Almanac Music: The Mother Lode – Ten Rock Songs on the Heavier Side

 

 

Mother Lode Gold Ore, Grass Valley, California. [Wikimedia Commons.]

 

The Mother Lode – Ten Rock Songs on the Heavier Side

 

Often, as a teenager at home on Saturday mornings, I would close the lounge room door behind me, turn on the family stereo, and blast out my favourite records until lunchtime. Rock on the heavier side was a major part of the program. The ‘ten mother lode’ songs that follow give a good idea of kind of music involved.

 

(Note: all dates below relate to the release of the particular version of the song concerned.)

 

‘2,000 Man’ performed by Kiss (1979), written by Jagger-Richard (1967)

 

Put an electric guitar in my hands as a teenager, when I was playing in bands, and this would’ve been the kind of song I’d launch into. I love the straightforward yet highly effective chord progressions and the irresistible chunka-chunka-chunka-chunka rhythm guitar. In my teen years, this is just the sort of song I’d rip off a record (in this case Kiss’s Dynasty LP [1979]) and play – heavy, rockin’ and fun! (Even if the lyrics are really a load of old bollocks!)

 

The opening words:

 

Well my name it is a number
It’s on a piece of plastic film
And I’ve been growing funny flowers
outside of my little window sill
Don’t you know I’m a 2000 man
and my kids they just don’t understand me at all …

 

 

 

 

‘Back in Black’, written by Brian Johnson, Angus Young and Malcolm Young, performed by AC/DC (1980)

 

An important song in the history of heavy metal / heavy rock, and a key song in the resurrection of AC/DC following lead singer Bon Scott’s untimely death, ‘Back in Black’ is remarkable for the great riffing of Angus Young on lead guitar, Malcolm Young’s phenomenal power on rhythm and new lead singer Brian Johnson’s remarkable lead vocals. I remember looking at the sheet music for the song one day, probably in Brash-Sutton’s music store in central Geelong (a shop long gone) – jeez, some of the notes reached by Johnson were bloody high. For example, the chorus starts high-ish Well I’m back / Yes I’m back / Well I’m back / Yes I’m back / Well I’m back back / Well I’m back in black! – and then, way way up in the aforementioned musical notation stratosphere, the chorus concludes Yes I’m back in black! Talk about an electric charge to the groinal region required to reach these highest notes!

 

 

 

 

‘Mr Damage’ written John Brewster, Doc Neeson and Rick Brewster, performed by The Angels (1979)

 

‘Mr Damage’ is classic heavy Oz pub rock fare. There’s nothing too complicated here, but it’s high energy stuff, with more literate-than-average lyrics for something designed to wear you out on the dance floor. The song commences:

 

Holding council with the king and queen
Trying hard to decide the fate of their regime
There’s only one needed to complete the harmonizin’
And that’s a man with a voice like a scraping violin
Waiting for Mr. Damage …

 

Under close analysis, though, the lyrical content is a bunch of Gothic gobbledegook, really. But what do we want in a song such as this? – not a Shakespearean sonnet, surely.

 

 

 

 

‘Caroline’ written by Francis Rossi and Bob Young, performed by Status Quo (1973)

 

This was the ‘go to’ song for just about every high school rock band in my teenage era, because it was fun and so easy to play with its three chords and simple, yet highly effective lead riff. Nuff said!

 

 

 

 

‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ written by Brian May, performed by Queen (1978)

 

All the classic Queen elements are in this song, multi-track vocal harmonies, Freddy Mercury’s theatrical delivery (e.g. Left alone with big fat Fanny / She was such a naughty Nanny) and really heavy rock playing. Also, there’s an absolute blinder of a drum fill by Roger Taylor starting around the 2 22 minute mark in the video clip. If I was in a room full of drummers, I’d happily give $1000 to the first one who could jump on a kit and play it!

 

 

 

 

‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ written and performed by Guns ‘N’ Roses (1987)

 

I always hear urban alienation and melancholy in this iconic rock number by Axl Rose and the boys. I think it’s because Slash’s searing lead guitar playing reminds me of the wailing of a police siren, typical of big city life; at any rate, his guitar work is still as strikingly effective today as it was when the tune first came out.

 

 

 

 

‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ written by Phil Lynott, performed by Thin Lizzy (1976)

 

Ah, Phil Lynott, lead singer and bassist of Thin Lizzy, a talent gone way too soon. This is a rock song with a ‘hot summer night’ feel and a great call and response chorus The boys are back in town / The boys are back in town. I love the twin lead guitars of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson playing in harmony, too. I recall playing ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ in a band, South Side, at the St Albans Footy Club in Geelong, in 1979, as well as seeing Thin Lizzy live at Melbourne’s Myer Music Bowl about a year earlier.

 

 

 

 

‘You Better You Bet’ written by Pete Townshend, performed by The Who (1981)

 

This song is a disjointed one, in that it chops and changes mood at various stages, not always to its benefit. Nevertheless, it possesses some absolutely great rocking sections: When I say I love you /You say you’d better / You’d better you’d better you bet. I love the high harmonies in certain parts of the verse and chorus too. And John ‘The Ox’ Entwistle’s bass playing is a virtuosic delight, especially when he moves very high on the fretboard and when he does some wonderful octave jumps and plays two strings in harmony.

 

 

 

 

‘Feels Like the First Time’ written by Mick Jones, performed by Foreigner (1977)

 

Featuring Lou Gramm’s rich rock voice, this is a great straight ahead rocker, powerful and rousing. It’s almost the perfect thing for a teenager to rock out to on a lazy Saturday morning!

 

 

 

 

‘Darlington County’ written and performed by Bruce Springsteen (1984)

 

On one level, perhaps unfairly, I’ve always viewed this song as a goofy kind of dumb and dumber odyssey through rural America – the Me and Wayne on the Fourth of July story of two thickheads driving on the open road, with a combined IQ of about 100. However, one can’t deny that there’s also a wonderful radiant beauty in the feeling of it, arising out of the depiction of youthful innocence and freedom. Near the song’s conclusion the singer declares: I’ve seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but, more than all of this, is that ‘Darlington County’ is infectious, rocking and wonderfully uplifting. Oh, and what a chorus! Sha la la Sha la la la la / Sha la la la la la la …

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About

Kevin Densley is a graduate of both Deakin University and The University of Melbourne. He has taught writing and literature in numerous Victorian universities and TAFES. He is a poet and writer-in-general. His fifth book-length poetry collection, Please Feed the Macaws ... I'm Feeling Too Indolent, was published in late 2023 by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Other writing includes screenplays for educational films.

Comments

  1. Kudos for selecting an Ace Frehley track. What a rock star the Spaceman was!

    I was also a fan of the early Guns n Roses albums, they were a great antidote to the ‘hair bands’ like Bon Jovi, Motley Crue and Poison that were being forced upon us at the time. I loved the lead guitar work on Sweet Child O’ Mine. I probably leaned towards Paradise City as my favourite song of theirs at the time. I loved the big drum fills came in and the song went into its ripping high tempo outro solo.

    I also had a fondness for Walk This Way by Aerosmith and RUN DMC. I knew little about rap at the time but liked how the bass and beats provided by the rappers worked with the Aerosmith riffs. It made the original Aerosmith version seem piss weak in comparison.

    Iggy Pop’s Real Wild Child had a run in the charts in my teens and was then picked up as the ‘Rage’ theme. It was a good introduction to what seemed to be an intriguing performer. Later I would discover the work of Iggy and The Stooges. After hearing Search and Destroy everything seemed piss weak in comparison!

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Many thanks for your response, Greg – it indicates to me how well you understood the musical ‘lode’ I was mining in this piece.

    Great comment about Guns N Roses in contrast to the ‘hair bands’ of that era.

    And you’ve highlighted one of my favourite ever collaborations, in bringing up ‘Walk This Way’ by Aerosmith and Run DMC – I agree it does make the Aerosmith original sound piss weak! This reminds me how much better Kiss’s rocking version of ‘2,000 Man’ is compared to the trippy, irritating original done by The Rolling Stones.

    Regarding Iggy Pop ‘Real Wild Child’, I do like it a lot – but for whatever reason don’t have a big knowledge of his body of work, overall – this is something I need to remedy.

  3. Hi KD

    What an odd, interesting and mostly good calls assortment of “songs on the heavier side”. Now I’m a huge Springsteen fan and I’m not sure Darlington County is a heavy rocker but it is a most enjoyable ride.

    A couple of tracks I enjoyed blasting outa the sound system were The Replacements, Bastards of Young (incidentally, their take on Black Diamond by KISS is fabo), Fuck School, also by The Replacements, Led Zep’s Kashmir, Even the Losers by Tom Petty, Magic Man by Heart and Bad Boy for Love by Rose Tattoo. Cheers

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Cheers, Rick – thanks for your comments. Glad that in general you enjoyed my assortment of ‘songs on the heavier side’ and what I had to say about them. Of course, I could have made a much bigger list, but one needs to make these kinds of pieces manageable.

    Re ‘Darlington County’, I suppose what I was getting at, fundamentally, is that this song works best played really LOUD!

    Thank you, also, for your song contributions, all very much on point with regard to my theme. I particularly liked the fact that you gave Tom Petty, Heart and Rose Tattoo a mention in this context.

    Oh, and finally, I probably should’ve included ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll High School’ by the Ramones in my ten songs. What a blinder in terms of pushing one’s old family stereo to the limits!

  5. Tony Forbes says

    My list would be from various bands I played in and audience reaction (30 years ago). 1. Cocaine (JJ not Eric) 2. Rocky Mountain Way Joe Walsh 3. Bad case of loving you (Robert Palmer) 4. Like a Hurricane (Neil Young) 5. Alright now (Free) 6. Radar Love 7. Black and Blue (Chain) 8. Brown Sugar (Stones) 9. Cant get enough of your love (Bad Company) 10. Roadhouse Blues (The Doors). A bit more of a mainstream collection but they certainly got the punters rocking down in the Western District and especially at the Civic Hall in Colac!

  6. Tony Forbes says

    By the way ‘Real wild child’was written by Australia’s own JOK I do believe!

  7. Iggy Pop wrote Little China Girl? Covered by David Bowie. I also have a jazz album by Dr Lonnie Smith and Iggy Pop guest vocals on a very nice version of ‘Why can’t we live together’.

  8. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Tony.

    Thanks for your contributions to this discussion – good stuff! What got the Civic Hall in Colac rocking also works for me! Bands I played in (roughly around the same time as you, it seems) covered at least three of the ten songs you initially mentioned: ‘Cocaine’, ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ and ‘Brown Sugar’.

    A couple more notes: JOK co-wrote ‘Wild One/Real Wild Child’, while Iggy Pop and David Bowie wrote ‘China Girl’ together.

  9. Luke Reynolds says

    Any list with “Back In Black” in it is a great list.

    In my teenage years loved the heavier rock sound of Spiderbait and silverchair, these days Australian bands like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, The Smith Street Band, West Thebarton, Luca Brasi and The Living End are my go to for that harder sound. But no one matches AC/DC in this department.

  10. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Luke, for your contribution here.

    I suppose, inevitably, we are very much products of our own time/generation when it comes to our musical choices and tastes; that said, it’s also a fine thing to keep abreast of new musical developments, which you appear to do – and I try to do in my own fashion. Discussion threads such as this one help me further develop my musical knowledge; for instance, I’m very likely to further delve into a couple of the contemporary musical acts you’ve mentioned in your response.

  11. Interesting and thoughtful list, KD.

    Agree with Luke, particularly re The Living End. Have seen them live many times, they are a fabulous band

  12. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Smokie, for your comments. Glad you liked the list I came up with – without ‘overthinking’ it, I tried to arrive at a list that was on theme, but not totally expected by readers.

    Yes, The Living End – I’ve enjoyed the stuff of theirs I’ve heard, and it’s certainly ‘on the heavier side’. (For example, ‘Prisoner of Society’ and ‘All Torn Down’.)

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