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The Angels: Aussie Hard Rock

If, like me, you spent your teen years loving hard rock and metal in Australia, then there was only one Aussie hard rock band that mattered. No, it’s not AC/DC. They were still ours, and we loved them, but they belonged to the world by the time the 1980’s rolled around. I am talking about The Angels.

The Angels started as the "Moonshine Jug and String Band" in the early 70s, and were briefly called the Keystone Angels, at which point they were playing 50s rock n' roll covers on the pub circuit. Eventually they were recommended to the Albert's record label by AC/DC (Albert being the label AC/DC was on, at least in part because Angus and Malcolm’s ex-Easybeat brother, George, was heavily involved in writing and producing for the label).The Angels first single was called "Am I ever gonna see your face again," written about a friend who died in a car crash. This song became their anthem, at least in part because of the chant that became associated with it (just watch the video below). A heavy schedule of constant touring and album releases, as well as a lot of exposure on Countdown, a show that featured live music and, later, video clips on Aussie TV, meant their star was on a constant rise in Australia, but their attempts to break the U.S. with a period of constant touring, as well as recording the more commercial Two Minute Warning album in the U.S. yielded poor results overseas and their absence briefly hurt their following locally. It didn’t help that their name was already taken in the U.S., so they changed it to Angel City, and, more bizarrely, "The Angels From Angel City," for U.S. releases. The albums released in America borrowed the artwork and titles of Australian releases, but were essentially "best-of" albums. While they did not get mainstream success in the U.S., they did garner a cult following, which included members of the band Great White. The songs "Face the Day" and "Can’t Shake It" were both covers of Angels songs.

Returning to Australia, the Angels flirted with a more mainstream sound on their Howling CD before releasing their most successful album Beyond Salvation. Released when hard rock was at it’s peak in general, it probably benefited as much from the mood of the times as the fact that they had released their strongest work, ever. After this they released Red Back Fever, but grunge was on the rise, and the Angels at this point were the band your dad loved. The change of musical scenery spelled the death of the market for this type of music... at least for a while. The last Angels album, Skin and Bone, was very good, but sold poorly.

The Angels continued to tour and to sell out shows. Their take-no-prisoners live act was what their reputation had been built on, and it was still intact. There was unhappiness within the group over their perceived failure to crack the U.S. and when singer Doc Neeson was involved in a car accident and could not tour for a while, it pushed those issues to a head and caused the band to split. For a time, the band toured without their lead singer, and Doc toured with 20-somethings, covering his old band. However, when the band used the name "The Angels" without him - breaking their legal agreement to not do so - Doc took legal action. In the discussions surrounding that action, the band members patched-up their differences and began touring again. As well as touring the same pub circuit that gave them their start, they recently played a show with the Adelaide Orchestra, which I was lucky enough to attend (4th row) and I’ve seen them three other times since they reformed.Their shows are as good as they ever were, although post car crash Doc is a lot less animated on stage, he still gives it all he’s got.

The Angels were always a source of controversy in the metal crowd of the 80s. I remember listening to metal shows on public radio where commentators argued if the Angels were metal or not. The Angels are a hard rock band, and they were too popular to be fully accepted by a metal scene that was basically underground at the time. The other issue is simply that these guys are all college educated and their lyrics are quite intelligent, meaning some of the songs just plain went over the heads of fans used to AC/DC singing things like "Let’s get it up." For example, I’m going to give you a clip for my favourite Angels song, "Mr. Damage," and here are the lyrics:

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

Toothless jaws gumming melancholy stuff/
A burst of rapid fire Spanish from a window up above/
Students out to pose in studied disarray/
Books of Sartre, Marcuse openly displayed/
Waiting for, Mr. Damage.

Mr. Damage, walks through the doors of the sacrificial church/
Mr. Damage, meets you in the lobby then leaves you in the lurch/
Mr. Damage, stands at the altar, Sermon of the search/
All the faithful follow.

Resident winos stumbling and lurching/
Walking cadavers smiling and searching/
Man with the DT's looking at the feeble glossy portraits of long dead celebrated people/
Waiting for Mr. Damage.

Trying hard just to keep a candle lit/
A leather flyer leaves the subway anxious to admit/
That the marvelled one so recently deposed was seen/
Three days later in a brand new suit of clothes/

A brand new suit of clothes for a very special day/
A brand new suit of clothes for a very special day/
A brand new suit of clothes for a very special day/
A very special day, a very special day, a very very very special day.

Mr Damage holds a curse/
Mr Damage drives a hearse/
Don't you know who did it first...Mr Damage.

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

Mr. Damage, walks through the doors of the sacrificial church/
Mr. Damage, meets you in the lobby then leaves you in the lurch/
Mr. Damage, stands at the altar, Sermon of the search/
All the faithful follow. Holding frozen hands as Mr/
Holding frozen hands as Mr/
Holding frozen hands as Mr/
Damage holds the curse.../

"Mr. Damage"

"Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again" (on Countdown)

 "Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again" (chant)


Reader Comments (7)

Thanks Christian for some news about a band that should have gotten more recognition here in the US. I don't know how many Angels fans there are here in Oklahoma, but I was lucky enough to stumble onto this band while watching TV late one night in 1984. I couldn't possibly recall the show I was watching, but I got to catch the Angels (or Angel City as they were billed in the States) performing Underground, and I ran out the next day to pick up a copy of Two Minute Warning. What a great record - I think I wore out that cassette.

I wanted to hear more from this band, but I couldn't find any other releases from them in the US, and back then we didn't have the internet to give us instant access to any band's full catalogue of music. Well, I joined the US Navy in 1987, and in 1993 I was lucky enough to hit the glorious city of Melbourne, Australia. I took one day to search for music from the Angels and was able to come across copies of Watch the Red, No Exit, Redback Fever, and their 2 CD Liveline release. Needless to say, I was excited to hear some new (old) Angels material.

During that same port visit I drank a lot of VB and met a wonderful Australian girl that I spent the next three days with. I'll make it back to Australia some day, but I can't imagine having a better time than I did on that trip. The Aussie people were so kind and generous to us and I will always be grateful for that. Thanks again Christian for a great (and unexpected!) column on a great band. Cheers!
August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRich
Bout time someone gave this fucking band credit brilliant all i gotta say and atleast itunes got there albums bc the imports are damn expensive!
August 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergnfr2112
Just listened to "Back Street Pick-Up" off of their 'Wasted Sleepless Nights' album.

I picked this up and a couple of others after you were singing their praises on here a while ago and they are great!

Thanks for turning us onto them, Christian!

This band is the REAL Deal!

I'm going to pry the CDs back out of the vault and give 'em another twirl.

These guys are non-BS like that other Aussie phenom, AC/DC and deserve proper recognition.

p.s. Hey, Christian! You ever heard Zambelis, another great Aussie band?
August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMetalboy!
Also, Kudos, Christian...

Your piece is very well written and thoroughly researched.

It sounds like you are there and brought us along for the ride.

I may not know how to write personally, but I certainly know how to recognize great writing when I see it, and here it is right before us.


p.s. Having such sterling writers as Al, Bri and Yourself contributing regularly is almost like turning this into an Online Magazine! Kudos, All!
August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMetalboy!
I was born in and still live in australia. Honestly, i've never really got into them but i can see why they didn't really work...their sound is very tame compared to their counterparts ac/dc or any american hard rock bands but its too rocky for the pop crowds.
August 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteve
Steve, you're right, their sound is different to AC/DC, but I don't think it's terribly 'tame', it IS more complex than AC/DC, especially lyrically. The other issue is that the lead guitar is very unique, very composed and not at all like the blues riffs that Angus churns out. Don't get me wrong, I love AC/DC ( I was at the barrier in Melbourne in Feb ), but The Angels are a very different band, with different strengths. I can see how some people might like one and not the other.

Metalboy, no, I've not heard of Zambelis, are they old or new ? I really like Koritni, but while the singer, at least, is an Aussie, the band lives in France.
August 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristian
Angel City really did rock. They have many hard rock fans in the US but for whatever reason they did not make it big. YouTube is full of Angel City videos. Best described as AC/DC crossed with Sex Pistols. Perhaps a little similar to Green Day with a dash of Aerosmith.

Best cd's Face, Face, Darkroom, Two Minute Warning, Beyond Salvation and the excellent LiveLine.
October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTex

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