A few years ago, WEBN afternoon jock Jay Gilbert announced that AC/DC was working on a new album. He then quipped that the songs had been written in 1974 and just needed new lyrics. What other band could you say that about and not really insult them? There are a few, but none have the raw power of AC/DC.
Essentially, AC/DC is the brothers Young, Malcom and Angus, and either Bon Scott or Brian Johnson. Cliff Williams has played bass since their formative years, but the drummer’s seat has been occupied by several people keeping it warm for founder Phil Rudd, who later returned to the band.
Many are surprised to learn that Bon Scott was not the original lead vocalist. That was an Australian named Dave Evans. However, Angus and Malcom Young thought Evans was too much like David Bowie or Gary Glitter and not enough like the screamers they wanted, guys like Robert Plant or Ian Gillan or that new guy Deep Purple found up north, David Whatsisname who later started Whitesnake. Ironically, it was Bon Scott who suggested a replacement. A fellow Scotland native like the Young brothers, Scott mentioned a singer he’d heard in England with a band called Geordie that he thought was a perfect fit for AC/DC. His name was Brian Johnson.
But it was not to be. The band was based in Australia at the time, and Britain would be a bit of a hike to bring in someone that established anyway. So the job went to Scott, and history was made.
The first I ever saw of AC/DC was as a twelve-year-old flipping through the record section of the local KMart. There was this album by a band called AC/DC that had pictures of people with the black bars over their eyes like they used to use in the days before pixelating faces out was possible. The album was called Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. That week on the bus, I heard WMMS playing the title track and thought “Wow!” This was pretty heavy stuff, heavy as in hard rocking. Whoever this band was, they’d amped hard rock up a notch and kind of told the punk movement to go screw itself at the same time.
There was something whimsical about Scott’s voice. He was one of those classic Scottish screamers metal bands of the 1980’s seemed to like, and some American metal groups tried to emulate. They quickly released the band’s first two Australian albums in short order, TNT and High Voltage. Pretty soon, we knew that Scott was TNT, he’s dynamite. We knew that his big balls should be held every night. Mostly, we knew what every AC/DC song would sound like for the next decade. There would be no jazz explorations like Black Sabbath or Arabic influences like Led Zep or forays into classical like Ritchie Blackmore. Nope, these guys knew three chords and 4/4 time, and they weren’t afraid to use them.
In 1979, they earned their seal of approval for metal heads everywhere by courting the wrath of religious types with a parody of “Stairway to Heaven” called “Highway to Hell.” The song was about as loud, brutal, and opposite “Stairway” as you could get outside of a Sex Pistols album. Naturally, religious types decreed that AC/DC, which really does stand for “alternating current/direct current,” actually stood for “Antichrist/Devil Child.” I remember thinking if someone actually believed something that stupid, then the band had to be all right.
Well, they weren’t. Scott drank himself to death in 1980. They debated breaking up, then decided that their fallen brother had a pretty good idea when he suggested Brian Johnson replace Dave Evans. As it was, the band was now based in Britain, and Johnson was available. And did Johnson do his predecessor proud. He came out sounding like Ronnie James Dio, only darker and angrier on the band’s comeback album, Back in Black. While Johnson did not sound quite like Scott, he was the perfect singer to take over. The change was not as jarring as such switches as David Coverdale for Ian Gillan in Deep Purple, Dio for Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath, or, later on, Steve Hogarth for Fish in Marillion. If anything, Johnson made it possible for AC/DC to maintain their momentum. And lest ye think the old sense of fun had gone out the window, listen to “Thunderstruck,” which sounds much like “TNT, Part 2” (hence Jay Gilbert’s joke), or “You Shook Me All Night Long.” For any man who has ever been knocked out by American thighs, or any woman whose American thighs knocked their man out, this song is an anthem.