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Forget The Hearse: AC/DC's 'Back In Black' Turns 40

AC/DC in 1979

Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images

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Forget The Hearse: AC/DC's 'Back In Black' Turns 40

The classic-rock mainstays' seventh studio album—their first with Brian Johnson—took a longtime trope to its ultimate conclusion: Lead singers may succumb to mortality, but rock’n’roll would never

GRAMMYs/Jul 22, 2020 - 09:12 pm

Back In Black is not a perfect album, but it may be the perfect rock album. What does that say about rock? Probably something about its built-in sexism circa 1980, with the level of horniness both constant and complacent for a band this elemental, more akin to a hostile work environment or catcalling or "locker room talk" than any singular artistic expression of coitus or the overpowering desire for it. "You Shook Me All Night Long"—which is not at all a bad choice for the best rock'n'roll song of all time—transcends the petty bra-snapping of surroundings like "Given the Dog a Bone" and "What You Do for Money Honey" by not only giving their object of desire some description ("American thighs" is probably their most important contribution to our language) but even some dialogue ("she told me to come but I was already there"—bummer). You're not going to get apologies from a band who recorded and released their comeback album in all of five months after their lead singer died. Especially not when his replacement literally sings the words "I never die," as if explaining why he's more cut out for the position. So I digress.

AC/DC's 50-times-platinum masterpiece (25 million of which were shipped domestic) could be the definitive rock album simply for being equidistant from Led Zeppelin IV and Nevermind, in some kind of sales apex window that also includes the EaglesGreatest Hits and Michael Jackson's Thriller but also probably tops the curve by being so meat and potatoes there might not even be spuds. Kick, snare, kick, snare, kick, snare is rarely as primitive or as powerful as when "You Shook Me All Night Long" loses its intro like tearaway pants. Slow it down to what we now know to be hip-hop speed and you get "Back In Black," a noncontroversial nomination for the greatest guitar riff of all time, which only Wayne Campbell can really decide. Ease it down even more and you get the hungover, bluesy crawl of "Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution," which didn’t really catch on as a bumper sticker but trudges the album to a close with the confidence as if it did. Back In Black being 40 perfectly parallels its most loyal demographic being in their 60s, an always-in-lockstep cosplay of themselves 20 years younger.

Bon Scott choked on his vomit in the passenger seat after a drinking binge, and less than half a year later, the guy who filled his shoes sang "Have a Drink on Me." There wasn’t any real hesitation; if anything it weirded out the record company more when AC/DC were gonna make their album cover entirely black in tribute. (They were asked to at least provide an outline of the AC/DC logo over it; oh, branding.) Brian Johnson, the new guy, was tasked with writing a tribute song, but not "morbid," so "it has to be a celebration." What a job.

"Back In Black," though, the other song on this album that wouldn’t be a bad choice for the best rock’n’roll song of all time, more than fulfills this prophecy; we may as well go ahead and nominate it for the even more likely Best Riff of All Time award. Makes a great hip-hop song too, though you wouldn’t know it from any official releases since these knuckleheads are against sampling. Search YouTube to find Eminem and the Beastie Boys kicking it like the stomping groove deserves. But those lyrics, which along with "Hells Bells" and "Noise Pollution" comprise the album's only verbiage not directed at women, are the perhaps the only time AC/DC was ever mysterious or impressionistic. Given, Steven Tyler and Anthony Kiedis rap things like "nine lives, cat’s eyes" all the time. But for a band this literal, this nearly artless in their glandular pursuits, it’s Picasso.

AC/DC identified something in punk and new wave. From Led Zeppelin to Black Sabbath to Deep Purple and even Aerosmith at their most talk-box spacy, hard rock in the 1970s was celebrated for its psychedelic excess, its pretensions. Elongated, folksy mandolin intros. The simulated endlessness of drum soloing. "Jams." But while AC/DC surely imbibed plenty of the same substances, they ran a no-nonsense assembly line of riffs compiled like car parts into well-oiled machines, no dirt or mess. There’s definitely some Ramones in that. If not for Kiss, you might even be able to say they were the first of this kind, and that Back In Black may have foreseen the coldness of Reagan in its defiance of feeling; for a tribute to a fallen friend, they didn’t even allow a single ballad. "Back In Black" may as well be about how stylish they looked at Bon Scott’s funeral. But it’s clear that Scott wouldn’t have blinked; if anything he would’ve climbed out of the casket to shriek "Shoot to Thrill" himself. And in a way, Back in Black may have taken a longtime trope to its ultimate conclusion: Lead singers may succumb to mortality, but rock’n’roll would never.

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'Destiny Fulfilled' Turns 15: Looking Back At Destiny’s Child's Fifth And Final Album

Destiny's Child

Photo courtesy of Columbia Records and Sony Urban Music

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'Destiny Fulfilled' Turns 15: Looking Back At Destiny’s Child's Fifth And Final Album

On their 2004 farewell record, Beyoncé, Kelly and Michelle peeled back the layers of the pop phenom girl group we once knew and re-introduced us to a trio of fully evolved, self-realized women

GRAMMYs/Nov 15, 2019 - 10:37 pm

The late '90s and early '00s belonged to Destiny’s Child. As one of the greatest girl groups of all time, the Houston R&B/pop trio (the now-mononym'd Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams) shaped the music scene, consistently solidified the top spots on the charts and dominated airwaves. But it all changed on June 11, 2005, during their Destiny Fulfilled... and Lovin' It tour when Rowland announced before an adoring crowd of 16,000 in Barcelona that the threesome had collectively agreed to disband and move forward separately. 

Before their show-stopping announcement, they left fans with the perfect parting gift, which was the release of their fifth and final studio album, Destiny Fulfilled. Though it’s been 15 years since its release, having dropped on Nov. 15, 2004, the therapeutic themes of love and loss throughout the album’s entirety still resonate today. From breakup anthems to female empowerment lyrics, the album made women feel like sheroes of their own stories.

Read More: Say My Name" 20 Years Later: Why The Destiny's Child Staple Is Still On Everyone's Lips

After a three-year hiatus where the trio separated to focus on solo projects, there came a noticeable transition with the release of this album. DC3 was officially all grown up. Electrifying pop tunes such as “Bootylicious” and "Bug A Boo" were in the group’s rearview as they ushered in a more mature, nuanced sound deeply rooted with an R&B and a contemporary hip-hop vibe. With some assistance from hip-hop heavyweights and an all-star production team like T.I., Lil Wayne, Rodney Jerkins, 9th Wonder and Rockwilder, Destiny Fulfilled peeled back the layers of the pop phenom girl group we once knew and re-introduced us to a trio of fully evolved, self-realized women.

With each track inspired by the growing pains of relationships, Destiny Fulfilled chronicled some aspect of the ladies' journeys in their quest for love. At the time of the album’s release, I was a 20-something college student, and the entire track list spoke to my trials and tribulations of the deterioration, reconstruction and eventually, the glow-up following a heartbreak that most women know all too well. 

"It was a real conversation and a real feeling. When you get your heart broken, you question everything, especially if you feel like you have prayed for someone, and it didn't work out. The intensity of trying to find your way still affects a lot of people, especially women today," Sean Garrett, who penned six tracks on the album," tells the Recording Academy.

On the percussive single "Lose My Breath,” the intense wave of emotions and seamless storytelling is perfectly captured and continues to radiate through the album as a whole. The inspiration stemmed from the "perspective of a guy taking a girl's breath away and getting swept off her feet. She’s being swooned by a guy that at first she didn’t believe she would be interested in," states Garrett. However, this dance tune not only generated massive buzz with its pioneering visuals of Destiny’s Child styled as various versions of themselves competing in a back-alley dance battle. It also garnered the GRAMMY Award-winning group their ninth top 10 single on the Billboard Hot 100.

Their follow-up was the edgy street anthem that had Beyoncé, Michelle and Kelly professing their admiration for a bad boy because, "If his status ain't hood. I ain't checkin' for him. Better be street if he lookin' at me." The ladies continued to let the fellas know that they "Need a soldier that ain't scared to stand up for me. Known to carry big things if you know what I mean." Garrett says that 'Soldier' was definitely a favorite because it was a different vibe for girls at the time."

With emotionally vulnerable lyrics, sultry vocals and synchronized three-part harmonies, the individual strengths of each DC member were on full display throughout the remainder of the album. Their vocal abilities together and independently were stronger than ever. It was evident in songs such as "Is She the Reason" and “Free,” which sampled singer Melba Moore, while “If” sampled legendary performer Natalie Cole's hit "Inseparable." 

Not to mention, the band's behind-the-scenes writing chemistry, which captures the highs and lows of love, is a testament to DC's forever bond and shared history as a cohesive unit.  

The title itself signifies a full-circle moment, a sense of completion and closure. An achievement Destiny’s Child had been striving towards from their earlier days of member swapping and "TRL" stardom, Destiny Fulfilled is an experience that made women feel seen—both in the band and out. It is an ode to the life lessons of friendship, spiritual enlightenment, personal growth and transformation. Its resonance is still widespread, and the baton of wisdom found in the albums lyrical content is just as relevant today as it was 15 years ago. 

Since parting ways, DC have briefly teamed back up, most memorably for on-stage performance at the 2013 Super Bowl halftime show, and again at Beyoncé’s 2018 headlining Coachella set. They've also appeared on each other’s solo records. But with '00s nostalgia running rampant across pop culture, fans understandably want more. In 2012, contemporary pop icon Ariana Grande tweeted to her 67 million followers, "I miss Destiny's Child so much." It's probably safe to say that everyone—including Grande—is waiting for Bey, Michelle and Kelly to drop a new female empowerment anthem for all the women, once again.

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Jon Batiste's "Freedom" Wins Best Music Video | 2022 GRAMMYs
Jon Batiste, Alan Ferguson, and Alex P. Willson accept the Best Music Video award for Freedom onstage during the 64th Annual GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony at MGM Grand Marquee Ballroom on April 03, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

PHOTO: Denise Truscello/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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Jon Batiste's "Freedom" Wins Best Music Video | 2022 GRAMMYs

New Orleans-set "Freedom" by Jon Batiste wins Best Music Video at the 2022 GRAMMYs

GRAMMYs/Apr 3, 2022 - 09:53 pm

Jon Batiste won Best Music Video for "Freedom,” off his album We Are, at the 2022 GRAMMYs. The Best Music Video award is Batiste’s third win of the 2022 GRAMMYs and the 14th nomination of his career.

“I am so grateful for the gifts that God has given me and the ability to share that for the love of humankind,” Batiste said onstage, next to director Alan Ferguson and video producer Alex P. Willson. The video for “Freedom” was shot “in my home town of New Orleans and we just wanted everybody to see it and be transformed with joy. Any depression, any darkness and bondage that was in your life, to be removed with this video.”

AC/DC, Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber ft. Daniel Caesar & Giveon, Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X and Olivia Rodrigo were the other nominees in the prestigious category.

Check out the complete list of winners and nominees at the 2022 GRAMMYs.

I Met Her in Philly: D'Angelo's 'Brown Sugar' Turns 25

D'Angelo in 1995

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I Met Her in Philly: D'Angelo's 'Brown Sugar' Turns 25

Like Marvin Gaye and so many '70s heroes before him, D'Angelo imbued easy listening with urgency on his studio debut

GRAMMYs/Jul 9, 2020 - 08:28 pm

It's hard to believe there was a time when R&B wasn't exactly described as "loose," which is a very subjective term. But if you can imagine, like most '80s music, R&B had become rather "tight," and became nearly claustrophobically so as New Jack Swing was introduced, with the likes of Janet Jackson and Bobby Brown riding steely new rhythms, vocalizing on beat, making entire tics out of their voices' response to the rhythm. Michael Jackson made entire songs, entire languages out of those tics. This stuff wasn't grooveless in the slightest. But it was highly choreographed, syncopated, squeezed into form-fitting outfits for mechanistic dance routines and informed by hip-hop beats, house, electro-via-Kraftwerk, all kinds of "hard" structures that forced traditional singers to constrict and contort their presences to fit into the spaces between all this busy, futuristic new audio innovation. So if you're wondering where neo-soul came from, that’s your ground zero.

Of course, there was quiet storm too, but unlike the 2010s, which found New Age and other soft, conservative genres being reevaluated as something extraordinary, the respected likes of Luther Vandross et al. were not seen as revolutionary like Public Enemy or Prince in the 1980s. What Michael "D'Angelo" Archer did a quarter-century ago was simple enough—like Marvin Gaye and so many '70s heroes before him, he imbued easy listening with urgency. Not that subtlety was about to overpower the steamrolling megapopularity of grunge or gangsta rap in 1995. But D'Angelo’s debut album Brown Sugar was vital and newsworthy enough that it arguably birthed the whole damn neo-soul movement, a year before Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite, two years before Erykah Badu’s Baduizm, five before Jill Scott's Who Is Jill Scott?, and you can hear more of it today in Noname and Solange and Keiyaa and countless other contemporaries more than most music turning 25 this year.

That's the backstory, really. The legendary follow-up Voodoo gets all the attention, and rightfully so, but Brown Sugar gets somewhat overshadowed by default, for not having an epic wait like its five-year follow-up or 2016's Black Messiah, the critics' poll-annihilating mirage which materialized 14 years after that. But besides nabbing D'Angelo four GRAMMY noms at the time and almost singlehandedly opening the doors for a genre, it’s just a flawless album.

Which is not be taken for granted in any era, but especially not the '90s, a great decade for R&B singles, and not-exactly-canonized efforts from its heaviest hitters: Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey, maybe TLC. Only Mary J. Blige and Prince were routinely making strong top-to-bottom albums at the time that could be slotted as soul. But they had so much hip-hop and other things in the mix, whereas D’Angelo was something of a purist. Anything new about Brown Sugar was old. Well, except for "Cruisin'," which to this day could very well still be his finest moment.

Ever heard of grooves? Not exactly a new idea. But when we talk about "loose," we talk about weed freeing oxygen to the brain, intimacy-inspired serotonin, an extreme level of comfort from a debut artist in the astoundingly calming, funky properties of his not-really-songs, and the deeply layered vocal shapes he laid over them without any particular dissonance or chaos. The Geto Boys-worthy drum loop of a vamp like "Jonz in My Bonz" was all that really tethered it to the Earth, the rest sounded like three or four Ds improvising at once, a crooner with more than one head, which in this genre has been a reality in more than a few instances. Brown Sugar is still easy listening, not that any D'Angelo is even close to difficult. But like Fela Kuti, it's simultaneously sprawling and simple-sounding; except for the intricately jazzy "Smooth" and its attendant piano, you don’t come away from these songs being convinced that they existed before the recording session.

The hooks are just mantras: "I want some of your brown sugar," "Why are you sleeping with my woman," "Look at you, you’re so smooth." They get stuck in your head without trying too hard, and they don’t sound forethought. D'Angelo is an expert arranger, player and definitely singer. But as a songwriter, you really just hear his talent molding and drawing these ideas out before your ears. And yet the avoidance of waste is shocking: just ten songs, no skits, most hovering around the extraordinary heights of the six-and-half-minute "Cruisin'" and the bluesy, bewildered cheating reveal "Shit, Damn, Motherfker." Voodoo is widely acknowledged as the best R&B album of the 2000s, but there’s no reason not to award the same consideration to its naturalistic, unhurried predecessor for its respective decade. He’s one of those icons like Kurt Cobain who makes it sound so easy when dozens of not-quites prove it certainly isn't. But listening rarely gets easier than Brown Sugar.

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Blink-182's 'Enema Of The State' Will Never Actually Turn 20

Blink-182

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Blink-182's 'Enema Of The State' Will Never Actually Turn 20

What's their age again? Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge and Travis Barker's unapologetically juvenile third album marked the first time the trio wrote consciously with an audience in mind

GRAMMYs/Jun 11, 2019 - 01:05 am

The truth is, punk has rarely gone pop. Sure, there’s popular punk. There’s punk bands whose iconic logos and contributions to fashion and established fan bases (with said logos emblazoned on their bodies) will never die. And there’s pop-punk, of course, which has more or less come to encompass just about any band whose music is catchy, fast, and played on guitars (and it helps if they’ve ever done a stint on the Warped Tour). But you can count the ones who’ve really broken pop in America — sales, charts, radio, TV, mainstream magazine covers — on your fingers: Ramones, Green Day, The Offspring, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Paramore. And right in the middle of those names, you have Blink-182 in 1999, crashing Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC's neverending TRL party with the very few power chords of "All the Small Things," a song whose "na na nas" have entered the Hall of Fame with the likes of "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It," "Hey Jude" and Steam’s "Kiss Him Goodbye."

Why did three tattooed Californians resonate so much and become more popular than several dozen of their Warped tourmates? Well, more than any of the above-named bands or their peers, Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge, and drummer Travis Barker gave themselves a role to play. Enema Of The State was their third album, but it was their first to write consciously with an audience in mind. And that audience was young.

There was no shortage of rock bands playing to underdeveloped minds in 1999, the year when Limp Bizkit made "stick it up your — yeah!" a summer rallying cry. However, Blink came into the public eye not just mocking norms (behold the nudist breakthrough video for "What's My Age Again?") but satirizing them (enter the boy band-puncturing "All the Small Things" clip). Plenty of teenagers hated boy bands, and Eminem threatened to beat them up, but Blink-182 dared to envision themselves in the role, playing the Regular Guys striking those absurd poses in front of wind machines, turning something expensive cheap, showing what it actually looked like cut down to earth. They did their own stunts, and people liked that. While Fred Durst really sounded like he wanted to break something, and Eminem really did seem to live many of the nightmarish situations he joked about, Blink-182 didn't come off as hateful at all.

This depends, of course, on how much "Dumpweed"'s infamous chorus "I need a girl that I can train" rubs you the wrong way in 2019. And of course, that's how Enema Of The State kicks off, putting its best foot forward directly into its mouth. 20 years and far too few gun laws later, it’s harder to see what made toxic masculinity so appealing in the first place, but the line achieved its puerile success not only because it was so hard to take seriously but because the rest of the song is about how scared DeLonge is. The fact it’s immediately followed on the album by Hoppus' "Don't Leave Me," which gives the girl the last word ("She said don’t let the door hit your ass") helps. That two of the album's three big hits are rooted in romance ("All the Small Things") and empathy ("Adam’s Song") rather than the rubber-glove humor they were known for helps, too. Blink-182 didn’t sound like they wanted revenge on their high school, and they didn’t sound like they hated themselves, either. What they sounded like were boys that teenagers could relate to rather than ones promising girls the moon in perfect harmony from their private jet.

That also means they sang about diarrhea.

"Dysentery Gary," positioned directly before those aforementioned more tender singles in Enema’s track listing, helped underscore just how powerless (but in no way humorless) Blink’s masculinity sounded through DeLonge’s whine. "Girls are such a drag" he mutters while trying unconvincingly to come up with reasons that a girl should pick him instead of the perceived jerk who presumably won out: "He's a player, diarrhea giver!" Sure, "your mom's a whore" hews a little too close to the sort of trauma that awaits women who dare view their own comments sections. But they leave it at that and go on to contemplate suicide with "Adam's Song" with no small amount of love for the depressed protagonist.

That lightness and sociability is oddly what sticks out about Enema Of The State, an album that may be 20 years old but will be frozen forever at 17. Five years prior, Green Day's epochal, excellent Dookie grappled with social conditions like apathy, sexual frustration and watching the people you grew up with shrink in the rearview mirror. But it was downright apocalyptic compared to Enema’s teen movie, which is rarely deeper than the American Pie-style cinema of the period. Hoppus and DeLonge sang about the dilemmas of parties and college and the slut-shamey realization that even the horniest dude at the party might lose his nerve when he finally gets a chance with the girl who isn't wearing underwear. DeLonge also gets to sing "Aliens Exist," an outlier that is what it says it is, and somehow became the defining aspect of his legacy as he premieres a new History Channel series about UFOs while Blink soldiers on without him in 2019.

But the legacy of Enema Of The State will always be defined by what it accomplished: remarkably clean-sounding guitars, the hyperactive drumming of Barker (an all-time rock drummer finally getting his spotlight) and episodes of adolescent romance so silly that an entire second verse of the first single could be devoted to the transcript of a prank phone call. Just because one chorus lamented that "some girls try too hard" didn’t mean that millions of young women didn't get the underlying joke that many more guys don't try hard enough. And if these three couldn't solve their relationship problems, at least they helped make high school easier by providing some good jokes about it. What's their age again?

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