There’s always that one guy. That guy who’s so miserable he can’t stand to see other people enjoying life. That one guy who, when Christmastime comes, and everyone is singing, and decorating trees, and handing out gifts, he sits in the corner and mumbles to himself, “Bah humbug.” There have been many iterations of this guy throughout our culture, such as the legendary grump, Ebenezer Scrooge. However, none of them have been quite as loathsome and nasty as a furry little critter who lived a long time ago, just outside of Whoville. This is the tale of that scraggly, green, sorry creature called The Grinch.
In the 1957 children’s story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, the first thing we learn about this foul minded beast is that he “hated Christmas!” Not just Christmas itself, but “The whole Christmas season!” That’s a lot of hate for one hairy scoundrel to carry around. The beloved author of the fable, Dr. Seuss, speculates there could be something wrong with his head, or maybe that his shoes are on too tight, but ultimately decides the most likely reason “May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.” Judging by the accompanying illustration on the page, one might argue it’s his legs that are too small. Maybe that’s why The Grinch is frowning so hard. Those teeny tiny legs must have a hard time holding up all the weight from that big bushy belly of his. For someone who despises Christmas, he sure looks like he enjoys a large roasted bird and a plate of milk and cookies regularly.
He looks like that pet at the adoption agency who no one wants to bring home because they can tell as soon as he makes it through the door, he’s going to bite them on the arm or pee on the floor. And afterward, he will grin and do it some more.
Maybe the cranky creep was just jealous of the other Whos down in Whoville. After all, while he was hiding in his cave every holiday, they were dancing and hanging mistletoe. The green meanie doesn’t bother hanging mistletoe because he knows no one is coming around to kiss his gloomy face. He is a miserable, wretched thing. Most Whos wouldn’t touch him with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot candy cane. He’s not just ugly on the outside; he’s grotesque on the inside. The only goal in his grumpy life is to stop Christmas from happening. He detests the noise that every Who makes; he even abhors the food that they bake. He hates what he cannot have. But, he could have it too, if he’d only open his heart, like every other Who. He claims he put up with their annoyances for fifty-three years. That’s a long time to deal with something you do not like, especially something as harmless as Christmas. As the old adage goes: why beat ‘em when you can join ‘em?
He’s a mean one, for sure. An apple, rotten down to its core. A cantankerous curmudgeon with the need to spoil joy. But somewhere, buried beneath those straggly, unkempt whiskers, there is a heart. A heart that is aching to be set free.
Ironically, the crabby thing receives much enjoyment from dressing up as Santa and sliding down chimneys. He even dresses his dog up as a reindeer. On the surface, it appears that he is completely in the holiday spirit. However, his soul is still so sour, and the bliss in his sick, blackened heart comes from stealing gifts, rather than giving them away. But, like most sinister plans, the one from his bitter brain backfires almost immediately. As the Whos rejoice and sing on Christmas morning, despite their lack of gifts, the wicked fiend discovers to his dismay:
“He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same!”
And that’s the way it goes. He learned the hard way what the people of Whoville already knew:
“Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more!”
This couldn’t be truer if it came from the mouth of a real-life Who. Christmas has always been about being there for each other. Once the tired old troll realizes this, he becomes more than just an evil thing, and his heart grows three times big!
At last, we see a real smile on the green one’s face, as he delightfully carves the roast beast. It’s not because he’s about to feast on the delicious meat. It’s because his heart is now complete. The Grinch has finally discovered the true meaning of Christmas, and that’s the greatest gift that any Who can receive.
AC/DC is one of those bands who has been accused (arguably the most) of writing songs that all sound the same. Contrary to popular belief, this is an unfair assessment of the band’s vast and entertaining catalog. Sure, they use the same chords a lot, the same basic drum beat, the same bassline, and Brian Johnson likes to yell “Fire!” as much as possible, but honestly, who the hell doesn’t? For the most part, the band sticks to their guns, and they do it better than anyone.
AC/DC isn’t just about sexy puns and shaking you all night long. Below are 10 standout tracks from the Aussies that the average listener probably isn’t aware of.
1. “Ride On”
“Ride On” from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap is AC/DC’s slowest song, so it sticks out like a hitchhiker’s thumb. But it’s not just great because it’s different. It truly is an amazing piece of music about loneliness and having the strength to move on. Bon Scott had such a motivating (and infectious) attitude toward life, especially when it came to striking out with women (See also: “Shot Down in Flames”). He made it clear that nothing was going to keep him down for an extended amount of time. The extra bluesy solo by Angus Young perfectly complements the reflective, subdued nature of Bon’s words.
2. “Big Gun”
It’s time to bust out with the “Big Gun.” No one ever talks about this smokin’ track from the Last Action Hero soundtrack. It’s one of the lads’ most massive tunes, centered around a powerhouse riff that wallops you in the gut the second you press play. I’m sure Arnold Schwarzenegger has pumped some severe iron to this song. The video is hysterical because you get to see Ahnuld run around in a schoolboy uniform, delivering his best Angus impersonation. It’s got some sweet lyrics about Terminators and Uzis, but I swear Johnson yells “refrigerators!” at the end, and you can’t convince me otherwise. It’s ridiculous that they’ve never played this live because it would ultimately turn any arena into rubble.
3. “Stormy May Day”
This track from Black Ice is fascinating because it features slide guitar work from Angus, the first and only time that’s happened on an AC/DC record. The riffage is reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” but louder and more potent because nobody brings the thunder like AC/DC. It also possesses some really clean, soulful vocals (particularly at the end) by Johnson, which surprised the hell out of me the first time I heard them. Brian is known for his raspiness, but the older he gets, the more he taps into his inner blues, and shines through all the noise.
It’s true what they say: “Money talks, B.S. walks.” I’ve loved this song since I was a wee little lad. It gets radio play but not nearly as much as other AC/DC songs. I’ve always found its status odd. It’s like some kind of half-hit (which I suppose is better than a half-wit). I should be thankful it’s not played more often because I’d grow to despise it. This feel-good jam needs to be dusted off and played live again. Once the tour for The Razor’s Edge was over, it stopped receiving the attention it deserved. It’s as good as anything on the overplayed juggernaut Back in Black.
Ballbreaker as a whole is criminally underrated, but the title track absolutely slays. It starts with a couple of slow notes, but that’s a bunch of evil trickery. After a few seconds, Malcolm and Angus begin spewing forth jagged riffs from the mouth of hell directly into your face, as if they’re trying to squeeze the air from your throat like the crazed dominatrix in the song. It feels like you’re about to be flattened by a steamroller, but it hurts so good that you just lay there like an idiot with a stupid smile on your face. That’s the power of AC/DC. “Ballbreaker” destroys so many other rock and metal songs from the ‘90s that it’s not even funny.
6. “Gone Shootin'”
Powerage from 1978 is one hell of an energetic album, but this tune reels things back in a refreshing way. Bon tells the story of a woman who’s gone away, and it seems she was too hot for even him to handle. The crisp, spaced-out guitar notes aren’t as crackling as other songs on the record, and they almost have a southern-fried tone to them, which makes for an excellent road song on a sunny day. “Gone Shootin’” also appeared on the Beavis and Butt-Head Do America soundtrack, a shocking but commendable choice. Whoever made that call should get free AC/DC records for life, and then give them to me.
7. “Night Prowler”
“Night Prowler” is the AC/DC song that should make your next Halloween playlist instead of “Highway to Hell.” It’s a scene plucked straight from every classic ‘70s and ‘80s slasher flick. This song (and the band) received a bad rap in 1985 because some bonehead named Ramirez went and killed and raped a bunch of women while wearing an AC/DC shirt. Screw that guy and anyone who tries to blame something heinous like that on rock n’ roll. That’s not how it works. This was an impressive way to end Highway to Hell. One thing I still can’t figure out is why Scott says “Shazbot” and “Nanu Nanu” (from Mork and Mindy) at the end, though it’s probably as simple as he was a Robin Williams fan.
8. “Who Made Who”
Who made who? That is the eternal question. AC/DC provided the entire soundtrack for Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive, a movie you need to go watch if you’ve never seen it. This was one of three new songs written for the film, including “D.T” and “Chase the Ace” (which are also unique as they are both instrumentals). The lyrics tie into the theme of the movie, which is machines turning on their makers. A simple but wisely effective bassline by Cliff Williams drives the song down a wonderfully paved road from beginning to end. It has a relaxed vibe that’s different from most AC/DC songs. Johnson doesn’t scream the chorus, and the guitars aren’t as crunchy. It’s a nice change of pace from what they are known for.
9. “Hail Caesar”
Who says AC/DC songs are only about sex and rock n’ roll? With this track from Ballbreaker, not only do you get to headbang like a nut, but you also receive an excellent history lesson in the process. I think the band is at their best when they show their humorous side, and the video for “Hail Caesar” is a prime example. They went to town with the green screen. Phil Rudd is a master at slowing things down and bringing them back to an explosive pace when the song calls for it, and that’s what this evil ditty needed. This should serve as a reminder to everyone to watch their back because that knife could get you at any time.
10. “Emission Control”
“Emission Control” is the last song off AC/DC’s last album (so far), Rock or Bust. Thankfully, they didn’t bust, but I almost did the first time this pounded through my subwoofer. The main riff is so damn good. It’s funky and dirty and nasty, and all the best clichéd words you can muster up to describe a series of gnarly guitar notes that vibrate and explode from your balls up to your eardrums until the wax spills onto the floor in a puddle of pure joy. Surprisingly (especially for the year 2014), the track fades out instead of tacking on a good stiff ending like most AC/DC songs. Brian Johnson sounds as good as ever on this tasty jam, leaving you hopeful that their story isn’t over yet. If you’re tired of all the classic AC/DC tunes that are played on the radio, and at bars and sports games nonstop as if there are no other songs or bands in the world, try these suckers on for size. They just might ignite (or reignite) your love for one of rock n’ roll’s most influential bands.
Tim Barry is a folk singer/songwriter from Richmond, Virginia. He fronted the band Avail for many years, who is also worth checking out if you appreciate ballsy, melodic punk rock.
Tim’s songs are simple but powerful. He doesn’t consider himself a good guitar player (though I disagree). He focuses on how a song feels, and I must say, they feel damn good. Many of his lyrics are a stream of consciousness. Barry writes about himself, his friends, and historical figures, alongside moving tales of fiction. As far as story-telling, I put him up there with Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Singing in first-person confuses some people. Certain songs are so melancholy that friends and fans often ask him, “Are you okay?” to which he responds, “I’m doing fine!” Below are 10 tracks that serve as a proper introduction to one of our generation’s most underground, yet prolific songwriters.
1. “Idle Idylist”
“Idle Idylist” is the first track from Barry’s first album, Laurel St. Demo 2005. He wrote it after coming home from a job he hated and decided to never go back. He’s big on working when you need to and enjoying life to the fullest (a theme that shows up in other songs). It sounds like common sense, but we all get caught in the grind. If you’ve found yourself overworked and underpaid at a soul-sucking job, these lyrics will resonate:
“You work a sixty-hour week, you see one hour of sunlight That ain’t right, that ain’t no life”
Tim expresses his desire to live an honest life while calling out shallow, greedy people whose only concern is money. He’s confused and frustrated by those who don’t get it. Integrity is everything to him, which comes across in the lines, “I ain’t got nothing but myself / and I ain’t selling that or no one else.” This song encourages and pushes people to do what they genuinely love.
2. “Driver Pull”
Taken from the album 40 Miler, “Driver Pull” is a beautiful laid-back tune about getting away from it all. It’s also one of Tim’s many songs about train-hopping. It goes well with solitude, campfire, and a full moon. His clean, concentrated performance pairs wonderfully with the low howl of Julie Karr’s backing vocals. When she holds the note for the word “pull” in the chorus, it sounds similar to a train horn. I’m not sure if they did this on purpose, but it’s eerie how well it works. This song will give you the peace of mind you didn’t know you needed. It seems to have worked for Tim as he unapologetically sings, “I’m better for every day I’m gone.”
3. “South Hill”
“South Hill” tells an eye-opening fictional story of a young man who sees no choice but to join the army. Throughout the song, Barry sheds light on the creepy, dishonest ways in which the military recruits the poor and uneducated. He did his research, and it shows. Before releasing the song, he shared it with active military members stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, to make sure he got it right. With the amount of anger, confusion, and straight-up terror we get from the protagonist, you’d swear that Barry was pulling from real-life experiences. The level of care, respect, and detail that went into crafting this song is something to admire. It forces the listener to envision the absolute worst consequences of war. One can’t help but feel disgusted and sorrowful for anyone who has gone through these horrific situations.
Juxtaposed with these raw emotions is a chord structure and melody that is surprisingly upbeat and catchy. It’s complemented by the violin’s sweet, sorrowful cries, played skillfully by Tim’s sister, Caitlin Hunt. This profound piece of music from the album Manchester will make you grateful to be alive.
4. “Prosser’s Gabriel”
Tim Barry’s name shouldn’t even come up without mentioning “Prosser’s Gabriel” from 28th & Stonewall. It’s not just a song; it’s a history lesson that should be taught to every child in every school in the country.
Gabriel Prosser was a slave who organized a rebellion but was captured and hung in Richmond, Virginia, after he refused to rat out his fellow enslaved black men. Tim sings about his plight with so much passion you’d think it was his best friend. I get chills every time I hear the lines:
“You’re a coward if you own men for profit and greed you’re the coward of all and for all you must bleed”
His direct, unwavering anger is reminiscent of Dylan’s “Masters of War.” It even left an impression on Prosser’s descendants, who held a family reunion and played an early, unreleased version of “Prosser’s Gabriel.” They included the lyrics in the program for their event.
Tim refuses to ignore the ugly history of his hometown. It’s unbelievable and disheartening at times. But one positive outcome is that some of his lyrics are no longer relevant. As Tim explained in the last verse, Gabriel was “Buried beneath parked cars now and pavement.” Thanks in part to the song, along with the tiresome efforts of activists, church groups, students, and other folks who opposed this blatant disrespect, the parking lot has been removed. It is now a grassy field filled with plaques for Gabriel and other slaves buried there. Tim was there (along with the descendants of said slaves) for the ground’s emotional breaking. He is now the proud owner of a piece of the pavement that he uses to put out his cigarettes.
5. “Dog Bumped”
“Dog Bumped” from Rivanna Junction is the first song I heard from Tim Barry. It’s his rowdiest. He often opens shows with it, and it electrifies the room. It’s a true story that you must hear to believe. In short, it’s about a friend who’s in jail for taking the fall for his sister, who took extreme measures against an abusive boyfriend. The protagonist, and the song itself, embodies a “take no shit/no regrets” attitude. It explores the importance of family and what people will do to protect their blood. Barry throws an infectious dose of redneck-like rage into this one, enhanced by his right-hand man, Josh Small, on the dobro guitar.
6. “Walk 500 Miles”
One of the all-time greatest songs about relationship woes, “Walk 500 Miles” from 28th & Stonewall shows Barry at his most exposed and vulnerable. There’s a great deal of strength and wisdom that comes to the surface when he opens up about his loneliness. The song is laced with brutal honesty:
“Ain’t but ten numbers on a phone But I ain’t talking no more You’re all right and I’m wrong You’re above and I’m below But I won’t be here when you get home”
Each word sounds calculated and carries substantial weight. Many of Barry’s songs seem to be part of a healing process, but this one feels exceptionally cathartic.
7. “Ronnie Song”
This track from Manchester is very personal for Tim. It’s about his dear friend, Ronnie Graham, who passed away in a bicycle accident. He takes a lot of pride in this one (as he should) because it was written and played for Ronnie before he died. The last words he ever said to his friend were, “I love you, brother.” Talk about a kick in the feels. Hunt’s violin parts, and Daniel Clark’s piano/organ arrangements give the song an epic, orchestral feel. “Ronnie Song” serves as a reminder to tell people what they mean to you while they’re here. Too often, we take the most important relationships for granted. You have to be dead inside to not feel the love and respect in this verse:
“Come on brother, let’s make a list Of all those gone that we still miss Let’s make a list of what they believed And we still do Like living first and working last And beating the day before it’s past Like what’s mine is yours, man And what’s yours is mine”
8. “Fine Foods Market”
I had to include this one from 40 Miler because it shows Barry’s humorous side. He pokes fun at hipsters who ride their bikes to art school and adults who drive Saabs to the golf course. No one is safe from the jabs – not even himself. When he goes after punks who “now wear flannel and scream over bar chords on acoustic guitars,” he’s clearly describing his career. After a while, you have to laugh with him. Tim doesn’t hide his hypocrisy, and there’s a playful charm in his self-deprecation. It reveals another relatable side of his music.
“Fine Foods Market” is an excellent addition to a backyard barbeque. The group handclaps throughout the song provide an extra layer of entertainment. In a live setting, it serves as a nice, lighthearted breather between songs with heavier subject matter.
9. “Thing of the Past” (live)
The original, twanged-out, full-band rendition of “Thing of the Past” on 28th & Stonewall is great, but I recommend the bare-naked live version from Raising Hell & Living Cheap: Live in Richmond. The set was recorded without Tim’s knowledge. He enjoys releasing performances like this because it makes them more real (his 2009 DVD Live at the Grey Eagle followed a similar approach). At the beginning of the song, he says, “This song makes me truly happy but I’m not sure why.” I found that odd, but maybe he’s too close to the song. I know why it makes me happy: it’s jam-packed with an overwhelming feel-good vibe, provided by a nice helping of sagacious one-liners:
“Living’s better when taking chances constantly” “It’s not what you make or do, it’s how you’re living” “It’s about life and love and family and thinking free”
All of the above quotes should be inside fortune cookies. The chorus elevates the song to another level, delivering instant goosebumps. It makes me feel high when I’m sober. It’s a tune meant to be shared and sang at the top of your lungs, in a tiny room with friends and strangers. It’s even better when the singer is on the floor with you, two feet from your face, as Barry is prone to do.
10. “Wait At Milano”
I’ve heard Tim say, “This might be my favorite song I’ve ever written.” It’s hard to argue with that. He wrote “Wait At Milano” while battling depression (which doesn’t happen often). The feeling rubbed off on him while thinking about his buddy, Travis Conner, who was chronically depressed. Not long after, Travis took his own life. Though written with Travis’s troubles in mind, Tim later put a positive spin on it, in honor of his newborn niece and other family members.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s guaranteed to tug on your heartstrings. It’s a poetic, subdued number that focuses on being content with what you have and where you are in life. The piano parts, played by James Barry, add a nice layer of serenity. Towards the end, Tim offers the best advice I’ve ever heard:
“If what you seek ain’t free, then steal it and if it ain’t necessity, you don’t need it just leave what’s left for who comes next.”
“Living simple” is a motto we should all embrace. Caitlin’s violin solo brings the song to a satisfying, soothing end. It’s the perfect closer for the emotional rollercoaster that is Rivanna Junction, and a nice way to end this list.
Bonus Track: “Bent Creek”
“Bent Creek” is from Barry’s latest album, The Roads To Richmond, which came out in 2019. It always puts me in a fantastic mood. I think Tim would agree it’s one of his happier tunes. The record is on the darker side, but this helps balance things out. Lyrics like, “I ain’t gonna worry anymore, let the clouds roll and let the storm roar,” make me believe I can overcome any obstacle. It’s basically a folk version of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and I’m so glad that it exists.
It’s been ten years since I got into the music of Tim Barry, and I’ve yet to hear or see anyone sing with as much passion. Everything is 100% straight from his heart. It’s hard to pick a “perfect 10” for such an important artist in my life, but this is a good starting point for the unfamiliar. If you like any of these songs, a ton of greatness can be found throughout his eight studio albums. Also, I highly recommend seeing him live. It’s quite an unforgettable experience.