his own right, spellbound the crowd with his stuff during an extended solo; and an interlude paid tribute to his storied career as the whole band launched into snippets of hits by Joan Jett, Todd Rundgren and Meatloaf. Guitarist Richie Castellano continues to prove what a valuable addition to the band he is with his joyous stage energy and intricate, gorgeously melodic and laser-precise guitar solos of the variety that make long-time guitarist Buck Dharma such a figure of admiration. Buck himself was in very fine form, weaving his rich improvisational magic into tracks like “Shooting Shark” (brief video below) and “Then Came the Last Days of May.” His silky vocals remain untrammeled by his 65 years, as blissful renditions of the above indicated, as did stellar performances of hits “Burnin’ for You” and (of course) “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper”.

In recognition of his role in bringing BOC to Australia, Brad Shepherd of Hoodoo Gurus joined the band on stage during “Last Days of May” and a cover of Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild.” During one or the other an ecstatic front-row fan managed to get Shepherd’s ear and impart his deep thanks. Shepherd (who claims to know how to play every BOC song from their first five albums) spread a Cheshire grin as he took position to play amongst his influencers: “I’m pretty happy about it myself!” Weren’t we all.

Brief fan-shot (by me) videos below of this fantastic and rare show. (Warning: the singing audible in the second video is largely my own.)

Cat Stevens’s “Father and Son”

cat stevens - tea for the tillerman (front)Everyone knows Cat Stevens’s “Father and Son,” perhaps the most celebrated track from his 1970 album Tea for the Tillerman. As its title suggests, the song takes the form of a conversation between a father and son: the former promotes security, normalcy, serenity in convention; the son yearns to venture out into the world, thereby finding his true self in a manner that recalls Robert Frost’s poem “Into My Own.” However, we note that much of the song’s sadness comes from the fact that generational difference serves as a barrier to true communication between the two; the son does not address the father directly (“How can I try to explain? / When I do he turns away again”). Cat Stevens performs the vocals for both father and son, slightly elevating his pitch to distinguish the son’s dialogue. At this point it may be worthwhile revisiting the song (youtube).

What I want to briefly suggest is that the song becomes more interesting and in many ways more poignant if we consider the possibility that both of these voices (both of which are sung by Stevens after all) belong to the father. In this interpretation the father’s mention of “going away” refers to his eventual death, and the endpoint of his strained communication with his son.

Cat StevensThe first lines of the song (unambiguously the father’s voice) clearly suggest a man with a rather sagely sense of himself; he addresses his son with a tenderness held in check by stereotypical paternal reserve: “It’s not time to make a change / Just relax, take it easy / You’re still young, that’s your fault / There’s so much you have to know . . .” In the conventional interpretation the son’s rebuttal follows, as he laments his inability to convince his father: “How can I try to explain? / When I do he turns away again . . .”

Yet if we do not at this point consciously attune ourselves to a rebuttal, decide to mark a transition—if we imagine the father’s voice simply continuing—then we hear an internal monologue that swells excruciatingly beyond the calm persona he has thus far projected for himself. “How can I try to explain? / when I do he turns away again” becomes the tragic lament of the father held at a distance, constrained by his own patient composure, by his insistence on maintaining his unapproachable and old-fashioned style of parenting.

Father and SonStevens continues: “From the moment I could talk, I was ordered to listen now / There’s a way, and I know, I have to go away.” In the usual interpretation these lines describe the son’s standard feelings of frustration and marginalization, his desire to free himself from the overbearing influence of family. More interesting however, is the idea that the first line is not the son’s recollection of his repressive upbringing, but the father’s. Reflecting on his own youth, the father recalls his routine subordination with a mixture of pride and regret: “From the moment I could talk, I was ordered to listen.” One might say that having been raised to accept an essentially passive role within a deeply codified society, the father in turn promotes this life to his son, encouraging him to embrace it as the norm.

Continuing this idea, after the song’s acoustic interlude the father’s internal voice diverges further from the placidity of the one the son actually hears. Here the song reaches its most tragic point. Beneath the father’s stoic paternalism, his fulfillment of his routine patriarchal role and patient observance of consensus, is a man utterly stifled: “All the times that I’ve cried / Keeping all the things I knew inside / it’s hard, but it’s harder to ignore it / If they were right, I’d agree / But it’s them they know, not me.” Even in the usual interpretation of this song, precisely who ‘they’ are here remains somewhat obscure—fathers? parents? (if he is referring to his father, why not “him?”—”he?”). Yet what if we take it as the abstract ‘they’ it appears to be? . . . An indeterminate, faceless but powerful They, a cultural chorus of consensus, propriety, dominant masculinity—whatever. At the same time as the father advocates convention, serenity, and the satisfaction of fulfilling predetermined roles, internally he veritably weeps for his own emotional repression.

Yusuf IslamNot every aspect of this explanation makes the kind of very straightforward logical sense of the dominant one, yet I feel this is also its virtue. If we see the song as illustrating tension between unexpressed internal desires and externally prescribed roles, the idea that aspects of that illustration remain incoherent, frustrated, uncertain, seems appropriate—even poignant.

“You will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not”: it is difficult to reconcile this line with the song’s conventional interpretation. The son is seeking to follow his dreams, so why would the father warn against their vanishing? We can of course draw the grimmer inference that the father is in fact encouraging his son to relinquish his dreams, as in:”If you live your life, according to the rules, your dreams will naturally dissipate.” This seems to make the most sense, although its expression is so unpersuasive (indeed, so grim) that it can only bespeak a deep and tragic bitterness within the father. Consequently, interpreting the the voice that immediately follows as the older man’s commentary on his own outwardly sensible yet deeply dissatisfying assurances seems especially fitting.