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Five For The Record: Blue Oyster Cult, “Burnin’ For You.”

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A recurring feature in which I take something I enjoy but have never thought deeply about, and force myself to state five reasons why I like it.

Today’s subject: 1981 single by veteran American hard-rock band, taken from the album Fire of Unknown Origin. Managed to become both a minor pop-radio hit and a staple of classic/hard-rock radio programming, at least back in the ’80s and early ’90s, when I still listened to classic/hard-rock radio.

And here’s why I like it:

1. The epic opening. The early to mid-’80s would not treat Seventies rock dinosaurs well. Some would slip off the charts, while others would adopt Eighties trappings in an attempt to stay relevant.

Set against that canvas, the opening of “Burnin’ For You” plays like one last shot of the old grandiose medicine.

Harmonized lead guitar, choral samples (at least, I assume that’s not a real choir) and rolling drum fills create a classic tense-yet-melodic hard-rock intro. Plus, there are no identifiably ’80s production touches, which means it ages well.

2. A private grumble. In the second verse, singer-guitarist Buck Dharma sings about “time everlasting,” followed by a clearly enunciated (perhaps even bitten-off) line: “Time. To. Play. B-Sides.” You can practically feel a nudge in the ribs as he sings it.

I have no idea what his complaint is; but clearly, he’s airing out some sort of private beef. Which I find kinda funny and entertaining.

Plus, he does it in the course of a hit song — so he got his dig in over a million American radios.

Whatever his behind-the-scenes argument was, I hope he won it.

3. Number Two. Speaking of hits, as indeed we were: “Burnin’ For You” reached the Top Forty by the skin of its teeth, placing at No. 40 for several weeks in October 1981.

This officially handed the BOC their ticket out of One-Hit Wonderland, thereby exempting them from all those snarky VH1 countdowns of Biggest One-Hit Wonders.

(The band’s first and biggest Top 40 hit, of course, was 1976’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” also written and sung by Senor Dharma.)

A band as catchy, sardonic and cool as Blue Oyster Cult doesn’t belong in the same discussion as Los Del Rio or the Singing Nun. And thanks to “Burnin’ For You,” it doesn’t have to be.

4. Call-and-response. Every good hit single has one or two instrumental details that catch the ear.

In “Burnin’ For You,” my favorite touch is the wry little guitar bend, low in the mix, that follows the fourth line of each verse (“Ain’t no home for me” in the first verse, “Got no time to slow” in the second.)

A close listen on my computer speakers suggests the bend is not being played by the same guitar that’s playing the crisp, tightly reverberant rhythm chords on beats two and four.

So now I’m imagining Dharma (one of my favorite rock-and-roll noms de guerre, by the way) doing an extra track of guitar overdub just to add those two bends.

It was worth his time.

4 1/2. Another cool production touch, if you wanted me to name one: The way Dharma’s lead guitar swoops in at about 2:49 to start the solo.

5. The epic ending. Well, sure, why not? You gotta get out of a song as stylishly as you got in.

To end “Burnin’ For You,” we get a last taste of that malevolent harmonized guitar lick, followed by the “choir” fading out on an ominous chord.

Not genuinely evil or scary — it’s only rock n’ roll, after all.

But at a time when hit-radio stations were playing Al Jarreau, Juice Newton, Quincy Jones with James Ingram, Dan Fogelberg, Kenny Rogers, Sheena Easton, Ronnie Milsap and Christopher Cross, “Burnin’ For You” might have been the only song in regular play with an edgy or mysterious touch … the only one that made the listener think, “What was that, and where did it come from?”

Rock n’ roll is all about that fire of unknown origin, after all … and we takes it where we finds it.

Five For The Record: AC/DC, “For Those About To Rock We Salute You”

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A recurring feature in which I look at something I enjoy but have never thought deeply about, and force myself to clearly state five reasons why I like it.

Today’s subject: 1981 album by Australian hard-rock quintet. Follow-up to the massively successful “Back In Black” album. Reached Number One in the States and spawned two Top 20 singles in the U.K.

And here’s what makes it great …

1. It’s one for the faithful. Everybody knows “Back In Black.” It’s sold roughly 20 squidillion copies worldwide. Even chicks sometimes buy “Back In Black” — which is quite a feat in the he-man woman-haters’ world that AC/DC occupies.

The downside of that, though, is that the songs on “Back In Black” are so inescapable to the average suburban teen (at least in my day, and in my neighborhood) that they come to wear thin. I was getting tired of “Back In Black” before I was old enough to register for Selective Service. And in the past 20 years I doubt I’ve played the album three times.

“For Those About To Rock” is different. You don’t hear “Snowballed” or “Let’s Get It Up” as pump-’em-up music at sporting events. And you certainly don’t hear “Night Of The Long Knives” or “C.O.D.” on rock radio of any stripe.

“FTATRWSY” (as it shall henceforth be known — the record’s not worth getting tendonitis for) is by no means an obscure album. It became AC/DC’s first U.S. Number One album as 1981 turned to 1982, and has sold something like seven million copies worldwide.

But it’s not a phenomenon or a cultural presence in the same way as, say, “Frampton Comes Alive” — or “Back In Black,” for that matter. It’s a decent to very good bedrock hard-rock album, one you probably don’t know well unless you really like the band.

In other words — for all the platinum it’s racked up — “FTATRWSY” is a slightly more secret and exclusive club than “Back In Black,” without giving much ground in the way of earthshaking riffs or single-entendre lyrics.

And really, isn’t finding your way into a more secret and exclusive club what pop culture is all about?

2. The cannon on the cover. They haven’t done as much as they could to exploit it … but few bands have ever stumbled upon as perfect an exemplar of their sound as AC/DC’s cannon.

A cannon is a big, heavy, ponderous, graceless piece of ordnance, capable of plowing a smoking chunk of metal great distances through the air and straight into somebody’s gut.

Ask anyone who saw AC/DC from the cheap seats in Providence in December ’81 how that description compares to their experience.

Of course, now that we make missiles that see their way through windows and down chimneys, a cannon is also an outdated relic. You see missile launchers on battlefields; you see cannons in graveyards.

(I imagine AC/DC prefers to think of itself as “deep-rooted” or “consistent.” Those are nicer than “obsolete.”)

3. Angus Young reads? According to Wikipedia — not that I couldn’t have guessed — the album’s title was inspired by a book Angus Young read about the Roman gladiators who said, “Hail, Caesar, we who are about to die salute you.” (They were almost as good at sloganeering as the Young-Young-Johnson songwriting team.)

It came as a surprise to think of Angus Young reading for pleasure. AC/DC’s public persona — Angus’ schoolboy uniform aside — has never betrayed any literary aspirations. And since the band has always been relatively media-shy, their public image has always been pretty well defined by what they’ve put down on vinyl.

It’s kinda funny to imagine Angus’ other cultural interests. It could be that he raises heirloom roses, or collects Titians.

I think any comparisons between Venus of Urbino and “Whole Lotta Rosie” are strictly coincidental, though.

4. “Breakin’ The Rules.” Like many pop-culture bloggers of my approximate age, height, weight and life experience, I am torn between two opposing personalities.

There’s the 16-year-old longhair who gleefully and guilelessly enjoys the music handed him by large corporations that buy vinyl and cardboard by the ton. And then there’s the jaded 38-year-old who sees pretty much all mass-market entertainment as a shuck to some greater or lesser degree.

“FTATRWSY”‘s eighth track, “Breakin’ The Rules,” brings these diverse personalities together to hold hands and headbang like few other songs can.

The 38-year-old enjoys it as a feast of delicious irony. He knows that million-selling major-label hard-rock bands don’t break rules, unless they’re jaywalking from their hotel to the convenience store across the street for a late-night Pepsi.

And he knows that, if any band were to break rules, it wouldn’t be AC/DC — who have been firmly locked since 1974 into a stylistic blueprint so rigid it makes the Reinheitsgebot look liberal. These guys don’t even allow the use of wah-wah pedals, for Christ’s sake.

The 16-year-old, meanwhile, hears the mid-tempo stomp and the anthemic chorus and Malcolm Young’s beefy, insistent rhythm guitar and Angus Young soloing with that tight, distinctive Angus finger vibrato.

And he says the only thing appropriate to the situation: “Fuck yeah.”

Ain’t understanding mellow?

5. Phil Rudd. It is no great coincidence that AC/DC’s finest albums feature the former Philip Rudzevecuis on drums.

Nor is it a shock that, after his acrimonious departure in 1983, the band pretty much descended into complete pointlessness for the remainder of the decade. (Some might argue they’ve never made it back out.)

And it’s no surprise that the Young brothers rehired Rudd in the mid-’90s after he straightened out some personal problems.

Bands don’t often praise people they’re firing. But when they made way for Rudd’s return, AC/DC said departing hired-gun drummer Chris Slade was a superb musician with only one weakness: He wasn’t Phil Rudd.

Rudd, anyway, is one of those dirt-simple, not-a-stroke-wasted drummers, sort of the Charlie Watts of hard rock. He is absolutely and completely the ideal drummer for his band. And he’s in fine form throughout “FTATRWSY” — as solid and unassuming as a stone wall.

You won’t listen to the record just to hear Phil Rudd, the way I sometimes listen to “Quadrophenia” just to hear John Entwistle. But after you’ve heard enough of Brian Johnson’s wail and Angus’ soloing, you’ll start to recognize who’s really loading AC/DC’s cannon.

Five For The Record: George Harrison, “Somewhere in England”

Just to explain the concept again, since we’re new and all: This is intended to be a recurring feature. I’m going to challenge myself to look at things I enjoy and explain five reasons why I like them. Not everything I write about in this space will be a record (as in, an LP.) But that’s what we’re looking at tonight, again.

Today’s subject: One in a series of treadmill albums recorded by the former Beatles lead guitarist in the late ’70s and early ’80s before he got disgusted and took a five-year break to go watch the wheels. Released June 1981. Reached Number 11 on the Billboard album charts, driven largely by the success of its elegiac/nostalgic lead single.

And I like it because …

1. You never forget your first (or second, or third). It would have been either my 11th or 12th birthday, when I was starting to explore the wide world of music on my own two legs, when I asked my parents for some solo Beatle albums.

My dad was nonplussed. He didn’t rate solo Beatle material in the same league as the full band’s output, and he wondered why I would want to hear the solo stuff when I could hear the full band.

A fair cop, yes, but no matter. Come the big day, I received John Lennon’s greatest-hits compilation “The John Lennon Collection” on tape, and “Somewhere in England” on LP — possibly the first long-player I ever owned, and definitely one of the first three. There would be many more.

Despite his misgivings, my dad even dubbed the Harrison album onto tape, so I could listen to it on my Walkman while mowing my grandparents’ lawn.

I’ll chuck it one of these days. But I haven’t yet.

2. “Blood From A Clone.” After Warner Brothers Records rejected George’s original version of “Somewhere in England” in the fall of 1980 — too downbeat, they said — he went back and wrote several new songs.

One of them, “Blood From A Clone,” became the revamped album’s first song. And it’s a stinger, with a lyric and a backing track that both bleed with contempt for the music industry.

The music of the verse is offbeat in a funky kind of way, while the rhythmic shifts of the bridge make it damned near undanceable. One suspects that was George’s intent all along.

Meanwhile, lyrics like “There is no sense to it / Pure pounds and pence to it” blast an industry that sells style over substance: “Ain’t no messing ’round with music / Give them the blood from a clone.”

Basically, Warner Brothers asked George to kick their ass for a man, Artie Fufkin-style, and he obliged. And when I think of “Somewhere in England,” this is the song I hear in my head.

3. That one line in that one song. I’ve ranted before in other forums about the hit-or-miss lyrics of “All Those Years Ago.”

There’s all that spiritual claptrap about “forgetting all about God,” for starters. And the line about Mark David Chapman being “someone who offended all” always makes it sound like his biggest sin was farting at a tea party.

(On the whole, I consider the song an OK-to-pretty-good pop single. Some people think it’s too bouncy to be a good elegy. I think a bouncy pop song is not a bad way to pay tribute to a guy who wrote some pretty good pop songs himself.)

But in the middle of this OK-to-pretty-good pop song is a single line that cuts through:

“I always looked up to you.”

This is exactly the sort of thing you never get around to saying until the person you mean to say it to is gone. None of us do. The simultaneous confession of fondness and personal vulnerability is hard to get out from underneath the tongue.

And given the strained relationship between the ex-Beatles (Harrison and Lennon were reportedly on the outs before Lennon was killed), it’s easy to imagine that George never got around to telling John this in person.

For one line, at least, George Harrison — generational icon, spiritual seeker, rock god, guitar hero, Beatle — is a regular person with the same regrets and the same pain in his heart as the rest of us. I find that touching.

4. The Hoagy Carmichael covers. Yup, there’s more than one.

George goes back to his roots (or even his parents’ roots) and tackles the legendary songwriter’s “Baltimore Oriole” and “Hong Kong Blues.” The former is lush with string synthesizer and saxophone, while the latter gets a driving, spiky treatment that is pure 1981.

Honesty compels me to admit that George’s vocal on “Hong Kong Blues,” in particular, is frequently flat; and as an interpreter of the Great American Songbook, he ranks only slightly north of Marcel Marceau.

Still, I give him points for reaching into an unusual and imaginative bag, thirty years before his bandmate Macca would cut his own covers album.

It might also be seen as an act of humility. Rather than present a full album of his own songs (and I’m sure he could have written two more to fill out the record if he’d wanted to), this is George saying, “I like Hoagy Carmichael. He has nothing to do with rock n’ roll. He deserves your attention anyway. Check him out.”

5. Roots. The phrase “Somewhere in England” has a certain open-ended evocative power for me. It suggests that, somewhere in a distant island nation, magical and unique things are happening:

Somewhere in England, a young pop band is auditioning for the manager who will make them stars.

Somewhere in England, a wrinkled, stoop-shouldered craftsman in the employ of Her Majesty’s Secret Service is building a single-shot pistol into the heel of a man’s dress shoe.

Somewhere in England, a bulldog is sitting in a rose garden, eating bangers and mash.

For me, anyway, the title also has a personal resonance with the album’s creator.

I admit I am ill-equipped to gauge the English character. But it just so happens that many of the qualities I tend to associate with the British national character — insularity; a sense of class and place; a dry, playful sense of humor — are also qualities I associate with George Harrison.

(Insularity: George almost never toured, and recorded most of his solo albums in his own home. Sense of class and place: As late as 1995’s Beatles “Anthology” specials, George still had his charmingly thick Scouse accent. Sense of humor: Surely I don’t have to give examples.)

While his fellow Beatles made themselves over as New Yorkers (Lennon) or Los Angelenos (Starr);  and while his ’60s rock contemporaries became beasts-of-no-nation tax exiles (Mick and Keef); George Harrison seemed to have his feet planted, literally and metaphorically, somewhere in England.