Of Balls and Short Australian Men: A Nuanced Guide to AC/DC
December 11, 2014 7:15 PM   Subscribe

"For the uninitiated, I have set about distinguishing AC/DC albums. My hope is that you'll never hear these same-sounding records the same way again."
posted by paleyellowwithorange (64 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
Similar story for most hard rock jobbers, I think. I mean, I have way too many Black Sabbath records, and they are all the same.

But they're not. But they are. Not.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:29 PM on December 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Always fun to look into the blue and see my brother!
posted by paulhyden at 7:31 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, that won't be necessary.
posted by humboldt32 at 7:34 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


>AC/DC albums retained their “it’s good because it’s pizza” edibility.

I approve of this review.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:39 PM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


That was an interesting look across a wide spectrum of depressingly mediocre popular music.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 7:42 PM on December 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I notice he omits Hail Caesar from his tour through Ballbreaker, probably because it's by far the best song on the album.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:47 PM on December 11, 2014


I've never sat down and consciously, purposely listened to an AC/DC album or even track, but I am nevertheless certain I have heard the entirety of the single song they wrote and that spans the entirety of their fifty seven albums and it actually makes my guts turn to ice when I hear a snippet of it. I'm pretty sure that in Australia we have a special station that just plays that one AC/DC song, and sometimes you bump into it when you're scanning through the channels, and yeah, it's still going.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:50 PM on December 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I tend to find it fascinating when an artist is obsessively single-minded about sticking with a certain aesthetic.

I think it's because I find myself wondering what it's like to be an artist who finds a single aesthetic that rewarding and fertile. What is it like to be someone who can wake up every morning for a decade itching to paint more luminous multicolored rectangles? What is it like to derive that much joy and fulfillment from singing highly literate folk music into the tiny microphone of an old boombox? What is it like to spend four super-fucking-intense years doing nothing but writing hundreds upon hundreds of quirky, morbid, slant-rhymed poems in common meter?

This suggests that I ought to be fascinated with AC/DC. And yet...
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:57 PM on December 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


in Australia we have a special station that just plays that one AC/DC song, and sometimes you bump into it when you're scanning through the channels

Beacon in the darkness or cacophony of the damned?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:01 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Some people say we've made the same album 13 times but that's bullshit. We've made it 14 times."

- Young the Elder
posted by flabdablet at 8:06 PM on December 11, 2014 [10 favorites]


I've never sat down and consciously, purposely listened to an AC/DC album or even track

That's too bad, they're fun (especially the Bon Scott albums) when I was 12ish and making the transition from pop to hard rock/heavy metal AC/DC provided some essential discs (Dirty Deeds..., Highway to Hell & Back in Black) to assist me in my musical journey. They were loud, dirty and a little dangerous which is just what I needed at the time.
posted by MikeMc at 8:06 PM on December 11, 2014 [9 favorites]


Slabbath made 4 of the greatest metal albums of all time. In fact, with the single exception of Motorhead (I suggest "No Sleep At All") if you buy the first 4 Slabbath albums you can save your money and not buy another metal album. As far as AC/DC goes, if you want the best AC/DC album, it's called "The Ramones Leave Home", and you should buy it. You're welcome.
posted by evilDoug at 8:17 PM on December 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


I liek ACDC and I don't care who knows it even Joey Ramones. Wake up Joey you weird fuck we're gonna drink peach schnapps and listen to Bonfire. I bet he'd be like "Awrite"
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:26 PM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


AC/DC are more than fun - their best tunes are a master class in how to make a (supposedly) dead simple rock song more than the sum of its parts, and to do so by playing exactly the right parts.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:29 PM on December 11, 2014 [12 favorites]


Joey Ramone is dead, though that may not prevent him from drinking your peach schnapps.
posted by evilDoug at 8:40 PM on December 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


My first concert 79' Toledo baby

Thanks for this. And
Bon Scott lives forever! Ya
posted by clavdivs at 8:40 PM on December 11, 2014


evilDoug: "Slabbath"

*snort*
posted by notsnot at 8:41 PM on December 11, 2014


I've seen AC/DC more times than I can count, including one time I quit a job and bought a $300 beater Ford Escort to make the concert.

I'm a fan.

I wrote this a while back, and I think it still sums up my feelings towards them:

I've recently gotten back into really early AC/DC and I've been amazed that so many of these 30 - 40 year old songs hold up as well as they do, considering that most other songs from bands of that time sound really dated.

Then I got to thinking about what nearly every AC/DC song is about: Rock and Roll, drinking, getting in trouble with the law, Hell as a metaphor for awesome, and sex through an electricity-related play on words.

That's pretty much it.

And it's fucking genius; I have to applaud the hell out of them for it. These are universals that can speak to anyone from any time.

posted by quin at 8:52 PM on December 11, 2014 [10 favorites]


If you're analysing AC/DC, I have to feel you're doing something wrong.
posted by pompomtom at 9:09 PM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


I really think AC/DC doesn't get enough credit, or at least, the good kind of credit, in that they're loved as no-brainer rock tools when they've got some really interesting stuff in their catalog. Especially early on, when you can actually here a bass guitar and the riffs are catchy rather than samey. But no band can put out 9842375987 albums and have all or even most of it work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDCs7ijNUVM

I love this song: great riff, lots of space for all the instrumental parts to stand out, awesome use of bloody bagpipes of all things, and, most important of all, an absolutely killer minute-long coda where they ride that thing right into the sunset.

If they had only put out that it would be better than most other rock bands manage in their whole careers.
posted by Palindromedary at 9:09 PM on December 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


If you're too good for AC/DC there's really no helping you.

Loved this piece -- was skeptical at first but it's great. These two quotes in particular:

"In the semi-decent biography AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll, there’s an unsourced aside about how it’s commonplace for Nashville recording engineers to check the acoustics of Music Row studios by blasting Back in Black. .... I swear I've heard at least one song from Back in Black playing over the PA before every big-time country concert I’ve ever attended." (So true. )

"For a while, political opportunists tried to pass off AC/DC as disciples of Aleister Crowley. But the only devil the band seemed to worship was Benny Hill."
posted by blucevalo at 9:23 PM on December 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


If you're too good for AC/DC there's really no helping you.

so ... up until I was at least twenty-six or seven, I was lost, but I didn't know it. Hell's Bells @ around 7am, beer in hand having been up all night -- that was the turning point.
posted by philip-random at 9:30 PM on December 11, 2014


"Always different, always the same"

So AC/DC are basically like The Fall, yeah?
posted by maupuia at 9:32 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


There was a band a few years ago, Airbourne or something like that who sounded a whole lot like AC/DC. I think they had one hit and then disappeared.

What AC/DC managed to do with their simple music and silly lyrics has not been duplicated. Their songs still sound great today, they're (mostly) living rock legends and whether they've repeated their sound ad nauseum for 40 years or not, the formula they've lived by worked.

True, they have a lot of dud albums but they have more great songs than many and my life is just the teensiest little bit better for having heard and loved many of their albums.

I'll never understand how anybody can deny the rock greatness of their earliest hit like TNT to their last great track Thunderstruck.

Good and fun read, thanks for the post!
posted by ashbury at 9:57 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Fly on the Wall is great and fuck you if you think any different.
posted by eamondaly at 9:58 PM on December 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


"With a hole in his body where his life had been" is a deft little piece of lyrics.
posted by flabdablet at 10:05 PM on December 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have always loved AC/DC, since the mid 70's, and I still do. That said, I haven't listened to anything newer than For Those About To Rock..., their second post-Bon-Scott outing, which came out 33 years ago.

I am compelled yet again to say: fuck me, I'm old.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:09 PM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


A wag once said this about the Ramones but I think it applies equally to AC/DC:
'They only do one song, but they do it well.'

Back in Black is the soundtrack to my grade 10 year, and it's the last album by these purveyers of minimalist hard rock that I listened to and loved. It still holds up well, and the fact that they can't reproduce the quality of the earlier work speaks to something essential they once had as a band.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 10:14 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


When I played hockey (in Canada, during the 1980s and early '90s) the dressing room music breakdown went something like this:

85% of the time: AC/DC
10%: Van Halen
5%: various artists (including one time when my team was threatened with being kicked out of a tournament because we were playing the 2 Live Crew album and parents in the lobby could hear it)

Anyway, I love AC/DC ("Big Balls," one of the worst songs of all time, aside). Every time the bagpipes kick in on "It's A Long Way To The Top" I just *grin*...
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:17 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I exclusively listen to Bon Scott era AC/DC but fuck me if that wasn't one of the tightest best rock bands that ever existed. I truly feel that anyone who say otherwise has never listened or just doesn't like rock music.
posted by saul wright at 11:03 PM on December 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


C'mon, for pure distilled kick-ass rock awesomeness, you just can't beat a song like If You Want Blood (You've Got It). It's like a Picasso drawing of a rock song.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:06 PM on December 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


I actively do not like AC/DC, but I cannot deny their genius. All the hits that get played on a classic rock station, I know them (I grew up with many of them, even in pre-MTV days), and most of them I can name within the first 4 bars of the song starting.

So their stuff can't be all THAT much the same, if someone who doesn't really like them finds each track identifiable that quickly.

I'd probably never choose to play an AC/DC song, but i don't change the dial when they come on. (And I do admit to liking the song For Those About To Rock... I just really don't need to ever hear Dirty Deeds again, ever.)
posted by hippybear at 12:44 AM on December 12, 2014


He said let there be sound
posted by clavdivs at 1:50 AM on December 12, 2014


I listen to Sirius/Xm's classic metal station, so I hear a lot of AC/DC, and though I don't own any of their albums, I find the songs pleasant enough (though I worry about Brian Johnson's throat.) The station also plays a lot of KISS, all of which sounds unbelievably dated and mostly unlistenable. The AC/DC stuff has aged well.
posted by wittgenstein at 2:24 AM on December 12, 2014


> Then I got to thinking about what nearly every AC/DC song is about: Rock and Roll, drinking,
> getting in trouble with the law, Hell as a metaphor for awesome, and sex through an electricity-
> related play on words.

AC/DC is about loud hard rock driven by the best loud, hard, clever, imaginative-in-simplicity rhythm guitarist ever, (just) edging Pete Townshend for that title. They could have recorded a dozen albums of songs about a plate of beans and I would be happy to listen if Malcolm was playing rhythm.


> I have heard the entirety of the single song they wrote and that spans the entirety of their fifty
> seven albums and it actually makes my guts turn to ice when I hear a snippet of it.

That's actually why you have to have all 57. The song has lots of utterly great segments but also, in all honesty, some that aren't so great. But you just never know when one of the great bits is going to come along. I wouldn't want to risk missing one.
posted by jfuller at 3:10 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't get the criticism of all of AC/DC's albums sounding the same.

Nobody opens their favorite beer hoping for something different, right?
posted by Renoroc at 3:16 AM on December 12, 2014 [7 favorites]


High school, 1978. Friend and his brother want to form a band, and hell yeah, I'm in. None of us can play anything, really, but we're game. First song we attempt: Live Wire. And on the album it sounds so simple: thump.thump.thump.thump single bass note...rhythm guitar suggests a simple three chord shape...which gets more insistent as the tension builds...and then there's this CRASH of cymbals and now the band is focused and the song is launched in earnest, and it ROCKS! And then Bon's sly vocals begin...

...but y'know, simple doesn't mean easy, and it is SO HARD to do that song correctly without making it a sloppy mess. The timing is just...not quite what you think it is. And the magic is in that fucking timing, and that impossibly perfect vocal. We hammered at that thing for at least 6 months, maybe 9. God, it was so. fucking. hard. to get it right, and I don't think we ever really got it right, but eventually we got as close as our ability could get us. And the funny thing is that despite the repetition of trying to play this song for months, I don't think I ever got tired of it, and it still holds up really, really well. Like a lot of the Bon Scott-era stuff, it was just so perfectly written and executed.

And the final kicker: it is impossible to play that song too loudly. I know, I tried. But it sounds good all the way up until your ears ring and you blow a speaker.
posted by mosk at 3:39 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


AC/DC seems to be the default band for middle age folks who want you to know they can still rock. I'm talking about my sister.
posted by davebush at 4:11 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


"My hope is that you'll never hear these same-sounding records the same wayagain."


The Osmonds of rock and roll. Saw em twice too. So much posturing, so little to say, such drunk, many adolescents.

Grown ups should discover Merle Haggard, Otis Redding, etc. and other fine pop music not made for 12 year old boys to fap to.
posted by spitbull at 4:41 AM on December 12, 2014


Yes, a healthy interest in a variety of music is good, etc., etc. but a nice little obsession about one form isn't any better than another.

Sometimes I want a scotch, or a perfect 20s martini. Sometimes I want a cold, union made Canadian lager that costs more to advertise than to make.

60s soul is wonderful. But a true music lover appreciates that, by now, bands like AC/DC and Judas Priest have their own history and canon. Both forms were working within an economic framework to make product for mass consumption.

The fact that any of it was good enough to last longer than 5 minutes is a wonder. The fact that some like it more than others should be unsurprising.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:19 AM on December 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


check the acoustics of Music Row studios by blasting Back in Black

Back in Black is one of the best-sounding rock albums of all time. Beautiful balance, perfectly-presented natural instruments. Mutt Lange before he went completely off the rails in the 80s.

I can't really think of another mainstream rock album that sounded that good until you get to Rage Against the Machine, which has a similar aesthetic of big, up-front, natural instruments.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:12 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Rock as timeless as Butt-head.
posted by whuppy at 6:13 AM on December 12, 2014


For all the ha-ha about how AC/DC has put out the same record however many times, the band actually did evolve dramatically in its first six years. It began with a sound that verged on glam and by the release of the Mutt Lange-produced Highway to Hell, just five years later, had set a template that it follows to this day. You can say that the band keeps releasing the same record, but that's true mainly after 1980.

Besides an evolving sonic signature, between 1974 and 1980 Bon Scott was writing lyrics, which actually had structure and meaning. Take It's a Long Way: There's a great riff and of course those bagpipes, but also a strong story that kicks off with a metonym: "Well I left my job in my home town / and I headed for the smoke." Or Gone Shootin, which offers the image of a narrator stirring his coffee with a spoon that had been used by his departed and doomed girlfriend/lover to shoot heroin. It wasn't all Big Balls.

Mark Kozelek's earnestly unironic album of acoustic covers of Bon Scott-era AC/DC, What's Next to the Moon, drives home the strength of the lyrics.

When Brian Johnson took on songwriting duties from Back in Black onward, he tried to ape Scott's sexual innuendos, but could never replicate his stronger sotted poetry. That's why the band has been mired in sameness for the past 30+ years. (And of course there's the theory that some of Back in Black's success is based on its use of posthumous Bon Scott lyrics, but that's a matter for another post.)
posted by bassomatic at 8:59 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Easy to dismiss for many but there has always been a careful approach to AC/DC's mayhem. The combination of those two guitars for one thing. Malcolm plays those fat open chords on that Gretsch giving Angus's SG something to bounce off of, either lead or locking in rhythm. Recording those at low volume in the studio you hear every string, every tone and its shadow. That's a lot more subtle than most electric guitarists and it pays off in a fat wall of sound. Listen to the intro to It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock n Roll) with an open mind. It's a clinic on how to record a rock guitar record.

Rudd is one of those rare drummers that locks in just behind the beat. I've heard from a few guys playing in rock bands on how sensational that sounds and how damn hard it is to find a drummer that can do that. I am certain Rudd got it from Bonham, Bonham took it from listening to Motown. It gives the music a little slink, a little swagger by placing that beat a half-second from where you expect it.

Let it rock.
posted by Ber at 9:06 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


> I don't get the criticism of all of AC/DC's albums sounding the same.

I don't either but you're dead right. So much criticism of AC/DC's albums, and it all sounds the same.
posted by jfuller at 9:28 AM on December 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


Black Sabbath albums are not all the same. Not even close. The Ozzy albums are very distinct.
But after the first 5 you can probably stop. Unless you just want em for the awesome album covers.
posted by Liquidwolf at 9:50 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Saying "it all sounds the same" is basic dad critic stuff, so I'll ignore it. And he badly misses when characterizing Bon Scott's voice as a "guttural squeal"; Bon Scott sounded as if he had a clothespin on his tongue. Part of my enjoyment of AC/DC was in the bare fact that a band with a lead singer who sounded like that could get a record contract, and when he died, I thought that there was no way to replace him, but when I heard the song "Back In Black", I literally bounced around the room. It's such a great song.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:53 AM on December 12, 2014


I don't get the criticism of all of AC/DC's albums sounding the same.

One of my very favorite things is a quote by Angus Young that acknowledges this;

"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"

They know what they are doing, and they know that their fans can hear the differences. And if not, it doesn't matter because it's all still good rock and roll.

Apropos of nothing, there is a great band named Rhino Bucket who, despite a half dozen fantastic albums, have still managed to stay mostly underground over the last 20 years. They have always reminded me of Bon Scott era AC/DC, but just different enough to not seem derivative. I highly recommend checking them out of you are an AC/DC fan.
posted by quin at 10:02 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's easy to imagine they haven't written a new song since the early 80s and just keep grabbing new ones from their cache and recording them. Which is exactly what their fan base wants.
posted by tommasz at 10:41 AM on December 12, 2014


> Then I got to thinking about what nearly every AC/DC song is about: Rock and Roll, drinking,
> getting in trouble with the law, Hell as a metaphor for awesome, and sex through an electricity-
> related play on words.


you omitted slacking as best exemplified with Downpayment Blues + Ain't no Fun Waiting Around to be a Millionaire
posted by philip-random at 11:57 AM on December 12, 2014


What is it like to derive that much joy and fulfillment from singing highly literate folk music into the tiny microphone of an old boombox?

But The Mountain Goats have been a full band for a decade now!
posted by atoxyl at 12:55 PM on December 12, 2014


Dudes of all genders, if you've grown tired of the riff from "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," you've grown tired of life.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:16 PM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


This article seems to have missed the best AC/DC album, the title track of which is the best AC/DC song. (Made for a dreadful movie, though.)
posted by jbickers at 1:18 PM on December 12, 2014


Who Made Who was dissed and dismissed in footnote #4 (inconsequential releases).
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 1:36 PM on December 12, 2014


There are rather a lot of highly literate folkies who love Big Balls.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 1:38 PM on December 12, 2014


"Brian Johnson was no Bon Scott, but he was a solid Snake Plissken."
posted by kirkaracha at 1:40 PM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Based on the article, I just pulled out Fly on the Wall, and I completely disagree with the author. Fly, Playing with Girls, Back in Business, Hell or High Water, and of course, Shake Your Foundations are all solid songs (that immediately took me back to my misspent youth).

It may not have been their greatest album, but it certainly wasn't their worst.
posted by quin at 2:21 PM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh fuck sorry to do this to everybody but I was really enjoying thinking about AC/DC riffs today and then I find out the reason Malcolm Young wasn't on that last record is that he's got fairly advanced dementia and is in residential care. At 61. God damn if that didn't take the wind out of my sails. I guess he was diagnosed even before their last tour but was able to play through the whole thing. 168 shows in something like a year and a half. Respect, Malcolm, you rocked all the way to the top and stayed there to the end.
posted by atoxyl at 2:42 PM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


AC/DC seems to be the default band for middle age folks who want you to know they can still rock. I'm talking about my sister.

I'd classify this comment as a salute.
posted by ersatz at 2:45 PM on December 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


Gawd, I love (the song) Big Balls. It's the perfect AC/DC song. It's about as subtle as their lyrics ever get. The coda of "Bollocks, knackers!" repeating, over and over puts me into a zen trance. It's such a great song.

No, I am not kidding.
posted by Cookiebastard at 3:01 PM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm going to leave this here. It's a YT playlist of AC/DC playing live at the Atlantis Record Bar Convention in August of '78, in Nashville -- just music, no actual video of the performance. Their set was broadcast on a local (?) FM station, and the quality of the recording is great once the music begins.

The band was playing in a hotel ballroom to a bunch of music retail industry suits that had the power to choose whose music their stores promoted. Not an AC/DC crowd -- listen to the stage announcements at the start of the first track, they're hysterical: "The only thing we haven't given recognition to is the fried chicken and the ham-hocks. Can we hear it for the ham-hocks?!"

Ostensibly the band is there for the exposure and to curry a little favor, get their music into these peoples' stores, and convince the decision makers in the room that their new album will make a great gift when Christmas rolls around, etc. AC/DC, however, is only interested in being themselves; Bon snarls at the room as the band tunes up: "Quiet, aren't ya? We'll change that."

What follows is 36 minutes of spectacularly unsubtle rock and roll: Live Wire, Problem Child, Sin City, Gone Shootin', Whole Lotta Rosie, and Rocker, played loud and in your face. If you've never heard this show before, it's a treat. Play it loud.
posted by mosk at 4:35 PM on December 12, 2014 [12 favorites]


AC/DC: The Board Meeting
posted by rhizome at 4:44 PM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Tis a shame about Malcolm. Years ago, I had promised myself that every time AC/DC played in my local area I would attend, but I don't think I could do that if Malcolm is in such bad shape and, therefore, absent.

Simply doesn't seem to me to be the same band if Mal isn't there on the rhythm guitar. And let's not even speak of Phil Rudd's pathetic shenanigans lately.

I think I'll stick with my wonderful memories of the Black Ice shows. I saw them both times they played Chicago. That locomotive was super cool!
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:54 PM on December 12, 2014


Since this thread is still alive...do yourself and check out AC/DC's appearance on the the BBC's
Rock Goes to College" from '77 or '78. Angus Young is on fire. Part 1, Part 2
posted by MikeMc at 10:34 AM on December 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


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