Thursday, October 27, 2011


AC/DC are purveyors of old school hard rock. I am so old school that I prefer the version of AC/DC with Bon Scott as vocalist. He could sing and scream as required and sounded as naughty and slyly salacious as some of the earliest songs require him to be. For all I know Brian Johnson is more technically gifted as singer, and he has certainly been AC/DC's vocalist for far longer than Scott was, but his gravelly, raspy voice just does not do it for me.

The band has been a going concern for almost 40 years now and recently thy provided soundtrack music for Iran Man 2 and released a DVD of a massive concert at the River Plate stadium. Many of the big metal and hard rock acts from the late Sixties and early Seventies, and I guess beyond as well, still tour though I would imagine they do so more as nostalgia acts as living and breathing organism and vital creative forces. AC/DC may not tour as much as they used to do and may no longer have regular new album releases but it seems that they are anything but a nostalgic act and in their own inimitable fashion remain vital and attracts new fans as much as they have retained the old ones.

I have only ever owned 3 AC/DC albums: the LPs of High Voltage and Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap as part of o twofer one Warner Records budget re-issue schedule, and now (since early May 2011) a remastered CD version of Got Blood If You Want It, a live set, with Bon Scott, from the late Seventies.

The original AC/DC hard rock style was based on amplified blues riffing with Malcolm Young's relentless rhythm guitar contrasting with Angus Young's piercing lead guitar. Bon Scott sounds like the naughty schoolboy Angus Young represents in his school uniform and altogether the music is fun even if some of the lyrics are terribly schoolboyish smutty. Hard rock and infantile humour, Australian style, are not necessarily antithetic to each other. Anyway, the two albums rock quite nicely, thank you, and songs like "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" and "It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock and Roll)" are very good.

Many years later I got hold of an MP3 version of the Lucinda Williams album Little Honey on which she does a pretty good version of "It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock and Roll)." It is perhaps not the strangest cover version ever but who would have thought that a singer like Williams would have dared to do AC/DC and remake their song as roots rock and roll?

Long before this, though, Joan Jett recorded a version of "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" for her The Hit List album, which recast this song as a kind of jokey pop punk number. It wasn't bad but it was not exactly as much fun as the AC/DC version. Bon Scott's tone of voice gave the song a strength that gave more gravitas to the slightly silly words.

That was my last AC/DC purchase for a very long time, until early May 2011 in fact. The band kept rolling along. After the death of Bon Scott AC/DC became bigger than ever, perhaps because of the groundwork done in his lifetime through relentless touring, perhaps because his death caused a sympathetic fan reaction or relieved them of the burden of a guy, although a brilliant frontman on stage, became more and more of a liability as result of his excessive drinking habits. Brian Johnson's voice grated on my ears, he did not have that tone of joyous mischief and the music seemed to become more and more monolithic and therefore less interesting. The early post-Scot albums were probably okay. Radio 5 played some of the lead tracks and they sounded good on radio though not compelling enough to make me want to buy the records. I was not all that much into metal at the time anyway.

From the mid-Eighties Radio 5 started the practise of specialist shows in the evenings, such as Chris Prior's late night rock show and Rafe Levine's Friday night metal show. Levine like AC/DC and played a lot of stuff from their releases over the duration of his show. The things that he played were powerful slices of hard rock, I guess, but the lyrics were mostly banal and barely serviceable and seemed to have been written just to give Brian Johnson something to shout between riffs and solos. Of course the band still had a huge, loyal following and their work ethic was commendable. Like all kinds of musicians before them, the Young brothers became middle-aged, raised families and, away from the stage, looked and acted like most middle-class males with women, children, property and the general worries and concerns of daily life. The rock and roll image was just the stage version of their personalities; Angus Young did not wear his schoolboy suit at home.

I must confess that it baffled me that this band could have carried on for so long, more or less underneath the radar of media scrutiny, but I guess rock and roll is a job and AC/DC did their job well. Every couple of years there was a new album and a tour to support the album. The brand was lucrative enough to sustain and even to grow and the surprising thing is that AC/DC's fan base may well have grown. That they have provided the music for 2 Iron Man movies is weird yet also exactly right.

At the end of our April/May 2011 overseas holiday I had some money to burn at Heathrow airport while we were waiting to board and I bought a bunch of albums at the HMV shop, mostly because they were on special offer. One of them was Got Blood If You Want It, one of the albums in the remastered re-issue programme of "classic" AC/DC albums. The price was a factor but this is also the only AC/DC record, other than High Voltage or Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap that I would want to own. It was a pity that neither of them was available at the airport.

"Whole Lotta Rosie" from the live set was played on Radio 5 back in the day and is the main reason I wanted to hear the rest of the record. The song reminded me of the MC5. I cannot really say why; it just did. "It's A Long Way To The Top" and "The Jack" were familiar from those two early records.

"High Voltage" rock and roll about sums the AC/DC intent and approach and from the opener, "Riff Raff" to set closer "Rocker", they do their very best to do just that. The riffing is relentless, Bon Scott is on top form and the Young brother's guitar interplay tears the roof off. The songs celebrate rock and roll and the bad boy lifestyle rockers are wont to indulge in. there is no introspection, just good times. Unfortunately the songs tend to segue into each other to the degree that it tends to sound like one long jam though it must have been great to be in that room on the night, a couple of metres from the stage. One's ears would have been ringing for days afterwards.

Since Got Blood If You Want It there have been other AC/DC live albums and recently there has been a couple of DVDs of live shows, most recently from the River Plate Stadium, that feature the mega successful almost corporate rock version of a band that has made comfortable career of the hard rock lark, something they may not have envisaged at the time that first live album was released. The difference between then and now would probably be that as youngsters the band were still excited and struggling and doing it with raw enthusiasm and now it is the day job, whenever they tour.

I would imagine the production values on an AC/DC tour must be high, far higher than in the late Seventies, but this efficiency and proficiency often robs the music of the visceral effect it supposed to have. Hard rock in snot all about extreme volume or expertly executed guitar solos. The style of music for which AC/DC became famous, though blues based, had more in common with the nascent punk movement than with the big metal acts of the Seventies and it is for this reason that I would tolerate only the first handful of AC/DC albums, and have avoided and will avoid the Brian Johnston era.

Having said that, I cannot quite see myself delving deeper into the AC/DC back catalogue, unless it is to buy Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap or High Voltage again. The Australian bad boys are done with their career yet, at least I don't think so, and may yet do a Rolling Stones on us and tour the world when they are in their mid-Sixties but a 64 year old Angus Young in his schoolboy outfit is going to be so totally ridiculous that it might just be right.


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