Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #49: The B-52’s

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who They Are: A deeply eclectic pop-party group spawned in Athens, Georgia, and later based in the lower reaches of Upstate New York, originally featuring a quintet line-up of guitarist Ricky Wilson, drummer Keith Strickland, and vocalists Kate Pierson (who also played keyboards and bass), Cindy Wilson (ace bongo player and occasional guitarist), and Fred Schneider. Ricky Wilson was a tragic early casualty of the AIDS era, and after his passing, Strickland shifted to guitar, with the group backed by session rhythm section players from that point forward. Cindy Wilson (Ricky’s sister) left the group for several years after his death, but not before completing her epic vocal work (think “Tin roof . . . rusted!”) on the B-52’s commercial breakthrough album from 1989, Cosmic Thing. After one album recorded and released by a Strickland-Pierson-Schneider trio, Cindy returned for their last studio album, Funplex (2008). In 2012, Keith Strickland announced his retirement from live B-52’s performances, though he nominally remains a member of the group in its studio incarnation, should they ever choose to release new material in that format.

When I First Heard Them: In the summer of 1979, digging their quirky alt-radio hit “Rock Lobster” on the epic free-form WLIR (92.7 FM), while I was living at Mitchel Field on Long Island. I remember them as a key part of what then seemed a strange radio phenomenon involving female-fronted groups bending the rock music rules in marvelous New Wave ways, with Lene Lovich’s “Lucky Number” and The Flying Lizards’ “Money” also standing strong in my memory as defining tunes of the times. In very early 1980, as “Rock Lobster” was gaining traction as a dance-floor classic, The B-52’s appeared on Saturday Night Live, and blew my mind with their performances of “Lobster” and (most especially) “Dance This Mess Around.” It wasn’t quite as life-altering a television experience as Devo’s appearance on SNL had been, but it was darned close, with loads of “What the hell was that?” moments spread across their brief appearance. I was hooked for good after that unexpectedly wonderful Saturday night, remaining happy to acquire whatever The B-52’s wanted to offer us audiences from that point forward.

Why I Love Them: I listen to a lot of dark and dour music (no surprise to regular readers here), and The B-52’s are always a delightful palate cleanser against that trend, offering light and love and joy in pretty much everything they do, even as they have contended as a group with some seriously heavy stuff over the years. While they traffic in goofy and kitschy tunes, their songs arrangements are often surprisingly sophisticated and strange (Ricky Wilson defined their guitar sound with a custom four-string, open-tuned axe, for example), appealing to both the higher and lower function facets of my music-processing brain housing group. While Fred Schneider is without question one of the most unusual front-men in rock music history, the real vocal magic of The B-52’s occurs when Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson sing together. They’re both extraordinary vocalists, with big voices, and Kate’s pure-tone belt and Cindy’s scratchy Southern drawl combine to make a heart-melting sound that’s simply unparalleled among the many other artists in my rather-large collection of tunes. While I’m not generally a shallow fellow who forms unrequited emotional attachments to famous people who I don’t actually know personally, I will confess to having had a big teen-age crush on Cindy Wilson way back when, smitten by her stage presence and singing, swoon! And having confessed that, I’m now deeply embarrassed, so I will get on to listing my fave B-52’s songs below, noting that there is nothing to see here, keep it moving right along, never mind the old man behind the curtain getting woozy with nostalgia for more innocent times.

#10. “Revolution Earth,” from Good Stuff (1992)

#9. “Song for a Future Generation,” from Whammy! (1983)

#8. “52 Girls,” from The B-52’s (1979)

#7. “Wig,” from Bouncing Off The Satellites (1986)

#6. “Roam,” from Cosmic Thing (1989)

#5. “Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland,” from Bouncing Off The Satellites (1986)

#4. “Legal Tender,” from Whammy! (1983)

#3. “Party Out of Bounds,” from Wild Planet (1980)

#2. “Dance This Mess Around,” from The B-52’s (1979)

#1. “Give Me Back My Man,” from Wild Planet (1980)

The “Favorite Band” Question (Re-Revisited)

In 2011, I wrote a blog post called “The ‘Favorite Band’ Question,” wherein I attempted to answer the query that, as a known hardcore music nerd, I am probably asked more often than any other, online and in the real world: “So, who’s your favorite band?”

I noted then, and I note now, that I listen to so much music, and I am so musically omnivorous, that it’s really hard for me to answer that question, simply because there are so many apples to oranges, or meatloaf to polonium, or bicycle to aardvark comparisons between the different types of things I spin. To wit: per my iTunes account, here are the past ten songs that have spun via the “random shuffle” setting on my collection as I’ve sat at my computer, getting ready to write this post:

  • “Coming Your Way” by Fleetwood Mac (Deep cut classic rock, 1969)
  • “Grand Ennui” by Michael Nesmith and the First National Band (Seminal country-rock, 1971)
  • “A Crude Likeness” by Dana Sipos (New Canadian folk-rock, 2021)
  • “Beat Them All” by Public Enemy (Titanic political hip-hop, 2020)
  • “Wet Rubber Soup” by Godley & Creme (Arty pop pastiche, 1985)
  • “Let Me Be There” by Olivia Newton-John (Country pop, 1974)
  • “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” by Ian Dury and the Blockheads (Literate pub-rock, 1978)
  • “Calling Dr. Love” by KISS (Disco-flavored rock, 1976)
  • “You’ll Be The One” by Mammoth WVH (Anthemic rock, 2021)
  • “Bricks Crumble” by Dälek (Trenchant industrial hip-hop, 2007)

I loved every one of those songs as they spun, and I love every one of those artists. But can I rank or compare them in any meaningful fashion? No, not really. They’re just too different. So because I don’t do anything simply, when I first started thinking about this question back in 2011, I decided that I had to define what constituted a “favorite band” for a generic listener before I answered the big question myself. Here’s the list of criteria I developed:

  • The listener actively looks forward to listening to the favorite band’s music more than any other music, and does so weekly, if not daily;
  • The listener seeks to have a complete collection of the favorite band’s work, and is willing to spend a little bit more money than usual to acquire it, with special attention paid to albums or singles that less-enthusiastic fans might never find or hear;
  • The listener never grows tired of the favorite band and its works, and anytime they come on the stereo or radio, no matter what the song, it is greeted with volume raising and singing along;
  • The listener seeks to learn more about the favorite band, and will often buy books or magazines or watch television or internet shows related to its members and their music;
  • The listener makes an effort to see the favorite band in a live setting as often as practically possible.

In my first and second stabs at the concepts embedded in this article, I went back through the ages of my life and listed the bands that I am pretty certain met all of those criteria more than any others in different years. That list looked like this:

  • Simon & Garfunkel (Initial musical sentience-1971)
  • Steppenwolf (1971-1973)
  • Wings (1973-1976)
  • Steely Dan (1976-1978)
  • Jethro Tull (1978-1982)
  • XTC (1982-1984)
  • Butthole Surfers (1984-1994)
  • Hawkwind (1994-1998)
  • The Residents (1998-2004)
  • The Fall (2004-2009)
  • Napalm Death (2009-2015)
  • King Crimson (2015-Present)

I note that those years in no way limit the time spans in which I actually listened to all of those groups. Take The Fall, for instance: I first started listening to them in 1983 or so, and I was gutted when their leader, Mark E. Smith, passed away. I still listen to them regularly, never really stopped doing so, and I cited some albums from outside the 2004-2009 time span as all-time favorites in various lists like this one or this one. But for a variety of reasons, internal and external, I was really, really, really into The Fall in that six year span in the early Naughts, and they really spent an extravagant percentage of time on my stereo, and on my mind. I didn’t like them any less come 2009, but I did find myself spending a lot more mental time, energy, and effort listening to and seeing Napalm Death.

Likewise with King Crimson circa 2015, when they supplanted Napalm Death atop the current pile, though I didn’t realize it for a couple of years, as favorite bands are like economic recessions, apparently: you can’t really decide that they’ve started until you’re well into them. I had been listening to, and loving, the Crim since the ’70s, but they sort of moved onto a different plane for me around 2015, when the “Seven-Headed Beast” incarnation of the band hit the road with a show that for the first time in their complicated history featured music from 1969’s debut album, In The Court of the Crimson King, along with cuts from every band era since, and a healthy slab of new tunes. At the time of this writing, the last live music show I’ve seen (damn you, COVID) was The Crim at my favorite Chicago venue, The Auditorium Theater. (Review of that transcendent event here).

I wrote a series explaining the where’s and why’s and what’s of my Favorite Band roster, all of which you can read here. And as I type this post, I’m some 48 articles into a second series about the groups I love who don’t quite rise to the top of the heap, all of which you can read here. As I was writing one of that second series’ posts, I had a revelation: my obvious answer to the Favorite Band Question seemed to have shifted in 2020 (again, like a recession, you don’t know it has started until after the fact), with Sparks now holding down the top spot in my personal pantheon of musical greatness. A shift! A change! Huttah!

Here’s the piece I wrote about Sparks a few weeks back, explaining and justifying why I’ve shifted a bit in terms of my best-of-the-best roster. As has always been the case, this shift doesn’t mean that I love King Crimson any less than I once did, but rather that Sparks have moved into a more constant, and central point in my musical consciousness than any other group, right here, right now. They’re issuing career-best music in real time, and they’re experiencing a level of cultural relevance and significance well above what’s been the case in the past (in the United States anyway; they’ve always been more popular in Europe), and those factors move me to make a shift in how I answer the question I’m asked more than any other.

And so I update this occasionally-recurring article today, with a new roster of Favorite Groups by year appended and amended as below:

  • Simon & Garfunkel (Initial musical sentience-1971)
  • Steppenwolf (1971-1973)
  • Wings (1973-1976)
  • Steely Dan (1976-1978)
  • Jethro Tull (1978-1982)
  • XTC (1982-1984)
  • Butthole Surfers (1984-1994)
  • Hawkwind (1994-1998)
  • The Residents (1998-2004)
  • The Fall (2004-2009)
  • Napalm Death (2009-2015)
  • King Crimson (2015-2020)
  • Sparks (2020-Present)

I don’t know when it will change again, but I do know that it will. And that’s exciting to me: it won’t mean that Sparks aren’t doing it for me when it happens, it will just mean that I’ve discovered and internalized something even grander and greater in my current psychic playing field when that time inevitably comes. Watch this space five-ish years hence, if past cycles are indicative of current and future trends.

Ron and Russell Mael move me. As they should you.

 

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #48: 10cc (And Related Artists)

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who They Are: In their original incarnation, 10cc were a smart pop quartet with a far more impressive back story than most of their peers. Eric Stewart had been the front-man for The Mindbenders, who scored a massive international hit in 1966 with “A Groovy Kind of Love.” Graham Gouldman had been a teenage songwriting prodigy, penning such hits as “For Your Love” (The Yardbirds), “Bus Stop” (The Hollies), and “No Milk Today” (Herman’s Hermits), among many others; he also played in, wrote for, and recorded with various bands around his home in Greater Manchester with friends from the local Jewish Lad’s Brigade, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme. Gouldman was later contracted as a songwriter by the (in)famous bubblegum pop production team of Kasenatz and Katz in 1969, eventually convincing the American producers that their assembly-line approach to disposable pop songs could be best facilitated if Gouldman, Stewart, Godley and Creme created the Super K label’s confections at Strawberry Studios, a hugely influential creative destination owned by Stewart, Gouldman, and other business partners. (Manchester’s extraordinary punk and post-punk community later recorded many of the most seminal albums of the late ’70s at Strawberry, as did Stewart’s good friend, Paul McCartney). One of the proto-10cc’s pseudonymous pop period tunes, “Neanderthal Man,” became an international hit under the group name Hotlegs, with Stewart, Godley and Creme as band members; they followed it up with the equally eclectic, though less commercially successful “Umbopo,” credited to Doctor Father, while also releasing scores of other songs under a variety of names during their writers-for-hire days. The full quartet later worked together with Neil Sedaka on his acclaimed creative come-back album Solitaire (1972), recorded at Strawberry Studios. Signing with pop impresario Jonathan King (who had already discovered and launched Genesis some years earlier, among other accomplishments), the quartet were branded as 10cc after that name came to King in a dream. With two accomplished songwriting teams (Godley with Creme, and Gouldman with Stewart) emerging from within the group construct, the quartet scored a massive UK hit with their debut single, “Donna” (1972), then went on in their original incarnation to issue four highly-acclaimed albums, and to score eight additional Top 40 UK hits. The grandest of 10cc’s popular songs was the massive 1975 global hit “I’m Not In Love,” one of the most innovative and strange pop songs ever released and recorded; there aren’t a lot of single chart-topping songs that merit full exposition into their creation, but “I’m Not In Love” is remarkable enough to make films like this hugely interesting and informative. Godley and Creme left 10cc in 1976 to launch successful careers as musicians and video producers, and to (less successfully) promote their patented “endless guitar” device, the Gizmotron. Gouldman and Stewart (supported by guitarist Rick Fenn and drummers Paul Burgess and Stuart Tosh, among others) carried on under the 10cc moniker, scoring their own additional hits with “The Things We Do For Love,” “Good Morning Judge,” and “Dreadlock Holiday.” Gouldman continues to perform and record under the 10cc moniker to this day, while Stewart left the group in 1995, after working with Paul McCartney as his first prominent songwriting partner post-John Lennon, and serving as a successful producer for a variety of other artists. After the Godley and Creme partnership broke down in the late 1980s, Creme worked with Art of Noise and The Trevor Horn Band, while Godley served as an influential video director in his own rights with U2, Bryan Adams, Phil Collins, Sting, and many others.

When I First Heard Them: Summer of 1975, in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, when “I’m Not In Love” was completely inescapable on the radio. A couple of years later, after I’d moved to Mitchel Field on Long Island, New York, I acquired my first 10cc album, Deceptive Bends, which is a defining soundtrack to a particularly memorable and influential period in my personal life and development, for all the wrong reasons, with adult hindsight. I didn’t really get deeper into the 10cc until Godley and Creme’s 1985 album The History Mix Volume 1, which offered extraordinary Fairlight CMI-fortified melodies of songs from the duo’s long career together, including Hotlegs, Doctor Father, 10cc, and their own eclectic releases. I scored the essential 10cc compilation Greatest Hits 1972-1978 soon thereafter, and then enthusiastically acquired both 10cc’s and Godley and Creme’s back catalogs over the months and years that followed. I’ve been on a bit of a 10cc jag here in recent months, all these years on, having recently read the updated version of Liam Newton’s outstanding book 10cc: The Worst Band In The World, which I highly commend to your attention.

Why I Love Them: I would sincerely rank 10cc second only to The Beatles among the list of self-contained rock ensembles who wrote incredibly smart and infectious popular music, then brought their brilliant songs to market with four unique vocalists working ably together, atop technically masterful instrumental beds, all deftly produced in innovative ways that significantly changed the ways in which rock music was recorded in the decades that followed. And in some ways, 10cc may have actually over-achieved against the Beatles’ record, in that they owned and operated their own studio, they didn’t have an outside producer of the George Martin variety as part of their creative team, and they successfully wrote for and backed other artists, alongside their own successful careers. Paul Hanley, erstwhile drummer-keyboardist for The Fall, wrote an outstanding book a few years back called Leave the Capital: A History of Manchester Music in 13 Recordings, which clearly and ably demonstrates just how important 10cc’s Strawberry Studios were to the massively influential groups and music that emerged from Greater Manchester in the late ’70s and beyond. I also appreciate the fact that 10cc were the most successful (mostly)-Jewish band in UK chart history, overcoming embedded cultural prejudices with grace, aplomb and humor; they semi-seriously considered naming themselves “Three Yids and Yok” before Jonathan King branded them with the 10cc moniker. Probably for the best, as it turned out, even though the group labored for most of its existence under the myth that their name was based on the fact that the volume of the average male ejaculation was 9cc, so as manly Manchester men, they were clearly 1cc more macho than all of their peers. Sort of like Spinal Tap’s amps that went to 11, I suppose. Just dirtier.

#10. “The Worst Band In The World,” from Sheet Music (1974)

#9. “The Dean And I,” from 10cc (1973)

#8. “Art for Art’s Sake,” from How Dare You! (1976)

#7. “The Things We Do For Love,” from Deceptive Bends (1977)

#6. “I Pity Inanimate Objects,” from Freeze Frame (1979), credited to Godley & Creme

#5. “Life Is A Minestrone,” from The Original Soundtrack (1975)

#4. “Cry,” from The History Mix Volume 1 (1985), credited to Godley & Creme

#3. “Rubber Bullets,” from 10cc (1973)

#2. “Silly Love,” from Sheet Music (1974)

#1. “I’m Not In Love,” from The Original Soundtrack (1975)

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #47: Andy Prieboy (And Related Bands)

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who He Is: A Northwestern Indiana-bred singer-songwriter who’s best known as the  second front-man, replacing Stanard Ridgway, for the California-based band Wall of Voodoo. If you’re a casual music fan of a certain age, when I mention the name of that band, your brain is likely to start singing “I want to go to Tijuana, eat some barbecued iguana,” as the song that spawned that lyric (“Mexican Radio“) is Voodoo’s best-known peak MTV-era hit. It’s okay, sure, but WoV were so much better than that one over-played pop-culture hit, during their early days with Ridgway and (most especially) during the period when the Prieboy-fronted version of the band issued two studio and one live album. Simply dynamite, offering a superb blend of pop chops, Southwestern-infused mythologizing, fascinating instrumental beds, and choice California ennui, their latter-day tunes all brought to brilliant life through Andy Prieboy’s thoughtful lyrics and memorable baritone vocals. After Wall of Voodoo had run its course (its fate sadly tied to the drug and alcohol issues of some key members, including their stellar late guitarist Marc Moreland), Andy Prieboy went on to a solo career that has included a couple of records released via traditional label channels, loads of songs and EP’s released via streaming and other independent platforms, a live stage rock opera called White Trash Wins Lotto,  and a wonderfully entertaining novel called The Psycho Ex Game, co-written with his life partner, writer-producer-actress-comedienne Merrill Markoe. While Prieboy’s presentation of his own songs is always exceptional, his post-WoV career hass probably been most-known through covers of his “Tomorrow Wendy” by Concrete Blonde, and his “Loving The Highwayman” by Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris.

When I First Heard Him: In 1985, when the first Wall of Voodoo album featuring Prieboy, Seven Days in Sammystown, was released. I was a Wall of Voodoo fan from their earliest days, and while I was happy for the group when “Mexican Radio” became a hit, I also had that sense that a great ensemble was going to be pigeon-holed and marginalized by the popularity of that somewhat atypical cut. To Stan Ridgway’s credit, I think he recognized those factors as well, and bailed on the band soon after their popular peak to strike out with a solo career; I nabbed and appreciated his first couple of post-WoV records, but he lost me after that, alas. I will admit that I acquired that first post-Ridgway Voodoo album in 1985 with a bit of trepidation, as it’s a rare rock group that can successfully replace their primary singer-songwriter, but in this particular case, I was most amply and deeply rewarded, finding Andy Prieboy’s singing and songwriting to be far superior to anything that his group had done before him. I know it’s a minority position (and Prieboy actually addressed that sentiment in The Psycho Ex Game), but I absolutely, positively consider Prieboy’s albums with Wall of Voodoo to be the group’s defining and most-memorable studio work. I’ve been a passionate believer in and advocate for Andy Prieboy’s outstanding output ever since, always thrilled when he gets around to putting out new music. If you’re a long-time reader here, and you have a good memory, then this is probably not a surprising position, as I’ve written about Andy and his music many times here over the years.

Why I Love Him: First and foremost, for his songwriting skills. If I were asked to name my five favorite songwriters ever, right here, right now, then Andy Prieboy’s name would easily and clearly be one of the first names to pop into my mind, and he would most emphatically make the final list, even after I researched and considered the full library of potential claimants for that significant personal honorarium. Prieboy is a great storyteller and lyricist, and he’s got stupendous melodic and arranging chops, making his songs track and scan as densely rich little works of fine art, fleshed out in ways that most singer-songwriters would find too daunting to begin to consider, much less to carry through to full studio fruition. He’s also got a truly great voice, which happens to fall in sweet alignment with my own vocal range, so I deeply enjoy singing along with his songs, especially the ones arranged in a sort of post-Gilbert and Sullivan opera buffa style, which allows me to pick out which of many vocal parts I want to ape, per my mood at the moment. I think Prieboy’s understanding of, appreciation for, and talent within the theatrical end of rock music-making contributes substantially to his work shining so brightly and uniquely in an otherwise often drab field of same-old-same-old post-punk rockery. I could truly imagine his songs being played and sung a century from now and beyond as choice representatives of our creative era, even if the general audiences of the early 21st Century didn’t recognize, in his time, the genius of what Prieboy was graciously offering them. In a truly just and fair world, the popular music charts would routinely feature Andy Prieboy and his songs as long-running hits with bullets and with good beats that you can dance to. In the world that actually exists today, though, and alas, he’s a niche artist, but I’m happy to count myself as a critter than can squeeze into that creative crevice, feeling deeply rewarded and sated for the efforts I put into keeping abreast of his always-interesting canon and catalog.

#10. “The New York Debut of an L.A. Artist (Jazz Crowd),” from . . . Upon My Wicked Son (1990)

#9. “How Would I Know Love Now,” from Sins Of Our Fathers (1995)

#8. “Get Me Out of This Town (feat. Tony Kinman),” from Every Night Of My Life EP (2019)

#7. “Back In The Laundromat,” from Happy Planet (1987), credited to Wall of Voodoo 

#6. “Send In The Drugs,” from Montezuma Was A Man of Faith EP (1991)

#5. “Elvis Bought Dora A Cadillac,” from Happy Planet (1987), credited to Wall of Voodoo

#4. “All Hail The Corporation,” from “All Hail The Corporation” single (2011)

#3. “Bands,” from The Questionable Profits of Pure Novelty (2010)

#2. “The Grass Is Greener,” from Happy Planet (1987), credited to Wall of Voodoo

#1. “Hearty Drinking Men,” from The Questionable Profits of Pure Novelty (2010)

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #46: AC/DC

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who They Are: Australia’s finest hard rock export, with a star, a bullet, two hands’ worth of devil’s horns, and a big scoop of stoopit atop a steaming pile of crunchy bits. For most of the group’s long and fruitful career, guitar-slinging brothers Angus (he of schoolboy outfit fame) and Malcolm Young were the songwriting and instrumental heart of the group, until Malcolm’s early onset dementia disabled and then eventually killed him. The Young brothers’ nephew, Stevie, stepped up in Malcolm’s place, and the group have issued a pair of killer albums so reconfigured, missing nary a beat along the way. The group’s second singer, Bon Scott, was at the microphone as their international stock first soared (original vocalist Dave Evans only managed to get one single released during his tenure), and it seemed like they should and would have been finished when Scott succumbed to alcohol-related rock star misfortune in 1980. Remarkably enough, though, the group recruited Geordie (the band, not the Northeastern English cultural community) front-man Brian Johnson, and blew their way to true international superstardom with the Back in Black album, mere months after Brian joined the group. Acca Dacca’s rhythm section has experienced a fair amount of flux over the decades, but the seminal (and current) version of their back-line features drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Cliff Williams, who are aces at anchoring the low end (along with rhythm guitar champ Malcolm, and then Stevie), while Angus and Brian top the whole shebang with all the shrieking and soloing that AC/DC’s style of crowd-pleasing rock requires, and in many ways, probably define.

When I First Heard Them: In 1979, just after the release of Bon Scott’s last album, Highway to Hell. I’ve mentioned elsewhere on my website that my parents experienced a profound born-again Christian experience around ’79, changing most everything about our family’s life in confusing and perverse ways. A big part of that conversion experience was the subsequent laser-like focus on cultural, artistic and musical material that might be corrupting to young-ish minds like mine, and the destruction and/or banning of the same. The biggest musical targets among the fundamentalist Christian community at the time were KISS (“Knights in Satan’s Service,” y’know), Black Sabbath, and AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, the sneering, sacrilegious cover of which just seemed to incite religious folks in its open embrace of everything they held vile and dangerous. Of course, because my parents and their church colleagues deemed that album to be a pinnacle of the Devil’s work, I just absolutely, positively had to have it. The album lived up to its bad reputation, I must say, and its basic wrongness was certainly cemented by Bon Scott’s subsequent and unfortunate rock star follies photo finish. I then very vividly, and distinctly, remember when Back in Black hit record stores and radio airwaves a year later; it took everything I loved about Highway, and amped it up in ways that were shockingly popular and populist, creating a truly global experience of hard rock solidarity, shocking audiences and critics alike through its epic strengths in the face of deep, dark adversity. The group’s quality, line-ups, and fortunes have ebbed and flowed in the subsequent decades, but I always give every one of AC/DC’s albums an open, fair shake upon release, and am usually more pleased than disappointed; their last three studio albums have actually marked something of a career high point, happily enough. I don’t know how much more Angus has to give to us all, or how much longer he’ll choose to give it, but if there’s another studio disc to come out there at some point, then super duper, I can’t wait to hear it, and if not, well, the AC/DC back catalog has got more than enough epic rock riffs to keep me screaming and playing air guitar and cranking up the car stereo for as much time as I myself have left before me, and then some. It’s good to know that a few precious things are constant and predictable in confusing times like these, and AC/DC are certainly among my life’s happiest verities, rock without end, amen.

Why I Love Them: I often think that AC/DC are the best litmus test for judging whether someone’s going to like hard rock or not. They offer all of the genre’s trademarks (high volume, shrieking vocals, reductive lyrics, lock-step moshable rhythms punctuated by widdly guitar solos, etc.), and they do it with smirks and smiles that let you know that they understand how dumb their idiom can be, and how smart they are at exploiting it to its maximum return on investment, for band members and audiences alike. If you like ’em, then there’s a world of rock out there waiting to thrill you. If you don’t like ’em, then, well, I’ll not likely be seeing you at your next Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Dave Matthews Band or Nickleback concert. Have a good time, though. Every single one of AC/DC’s albums, even the very weakest ones, contain at least one or two epic, singalong, ear-worm quality rock songs, and regardless of which singer was fronting the group at the time of each recording, all of those albums and singles are undeniably, and immediately, identifiable as AC/DC, so good are they at what they do, and so consistent are they in their delivery of the goods. Sometime in the late ’80s or early ’90s, I remember being deeply amused and impressed when I read an interview with Angus Young that included this quote: “I’m sick to death of people saying we’ve made 11 albums that sounds exactly the same, In fact, we’ve made 12 albums that sound exactly the same.” Yes, they have. Plus another half dozen since then. The hobgoblin of consistency notwithstanding, I always respond to AC/DC’s auditory stimuli, habitually, with happy head-banging and volume knob twiddling, bring it on, more more more! I’ve only seen the group live once, in 1996, and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and certainly, without question, the loudest. Here’s my review of that gig, for additional “why do I love them” perspective. The key quote, then and now: “So was there a point to the whole thing when it was all done? Nahhh . . . it was like Brian Johnson sang: ‘Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution — it’s just rock and roll, that’s all.’ When rock and roll is done as well as AC/DC do it, that’s all you need.”

#10. “Rock or Bust,” from Rock or Bust (2014)

#9. “Who Made Who,” from Who Made Who (1986)

#8. “It’s A Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock n’ Roll),” from T.N.T (1975)

#7. “You Shook Me All Night Long,” from Back in Black (1980)

#6. “Shot in the Dark,” from Power Up (2020)

#5. “Highway to Hell,” from Highway to Hell (1979)

#4. “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You),” from For Those About to Rock (We Salute You) (1981)

#3. “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976)

#2. “Back in Black,” from Back in Black (1980)

#1. “Thunderstruck,” from The Razors Edge (1990)

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #45: The Who

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who They Are: Arising from the Mod scene in mid-’60s England, The Who have gone on to basically serve as the type specimen for many-to-most of rock n’ roll’s most truly defining tropes. Four strikingly original personalities? Check. Problematic public aspects to all of those personalities? Most certainly. Incredible stage presence? Yes. An epic run of albums, including the obligatory concept albums? They did that, before many others did. Classic rock radio staple singles? Yep, they had those by the bucketfuls. A long, lingering afterlife beyond the demise of their initial line-up? Sure, though in the case of The Who, some of those latter-day recordings and tours were actually quite creatively powerful in their own rights, rather than serving as wan codas to their glory days. The group’s classic line-up (Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend, John Entwistle, Keith Moon) began fragmenting with Moon’s death from misadventure in 1978, with former Faces drummer Kenney Jones stepping up in Moon the Loon’s place; Jones has somehow become a bad guy in The Who’s story, though I think that’s unjust, and I quite like his work, different though it was from Keith’s approach to his battery. Entwistle was the next to succumb to excess, surrounded by cocaine and prostitutes when he died at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas in 2002, on the eve of a major tour. Pete and Roger have soldiered on since then, issuing an incredibly good album called WHO in 2019. Marcia and I had tickets to see them in Las Vegas on the tour behind that album, but then COVID had other ideas, and they remain one of the most significant ’60s to ’70s rock titans who I’ve still not yet seen on stage. Fingers crossed I have the opportunity to do so at some point in the years remaining in their performing careers.

When I First Heard Them: I’m pretty certain that the first Who song I would have known and loved was “Pinball Wizard,” on pop and rock radio in the early ’70s, and then again in the cover version by Elton John from Ken Russell’s 1975 film adaptation of the group’s game-changing rock opera, Tommy. When I moved to Long Island in 1976, among the kids my age, there was a weird dynamic in play where the rock-loving community was essentially divided along the lines of whether one considered The Who or Led Zeppelin to be the greatest band of the era. Them was fighting words and positions, for sure and serious. I joined Team Who at the time, and while I’ve grown to appreciate the Zep a bit more more over the years, I’d still make that Who-centric pick without thinking very much about it if forced to declare my allegiance to one or the other in 2021. Who Are You (1978)  was the first Who album that I acquired and loved in its original release cycle, and I’ve landed every studio product they’ve pumped out since then, always willing to give them a fair crack, even though there’s a lot of dross mixed in with the gems in the post-Moony era.

Why I Love Them: As noted above, I never experienced the original Who line-up in concert (alas), but by the recorded and filmed evidence, I’m strongly in allegiance with the camp that declares them to have been the greatest live rock band ever. All four members were incredibly good at their respective roles, though every one of them tended to define and execute those roles in ways that didn’t quite align with the ways that their numerous peers played their parts. Pete Townsend was and remains a brilliant conceptualist and songwriter, and he had an able wing-man in John Entwistle, whose occasional, often bawdy contributions to the group’s canon and catalog were always notable and attention-getting in their amusing contrast to Pete’s more spiritual and  serious fare. Moon played drums chaotically, like nobody before or since him, Entwistle took the bass guitar into powerful and melodic places where it had no business being, Townsend’s equipment destruction and signature windmill strums set templates for countless imitators over the years, and his pioneering work with sequencers and synths make the group’s recorded peak songs sound as fresh and innovative today as they did upon their release. Daltrey, for his part, essentially defined the ways that Rock God Singers are supposed to look, act, move, emote and sing, and it’s a glorious joy to watch him work his stuff, finding some weird sweet spot between pugilistic thug and messianic shaman. Bonus points for Entwistle and Townsend both being strong harmony and lead vocalists themselves, and even Moon’s occasional vocal turns were at least amusing, most of the time. The cerebral and thematic weirdness of the group’s various completed (e.g. Tommy and Quadrophenia) and fragmented/partial (e.g. Who’s Next, Sell Out and A Quick One) concept albums meant that there has always plenty of thought-provoking stuff for smart young seekers to use as soundtracks for their own individual amazing journeys, locking the group’s words, riffs and melodies into influential positions of permanent play, ensuing fads, fashions, and foibles be damned. (Note: Given the brilliance and importance of the group’s on-stage work, I’ve offered live clips of my favorite songs below, when they’re available in good quality).

#10. “Pinball Wizard,” from Tommy (1969)

#9. “Real Good Looking Boy,” from Then And Now (2004)

#8. “Relay,” from “Relay/Waspman” single (1972)

#7. “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” from Who’s Next (1971)

#6. “Love, Reign O’er Me,” from Quadrophenia (1973)

#5. “Street Song,” from WHO (2019)

#4. “5:15,” from Quadrophenia (1973)

#3. “Long Live Rock,” from Odds and Sods (1974)

#2. “Baba O’Riley,” from Who’s Next (1971)

#1. “Join Together,” from “Join Together/Baby Don’t You Do It” single (1972)