Who They Are: Australia’s finest hard rock export, with a star, a bullet, two hands’ worth of devil’s horns, and a big scoop of stoopit atop a steaming pile of crunchy bits. For most of the group’s long and fruitful career, guitar-slinging brothers Angus (he of schoolboy outfit fame) and Malcolm Young were the songwriting and instrumental heart of the group, until Malcolm’s early onset dementia disabled and then eventually killed him. The Young brothers’ nephew, Stevie, stepped up in Malcolm’s place, and the group have issued a pair of killer albums so reconfigured, missing nary a beat along the way. The group’s second singer, Bon Scott, was at the microphone as their international stock first soared (original vocalist Dave Evans only managed to get one single released during his tenure), and it seemed like they should and would have been finished when Scott succumbed to alcohol-related rock star misfortune in 1980. Remarkably enough, though, the group recruited Geordie (the band, not the Northeastern English cultural community) front-man Brian Johnson, and blew their way to true international superstardom with the Back in Black album, mere months after Brian joined the group. Acca Dacca’s rhythm section has experienced a fair amount of flux over the decades, but the seminal (and current) version of their back-line features drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Cliff Williams, who are aces at anchoring the low end (along with rhythm guitar champ Malcolm, and then Stevie), while Angus and Brian top the whole shebang with all the shrieking and soloing that AC/DC’s style of crowd-pleasing rock requires, and in many ways, probably define.
When I First Heard Them: In 1979, just after the release of Bon Scott’s last album, Highway to Hell. I’ve mentioned elsewhere on my website that my parents experienced a profound born-again Christian experience around ’79, changing most everything about our family’s life in confusing and perverse ways. A big part of that conversion experience was the subsequent laser-like focus on cultural, artistic and musical material that might be corrupting to young-ish minds like mine, and the destruction and/or banning of the same. The biggest musical targets among the fundamentalist Christian community at the time were KISS (“Knights in Satan’s Service,” y’know), Black Sabbath, and AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, the sneering, sacrilegious cover of which just seemed to incite religious folks in its open embrace of everything they held vile and dangerous. Of course, because my parents and their church colleagues deemed that album to be a pinnacle of the Devil’s work, I just absolutely, positively had to have it. The album lived up to its bad reputation, I must say, and its basic wrongness was certainly cemented by Bon Scott’s subsequent and unfortunate rock star follies photo finish. I then very vividly, and distinctly, remember when Back in Black hit record stores and radio airwaves a year later; it took everything I loved about Highway, and amped it up in ways that were shockingly popular and populist, creating a truly global experience of hard rock solidarity, shocking audiences and critics alike through its epic strengths in the face of deep, dark adversity. The group’s quality, line-ups, and fortunes have ebbed and flowed in the subsequent decades, but I always give every one of AC/DC’s albums an open, fair shake upon release, and am usually more pleased than disappointed; their last three studio albums have actually marked something of a career high point, happily enough. I don’t know how much more Angus has to give to us all, or how much longer he’ll choose to give it, but if there’s another studio disc to come out there at some point, then super duper, I can’t wait to hear it, and if not, well, the AC/DC back catalog has got more than enough epic rock riffs to keep me screaming and playing air guitar and cranking up the car stereo for as much time as I myself have left before me, and then some. It’s good to know that a few precious things are constant and predictable in confusing times like these, and AC/DC are certainly among my life’s happiest verities, rock without end, amen.
Why I Love Them: I often think that AC/DC are the best litmus test for judging whether someone’s going to like hard rock or not. They offer all of the genre’s trademarks (high volume, shrieking vocals, reductive lyrics, lock-step moshable rhythms punctuated by widdly guitar solos, etc.), and they do it with smirks and smiles that let you know that they understand how dumb their idiom can be, and how smart they are at exploiting it to its maximum return on investment, for band members and audiences alike. If you like ’em, then there’s a world of rock out there waiting to thrill you. If you don’t like ’em, then, well, I’ll not likely be seeing you at your next Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Dave Matthews Band or Nickleback concert. Have a good time, though. Every single one of AC/DC’s albums, even the very weakest ones, contain at least one or two epic, singalong, ear-worm quality rock songs, and regardless of which singer was fronting the group at the time of each recording, all of those albums and singles are undeniably, and immediately, identifiable as AC/DC, so good are they at what they do, and so consistent are they in their delivery of the goods. Sometime in the late ’80s or early ’90s, I remember being deeply amused and impressed when I read an interview with Angus Young that included this quote: “I’m sick to death of people saying we’ve made 11 albums that sounds exactly the same, In fact, we’ve made 12 albums that sound exactly the same.” Yes, they have. Plus another half dozen since then. The hobgoblin of consistency notwithstanding, I always respond to AC/DC’s auditory stimuli, habitually, with happy head-banging and volume knob twiddling, bring it on, more more more! I’ve only seen the group live once, in 1996, and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and certainly, without question, the loudest. Here’s my review of that gig, for additional “why do I love them” perspective. The key quote, then and now: “So was there a point to the whole thing when it was all done? Nahhh . . . it was like Brian Johnson sang: ‘Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution — it’s just rock and roll, that’s all.’ When rock and roll is done as well as AC/DC do it, that’s all you need.”
#10. “Rock or Bust,” from Rock or Bust (2014)
#9. “Who Made Who,” from Who Made Who (1986)
#8. “It’s A Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock n’ Roll),” from T.N.T (1975)
#7. “You Shook Me All Night Long,” from Back in Black (1980)
#6. “Shot in the Dark,” from Power Up (2020)
#5. “Highway to Hell,” from Highway to Hell (1979)
#4. “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You),” from For Those About to Rock (We Salute You) (1981)
#3. “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976)
#2. “Back in Black,” from Back in Black (1980)
#1. “Thunderstruck,” from The Razors Edge (1990)