AC/DC

TrackAlbum
JailbreakDirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt CheapDirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
It’'s A Long Way To The Top…...T.N.T.
T.N.T.High Voltage
Ride OnWho Made Who
You Shook Me All Night LongBack In Black
Back In BlackBack In Black
ThunderstruckThe Razors Edge
Who Made WhoWho Made Who
For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)For Those About to Rock…...

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Contributor: David Lewis

They defy categorisation: too much rock for metal – too metal for blues – too blues for punk – too punk for rock – too skilled for punk. AC/DC just are, and their sound has thrilled audiences for decades. Out of the (once tough) inner west of Sydney, born in Scotland, the Young brothers were Gorbals boys. Still are. The manager, George Young, was one of Australia’s first real rock stars; as a member of The Easybeats, he conquered the post-Beatles world, but ended up with little money. Moving, with Easybeats guitarist, Harry Vanda, into management, it seems he determined to not redo the mistakes of the Easybeats. A firm formula, to be stuck to: none of the peripatetic musical experiments of the Yardbirds: just controlled, well-managed, with fairness and support. Vanda and Young, over the 70s became roughly analogous to Mike Chapman (another Australian) and Nicky Chinn with a string of pop hits – John Paul Young, William Shakespeare, their own band, Flash and the Pan. But the cornerstone of George’s success was his younger brothers’ band: AC/DC.

AC/DC: the rock solid rhythm of Malcolm Young. The incendiary leads of Angus Young. They’re not experimental composers – it’s a band with 2 guitars, bass, drums and vocals. Few, if any keyboards. Exotic instruments eschewed, though with at least one notable exception. It has been argued that they’ve done the same album 20 times. Maybe they have, but really, who cares. They all work, more or less (Fly On The Wall is the least popular). And you can guarantee satisfaction with every one.

They are one of those very few bands who lost a charismatic, talented lead singer, Bon Scott, and replaced him with another singer – Brian Johnson – and went on to greater success. Their sound is easily copied, never properly duplicated. One of the most influential bands of the rock era, those who sound like them usually sound like pale imitators: even getting the guitar tone right is problematic. In the words of one of their producers (Mutt Lange, I think): “To get Angus Young’s tone, you’ll need a vintage Marshall amplifier and a Gibson SG. And Angus Young.”

Bon Scott was actually AC/DC’s second singer. Dave Evans was their first. And as fine a singer as he is, he just didn’t fit. Bon, who’d been in several bands, but most notably the folky, rocky Valentines, was a much better fit. Tattooed, tooth broken, Bon looked tough, acted tough, and brought a credibility to the outlaw songs he wrote, with the occasional wink and cheeky grin to show his larrikin side, and that he didn’t really mean it. Young Angus, in his school uniform (the ‘A’ on his cap stands for Ashfield Boys High School, not Angus or AC/DC), duck walking, and pushing his SG to its limits. An incredible live band, but a solid recording band.

No song, I think encapsulates the first classic lineup of AC/DC as Jailbreak. AC/DC have always tapped into the fantasy of working class boys; toughness is a virtue, and being outside the law, as well. “There was a friend of mine on murder”. Now, the murder is slightly more defensible than, say, Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison, but, 16 years seems light, given the narrator took a gun to the fateful event. Even though the ‘Big Man’ (found lying with a “hole in his body where his life had been”) may have shot first (much like Han Solo in Star Wars), I’m pretty sure the verdict would have stood on appeal. One of the all-time great film clips too.

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap is another one of these teenage fantasies: if you’re having trouble with your headmaster, or again, another cheating woman, call Bon – he can sort it out. He even gives you the telephone number. He’s the toughest, and he understands that he’s tougher than you: “if you’ve got a lady and you want her gone, but you ain’t got the guts”… AC/DC love women, but women can cheat, apparently. It is ok for the man to have several girlfriends…

Part of the fantasy is being a rock star: AC/DC lived it. Now, as countless songs have told us, it’s not easy, nor pleasant. It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock and Roll) documents it better than all of them. I’ve sat through countless renditions of this song, usually done by bands at their first gig. But when Acca Dacca played it, they meant it. And the bagpipes are perfect.

T.N.T., dynamite. More of the same, but that riff! And those vocals. It gets hard to write about these songs individually – not because they aren’t great, but because the formula is so successfully applied and mastered – great riffs, great performances, great attitude.

AC/DC have done very few ballads – but this one works. Ride On is one of Bon’s best performances. A typical rock and roll fantasy – he’s an outlaw, no fixed address, drawn to the road, but with a lovely note of regret: “One of these days, I’m gonna change my evil ways”… Alas, Bon did not. He died in the back of a car in London, in the middle of a tour, with the coroner ruling ‘alcoholic misadventure’. He died as he lived, as a rock and roller…

The band regrouped quickly. (In today’s management-speak, we’d likely say the group re-banded quickly). Finding the reliable and professional Brian Johnson, they released Back In Black, an album only outsold by Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Brian Johnson probably doesn’t have the range of Bon, and he’s much closer in attitude to the fans. Whereas Bon may well have had a friend on murder, Brian doesn’t. But he understands the fans, and to me, he sells the songs. He’s a terrific front man, and I don’t think AC/DC could have hit the success they did without him.

From Black In Black, I’ve found two: You Shook Me All Night Long with its single and a half entendres, and perhaps their finest post-Bon moment, Back In Black. Perhaps… because our next selection is Thunderstruck. I’ve wondered whether that incendiary opening is a homage to Van Halen’s Hot For Teacher (AC/DC, like most geniuses, steal – Jailbreak, is, after all, Gloria by Them). But with Malcolm’s growling underneath, it’s a sublime song, with some of the finest dynamic movement since Bohemian Rhapsody.

Who Made Who, and For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) round out the Toppermost. Great riffs, great performance, but you already know that. Just sit and listen. Pick up that tennis racket, stand in front of that mirror and rock out. Lock the door, no-one’s looking. Should you ever meet them, just drop to your knees, like Wayne and Garth do to Alice Cooper in Wayne’s World, and chant “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy” – because you’re not. Not only do they live the fantasy, they live up to it. With one member’s illness (rumoured to be Malcolm), they’re shaken, but not stirred. AC/DC are rock royalty. Outsiders, yet influential. Easily copied, impossible to duplicate. Neither rock, nor metal, nor punk, nor blues, but all of them at once. We salute you.

 

AC/DC official website

AC/DC Electric Shock – latest news…

AC/DC biography (iTunes)

 

POSTSCRIPTMalcolm Mitchell Young (1953–2017)
From the AC/DC website (18th November 2017): “It is with deep heartfelt sadness that AC/DC has to announce the passing of Malcolm Young. Malcolm, along with Angus, was the founder and creator of AC/DC. With enormous dedication and commitment he was the driving force behind the band.”

 

David Lewis has written several posts for Toppermost. He lives in Sydney and lectures in Popular Culture and Contemporary and Roots Music at the Australian Institute of Music. He writes on music here.

TopperPost #274

5 Comments

  1. Keith Shackleton
    May 13, 2014

    Blimey. Cards on the table… when it comes to DC I’m definitely a Bon Scott man. Brian Johnson is a lovely fellow, was exactly what was needed at the right time and fit right in. However, I just can’t pick anything post-Back in Black, so I have to drop those four and replace them with with Rocker from Live at the Atlantic Studios (in the Bonfire box set), Live Wire from High Voltage and two from Powerage.

    Down Payment Blues is a genuine classic, the slightly longer one with the bluesy noodling at the end is just the best. And… and… Up To My Neck In You. What a song that is. If any song encapsulates the band, this is the one, for me. Just to hear Angus increase the power and tension as he goes round the solo the second time and when Bon comes back in, Angus just doesn’t turn the volume back down quite far enough as he drops back to riffing, and he’s absolutely blazing.

    I might swap You Shook Me for Have A Drink On Me… tremendous balls to do a song called that given the circumstances. Bon would have loved that.

    NB: Any Brit of a certain age will fondly remember the smoking 1978 Rock Goes To College appearance (of which this is an excerpt, it used to be on YouTube in its entirety, and it’s well worth seeking out the rest).

    • David Lewis
      May 13, 2014

      The hard thing about Acca Dacca is the extremely consistent quality. The later albums aren’t as ‘good’, but that’s more because we know what to expect, rather than the shockwave that was those earlier records. More than nearly any other band, all of these are interchangeable.

      And of course the Bon vs Brian debate rages on. I too think Bon has the edge, but having seen AC/DC last year, I was extremely impressed by the level of energy Brian was able to maintain.

      “Have a Drink on Me’: yes, as John Cleese said about Graham Chapman – he was always worried good taste would break out. Very few bands could have gotten away with it…

  2. Ian Ashleigh
    May 13, 2014

    In October 1977 AC/DC played at the Golders Green Hippodrome for a Sight & Sound In Concert. I loved them, others with me were less than impressed. The gig is on You Tube and you can see me when the camera pans to the audience at the beginning of this song (you can try and guess which one is an 18 year old me).

    • David Lewis
      May 13, 2014

      Are you the blond guy with the hands over his face in the bottom left hand corner?

  3. Neil Waite
    May 13, 2014

    So it looks like Bon Scott gets my vote as well – but only just. Johnson is a great replacement though and I was pleased that they didn’t try and get a ‘Scottolike’ after Bon’s tragic death. But the pounding ‘Back in Black’ was a jaw dropping album to come back from such a tragedy. Since then Johnson has been reliable and consistent.

    So a top ten for AC/DC? – what an insurmountable task but this really is a great list. My only personal changes? I would have replaced ‘Dirty Deeds’ and ‘TNT’ with the mighty ‘Gone Shootin’ and the incredible Live Wire. Who could not include the latter, even if just based upon the opening performance on the ‘Let There Be Rock’ DVD. We really do salute you.

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