Photo: Travis Shinn
The Twin Halves Of 'Mammoth II': Wolfgang Van Halen's Sorrow And Jubilation
Mammoth WVH's Wolfgang Van Halen created his latest album after his father's death. On 'Mammoth II,' the multi-instrumentalist faces the vertiginous highs and devastating lows of his last few years with unflinching rock.
There's no end to songs about times being fantastic, or gut-wrenchingly awful. It's rare for one to capture both in parallel — but Wolfgang Van Halen made a whole album of them.
The first tune he wrote for Mammoth II — which landed Aug. 4 — was "Another Celebration at the End of the World." (Naturally, it became the first single.) "A kiss, a casket, and all our rights and wrongs," he sings in the pre-chorus. "We're gonna take it back somehow."
From "Like a Pastime" ("Beat me up like a pastime/ Bring me up to the downside") to "Better Than You"'s dismantling of high horses, Mammoth II is one big yin and yang.
It's even in John Brosio's deliciously witty album art, where a skeleton in a folding chair can't enjoy a fireworks display because he's… well, you know.
"I just thought it was such a somber, dark, but almost sarcastic vibe to it that I just think really, really fit the music, and the album, and the band to a T," Van Halen tells GRAMMY.com of the cover. "I think it really represented my headspace throughout the creation of the album, and just in the last few years."
Which brings us to the elephant in the room: Van Halen's father, guitar titan Eddie, died in mid-2020 of a stroke following a years-long cancer battle.
His old man came up in a Twitter Spaces with GRAMMY.com last year; he said he was handling it terribly, but with a lilt in his voice. When reminded of this, Van Halen chuckles. "Everything's terrible," he admits. "But we're just trying to navigate it."
Within the grooves of his latest creation, the GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist seems to posit that there's nothing rock 'n' roll cannot heal.
Read on for the full interview with Van Halen about the road to Mammoth II, keeping his arrangements simple for maximum impact, and the band he and his father listened to more than any other.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
The first thing that struck me about Mammoth II is that it respected my intelligence. It wasn't constantly trying to impress me, beating me over the head with grabby moments. Because it's guitars, bass, drums, vocals and not much else, I could simply enjoy the songs.
Yeah, I think overcomplicating for the sake of overcomplicating is really dumb. I think you can have your moments, but it's more about the song. If anything gets in the way of the song, that's a problem. The song comes first.
Can you take me from the last Mammoth WVH album to Mammoth II?
The first album came out after my father had passed. I think, people think I was working through that on that album, and no. I finished recording that album in 2018.
All the things that have happened in my life since 2019, you hear on this album. Which I think is why, in comparison to the first, it's much darker and heavier.
While simultaneously, so many good things are happening. It's this kind of whiplash from left to right, of good and bad, and it's hard to keep track.
What were those good things? Career prospects, everything growing for you?
Yeah, just being able to build this and seeing people's response, which was so far out of my expectations.
People are actually really resonating with the material — I'm finally playing places more than once, and seeing more people show up, and more people singing. It's really crazy to see people sing your lyrics back at you.
I think overall with this album, I came into the process with a bit more confidence. Because, with the first one I was trying to figure out what it was or if I could even sing.
With this, I've been doing it for the last two years, so that desire to get great music out there that will be great to play live, was very much there. I think that's why it ended up being a bit more aggressive as well.
Seems like a lot of these new fans aren't showing up just because of your surname.
Exactly. That's the trip, seeing people when they're singing this stuff. It's like, Wow, you guys actually know it. You're not just here for that. It's crazy.
Can you talk about navigating the competitive modern rock landscape?
It's a tough thing, but luckily, I've built a very wonderful vehicle of management and band.
At every level of operation with Mammoth, there are wonderful people involved, and we're able to weather any storm together. I think that's a really important thing, to have people you trust.
I feel like we didn't hear many stories like that when your dad was on top of the world. I feel like every single act of his ilk was…
Getting taken advantage of.
Every single one, it seems.
Yeah, very common. Just growing up and seeing how things can be when they're bad made me strive more to build something from its inception. To be pure, and focused, and driven as a collective, instead of letting selfish interests ruin a good thing for everybody.
Can you talk about the first tune you wrote, or conceived, for the album?
"Another Celebration at the End of the World," which was the first single that we released, was the first song that came about.
It was sort of driven out of the desire to have some more uptempo, upbeat stuff. I think, compared to the first album, that was a bit groovier; there wasn't really stuff that was super quick.
So, that desire for a kind of punky, quick song came about with that one, and it sort of set the tempo — no pun intended — for the whole album. I think, again, that's what contributed to it being more aggressive and heavy.
What were you checking out at the time? I noticed a tinge of NWOBHM in there.
Oh, for sure. I really appreciate heavier music — things like Meshuggah, or Tool especially. I think on a song like "Optimist" on that album, my inspiration or influences creeped out a bit more, the more comfortable I was.
When you were growing up, what kinds of records did you and your dad check out?
AC/DC was, like, our band. Also, Peter Gabriel, [1986's] So. One of my favorite albums of all time. It was one of my dad's favorite albums as well.
Give me a tune on Mammoth II that bears the influence of either AC/DC or Peter.
AC/DC, for sure. I think the song "I'm Alright" has a throwback-y, sort of classic vibe.
But really, when it comes to Peter Gabriel's influence, it's melody more than anything, and that seeps through everything that I do. Melody is probably the most important thing to me; no matter how heavy a song gets, like "Right?" or "Optimist" or "Better Than You," melody is very much there, and an integral part and process of my songwriting.
Who are your other favorite melodists?
There's an Australian band called Karnivool that are very Tool-like in their heaviness. But I really appreciate the singer Ian Kenny and the way he's able to navigate the complication of the songwriting — the progressiveness — but inject melody to it.
I think that's a really admirable trait in that band — how he still manages to get sing-along vocals to an eight-minute prog-rock metal song.
When you write a melody, how do you conceptualize it?
For me, it's just kind of following my gut feeling — what wants to come out when you hear the music. Sometimes, I'll pull my hair out trying to figure stuff out and realize that I've had the melody the whole time, because it's what you immediately jump to when you hear it.
There are many, many moments on this album where I was like, "Oh, that's the melody!" because I wasn't even thinking of it.
Sometimes, you'll come up with joke lyrics. It's kind of like how "Yesterday" by the Beatles, was "Scrambled Eggs," when Paul McCartney was writing it. Because it was about the melody first, and sometimes you just have those melodies that come out by themselves before you realize it.
It reminds me of a Mitch Hedberg joke where he's talking about writing comedy bits: "If I think of something funny, I write it down and there you go. But, if I'm too tired or too far away from that pad of paper, I have to convince myself that what I thought of wasn't funny."
Because there's just that sort of vibe where it's like you're in bed and you're like, Dude, is this worth getting up? Is this thing in my head worth getting up and cataloging? And more often than not it is, but you can't really force whenever creative stuff happens.
Give me a song on Mammoth II where it felt like you had a melodic breakthrough.
I think "Better Than You," the last song on the album is a good representation of, sort of, the mission statement of the band as well — that no matter how heavy it gets, melody is still very prevalent.
And, I really enjoy that duality of the song where it's a really driving, heavy, sort of bendy riff, while the melody's incredibly sing-songy and Beatles-esque, kind of sitting on top of everything.
What made "Better Than You" the natural closing track?
With the first song on the album being very heavy, but melodic, it kind of put a period on that for the album. I think it's our first song to have really long fade out; it just fit perfectly for the album.
I think overall, just lyrically, it was an important statement to make. I think in this day and age, everybody thinks that they're so much better than everybody else, when really everyone's just as miserable as everyone else and trying to convince people that they're not.
Can you talk about your producer and engineer on Mammoth II?
It doesn't take much to make a Mammoth album. It's me, my producer Elvis Baskette, engineer Jef Moll, and Josh our assistant. You put the four of us in the studio, and you get a Mammoth album.
I think a lot of people, when they hear that I record everything on my own, they're sort of like, "Well, how do you get that sort of friction, that a collaborative effort with the band gets?" Elvis literally is that; he's sort of the other half when it comes to everything in the studio.
He helps keep me from doubting myself, making sure I'm on the right path, but also presents ideas that may be conflicting to what I'm presenting. It helps breed that creative environment in the best way possible. I couldn't do it without him.
Tell me about your drum thinking on the album.
I started playing when I was nine, so I feel like I'm most comfortable when playing drums. I think with my heavier influences, I just kind of let that take over on songs.
Like right after the solo. It's practically a Meshuggah djent part, through the lens of Mammoth. Which I think is really funny, because we've never done anything like that before.
I just think I have a really, really rhythmic approach to songwriting in general, and I think that's why everything sort of locks up between the guitar rips, and the bass, and the drums.
Extend this to your guitar approach. When it's time to take a solo, which of your heroes steps up to the plate, mentally speaking?
I'm not sure, because with that one, it was such a different thing for me in terms of writing a solo that I felt like I was kind of standing on my own, trying to figure out how to approach something like that. Because I really hadn't before.
Normally, my solos were really, really quick and to the point, and so to kind of explore that in a minute and a half was a really fun, new thing for me.
But overall, considering I played my dad's original Frankenstein guitar, through his original Marshall Head and Cabinet on the solo, it just felt like a right thing to have him there with me on that. I think it was really, really cool to have that be a part of the song.
There's so much history ingrained in it; you can really feel it. It's a very special thing. I thought it was important to have it show up on this.
Wolfgang Van Halen performing at O2 Academy Edinburgh in Scotland, 2023. Photo: Roberto Ricciuti/Redferns
To close out, what is Mammoth II a bridge to? What can you do now that you've made this?
I'm really not sure. It's funny; it almost stresses me out thinking about doing the next album, because we have so much going on with this.
But I just think it's important to do what I did with this album compared to the first, which is just to explore and see where else I can take it, while still being underneath the same umbrella.
I do already have some ideas that could be softer, or just a different flavor, and I think that's what this album did compared to the first song. I'm really excited to just keep exploring the sound — and what Mammoth is capable of.
Photo: Ross Halfin
Living Legends: Def Leppard's Phil Collen Was The Product Of A Massive Transition For Music — And He Wouldn't Change A Thing
Def Leppard is out with a new collaborative album with the Royal Philharmonic, 'Drastic Symphonies.' In an interview with GRAMMY.com, guitarist Phil Collen gets in a reflective mood about their early days of hysteria — and euphoria — in the studio.
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Phil Collen, the guitarist of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Def Leppard for more than four decades. Their latest studio album, Diamond Star Halos, was released in 2022; their new album with the Royal Philharmonic, Drastic Symphonies, is available May 16.
By any standard, the 1980s were a transitional era for popular music, a rubicon crossed.
That had a lot to do with emerging technology, which led some to sink and others to swim. While the drift to synths and sequencers left some classic rockers beached, artists from Madge to Prince and Paul Simon flourished. And that trial-by-digital gave us the one and only Def Leppard.
Def Leppard's new release, Drastic Symphonies, out May 16, acts as the opposite point of this arc, proving that the band is adaptable to both tech and the timeless nature of classical music.
Reimagined with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Drastic Symphonies may be a program of hits (like "Animal" and "Pour Some Sugar on Me") and deep cuts (like "Paper Sun"), but it is far from typical.
Rather, Drastic Symphonies’ splendorous, cinematic treatment provides a window into their tunes’ innate malleability and longevity — while giving their legacy something of a consolidative This Is Your Life treatment.
"It gives it that third dimension that you always want to hear,” Phil Collen, their guitarist of more than 40 years, proudly tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom. “It was a beautiful experience, I've gotta say."
Collen's head is full of memories of that pivotal decade — the one where they were "selling sometimes a million records in a week." If you imagine Def Leppard as being rowdy and recalcitrant in the studio back then, like their current tourmates Mötley Crüe — think again. Under producer extraordinaire Robert "Mutt" Lange, they were perfectionists, breathing the maximum amount of imagination into every song.
"You have this image in your head, and it was creating it for audio," Collen recalls of the era that produced classics like 1983's Pyromania and 1987's Hysteria. "[Lange] always used to say, 'Look, we've got to create Star Wars for the ears."
Operating by that celestial edict, Def Leppard succeeded and then some: they've sold more than 100 million records worldwide, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. "We're ticking every box," Collen says. "And a lot of these boxes we didn't quite tick in the '80s."
Read on for a rangey interview with Collen about Diamond Star Halos a year on, the genesis of Drastic Symphonies and the state of Def Leppard.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What's it been like living with Diamond Star Halos over the past year?
It's been great in the fact that we've actually been touring it, and it's been getting accepted as we've been playing it. You know, when you release a new album, it's like: no one really wants to hear it live. They just want to hear all the hot chestnuts — all the older stuff. But we feel this is genuinely, fully integrated into the live set. We're doing, like, three songs, and one of them we're doing acoustically.
Since Def Leppard is still an actively creative enterprise, how do you navigate that tension between the old and the new? You're not devoted to, as David Crosby memorably put it, "turning on the smoke machine and playing the hits."
Well, now you gave me an idea — we'll put the smoke machine on during the new songs!
We just follow the Stones' lead on that. Every time they go out, they carefully place a new song. They know they've got to do "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Satisfaction" and all that stuff. We just do that — we integrate it in there.
You've just got to be careful. It's great doing [it as a] first song, because you can use the theatrics of "Here we are." There's a lull at a certain point, and you inject something like that. We're very careful about where and when we put them in the set.
Who were your role models in the early Def Leppard days? Who did you look to and say, "I want to perform live, or make records, or have a career like them"?
It's always been the rock-ness of AC/DC but the finesse of Queen, and the great songs that Queen had. We like to tour like the Rolling Stones but have the caliber of appreciation of Queen. We're kind of getting there, to an extent. But they are the two pillars, I guess, that we kind of base the whole thing on.
Tell me about your relationship to symphonic music, and pave the road to the Royal Philharmonic album. Def Leppard and your peers have always had something of a symphonic sweep, so this seems like the most natural thing in the world.
It is. On "When Love and Hate Collide" and "Two Steps Behind," we had an orchestra. "Let Me Be the One," a song we did in the late '90s [and released in 2002, also did]. Especially ballads lend themselves really well to that.
This came up about a year ago, when we were over in England doing promo for Diamond Star Halos and getting the whole thing sorted out. It just got suggested by the label.
[The Royal Philharmonic] was doing this series of albums of bands like Queen and Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. We wanted to be involved in it; we didn't just want an orchestra playing our stuff. So, we got into the arrangements; we got our string arranger guy who worked on Diamond Star Halos, Eric Gorfain.
It really worked. And some of the songs absolutely didn't work. They sounded wrong and kind of comical in some respects. We had to demo each song with a keyboard string arrangement, and it was really easy. It was like black or white, yes-no.
Were you in Abbey Road Studios, working with the string players on a hands-on level? What was the nature of the interchange between the band and orchestra?
They played all their stuff live. It was a year of preparation. Eric scored it all out. Ronan McHugh, our front sound guy and producer and everything, got in touch with the producer, Nick Patrick, and all of us met up at Abbey Road. We were there when strings were done.
That was really an icing-on-the-cake type thing. All the prep work had been done — on some of the songs, we'd leave guitars and drums out for whole sections and let the orchestra breathe.
But we'd done that all before, so it was just them literally playing to the conductor and us sitting in the control room hearing this wonderful cacophony coming back, of us playing with them.
Songs like "Paper Sun," which is kind of a deep cut off [1999's] Euphoria, just works so well with an orchestra. It gives it that third dimension that you always want to hear. So, yeah, it was a beautiful experience, I've gotta say.
I think we tend to think of classic songs as preordained — that they'd inevitably come into existence and bake themselves into culture. Back when you guys actually wrote and recorded hits like "Pour Some Sugar On Me," was there any attitude that would be modern standards 40 years on?
This is really funny, actually. I remember Mutt Lange, our producer, 37 years ago or something like that — someone came into the room and said, "The album's taking so long! Why do you spend so much time?" He said, "So that you'll be talking about it in 40 years." He actually said that!
Certainly, Mutt Lange had the vision of it. We were just part of his vision!
Sounds like you guys were serious perfectionists in the studio — deeply focused on the product.
We were. And I think we overdid it a little bit, because we'd be there from 10 in the morning 'til 2 the next morning and not take weekends off. As we've gotten more experience, we found that if you have a cut-off point, you actually get more done.
It was gangbusters, the whole thing. It was trying to make something that no one had ever done before in that format. It really worked, but we do have to thank Mutt Lange for that.
In what regard do you think you guys overdid it? Were you scrapping arrangement after arrangement? Were you doing take after take after take?
With the time, actually. You have this image in your head, and it was creating it for audio.
[Lange] always used to say, "Look, we've got to create Star Wars for the ears." And a song like "Rocket" literally was that. Even when we play it now, it's got such immense proportions, and we have this screen and all that stuff. You have this mental image, and you have this stacked-up vocal thing, which takes ages to do. Just singing them over and over, like Queen did.
We did that with the guitars as well. We made orchestrated guitar things, and not gratuitous. There's a big difference between just overdoing it and then doing it for a reason where it actually works and enhances the song; it always comes back down to the song.
Like I said, Mutt knew what he was doing, but back then, we were following his lead. It would be scrapping guitars and adding new parts and copying strings on a guitar with an EBow.
That reminds me of the Boston template, as per their debut album — a brainiac trying to create perfect, idealized rock songs — but it's an actual band with a producer.
About a year ago, I heard this BTS song and thought, "This actually sounds too good. It sounds almost like AI." I don't know whether it was or not.
I know these days a lot of writers will come in. There was this Beyoncé song where they said, "There's 23 writers!" and everything. And I get that. I really understand how that could be. You want to create the best that you can; you have a top-line guy that comes in, you have a drum programmer guy, you have someone writing the lyrics and all of that stuff.
We were kind of doing that back then with Mutt, but it was internal. It's like: OK, we need a melody. We've got this lyric; that works here. That was the approach, and I think it's a similar thing now.
With AI, I think that we are going to hear that. Like I said, I heard this BTS song and thought, This is so amazing. But could a person do that? I had my doubts. Maybe not. Perhaps it was a collective.
Phil Collen performing with Def Leppard in 1983. Photo: Fryderyk Gabowicz/Picture Alliance via Getty Images
With Drastic Symphonies on the way, how would you characterize the artistic and professional juncture that Def Leppard is at?
It's great. We're ticking every box. And a lot of these boxes we didn't quite tick in the '80s, when it was massive and we were selling sometimes a million records in a week, which is crazy, just the thought of it.
But there were still a few things that we didn't do. When we finally got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, that kind of propelled us forward a little bit. Doing an album like this, but actually having a say in it and going, "We'll do it if we can do it this way."
We're actually doing the stadium tour now. We did one last year, which was great, with Mötley Crüe. We're still on tour with them and having such a blast. Grown-up kids at school together, just having that extreme thing.
PHOTO: Denise Truscello/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
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
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.”
Check out the complete list of winners and nominees at the 2022 GRAMMYs.
Source Photos (Clockwise, L-R): Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Global Citizen; Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images; John Esparza via Getty Images; Gus Stewart/Redferns
How The Sounds Of The '70s Took Over The 2022 GRAMMYs: The Return Of ABBA, The Throwback Vibes Of Silk Sonic & More
Between the feel-good soul of Silk Sonic and the return of pop greats ABBA, there’s no denying that the 1970s have permeated mainstream music once again. And as several 2022 GRAMMY nominations reflect, its influence goes beyond the dance floor.
It started as a mysterious announcement: an invite to an event deemed "a historic day that celebrates the past and future of ABBA."
Why this message was coming in September 2021, four decades after their gargantuan global success in the '70s, was an open question. As it turns out, there was a future of ABBA — and an auspicious one.
The beloved band would release new music for the first time since 1982 in the form of the album Voyage. The project earned ABBA the first-ever GRAMMY nomination, thanks to the aptly-titled single "I Still Have Faith In You," up for Record of the Year. But in addition to being the group's highest-charting album to date — it debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 in November — Voyage was emblematic of a '70s influence that had infiltrated contemporary music in full force.
That's especially reflected at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards: In practically every nomination field this year, the sounds and sentiments of the '70s are thriving as boisterously as a pair of bell bottoms under a shimmering disco ball. From ABBA's inaugural nod to the musical voice of this year's most-nominated artist, Jon Batiste (who received 11 nominations across seven fields), it's an undeniable fact that everything old is new again.
So why are the sounds of the '70s making such a triumphant return? One could argue that after two years of dour headlines and uncertainty, people are eager to remember times when society let loose and the culture was just unapologetically fun. Those two qualities are front and center in Doja Cat and SZA's downright fun "Kiss Me More," nominated for four GRAMMYS including Song and Record of the Year.
"I wanted to make a song about kissing," Doja matter-of-factly told Apple Music's Zane Lowe. "I just thought it would be cute. That doesn't happen too often, but just a song that's solely about kissing." How does one package up that blatant innocence in a musically joyous way? By infusing it with disco beat, of course, courtesy of Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" (though released in 1981, the single borrowed its buoyant vibe from the previous decade).
As ABBA, Doja and SZA have been bringing the disco era's pure pop sounds, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak's Silk Sonic dug into the soul and R&B of the time. The duo's acclaimed album An Evening with Silk Sonic takes a page from bygone acts like the Stylistics, the Spinners and the Manhattans. All of those groups who sang with deep passion, stacked melodies and slow-simmering rhythms.
Silk Sonic's debut single, "Leave The Door Open," is a recipe for a bonafide throwback gem, with serious harmonizing buoyed by Mars' falsetto. Its '70s stylings clearly resonated: Along with topping several charts, "Leave The Door Open" is nominated for four GRAMMYS, including Record and Song of the Year.
Then there's Jon Batiste. He's the ceremony's most-nominated artist with a whopping 11 chances to win a prized trophy (including Record of the Year for "Freedom" and Album of the Year for We Are,) and the most acknowledged act since Kendrick Lamar scooped up 11 nods six years ago. (Only Michael Jackson and Babyface have been nominated for more GRAMMYS, once each scoring 12 nominations in a single year.) Much like Bruno Mars, Batiste's musical influences have a firm foundation in the past, specifically music popularized decades before his own 1986 birth.
"It has the classic feel I was trying to imitate when I was growing up," said Batiste in a recent interview of We Are's soulful, throwback and funky feel that could have been right at home smack in the middle of the 70s. "My mentors — Stevie Wonder, or Quincy Jones, who wrote the liner notes for the album — when they listen to it, they hear that in it."
The recycling of former sounds is a story as old as the music industry itself, with long-antiquated genres popping up and taking culture by storm on a regular basis. These periods of renewed interest are akin to the revival of any sort of trend in music, fashion or otherwise. It often follows a formula: first something is cutting edge, then it becomes mainstream, sometimes resulting in a period of ultra-proliferation. During this phase, the trend morphs into passé, only to be forgotten about — and then subsequently rediscovered by some future generation.
This oft-repeated cycle, which takes place over a period of 20 to 40 years, is another reason why the '70s are back. It even occurred during the actual 1970s, as the '50s came back into vogue in the wake of the Vietnam War and subsequent American political upheaval. Yearning for a simpler time, that innocence was found through the shows and music stemming from "Happy Days," American Graffiti and That's Entertainment taking over culture.
The 1960s had its comeback moment as well: At the turn of the century, pop had gone fully bubblegum and synthetic, paving the way for a '60s revival. By the mid-2000s, the spirit of the Motown era had returned; GRAMMY-winning artists like Amy Winehouse to Duffy brought soul back to pop radio, and the Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson-starring Dreamgirls revived the Motown story on screen.
Even as the '70s influence is flourishing now, so is the emo music of the aughts. Elements of pop-punk are sprinkled across Olivia Rodrigo's Album Of The Year-nominated Sour (even sampling genre heavyweights Paramore in the hit "Good 4 U"); Halsey's If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power (up for Best Alternative Music Album) incorporates emo sounds in tracks like "Easier Than Lying."
Like ABBA, a few other veteran '70s acts earned GRAMMY nominations this year. AC/DC — who formed in Australia in 1973 and released a variety of acclaimed albums through the decade — received their first nominations since 2010. The group's 17th studio album, 2020's Power Up, is up for Best Rock Album, while its single "Shot in the Dark" also scored nods for Best Rock Song and Best Music Video.
Powerhouse vocalist Mavis Staples notched her 14th GRAMMY nomination — and her first for Album Of The Year — as a featured artist on the aforementioned Batiste's album, We Are. (Staples got her start in the '70s with family gospel/soul band the Staple Singers, who fully came into their own with a string of nominations in R&B categories from 1971 to 1973.)
It's been well-documented that GRAMMY voting has continually been a push and pull between new generations of decision makers and the old guard. The nominating of bygone artists is as much about honoring a legacy as it is about a current place in the music landscape.
The same push and pull is happening on a macro level with audiences whose very contemporary love for these past eras translates to streams and album sales. Case in point: AC/DC's Power Up debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts, only the third time the band has ever achieved the feat.
Meanwhile, ABBA's Voyage not only enjoyed critical acclaim, but its No. 2 debut on the Billboard 200 marked the first top 10 album of the band's history. It's a long way from the days when ABBA were considered more of a guilty pleasure than icons in the making. Today, they're GRAMMY nominated and widely regarded as legends of the industry, no doubt a result of a changing, nostalgia-loving culture.
While there may be no exact explanation for the '70s making a comeback at this particular moment — even ABBA's Benny Andersson admits "I really don't get it" — Bruno Mars arguably encapsulated the decade's musical revival best in a 2021 Rolling Stone interview about Silk Sonic's process. "I don't know what year it is," he said. "I'm not looking at the charts. So we'd just come here every night, have a drink, and we play what we love."
Photo: Patrick Ford/Redferns
For The Record: How AC/DC's 'Power Up' Continues Their Electrifying Legacy
As one of rock's most iconic and influential bands nears their 50th anniversary in 2023, AC/DC's 18th album proves that age is nothing but a number
Editor's Note: The 2022 GRAMMYs Awards show, officially known as the 64th GRAMMY Awards, <a href="https://www.grammy.com/grammys/news/2022-grammys-awards-64th-new-air-show-date-location-las-vegas-april-3-announcement "https://www.grammy.com/grammys/news/2022-grammys-awards-64th-new-air-show-date-location-las-vegas-april-3-announcement"">has been rescheduled to Sunday, April 3, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The below article was updated on Tuesday, Jan. 18, to reflect the new show date and location.
The highest compliment a fan could pay AC/DC's 2020 album Power Up — the band's first without founding rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, the chief architect of their iconic riffs and their de facto leader — is that it sounds exactly like AC/DC. Power Up not only checks all the boxes, it also ranks among their finest work.
For nearly 50 years, AC/DC has sounded like no one except themselves. Sure, some of the members changed over the years, but the sound and look remained the same. You don't join AC/DC to bring your own flair to the mix; you assimilate into the hard-rocking style generations of bands have attempted to co-opt as their own.
Fortunately, Power Up holds its own among the highest peaks of their 18-album catalog. The 1-2-3 punch of openers "Realize," "Rejection" and "Shot In The Dark" are loaded with bone-dry, primal guitar riffs and Angus Young's lyrical guitar solos, with driving, four-on-the-floor drum beats hurling the songs forward. Leading the charge is Brian Johnson's throat-shredding screech, one of the most recognizable voices in rock.
Consistency has been AC/DC's strength through key member changes throughout the band's history. When the band lost beloved singer and showman Bon Scott in February 1980 amid their breakthrough success with Highway to Hell, it seemed unlikely they could recover.
Instead, the opposite happened: Back in Black, released just four months after Scott's death, made them the biggest band in the world. On the strength of classic songs like "You Shook Me All Night Long," "Hells Bells" and the title track — which boasts one of the most memorable guitar riffs in rock history — the album became the fourth best-selling album of all time in the U.S., eventually moving in excess of 25 million copies.
But when Malcolm Young hung up his battered Gretsch White Falcon guitar to treat his dementia in 2014, question marks hovered around the band again. Then in April 2016, with just 23 shows left on the Rock Or Bust World Tour, Johnson bowed out in an effort to save his hearing after suffering a punctured eardrum. Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose closed out the tour as his substitute, but when the dust settled, bassist Cliff Williams decided to retire. AC/DC was essentially done.
Malcolm's passing in 2017 brought the remaining Back in Black-era lineup — Angus, Johnson, Williams and drummer Phil Rudd — back to Australia, where they celebrated Malcolm's life and reconnected with each other. Rudd, who was healthy again after sitting out the Rock Or Bust Tour to sort personal and legal issues, was ready to rejoin the band. Meanwhile, Johnson was receiving experimental treatments to resolve his severe hearing loss, resulting in an in-ear device that allowed him to sing again. Williams was an easy sell at that point, and AC/DC, quietly, began plotting a comeback.
First, Angus had to reconcile the loss of his brother and songwriting partner. Their writing sessions for Rock or Bust had been especially fruitful, though, and Angus found himself sorting through riffs and song ideas that eclipsed what ended up on their 2014 release. The four original members (as well as Angus' and Malcolm's nephew, Stevie Young, who officially joined the band in 2014 after Malcom's departure) convened in Vancouver in August 2018. With their Black Ice and Rock or Bust producer Brendan O'Brien at the helm, the group began tracking Power Up.
Power Up is loaded with anthemic choruses, fist-pumping sing-alongs and guitar riffs that pull from their bag of tricks, without sounding like retreads of their classic work. Song titles like "Money Shot" are delivered with a knowing wink, and Angus's fiery fretwork is inspired with swagger and urgency.
As they've done time and time again, AC/DC proved that consistency beats evolution in rock, as long as the well of ideas doesn't dry up. They rallied back strong as ever — because that's what they've always done.
Audiences showed up, too: Power Up debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 all-genre albums chart upon its November 2020 release, as well as the Top Rock Albums and Top Hard Rock Albums charts, and reached the top spot in 20 other countries. Lead single "Shot In The Dark" notched their first No. 1 rock hit in 20 years (since the memorable "Stiff Upper Lip" topped the Mainstream Rock Airplay chart in 2000), and marked their longest reign on the chart with five consecutive weeks on top; "Realize" also cracked the Top 10 of the same tally, peaking at No. 8.
AC/DC's latest effort also earned three nominations at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards: Best Rock Album for Power Up as well as Best Rock Performance and Best Music Video for "Shot In The Dark." They're the group's first nominations since 2010, when AC/DC won Best Hard Rock Performance for the Black Ice track "War Machine," their first and sole win; they now have a total of 10 career nominations including this year's nods.
Nearly five decades in, AC/DC's secret weapon is how they make it look so easy to sell 75 million albums in the U.S. with just a handful of guitar chords. Power Up is electrifying proof that their in-your-face sound endures — and that, through the trials and triumphs, they have too.