I finally managed to pick up one of the most influential albums of my life last week. It had been re-released in one of those 'remastered' CD versions and I downloaded it off iTunes and got it queued up as soon as I could.
I am referring, of course, to one of the greatest rock albums of all time: AC/DC's 'Back in Black'.
Some history first. 'Back in Black' came out in 1980 and was their first release with new lead singer Brian Johnson. Bon Scott, their former singer, died by....well....the coroner described it best: 'He drunk himself to death'. There have been varying reports about the details, ranging from being found in his own empty pool to being found slumped over his toilet. Either way, he was gone and needed to be replaced.
Enter Brian Johnson, who, one could argue, is one of the lousiest lead singers in rock history. His voice more like a straining screech than actual singing. It always sounded like he was on the verge of bursting a vocal chord or having his head explode. Needless to say he was a perfect match.
As for me, I was in junior high in 1980 (yeah, I'm an old man. Some of you probably weren't even born. Bite me!) and just couldn't find my musical bearings. Everyone was listening to Bob Seger, Queen, and Led Zeppelin which were fine, but they were a little over the top for me. I enjoyed them enough, but I grew tired of them quickly. Not enough...I don't know...something. Something was missing. I just didn't know what it was.
Until I put 'Back in Black' on for the first time. Everyone has one of those life altering albums they will always look back fondly on; listen to for the rest of their lives. For me it was this one. From the opening bell tolls to the crunching chords of the title song I knew this was what I was looking for. Not just that it was bullshit free or ignored the orchestral flourishes that all the bands were using back then (I blame Queen and Bowie for that trend), but because it was what I always thought true Rock and Roll (yes, with capital Rs) was supposed to be - gritty, straightforward, angry and a bit dangerous.
But more importantly, it was something I hadn't even realized music could be. Fun. Considering the far too serious nature of other music out at the time, these guys were a refreshing blast of hot air. No pretentiousness with them. They liked their women, booze, booze and women, women in their booze and booze in their women.
Yeah, they were misogynistic pigs, famously epitomized by their tribute to a groupie blow job in 'Giving The Dog A Bone' ('She's using her head again'), but they were so good natured and affable, it was hard to hold it against them. Besides, being in 7th grade, it was fun to listen to these songs while my parents tried to figure out if the lyrics were appropriate or not. My father despised the music so much he could only listen for a few seconds before leaving in disgust. 'Just a bunch of noise', he would grumble.
Only it wasn't. Listening to them now, they display much more melody than I remember. It was just buried under Johnson's horrid vocal chords and angry, thrashing guitars. Angus showing the flash, while Malcolm blasting power chords that literally would shake the floor. Whether you like them or not, you must admit they get the blood flowing.
Listen to the following songs when you have time (or download them if you've never heard them before, you won't be disappointed):
'Have a Drink on Me'
'Shoot to Thrill'
'Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution'
'Shake a Leg'
Those last two in particular kicked off a Blues trend for me. Something about the way 'Shake a Leg' starts off like a clone of 'TNT' before launching into some down and dirty, blues inflected, hard rock just sucked me in. I loved it and wanted more. So, off I went reading up on what influenced them and wound up listening to old blues artists and some early Rolling Stones.
Even today a lot of what I listen to is heavily influenced by AC/DC. Akaline Trio, Green Day, Rage Against the Machine (and some of the better AudioSlave songs), LostProphets, Cave In, The Hold Steady. They all have the same power driving their songs. Pounding you into submission while seducing you with their melody - ok, not Rage, but the others.
My buddies and I wound up going to many, many AC/DC concerts over the years. So many, in fact, I had to stop going to concerts altogether as my ears wouldn't stop ringing for days afterwards. We followed them through the years, buying up 'For Those About to Rock....', the vastly underrated 'Fly on the Wall', and even went to the horrid movie 'Maximum Overdrive' with Emilio Estevez because AC/DC did the soundtrack for it. Totally worth it.
What surprises me, too, is how well this particular album holds up. It still sounds great today. Hasn't aged a bit. Of course, that just may be my personal memories holding it up, but I don't think so. It's just timeless, like all great music.
I'll let Malcolm Young have the last word, since he did help shape my attitudes and tastes. When asked about the critics that claim AC/DC just puts out the same album over and over again, that they have released 12 records that sound exactly the same, Malcolm scoffed and said 'Those fuckers are completely wrong. We've put out 13 albums that sound exactly the same.'
Today's distraction: Take VH1's Back in Black AC/DC quiz. You have to click on the link to launch it. I got 8 right and gave away one of the answers in this post. So you should all get at least one right.