Australian grunge rockers Silverchair launched their recording career when all three members were still teenagers in 1995 with the debut album Frogstomp. The compositions and sound of this record continue the popular heavy sound of early nineties groups like Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots while also forecasting some of the post-grunge sound that emerged later in the decade, a formula which worked well in giving the trio world wide notoriety following its release.
The group was formed under the name Innocent Criminals in Newcastle, New South Wales in 1992 by then-12-year-old classmates Daniel Johns (guitar, vocals) and Ben Gillies (drums). Bassist Chris Joannou later joined to round out the trio which won an Australian national competition for school-based bands in 1994. With this, the group recorded early demos of original tracks, with the song “Tomorrow” receiving national radio play. With an accompanying television appearance, the trio changed their name to Silverchair after a C.S. Lewis novel from The Chronicles of Narnia series. The group soon signed a three-album recording contract with Sony Music subsidiary Murmur Records and began recording their debut in late 1994.
Frogstomp was recorded in just nine sessions with producer Kevin Shirley. Much of the recordings were performed live in the studio to capture the group’s live sound. The album was titled by Johns when he discovered an obscure song from the 1960s while exploring a record execs record collection.
Released: March 27, 1995 (Epic) Produced by: Kevin Shirley Recorded: Festival Studios, Pyrmont, Australia December 1994–January 1995
Leave Me Out
Daniel Johns – Lead Vocals, Guitars Chris Joannou – Bass Ben Gillies – Drums
Most of the tracks on Frogstomp were written by Johns and Gillies, with some credited individually, starting with Johns’ opener “Israel’s Son”. This track was built mostly on a repeating guitar and distorted bass riff. The song only slightly changes direction in coda as it works its way into a closing frenzy. The indelible ‘hit’ track “Tomorrow” follows as a moderately paced anthem that finds a melodic intersection somewhere between Alice in Chains and Creed. The authentic rawness of this track is the real charm that propelled this track (and ultimately the teenage band) to radio stations worldwide.
“Faultline” instantly launches in a full pace and pretty much stays there until breaking into a series of short bridges near the end and the closing riff is completely different from the beginning. “Pure Massacre”, with its mesmerizing, rotating riff that drives this vibe, is one of the more rewarding songs sonically on the early part of the album. This became the second single from Silverchair’s debut record and it was later performed by the group on Saturday Night Live. “Shade” follows as strummed acoustic/clean electric ballad with Johns providing a jazz guitar lead preceding the final chorus.
The second half of the album offers even less pretension and more raw, pure rock. “Leave Me Out” has a classic Black Sabbath feel, while the vibe swiftly returns to the mid 1990s with the off-timed riffing and shoe-gaze vocals of “Suicidal Dreams”. “Madman” is a short instrumental with frantic riffing and potent drumming by Gillies as “Undecided” features a very effective use of a two-chord riff, led by the buzz bass intro of Joannou. The rhythmic track “Cicada” offers some interesting melody and movement, leading to the closing “Findaway”, a frantic, punk-laden anthem which wraps things up in a strong way.
Frogstomp topped the album charts in Australia while reaching the Top 10 on the American charts. It has since been certified double platinum in sales, which saw a resurgence in 2015 when a remastered 20th anniversary edition of the album was released.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1995 albums.
The first era of the group AC/DC climaxed with their sixth studio album in 1979, Highway to Hell. Displaying the group’s signature riff-driven hard rocker from cover to cover, this album was both the first to find commercial success in the United States, reaching the Top 20 on the album charts, and the last to feature lead vocalist Bon Scott. Highway to Hell went Platinum in five nations around the world and would ultimately become the group’s the second highest selling album.
Australian guitarist brothers Angus Young and Malcom Young formed the group in late 1973. They first portrayed a glam rock image and found minor local success with a rotating lineup of vocalists and rhythm players. When veteran Melbourne promoter Michael Browning later became the group’s manager, he suggested abandoning the glam rock image for a harder rock sound. Scott and drummer Phil Rudd joined as permanent group members in Autumn 1974 and AC/DC soon quickly recorded their debut album, High Voltage. Starting by becoming a successful act in Australia, the group methodically built an international following through the late 1970s. Bassist Cliff Williams debuting on the critically acclaimed 1978 release Powerage which, like all previous releases, was produced by George Young, older brother of Angus and Malcom.
The group’s label, Atlantic Records, wanted a more radio-friendly sound and insisted on a more mainstream producer for the record that would become Highway to Hell. Eventually, Mutt Lange got the gig and spent close to three months in England developing the material and perfecting the sound.
Highway to Hellby AC/DC
Released: July 27, 1979 (Atlantic) Produced by:Robert John “Mutt” Lange Recorded: Albert Studio, Sydney, Roundhouse, London, Criteria Studio, Miami, December 1978–April 1979
Highway to Hell
Girls Got Rhythm
Walk All Over You
Touch Too Much
Beating Around the Bush
Shot Down in Flames
Get It Hot
If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)
Love Hungry Man
Bon Scott – Lead Vocals Angus Young – Guitars Malcom Young – Guitars, Vocals Cliff Williams – Bass, Vocals Phil Rudd – Drums
The album takes off with its definitive title track, which portrays the group’s bluesy hard rock at its best and features great vocal melodies by Scott. The theme of “Highway to Hell” reflects the incredibly stressful nature of touring and the song became so successful that it was named the “Most Played Australian Work Overseas” in 2009. Next comes perhaps the most accessible pop/rocker on the album, “Girls Got Rhythm”, which was later released as both a single and the title track of a four-song EP.
“Walk All Over You” tries a bit too hard to be an anthem, especially with its shifting rhythms and intensities, but the song does gain some momentum in third verse, post lead section. “Touch Too Much” has more typical AC/DC good guitar tones by the brothers Young, along with call-and-response vocals in the later verse ad intense vocals by Scott in song’s coda. The first side concludes with “Beating Around the Bush” is an interesting, upbeat blues track influenced by early Fleetwod Mac, featuring stop/start timing in the music arrangement and strong sexual lyrical connotation.
Much like the first side, the second begins with tight, catchy rocker. “Shot Down in Flames” has great riffs throughout to back strained hard vocals during song’s hook. After the highly formulaic “Get It Hot”, “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)” provides social commentary on “living in the human zoo” and features potent bass by Williams and a slow, bluesy but effective guitar lead. The funky “Love Hungry Man” adds some overall variety, leading to the closer “Night Prowler”. This moderately paced, dramatic song with a tone of fear and loathing became controversial when it was cited by serial killer Richard Ramirez, who murdered more than 15 souls in California in 1985.
With the breakthrough success of Highway to Hell, the group began work on a highly anticipated follow-up in early 1980. Sadly, Scott died during a night off from recording in February 1980, leaving AC/DC the tough decision to disband or carry on with a new vocalist. With encouragement from Scott’s family, the group continued with new vocalist Brian Johnson and the ultimate result, Back In Black, would ultimately become the group’s most successful album.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.
The third studio album by Australian rock group Powderfinger, 1998’s Internationalist, features a diverse array of musical genres. Led by the finely crafted compositions and versatile vocals of front man Bernard Fanning, who helped compose songs which range from emo-drenched ballads to proto-punk rock screeds to an original middle style which is moderate, thoughtful, original in approach and, in several cases, musically exquisite.
The group was formed in Brisbane, Australia in 1989 by guitarist Ian Haug and bassist John Collins. The following year Fanning was brought on board along with drummer Jon Coghill. The quintet was completed in 1992 with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Darren Middleton. After years of honing their sound and gaining a following, Powderfinger signed with Polydor in 1994 and released their debut studio album, Parables for Wooden Ears but it faced a lukewarm reception. The group’s second studio album, Double Allergic, arrived in 1996 and fared much better critically and commercially, being certified triple platinum in Australia.
Through 1997, Powderfinger toured heavily following the success of Double Allergic while Fanning then spent much of that year composing new songs. By the time the group entered Melbourne’s Sing Sing Studios, with producer Nick DiDia, Powderfinger already had 30 or 40 prospects for the album which would become Internationalist. Although this was by far their most experimental work, according to Collins, the album best replicated the group’s live sound.
Released: September 7, 1998 (Polydor) Produced by: Nick DiDia Recorded: Sing Sing Studios, Melbourne, Australia, 1997-198
The Day You Come
Don’t Wanna Be Left Out
Over My Head
Bernard Fanning – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Keyboards Darren Middleton – Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Vocals Ian Haug – Guitars, Vocals John Collins – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals Jon Coghill – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
After a false start, the opening track “Hindley Street” starts with potent guitar riff before breaking into a pleasant rhythm and groove to back up the pleasant, melodic vocals by Fanning, In contrast, “Belter” is a relentless, unabashed modern punk / grunge track which instantly displays the wide-ranging contrast o the material on this album.
“The Day You Come” was the first single to be released off Internationalist haunting, utilizes many unique sonic features before reaching the smooth chorus hook and backing vocals from the Brisbane trio Tiddas. This song received the ARIA Music Award for Song of the Year in 1999. “Already Gone” alternates between dynamics of incredibly quiet verses and choppy loud choruses, while “Passenger” is a spacey folk song with pleasant sonic effects that found some slight success on the Australian music charts.
Co-written by Middleton, “Don’t Wanna Be Left Out” is a surf rock / punk hybrid which incorporates a bit of old INXS in its structure. In contrast, “Good-Day Ray” was co-written by Coghill and moves in a completely different direction with straight-forward punk / new wave, melody, pop and much energy in less than two minutes. “Trading Places” is a more monotone, dark acoustic folk featuring some slight orchestration late in song leading to the fine, subtle but upbeat, “Private Man” with great moving bass and drums under choppy guitars. “Celebrity Head” is a fun, Ramones-like rant including great chants of “Oy”, “Over My Head” is a very short acoustic folk interlude with rich vocal harmonies, and “Capoicity” highlights Fanning’s ability to change vocal tone and style while this latter song also contains some musical and arrangement brilliance as it moves through several sections, the most potent being the pregnant pause before the cool guitar lead. “Lemon Sunrise” closes things with a slow, soulful arrangement with layered guitar effects on top and a slight psychedelic vibe painting a mental vibrant picture.
Internationalist was certified five times platinum in Australia and awarded “Album of the Year” in that nation. At the time of this album’s release, Powderfinger was still strictly a local act on the continent but following this record’s success, they began to set their sights overseas, appearing at music festivals in the US and Canada.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1998 albums.
INXS forged their most successful rock formula on, Listen Like Thieves, the 1985 album which would set the pace for the group’s most successful commercial run through the late eighties and early nineties. The sound they forged on this fifth studio album morphs traditional rock with a dance production value along with the lyrical themes are upbeat and optimistic, portraying a feeling of opportunity and forgiveness. Commercially successful, the album spawned five single releases, including the group’s first US Top 10 hit.
INXS originated in an Australian high school in 1977, when keyboardist Andrew Farriss recruited vocalist Michael Hutchence into his band, which also included bassist Garry Gary Beers. Eventually, this early band merged with another group that included guitarist Tim Farriss (Andrew’s older brother) and multi-instrumentalist Kirk Pengilly. Once INXS was fully established, a third Farriss brother, drummer Jon Farriss rounded out the lineup. The band began regularly supporting fellow Australian band Midnight Oil and enlisted that group’s manager, Gary Morris. Early in 1980 the band signed a five-album record deal with a Sydney independent label and INXS released their first single, “Simple Simon”/”We Are the Vegetables”. Their self-titled debut album was released later in 1980 and featured their first Australian Top 40 single as the album itself went gold and reached the Top 30. A year later, Underneath the Colours was released to similar success but the individual members decided to take a short break from the band to pursue other musical projects.
In mid-1982, the group recorded and released the international album Shabooh Shoobah, which brought the group to the attention of Western audiences due to popular singles and videos on the new network MTV. The band travelled to England to record their fourth album, The Swing, which was released in April 1984 and continued their worldwide ascent in popularity, especially after an extended European tour later in 1984.
For Listen Like Thieves, INXS morphed their sound from new wave towards a more straight-ahead rock direction. Produced by Chris Thomas, the album was the first to be recorded in the band’s home country since 1981’s Underneath the Colours. Leading up to the album’s release, the group played some high profile concerts including an Australian performance for British Prince Charles and Princess Diana as well as a featured spot in the Australian version of Live Aid.
Listen Like Thievesby INXS
Released: October 14, 1985 (Atlantic) Produced by: Chris Thomas Recorded: Rhinoceros Studios, Sydney, Australia, August 1985
What You Need
Listen Like Thieves
Kiss the Dirt
Shine Like It Does
Good + Bad Times
One x One
Red Red Sun
Michael Hutchence – Lead Vocals Andrew Farriss – Guitars, Keyboards Tim Farriss – Guitars Kirk Pengilly – Guitar, Saxophone, Vocals Garry Gary Beers – Basss Jon Farriss – Drums, Percussion
Most songs on Listen Like Thieves were composed by Andrew Farriss and Michael Hutchence. However, the title track is credited to all six members of INXS. With dramatic storytelling and an effective vocal performance, this atmospheric song is musically like a movie clip track for a spy thriller with an edge of good, buoyant bass throughout by Beers. “Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)” sounds like it was inspired by Roxy music, with a subtle rhythm and blues approach and reserved vocals, along with great production and arrangement. This track also features effective, steady drumming by Jon Farriss and reached #15 on the Australian singles chart. “Shine Like It Does” features a smooth, almost soothing melody along with orchestral-style synths, but “Good + Bad Times” unfortunately has a dated, eighties sound and is kind of a throw-away filler. In contrast, “Biting Bullets” is purely like a punk rant, with slight, U2-ish elements.
The album’s most popular track is the opening, “What You Need”, which offers instant and obvious appeal with its funky synth bass line and guitar rotation along with its upbeat message. The track provides a great hook and short musical interludes, packing much into the three and a half minute duration. Of special note is the R&B progressions, the second of which climaxes with a smooth ending sax solo by Pengilly. “What You Need” was the band’s first American Top 10 hit, peaking at #5 on the Billboard pop singles chart. The album’s second side starts with “This Time”, a song solely composed by Andrew Farriss and featuring a mixture of electric and acoustic guitars along with great melody in vocals and in riff. This track is also advanced in its arrangement and approach and lyrically it centers on the key line;
“this time will be the last time that we will fight like this…”
Tim Farriss’s “Three Sisters” is an experimental, instrumental with jungle sound effects which leads into “Same Direction”, maintaining the synthesized beats through its long, Oingo Boingo like intro. Like a breath of fresh air, “One x One” has a strong, show time arrangement and, while still synth dominated, this song gets back to the direct rock and funk rhythms of earlier on the album. It all concludes with “Red Red Sun”, co-written by Jon Farriss and perhaps the hardest rocking song on the album.
Listen Like Thieves topped the Australian album charts and fell just short of the Top 10 on the US charts. Following the album’s release, INXS went on a world tour through North America, Europe, and New Zealand before returing to the studio to record Kick, their most successful album commercially.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1985 albums.
AC/DC showed the world that they were still an energetic and formidable band as they commenced the 1990s with the successful album, The Razor’s Edge. The music is upbeat and strong throughout this record and all tracks were compose by brother guitarists Malcolm Young and Angus Young. The album helped the group regain its former glory and sold approximately ten to twelve million copies worldwide, putting it well within the top echelon in AC/DC’s collection of albums.
Following the tremendous success of 1980’s Back In Black, AC/DC had mixed levels of success through the 1980s. The group’s original drummer, Phil Rudd, was fired following a physical altercation with Malcolm Young in 1983 and session drummers were used for that year’s album, Flick of the Switch. The group’s next album, Fly on the Wall in 1985, was universally panned as one of the group’s worst. However, 1988’s Blow Up Your Video, which reunited AC/DC’s original producers, Harry Vanda and George Young, and was a commercial success.
The Razor’s Edge was produced by Bruce Fairbairn and is the the only studio album by the band to feature drummer Chris Slade. The Young brothers took on composing duties alone because vocalist Brian Johnson was unable to attend some of the early album sessions.
The Razor’s Edgeby AC/DC
Released: September 24, 1990 (Atco) Produced by: Bruce Fairbairn Recorded: Windmill Road Studios, Dublin, & Little Mountain Studios in Vancouver, BC, 1989-1990
Fire Your Guns
The Razors Edge
Mistress for Christmas
Rock Your Heart Out
Are You Ready
Got You by the Balls
Shot of Love
Let’s Make It
Good Riddance to Bad Luck
If You Dare
Lead Vocals Angus Young
Guitars Malcolm Young
Guitars, Vocals Cliff Williams
Bass, Vocals Chris Slade
With a long, building and catchy intro, “Thunderstruck” is the perfect opening track for The Razor’s Edge. The track is built on Angus Young’s fingerboard progression, which acts as an arpeggio that leads the rhythm for the entire track. The song peaked at #5 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and remains a staple in the band’s repertoire. “Fire Your Guns” continues the feel as a rapid and spastic rocker with steady rhythms by Slade and bassist Cliff Williams, along with nervous riffs and desperate hooks.
The album’s second big hit, “Moneytalks” is another track built on a simple but rich riff and a catchy shout-along. Johnson’s vocals hit a sweet spot somewhere between a crier’s shout and an alley cat’s yowl with satirical lyrics about the economic ways of the world. The title track, “The Razors Edge”, starts with droning solo by Angus Young and eventually builds on the drum accents by Slade into a moderate and dark rocker. This song has more musical variety than preceding tracks but still sticks to a simple, anthemic theme lyrically. The farcical “Mistress for Christmas” is a bit of racy fun with Christmas tunes, while “Rock Your Heart Out” features a cool bass line by Williams. “Are You Ready” was another minor hit, reaching #16 on the Mainstream Rock chart with its building riff and strategic launch.
The album’s second half contains lesser known (and somewhat forgettable), tracks, starting with “Got You by the Balls”, a less tactful rendition in the line of the brilliant “Big Balls” from 1976’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. “Shot of Love” continues as another generic AC/DC track, followed by the slightly better “Let’s Make It”, with a nice riff by Malcolm Young. “Goodbye & Good Riddance to Bad Luck” has an interesting title above anything else, while the closer “If You Dare” finds a nice groove to end the album on a high note.
The Razor’s Edge reached #2 in the US and #4 in the UK, a level of commercial success that matched that of AC/DC’s glory years of the late seventies and early eighties. Following its release, the group embarked on a highly publicized world tour which spawned material for the group’s 1992 live album and sustained their popularity for years to come.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1990 albums.
Who would have guessed that out of the ashes of tragedy would rise the rock n’ roll classic, Back In Black? Recorded just a few weeks following the untimely death of their lead singer, AC/DC forged an indelible album of work whic, 35 years after its release, is the second best-selling album of all time worldwide (behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller). For the first time, we have put our Album of the Year up for popular vote, with three hard rock classics from 1980 nominated for this honor. Through January and February you have voted and your choice was overwhelmingly in favor of Back In Black as Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for the year 1980.
Formed in Australia in 1973 by brothers Angus Young and Malcom Young, AC/DC found significant success at home with the domestic release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap in 1976. This led to an international record deal with Atlantic and continued momentum through the late seventies as the group toured extensively throughout Europe and the successful releases of the albums High Voltage, Let There Be Rock, and Powerage, the latter of which marked the debut of bassist Cliff Williams. The group’s first major breakthrough came in 1979 with the album Highway To Hell, which was also the band’s initial collaboration with producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange.
Highway To Hell reached the Top on the US album charts and the group was ambitious about following this up with an even more accessible heavy rock album. Unfortunately, vocalist Bon Scott would not see this realized, as he died after a night of heavy drinking in February 1980. After briefly considering retirement, the surviving members of AC/DC emerged with renewed determination in March of 1980 and various candidates were auditioned for Scott’s replacement. 32-year-old rock journeyman Brian Johnson was brought in when Angus Young recalled Scott citing admiration for the then-vocalist of the band, Geordie, years earlier. After locating Johnson, the singer successfully passed the audition for AC/DC, who were impressed by the fact that he didn’t try to merely mimic Scott’s style but reinterpret it with a soulful style.
After hiring their new front man, the band then immediately headed to the Bahamas to compose and record the new album. Despite riding out several tropical storms which knocked out the electricity, Lange and the band rehearsed and recorded the album in just seven weeks. The result is a direct, hard rock record with Johnson-penned lyrics about sex and parties driven by crisp riffs and direct, snare-centered beats by drummer Phil Rudd. While the album’s title and all-black cover was designed as a respectful tribute to Scott, the music itself was far from somber or mournful.
Back In Blackby AC/DC
Released: July 25, 1980 (Jet) Produced by: Robert John “Mutt” Lange Recorded: Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas, April-May 1980
Shoot to Thrill
What Do You Do for Money Honey
Given the Dog a Bone
Let Me Put My Love Into You
Back in Black
You Shook Me All Night Long
Have a Drink on Me
Shake a Leg
Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution
Brian Johnson – Lead Vocals Angus Young – Guitars Malcolm Young – Guitars, Vocals Cliff Williams – Bass, Vocals Phil Rudd – Drums, Percussion
An ominous drone of bell tolls commence the album as a not-so-subtle memorial to AC/DC’s fallen member. “Hells Bells” acts not only as a tribute but as an ironic terminal from the previous Highway to Hell, which turned out to be Scott’s swan song. Johnson’s lyrics speak of his angst while trying to adjust to his sudden change of environment and pressure to deliver with his new band. Despite the doomy beginning, the song’s body is really more of an upbeat and intense party chant. Continuing the early album momentum, “Shoot to Thrill” is an interesting little screed with many of the group’s seventies-type grooves and an inventive use of space by adding variation in style rather than substance. This track’s final sequences features Angus Young’s whining guitar mimicking Johnson’s lead vocals as in an updated Page-Plant action.
The remainder of the album’s first side contains three of the most disposable tracks on Back In Black. “What Do You Do for Money Honey” has a great adolescent chant about a gold-digging woman but not much more substantively. “Given the Dog a Bone” is similar in temperament. Aside from the catchy use of call-and-response vocals, there’s really no “here” here, as the track’s riffs, beats, and lead sound just like those on other tracks of this album. “Let Me Put My Love Into You” does contain a nice thumping bass by Williams, which carries the slight riffs that gradually build and, given some room to breathe, Johnson’s voice really does soar here. However, this moderate bluesy track does have a hook which seems a bit forced.
One of the most famous count-offs in rock history commences the spectacular second side of Back In Black as Rudd’s hat ignites the title song with a fantastic marching beat. The track’s verses feature a quasi-rap by Johnson and the choruses build to a crescendo with the duo guitar riffs fantastic throughout this song of pure energy. The song peaked in the US Top 40 in 1981 but did not officially chart on the UK charts until 2011, over 3o years after its release. An even bigger hit, “You Shook Me All Night Long” has grown into the most indelible AC/DC tune. Malcom Young’s intro perfectly sets up this hard rock dance-oriented track, while the chorus hook and counter-riff work in perfect harmony. For his part, Angus Young adds one of his most potent guitar leads on this track which saw a whole new life when it was featured on the 1986 soundtrack Who Made Who. The slightly tragic and slightly morbid “Have a Drink on Me” is a sideways tribute to Bon Scott, starting with a cool blues slide before finding a steady rock beat. While still presented as an upbeat party screed, the song’s pre-chorus contains some ironic philosophy;
“Don’t worry about tomorrow, take it today, forget about the check we’ve got hell to pay…”
“Shake a Leg” contains a fantastic intro section, launching into a faux verse that ends with a majestic vocal screed by Johnson which leads into the actual song riff and launch. Everyone is at their absolute best on this track – the vocals seem to elevate to an even high plane of frenzy while Rudd’s drums are a steady prime mover in this song about movement. After a blistering guitar lead, Johnson reprises the intro over the multi modal exchanges of Angus and Malcolm Young’s guitars. After the frenzy comes “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, a steady barroom blues which eventually builds into a fantastic rock track that works perfectly to conclude the album. Williams’ bass thumps as a heartbeat between the twin guitar riffs on either side of the mix on this song which reached number 15 on the UK singles charts, placing it higher than any track on the album.
Despite never reaching the top of the album charts in The US, Back In Black has been a charting phenomenon, re-entering charts several times throughout the decades, even as recently as 2014. The album has sold 22 million albums worldwide and set the group up for further success through the 1980s and beyond.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1980 albums.
It is funny how fame works. When Men at Work recorded their second album Cargo in the summer of 1982, they were just a regional act who had moderate success in their native Australia with their debut album Business As Usual. Then a few songs from that debut began to get heavy airplay in Western Canada and finally the United States. By late 1982, with this follow-up already recorded and set for release, Business As Usual skyrocketed to the top of the charts and the group were suddenly superstars, a fame which carried into 1983 when the delayed release of Cargo finally occurred and collection of similar yet more mature tracks continued the band’s momentum in the pop world.
On Cargo, the personnel and production team from the debut album remained, led by producer Peter McIan and the band’s chief songwriter and vocalist Colin Hay. The band returned to their signature mixture of reggae with new wave-fused rock and pop, accented by Hay’s distinct vocal delivery and pronunciation. However, on this album they did attempt more ambitious and deep compositions, which gives it a slight edge.
The album has a very polished rhythm with bassist Jonathan Rees and drummer Jerry Speiser holding down the bottom end with precision and tightness, giving Hay the space to let melodies and riffs develop on top. Also, with this “typical” production any of the sonic flourishes (albeit few and far between) and brought out with maximum contrast and effect.
Cargoby Men At Work
Released: June 28, 1983 (Columbia) Produced by: Peter McIan Recorded: 1982
Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive
Settle Down My Boy
Upstairs In My House
No Sign of Yesterday
It’s a Mistake
Blue For You
I Like To
Colin Hay – Lead Vocals, Guitars Greg Ham – Keys, Saxophone, Flute, Vocals Ron Strykert – Guitar, Vocals Jonathan Rees – Bass Jerry Speiser – Drums
The opener “Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive” is almost frivolous in nature as the song employs a sped-up reggae beat during the verse and dissolves to a slow, waltz/rock during the chorus. The good lead guitar of Ron Strykert sets the pace for his fine work on this album. Strykert also composed and sang lead on “Settle Down My Boy”, a song where the underlying reggae is brought to a pop extreme, alternating keys in the first few verses, with another great guitar lead with some sharp room effects. “Upstairs in My House” is a frantic and desperate, yet still upbeat pop song may have been a representation of type of material the band was going for on this album.
The strong first side ends with “No Sign of Yesterday”, a song of nostalgia and longing lyrically, where Rees and Speiser add some rare rhythm accents, adding effect to the darkness of the song. Strykert also gets into the act with a souring and soulful guitar lead. Perhaps the best pure pop song of the entire decade of the 1980s, “Overkill” contains a hyper new-wave rhythm beneath the deep and melodic vocals of Colin Hay. This is all topped off with a signature saxophone and haunting synths by Greg Ham and yet another tremendous lead guitar by Strykert. The song reached #3 on the Billboard Pop chart and contains spastic yet profound lyrics, highlighted by the fantastic line;
“ghosts appear and fade away…”
Side two begins with “It’s a Mistake”, another Top Ten hit for the band, where Hay’s sharply picked, choppy guitar chords are synched with a fine reggae accompaniment in a light but macabre presentation in the spirit of the film Doctor Strangelove. The song breaks out of this choppy rhythm about three quarters through for a memorable coda, led by a chorus of melodic guitars and Hay’s desperate, shouting vocals, for a climatic ending.
“High Wire” contains a heavier rock arrangement similar to some of the contemporary material by Huey Lewis (although it does contain a lame “carnival” section during the bridge). This was the fourth and final single from Cargo, released at the end 1983, just about the time the group’s fame trajectory began to plateau. The most effect-driven song on the album is the closer “No Restrictions”, which contains an interesting flute lead by Ham, but is otherwise a rather weak attempt at anthem rock.
Cargo is not without its weak spots, as side two does contain some blatant filler, starting with “Blue For You”, a song that is pure Caribbean in texture right down to the percussive and keyboard effects. “I Like To” is the most universally panned song on the album due to the harsh, exaggerated, late-70s techno-punk vocals by Greg Ham.
In 1984, Men At Work took a long break from the years of constant touring they’d done in support of both albums. This proved to be a momentum killer and, when the band reconvened, in-fighting proliferated and Speiser and Rees left the band. Although the remaining trio recorded a third album, Two Hearts, it made little waves and by early 1986, Men At Work was no more.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1983 albums.
The Australian band INXS reached their absolute commercial peak with the well-crafted pop/rock/dance album Kick in 1997. This was the band’s sixth overall studio album since 1980 and marked a distinct migration from their New-Wave roots towards a more funk and soul oriented refinement of late eighties pop. It yielded four Top Ten hits, more than any other album in their career. The album’s sound was perfectly in sync with the visual media and the image forged by iconic front man Michael Hutchence which, in turn, also translated well into the non-visual radio and dance club formats. It ultimately transformed the band from the status of an alternative niche to that of a mainstream pop headliner, a status which they maintained well in the 1990s.
Produced by Chris Thomas, the album was initially rejected by Atlantic records who felt the funk and dance elements would alienate INXS’s traditional rock following. They were reportedly offered $1 million to “go back to Australia and start again” but the band persisted in sticking with their plans and the label eventually relented.
The result is amazingly accessible while still maintaining a level of originality from track to track, with each song possessing a different feel from the one previous. Still there are some common elements throughout, especially the simple, direct, and upfront drum beats of drummer John Farriss and the unambiguous guitar riffs forged by brothers Andrew Farriss and Tim Farris. This mixture proved to be a winning formula which the band soon rode to international stardom.
Released: October 19, 1987 (Atlantic) Produced by: Chris Thomas Recorded: Rhinoceros Recordings, Sydney, & Studio De La Grande Armée, Paris, 1986–1987
Guns In the Sky
Need You Tonight
The Loved One
Never Tear Us Apart
Calling All Nations
Michael Hutchence – Lead Vocals Andrew Farriss – Guitars, Keyboards Tim Farris – Guitars Kirk Pengilly – Saxophone, Vocals Garry Gary Beers – Bass Graham Broad – Drums, Percussion
The drum infused, monotone “Guns In the Sky” starts the album off, complete with opening grunts by Hutchence. The song barely leaves the repetitive, two-chord structure but sets up as a nice contrasting intro for the subsequent, more melodic pop song “New Sensation”. The first of several funk-infused rockers on Kick, “New Sensation” is a fun ride led by a twangy and flanged guitar riff and containing some direct, shouting vocals and well-timed breaks for effects.
The album then moves to a dance oriented semi-suite which contains some of their most popular songs ever. “Devil Inside” is a cool and riff-driven tune with dynamic vocals in both range and style. The lyrics are sexually-fused and nicely complimented by the crisply distorted guitar riff, which cuts through the otherwise smooth sound scape. The song eventually builds towards a strong, climatic ending with building keyboard presence by Andrew Farriss. “Need You Tonight” continues the same general theme and feel, while adding a bit more funk in it’s constant, rotating riff. A well arranged song with overlapping elements, each catchy and memorable in its own right, which helped to make this the band’s top overall hit. “Mediate” is an interesting extension to “Need You Tonight” with a droning rap set over a constant beat and sunrise key pad, before finishing with a well-placed saxophone lead by Kirk Pengilly. Each of these songs contains strong video counterparts, with “Mediate” intentionally replicating the format of Bob Dylan’s classic video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues” right down to the point of apparently deliberate errors.
The sides are bookmarked with strong but middle-of-the road tunes. “The Loved One” has elements of blue-eyed soul with a more modern 1980s arrangement and beat, which gives the impression it could have been a hit in its own right. “Wild Life” is another funky song with a good pop hook and an anthemic vocal hook.
On several fronts, Kick is very similar to another 1987 album that we recently reviewed, Def Leppard’s Hysteria. Both albums represent the popular apex of bands who started in the earlier 1980’s and both albums are a bit top-heavy with the bulk of the pop songs on side one and lesser known numbers on side two with the exception of one great, out-of-the-ordinary tune. In the case of Def Leppard that song was “Hysteria”, in the case of INXS, this song is “Never Tear Us Apart”. Driven by fast strings and accented by strategic rests, this song stands out from the band’s other radio hits as a brilliantly composed ballad, complete with counter-harmonized backing vocals and a Pengilly sax solo that doesn’t sound like it was put there just to satisfy some formula. This song proves that the band can, in fact, succeed by stretching the limits of their musical scope.
The album concludes with a series of less popular yet very strong songs (there is no filler on this album). “Mystify” is an upbeat swing tune, which is held down to earth by the rock guitars and drums. The title song “Kick” features 1960s style, soul-rock with liberal use of horns throughout and a great driving bass by Garry Gary Beers. “Calling All Nations” returns to the funk formula driven by bright guitars and “Tiny Daggers” is pure 80s pop, keyboard led with slightly interesting vocals.
In total, Kick did just about everything you can expect from a high-end pop/rock album of the 1980s. It forged incredibly catchy and modern sounding songs, while not giving way to the mind-numbing, formulaic trends on many contemporary artists of the time.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1987 albums.
One would not be out of line to suggest that this is a rather “unusual” (pun intended) selection for our 1982 album of the year. In fact, Business As Usual was originally released in November 1981 in Australia, the home country of the five piece rock band Men At Work. The lead single from the album, “Who Can It Be Now?” was released even earlier and had become a #1 hit Down Under by late summer 1981. Still, Columbia Records twice rejected distribution in the western world until its overwhelming success finally got the album released in the U.S. in April 1982. Here the album would go on to top the album charts and, as the year ended, Men At Work would occupy the #1 position on both the single and album charts in both the U.S. and U.K. Still, why would a “rock” site like ours choose this “pop” album as the best of 1982? Well, of the seventeen albums we reviewed from 1982 (most of which were pretty “good” but very few of which were truly “great”), Business As Usual seemed to be the most consistently solid and original back to front.
Produced by Peter McIan, the album has a solid new wave sound which compliments the good pop song-craft of guitarist and lead vocalist Colin Hay. With a knack for asymmetrical vocal movement from calm and raspy to strong and desperate, Hay provided a concise vocal guide above the band’s reggae and ska influenced rhythmic pulse. The resultant effect was a message that was simultaneously entertaining, a bit humorous, and deeply philosophical. The band also added other sonic elements, such as the phased guitar sounds and just the right infusion of saxophone by Greg Ham to give them an elemental edge over other pop-oriented new wave groups of the day.
Men At Work made their initial international break through to audiences in the western provinces of Canada, while opening for Fleetwood Mac on a North American tour. But it would be in the United States where the floodgates to success would open for the group. Business As Usual would become the most successful album by an Australian group to date, spending an unprecedented 15 weeks at #1 on the American album charts. It sold over 6 million copies in the states and 15 million worldwide.
Business As Usualby Men At Work
Released: April 22, 1982 (Columbia) Produced by: Peter McIan Recorded: Richmond Recorders, Melbourne, Spring-Autumn 1981
Who Can It Be Now?
I Can See It In Your Eyes
People Just Love to Play With Words
Be Good Johnny
Touching the Untouchables
Catch a Star
Down By the Sea
Colin Hay – Lead Vocals, Guitars Greg Ham – Keys, Saxophone, Flute, Vocals Ron Strykert – Guitar, Vocals Jonathan Rees – Bass Jerry Speiser – Drums
The album begins with the first real hit by the band, “Who Can It Be Now?”, an almost-satirical piece but with good quality music and arrangement and an excellent outtro. The call and response between the vocal and the saxophone during the chorus is done masterfully. The song was recorded prior to the rest of the album and released as a single in Australia in June 1981, and contains a lyrical narrative of a seclusion and paranoia. “I Can See It In Your Eyes” follows in perfect new wave form. The high, piercing synth notes compliment the driving yet melodic back-beat which is accented with good rudiments during the guitar lead.
Guitarist Ron Strykert co-wrote “Down Under”, another huge international hit for the band with a more pronounced reggae beat and interesting lyrics flush with Australian slang. The song remains a perennial favorite on Australian radio and television. It was played during the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics and has been ranked the #4 all-time greatest Australian song by that nation’s Performing Rights Association. In 2010 however, the flute riff from the song was found to have plagiarized the classic Australian song “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree”, written in 1934 by Marion Sinclair.
The third single from the album was “Be Good Johnny”, a song written by Hay and Ham with lyrics from the viewpoint of a 9-year-old boy who is constantly being told what to do but feels that he is misunderstood by adults in his life. The song’s title is offers homage to the Chuck Berry classic Johnny B. Goode (a cleaver play on words itself) and features some spoken dialog by Greg Ham. Ham also takes lead vocals on the Devo-esque piece “Helpless Automation”.
Beyond the radio hits, the rest of the album contains some very strong songs. “Underground” is one of the most rewarding songs on the album, complex both lyrically and in musical arrangement, with a fine guitar riff by Strykert and great drumming by Jerry Speiser. Strykert also wrote “People Just Love to Play with Words”, perhaps the most pop-oriented song on the album, which again builds towards good outtro vocals by Hay.
The second side of the album includes some gems such as “Touching the Untouchables”, a complex piece with dynamic vocals and interesting guitar and sax riffs throughout. “Catch a Star” builds from simple rudiments by bassist Jonathan Rees until it blossoms into a very moderate ska beat. “Down By the Sea” closes the album as a laid back extended piece with composing contributions by each member of the band.
Men At Work won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1983, a first for any Australian recording act. They would go on to record another fine album of equal artistic quality as a follow-up to Business As Usual later that year, but with much less commercial success. The 1982 success would not again be matched.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.
Australian rockers AC/DC produced their third album, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap during the summer of 1976 and released it in their home land in September of that year on the Albert Records label. A few months later, an international version of the album was released on Atlantic Records in many markets around the world but not in the United States. It would not be released in America until 1981, a full five years later. This fact is rather incredible when you listen to the album and recognize its high quality and commercial appeal. When the album was finally released in the States soon after the breakthrough album Back In Black, it became an instant smash, reaching #3 on the Billboard album charts and propelled the band into super-stardom.
The original Australian version of the album differs from the international (and later U.S.) version, which include shorter versions of two songs and replace “R.I.P. (Rock in Peace)” and “Jailbreak” with “Rocker” and “Love at First Feel”. All songs on the album are original, with the music written by brother guitarists Angus Young and Malcolm Young and the lyrics penned by singer Bon Scott.
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap also contains some material with controversial lyrics, much in an explicit sexual nature. The band originally entertained the idea of developing a “concept” centered around a classic mystery scenario. The title was derived from a character on the cartoon Beany and Cecil, which carried a business card that read, “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. Holidays, Sundays and Special Rates.”
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheapby AC/DC
Released: September 20, 1976 (Albert, Australia) Produced by: Harry Vanda & George Young Recorded: January-July 1976
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Love at First Feel
There’s Gonna Be Some Rockin’
Ain’t No Fun
(Waiting Round To Be a Millionaire)
Bon Scott – Lead Vocals Angus Young – Lead Guitars, Vocals Malcom Young – Guitars, Vocals Mark Evans – Bass Phil Rudd – Drums
The closer “Squealer” is the absolute raunchiest song on the album, as it steps right up to the line between purely explicit and something much darker and creepier. This asymmetrical tangent is lead by the driving riff by bassist Mark Evans and may be comparable to some of the material of the alternative era two decades later. “Big Balls” is simply brilliant. It is as risque as “Squealer” but done in a much more tactful way as the lyric is bold and almost vulgar while protected by the tremendous use of double entendre. Scott works this song tremendously using a very dramatic and theatrical telling that drives the song home.
The album kicks in with the title song, presented almost in the form of a commercial for a criminal for hire. Using an excellent play on words and an amazing sense of restraint by the normally maniacal Young brothers, this is also the first of several songs on the album to employ the child-like chorus during the refrain. “Love at First Feel” follows as a suitable complement to the opener, with an entertaining guitar riff and an introduction into the raunchy songs of Dirty Deeds.
Bon Scott died in February 1980, over a year before any of Americans heard his great work on Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. At the time of his death, none of the surviving members of the band had yet heard their next singer Brian Johnson perform. However, Scott had heard him and compared Johnson favorably to a modern day Little Richard. This was a bit ironic, as Scott had obviously admired the classic performer as he replicated him as best he could in “Rocker”. This song, along with “There’s Gonna Be Some Rockin”, showed the band paying homage to traditional rock n’ roll. “Problem Child” goes the opposite direction in time, previewing the AC/DC style of the later Bon Scott years through the Brian Johnson era. “Ain’t No Fun Waitin’ Round to Be a Millionaire” starts with a really cool alt/chorus riff, adding a great dimension to this song, which is also well ahead of its time. The band stays on a repetitive riff for long time before finally giving way to the chorus break which repeats many times before breaking into an outtro section based on the verse riff sped up.
“Ride On” is simply a great song with the simplest of blues-based rhythm and a strong and steady beat by drummer Phil Rudd. The simple and calm riff, which displays nice restraint by the Young brothers, backs up the finest singing by Bon Scott. The song feels at times like it’s going to break into something heavier but stays within the bounds of its own structure accented only by a bluesy lead by Angus Young. The song contains good lyrics and a well-placed whisper in chorus hook, which Scott never actually sings, giving the song yet another edge.
The album is not only “dirty” and “raunchy” but also diverse. With a sense of satire and wittiness that rivals Frank Zappa combined with the unambiguous, straight-up rock employed by contemporaries like Aerosmith and Kiss, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap hits a unique groove like no other work. Not being released for five years may have actually placed the album in a more perfect slot for the American audience as it arrived after Back in Black as an even more mature album artistically.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.