Bill and Brian make the best of an odd situation in which a guest was supposed to come on to be our gritty Australian rock and roll connoisseur but ended up not joining us. So we tackle AC/DC's legendary Back in Black (1980, Atlantic). After years of working their way to the top of the Australian charts, the band, founded by brothers Angus and Malcolm Young, broke through to an international audience with 1979's Highway to Hell. Tragically, after a night of heavy drinking, charismatic frontman Bon Scott passed away during the winter of 1980. Choosing to carry on, the band brought in singer Brian Johnson who helped them reach even greater heights of success and critical acclaim. Brian and Bill talk about AC/DC's presence in their younger days, Bill while listening to the radio and Brian while broadcasting on the radio. They also discuss the influence of producer Mutt Lange, Brian Johnson's back story, the band's unique ways of honoring Bon Scott, how the band made it's distinctive sound, Angus' killer leads, the chart topping-ness of the album and its singles, what Max Weinberg might think of Phil Rudd, a bit about if there is any misogyny on the album, and as always a track by track review!
On another very special episode, Bill and Brian take some time to fill in the big gap from back before we started the Bonus Song Thursday tradition. We play our way through songs from the Replacements, Miracle Legion, the Rentals, Billy Bragg and Wilco, Our Lady Peace, the Wrens, the Hold Steady, Oasis, Arcade Fire, Bruce Springsteen, the National, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and Guster.
On a very special episode of the Great Albums, Bill and Brian take a break from our usual geeking out over the minutia of an album to geek out over the minutia of a film. We talk about the best fictional biopic of a 60s pop band That Thing You Do! Written and directed by Tom Hanks, the film follows four small town musicians as they rise to fame on the strength of their danceable rock'n'roll tune (also called "That Thing You Do"). Brian and Bill talk about how they started watching the movie and how they've watched it too much. Also, we follow the plot, talking about what we loved and giving some insight into what made it cool. Also, Bill pulls out some lessons from his Literary Criticism classes from over a decade ago to deconstruct some of characters and plot devices!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! Brian and Bill continue talk about Metallica, jumping 10 years ahead from 1986's Master of Puppets to "Hero of the Day" from 1996's Load. We discuss the evolution in the band's sound and image, how their alternative leaning contemporaries influenced their sound (maybe bringing in some Bowie influence?), and more about Lars' heavy kick drum. Also, we read a bunch of listener emails, first tackling some singers who reference a person/character in multiple songs, then we finally get an answer to what the heck dream pop is, and then blogger Jeff Fiedler finally clues us in to what the heck was going on with Queen and Elektra Records! Additionally, we read an open letter from one listener to all the others, that makes Jared my "Hero of the Day."
Bill and Brian are joined by educator and author Doug Robertson (aka the Weird Teacher, @theweirdteacher) to talk about what makes Metallica's Master of Puppets (1986, Elektra) great. Metallica, forebears of thrash metal and icons within the metal genre, spent a few years in the underground building a rabid fanbase before finally breaking through with their major label debut (which did so without the help of radio airplay or any music videos). Doug shares how listening to Metallica for the first time forced his body to experience puberty within a matter of seconds as a high school freshman. He then became a ravenous fan, taking in their back catalog and falling in love with each album in turn. Brian, Bill, and Doug discuss Nu metal, growing with fast and loud music, Metallica's musicality, Winger, Lars Ulrich's drumming skills (and maybe lack thereof), how Hetfield's lyrics are smarter than you may think, a whole bunch of really cool guitar things, Dave Mustaine, which song on the album is actually a sonata, a bunch about Cliff Burton's life (and death), and much more as we make our way through the album track by track!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! Brian and Bill tackle Liz Phair's 2003 attempt at a mainstream breakthrough "Why Can't I." We discuss the sound curated by production team the Matrix, the early aughts sing-songwriter sound, and how this song alienated as many fans as it gained, basically not helping Phair's career the way the label had envisioned. Additionally, we read some listener emails and tweets. We got a lot of interaction from the Television episode, so we tackle the Elektra stable of artists, who the band influenced, and some great 10 minute songs!
Bill and Brian welcome the host of the podcasts Director's Club and Pop Culture Club (both part of the Now Playing Network, nowplayingnetwork.net) Jim Laczkowski to discuss Liz Phair's debut exile in Guyville (1993, Matador). Through talent and a little luck, Phair turned her demo project into being signed by Matador records. She took the $3000 given to her to record a single and instead did an entire album with producer Brad Wood. Hailed for its lo-fi charm and the brazen attitude of the the songwriter it showcased, the album, went on to find critical success and a devoted fanbase. Jim shares how he came across this album as a lucky 15 year old with cool friends. Bill, Brian, and Jim discuss Phair's career choices and her major label turn, how Guyville is supposedly tracked to respond to the Rolling Stone's Exile on Main Street, the difference between lo-fi and "hi-fi," Phair's low vocal tone, the acerbic Steve Albini, the atrociously 90s-styled video for "Never Said," how weird it is that some in the media have labeled Liz Phair a "sex kitten," Jim's favorite Chicago bands, and more as we make our way through the album track by track.
It's Bonus Song Thursday! Bill and Brian continue discussing Television (you know, the band, not the thing you stare at in the living room) by listening to and chatting about "1880 of So" from their 1992 "comeback" self titled album. We speculate on the possibility of a Television biography and why the band reformed when they did. Then, spurred by a Twitter interaction, we attempt to once again explain what we are trying to accomplish with the podcast and the best way to interact with us by inviting everyone to join the conversation.
Bill and Brian welcome journalist/Jersey music expert Jim Testa (www.jerseybeat.com) to talk about Television's Marquee Moon (1977, Elektra). Emerging out of the CBGB "punk" scene, Television struggled to find mainstream success with their quirky rock and only put out two albums before calling it quits (a third followed in the 90s after they reformed). Despite this, the band has gone on to be critically well regarded and highly influential. Jim Testa, who has been writing about music since before the release of this album, tells us about the early days at CBGB and discovering this music as it was released. Bill, Brian, and Jim discuss the Ramones, what the heck post-punk is, how Television is completely unique, what Robert Christgau had to say about the album, the quality of Tom Verlaine's voice, the strange rhythms in the songs, a little on what Brian thinks sounds "angular," what cinematic sounds like, Suicide (the band), and much more as we make our way through the album track by track!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! Because Brian was a little busy, Bill brings some well researched facts about Aimee Mann's cover of the Harry Nilsson song "One!" He talks about the history of the song as it made it's way from Nilsson to Three Dog Night to Mann to the Magnolia soundtrack! Additionally, Bill reads some listener emails about cool comic books about music and how we obviously inspired Jeff Tweedy as he pondered what to name the latest Wilco album!
Brian and Bill are joined by podcaster Dan Drago (25oclockpod.com) to talk about Harry Nilsson's triumphant hit album, Nilsson Schmilsson (1971, RCA Victor). Nilsson started his career as both a recording artist and songwriter who finally broke when Three Dog Night covered his tune "One" in 1969. He enjoyed continued success with a series of unique albums through the 70s before retiring from the music business in the 80s. Dan shares how he knew Nilsson without knowing it, until he checked out this album after not getting an in-joke perpetuated by his brother and their friends' band. Bill, Brian, and Dan talk about Nilsson's influence on solo Beatles output, his collaboration with Randy Newman, the idiosyncratic humor found on this album, multi-Harry harmonies, the Bo Diddley beat, Badfinger and their sad story, how Nilsson wrote a song that feels like it wasn't written by anyone, Nilsson's continuing legacy, and much more as we make our way through the album track by track!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! Bill and Brian take a closer look at the song stylings of the iconic actor William Shatner by listening to and discussing his collaboration with Ben Folds on the latter's experimental pop record Fear of Pop Vol. 1. We talk about how this song hinted on what was yet to come. We also read a few listener emails that help us finally put the nail in the coffin on what the deal is with winter in Australia and New Zealand, explore more about how we want to discuss the technical aspects of music and production, and a shout out to our friends in the band Ayer Amarillo!
Bill and Brian take a deep dive into the unique and unexpectedly great work of William Shatner and his collaboration with Ben Folds, Has Been (2004, Shout! Factory). The iconic Star Trek actor was often maligned for his previous foray into pop music, 1968's The Transformed Man, but he found a willing collaborator who helped channel his spoken word poetry fantastic songs that muse on success, tragedy, and growing older. Bill and Brian talk about how they were pleasantly surprised when this came out. We came for Ben Folds but stayed for Shatner. We also discuss Pulp, Joe Jackson, anxiety in the face of success, relationships with dads, the passage of time, the Great Cosmic Joke, having fun at funerals, choosing how you feel, how Shatner took control of who and what he is with his own self-awareness, and much more as we make our way through the album track by track!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! Brian and Bill ask (and answer) the question: What is Kim's Deal? This is, of course, a reference to Pixies member and Breeders front woman Kim Deal, as we continue our conversation from our Doolittle episode by following her career with the band's hit single "Cannonball." Bill and Brian talk about who got the last laugh in the Kim/Black Francis feud, the very 90s-ness of the fact that this song was even a hit, and we read some listener tweets about the first day of Winter in Australia!
Bill and Brian welcome drummer John Petrick of the Stewart Dolly (thestewartdolly.bandcamp.com) to the podcast to discuss the Pixies sophomore full length release Doolittle (1989, 4AD). The band formed around the core of primary songwriter Black Francis and guitarist Joey Santiago after the two met at the University of Massachusetts Amherst before bassist Kim Deal and drummer Dave Lovering solidified the lineup. Signed to British indie label 4AD, the band took off with college radio and have since maintained their legacy as one of THE most important alternative bands. John shares how he discovered the band through looking up Weezer on allmusic.com. Bill, Brian, and John discuss Black Francis' name, whether or not his character in the songs reveals who he is in life, Joey Santiago's noisey guitars, Brian not knowing anything about superhero names, the monolithic nature of the album, how to learn to play bass using the Kim Deal method, how Black Francis' voice cracking during a particular song is John's favorite moment on the album, Ennio Morricone, a surprising amount about how the band is like the Beatles in many ways, and more as we make our way through the album track by track!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! Bill and Brian follow up their conversation on Sam Cooke's Night Beat by discussing one of his last releases ever, "A Change Is Gonna Come." Written after a particularly tense interaction at a motel, Cooke released this song hoping to affect change within the Civil Rights Movement. We talk about how the song's dense arrangement contrasts with what was produced for Night Beat, the difficulty of navigating racism as a pop icon in a time known for its social injustice, how anger can be used to fuel positivity, and a little on race relations and integration in general. Additionally, we read a listener email, asking us to explain some recording processes we often talk about, specifically the art of mixing!
Joining Brian and Bill to discuss Sam Cooke's landmark and influential Night Beat (1963, RCA) is Randy W. Hall, cohost of our podcast kin That Dandy Classic Music Hour (thatdandyclassicmusichour.com). Night Beat found Sam Cooke enjoying the benefits of his restructured contract, exercising his right to choose his own backing band, go into a studio, show off his skills as the father of soul, and put together one of the first purposely crafted albums. Randy talks about playing hooky from school and heading to his local record shop to discover the reissue of Night Beat on the shelf and then just being blown away when he put it on in his car. Bill, Brian, and Randy discuss the birth of soul, Motown vs. Stax, Cooke's conversational style, Sam's voice being out front, Dylan covering "Freebird," Barney Kessel's excellent guitar work, Billy Preston's excellent organ interplay with Ray Johnson's piano, the unfortunate circumstances of Sam Cooke's death, and more as we make our way through the album track by track!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! Brian and Bill discuss one of the Ramones most recognizable songs "I Wanna Be Sedated," how the Ramones have become a ubiquitous legacy act without huge hits, and all the bands that have covered the song. Also, we read a listener email about the necessity of separating art from the artist.
Bill and Brian welcome musician (hellstroms.bandcamp.com), podcaster, and our new resident punk avatar Jack Fitzsimmons onto the podcast to talk about the Ramones' self titled debut (1976, Sire). The four kids who went on to change their names and the landscape of music grew up in the hostile environment of Queens, NY where they decided to embrace themselves as outsiders, turned up the volume, and pretended to be rock stars. Jack shares how he first delved into the band and this album while visiting family in Great Britain and meeting the punks from across the pond who idolized the Ramones. Jack helps us understand, from his perspective, what it means to be a punk and part of that culture. Bill, Brian, and Jack discuss the band's intelligence and their dumb image, the strange mixing choices on the album, the emergence of teenager culture, making mix tapes for former high school girlfriends, Dee Dee's troubles and sexuality, the birth of the punk cover, and much more as we talk about the album track by track!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! Bill and Brian continue talking about Waylon Jennings and his unique brand of "outlaw country" by discussing his duet with Willie Nelson "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)." A listener wrote in, giving us a lot of insight on this song and how it shows off Waylon's "big brass balls." We also read some tweets that corrected our British slang, challenged our perception of fandom, and lead us to talking about "who's in" and "who's out." We also read another email in which a listener heartily disagrees with some of our assessments on the La's album!
Joining Brian and Bill on the podcast this week is trunkworthy.com writer and co-founder David Gorman to talk about Waylon Jennings' Dreaming my Dream (1975, RCA Victor), a key album at the start of his "outlaw country" years. Tired of the Nashville machinery, Jennings was able to wrestle creative control away from his label and into his own hands, sparking a legendary run of albums. David talks about discovering Waylon through recommendations and his live albums before lauding him with accolades for his DIY ethic and unique vocal delivery. Bill, Brian, and David discuss how Waylon challenge the Nashville industry, his rapscallion ways, David's hatred for harmonicas, a theory for the concept of the record, the greatest cheatin' songs bracket, and more as we make our way through the album track by track!
Brian and Bill take a little time to discuss one of the tracks from the deluxe edition of the La's set titled album, "I Am the Key." After Bill tells a wedding story that he forgot to tell on the main episode and Brian fawns over the songs harmonies, the two take a really deep dive into two of Bill's favorite subjects: data sifting and Pearl Jam. A listener challenged our claim that Pearl Jam's Ten outsold Nevermind. We accept the challenge and take it to the mat. We discovered some surprising facts, including how the RIAA and Nielsen Soundscan work, what labels have to do to receive gold and platinum certifications, and of course which album really outsold which (on both US domestic and international levels)!
Bill and Brian dive into a wonderful, under-appreciated and under-discovered set of songs by Brit-pop forebears the La's with their self titled album (1990, Polydor/Go!). Best known for their single "There She Goes," which is perhaps better known Stateside as the 1999 hit for Sixpence None the Richer, the band has only put out this single album to date. But in the time since its release, the band has gone on to become a cult favorite. Bill and Brian discuss the evolution of this album under the guidance of several producers, how frontman Lee Mavers is still unsatisfied with the eventual Steve Lillywhite helmed version, the economical songwriting, how re-amping basses works, the intelligence and depth imbued into simple lyricism, the conundrum of tracking an album with so many great songs, how the heck to play the lead to "There She Goes," what great British rock band a particular song sounds like, what other great British rock band another song sounds like and how Brian is wrong about not liking a particular song, how a bit of contention and friction helps shape songs to be their best, and more in our track by track review!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! Bill and Brian keeping diving into the vast catalog of great French artists by discussing Daft Punk and their super massive 2013 hit "Get Lucky." With a little help from Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers, the electronic duo churned out a danceable tune. While discussing it we talk about tangentially vs. tangentally, Pharrell's career resurgence at about the time this song hit, disco music, we read a listener email that helps us clarify that a slide was indeed used on Foo fights "Oh George," and we discuss which Pavement albums are our favorites!
Brian and Bill sit down in the virtual lecture hall with Professor Jonathyne Briggs of Indiana University Northwest who literally wrote the book on French music with Sounds French: Globalization, Cultural Communities and Pop Music, 1958-1980 (2015, Oxford University Press). We get a cool history lesson on how rock and roll entered French pop in the 60s and its influence on France's culture through today. From chansons and Elvis Presley to the Beatles and Dylan and onto new wave and electronic music, we explore how an international audience reacted to, were inspired by, and innovated genres we only thought we were well versed in. Jonathyne kindly curated a play list of 10 songs that includes Franciose Hardy, Serge Gainsbourg, Michel Polnareff, Telephone, Marquis de Sade, Alain Bashung, Les Rita Mitsouko, Louise Attaque, Air, and M83! We make our way through it, questioning and commenting as Bill mangles the pronounciation of everything, a track at a time.