The good Dr. Sardonicus beat me to the punch this week with his tribute to the mighty AC/DC. Not trying to play copycat here, but I had been meaning to do my own AC/DC post for some time now, but just never got around to it, so here goes...
My first real exposure to this band was in Speech Class during my sophomore year in high school (1979-80), of all places. One of our class projects entailed each student putting together a 15-minute "radio show" feature about a particular group or artist. I did mine on The Who (and got an A-minus, thank you very much), and another guy did his project on AC/DC. The jaundiced look on the teacher's face was priceless as he played bits of "Whole Lotta Rosie", "Highway To Hell" and "Let There Be Rock". Those songs even managed to sound really cool on that cheesy government-issue single-speaker school record player, so I went out and bought my first AC/DC LPs shortly after that, and I've been a fan ever since.
Angus and Malcolm Young are the brothers of guitarist George Young of Australian '60s band The Easybeats (of "Friday On My Mind" fame). George is the oldest, of course, Angus is the youngest, which naturally leaves Malcolm in the middle [insert rim shot here]. George paired up with fellow-Easybeat Harry Vanda to produce and manage AC/DC, and they've been about as consistent as any band out there, even after the death of original lead singer Bon Scott in early 1980.
Losing a drummer or a bass player is one thing, but losing a lead singer—especially a very beloved one like Bon—would be a lethal blow to most bands. But, in one of the most amazing feats in music history, AC/DC not only recovered from the loss of Scott, but managed to unleash one of the absolutely killer albums of all-time, Back In Black, seemingly without missing a beat! AC/DC fans took to new singer Brian Johnson right away, and he couldn't have asked for a smoother transition. It's a bit of a David Lee Roth vs. Sammy Hagar (or Ginger vs. Mary Ann) comparison, but I honestly like Bon Scott and Brian Johnson equally. Scott was the more witty songwriter of the two, with lines like "It was one of those nights when you turn out the lights, and everything comes into view..." from "Touch Too Much", but Johnson is one of the best screamers of all-time, and he's far more reliable than Scott was (i.e., not likely to get too fucked-up to sing in concert). Johnson also seems like a very humble guy—as do the Young brothers—seemingly ego-free and very approachable, which is refreshing in the Rock 'N' Roll biz.
I've only seen AC/DC once in concert, but it was quite a dandy show at Kemper Arena in 1983 on the Flick Of The Switch tour. There were two things I totally marveled at that night, one being how incredibly good the audio was—this was one of the best-sounding P.A.'s I've ever heard at a concert, especially for a raw band like this. The other thing that amazed me was how Angus could roll around on stage and do all his berserk histrionics without missing a single note! That little dude is one of the most underrated guitar players ever.
One more little AC/DC tidbit for you: Once upon a time back in the early '80s, I was channel-surfing on the TV one night and happened upon our local-yokel Jesus station, Channel 50, and they were on a crusade against Rock music and objectionable lyrics at the time. On this night, they were dissecting "Highway To Hell" and the lyrics thereof, and they put the HTH album cover on the screen and the camera zoomed in on Angus' image (complete with devil horns, of course). Someone on the show then made the comment, "And did you know that this young man drank himself to death recently? How sad that Satan got inside him and destroyed his life, praise Jesus!" (or something like that). Obviously a misinformed idiot she was, thinking it was Angus who had died and not Bon Scott, but I always thought it would be totally delicious if Angus could've burst through their studio doors and shocked everyone by showing he could "rise from the dead". All those God-fearing pinheads would've most assuredly had some major skidmarks in their underwear!
My All-Time AC/DC Top 20:
20) "Thunderstruck" (1990) It never ceases to amaze me how Angus keeps that riff up throughout the entire song in concert. This song has also become a sports event staple.
19) "Riff Raff" (1978) I didn't think much of this one at first, but it grew on me profusely over time. Love the line, "I never shot nobody—don't even carry a gun!"
18) "This Means War" (1988) Closing track on the Blow Up Your Video album with a catchy little riff not unlike the one from "Thunderstruck".
17) "Touch Too Much" (1979) See my above commentary on Bon's lyrics here.
16) "That's The Way I Wanna Rock 'N' Roll" (1988) Another favorite from Blow Up Your Video.
15) "Back In Black" (1980) Did you ever think you'd live to see the day when college football marching bands would play this song—frequently?
14) "It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N' Roll)" (1976) Interesting use of bagpipes here. I truly believed it when Bon sang "I tell ya, folks, it's harder than it looks..."
13) "Rocker" (1976) Quite possibly the fastest AC/DC song of all-time. Speed don't kill, in this case...
12) "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" (1976) A late bloomer, this one didn't become a true hit until five years after its initial release.
11) "Hells Bells" (1980) Baseball pitcher Trevor Hoffman's favorite song, and another sports stadium staple. Also one of Brian Johnson's finest vocal performances, and perfectly-timed, since it was most AC/DC fans' first taste of him.
10) "Beatin' Around The Bush" (1979) This one would qualify as a Major League "rave-up", as they used to call them back in the '60s.
9) "Heatseeker" (1988) Live version from the 1992 Live double-CD (clever title, guys!) is even better.
8) "Girls Got Rhythm" (1979) Very underrated track from Highway To Hell. Should get more airplay that it does...
7) "Shot Down In Flames" (1979) Bon Scott sums up the bulk of my love-life rather succinctly (with one notable exception, that is) in 3 minutes and 23 seconds!
6) "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)" (1981) Concert staple that naturally lends itself to pyro and boom-booms.
5) "Problem Child" (1977) Bon Scott's life story, it would appear. Great lines in this one, like "What I want I take, what I don't I break" and "With a flick of my knife I can change your life—there's nothing you can do..."
4) "Big Balls" (1976) Quite possibly the greatest double-entendre Rock 'N' Roll tune in recorded history.
3) "Shoot To Thrill" (1980) My favorite song off Back In Black and it always reminds me of a special person named Susan whom I used to work with and is no longer with us who was really into Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, and I really miss her...
2) "Whole Lotta Rosie" (1977) Not to blow my own horn, here, but I do a fairly good Bon Scott impression during the "Wanna tell you a story, 'bout a woman I know..." portion of the song. By the way, "19 stone" translates to approximately 285 pounds in American—just a big hunk-a hunk-a woman!
1) "Let There Be Rock" (1977) This song just rocks from start to finish, even on that cheapo Raytown South High School record player. Angus totally smokes (on guitar) here too.
[NOTE: I'm sure you're now asking, where's "Highway To Hell" and "You Shook Me All Night Long" on your AC/DC list, Brian? Well, those are classic tunes, to be sure, but jeez Louise, those songs have been played to death so much on the radio and/or at drinking establishments by unimaginative DJs that I'm sick to death of them! Even so, I do always stay tuned for the tail end of the "You Shook Me" video where the blonde cutie raises her leg up over her head...]