This is part of an ongoing series of discovering and reviewing heavy metal bands in the order that they appear in The Encyclopedia of Heavy Metal by Daniel Bukszpan. Check out the rest of the series and stay tuned for new reviews each week. Until I finish this book, stay heavy, my friends.
So, it’s come to this: AC/DC. The primary goal of this project is to discover and explore new and exciting music and bands, but the follow-the-list format of this series will lead us to some unavoidable blockbusters. And so early in the A section, we’ve arrived at our first mega-band (with Aerosmith waiting in the wings).
Australian superstars AC/DC have likely been blasting through the tinny speakers in your dad’s 1973 truck since the thing rolled off the line in a still-booming Michigan factory. No doubt it was first introduced by young DJs on a brand-new FM station — “No static at all!” according to Steely Dan — but is now spun every hour, on the hour by a tired old mullet-headed classic rock jock between commercials for the local appliance store.
Bukszpan writes that the band’s most successful album Back in Black “is a timeless classic from the moment the needle drops on ‘Hell’s Bells’ until it gets stuck in the run-off groove after ‘Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.'” But I’m going to stay away from the band’s biggest hits — the ones that you hear between “Y.M.C.A.” and “Chicken Dance” at wedding receptions held at the local Elks lodge. In the spirit of discovery, I’m digging deep into the band’s five-decade backlog to see if I can find something — anything — fresh and new.
First, I must recognize one of my favorite songs ever, by any band, from the soundtrack to the (not-so) classic movie Last Action Hero, “Big Gun.” My best childhood friend and I used to pester our local FM DJ relentlessly with call-in requests for this song — despite the fact that both of us had already captured it on several of our recorded-from-radio mix cassettes. To those who heard this song on the radio long after its popularity in Dubuque, Iowa in the early 90s, I say, “you’re welcome.”
I thought it kicked so much uncompromising butt that I used it as the theme song to my short-lived call-in talk show in college more than a decade after driving that poor DJ bonkers, faking voices and accents in an attempt to boost the song’s local popularity. Enjoy a snippet of the song and my introductory remarks from this 2004 clip, accompanied by a file photo of Yours Truly at the time:
Beyond “Big Gun,” I was a bit lost, so I turned to this top 10 list of deep cuts for guidance. Tops on the list was “Soul Stripper,” a clave-heavy groove that perfectly captures AC/DC’s sharp guitar sound, stretching the band’s top speed at a not-so-blazing 132 BPM.
Another lesser-known-but-no-less-iconic-AC/DC jam comes from 1995’s Ballbreaker. As I move forward through this long-lasting band’s catalogue, I’m tapping my foot just a little bit more as the sound gets a little bit cleaner and — gasp — a tiny bit more musically varied.
[For more timeless, ball-breaking rock, browse the AC/DC catalog and support this series on Amazon here.]
And as we set our musical time machine to 2014, we find the boys from Sydney still in business, with an unmistakable musical character that hasn’t aged — or changed — one bit since the early 1970s. It’s clear from the opening riff that the title track to Rock or Bust is looking to recapture the same magic of “Back in Black.” In my opinion, it falls a bit short.
The Bottom Line
It’s impossible to dispute the longstanding popularity of AC/DC. Criticism (some of it well-deserved) of musical stagnation doesn’t seem to stop the band’s legions of fans from buying out their concert arenas and classic rock radio from spinning every new single the band throws our way. Like Jimmy Buffet or The Beatles, AC/DC continues to enjoy worldwide acclaim despite a musical catalog that seems bafflingly stagnant.
So, my advice to AC/DC fans is the same as that to Parrotheads and Beatlemaniacs: Ignore the haters, listen to the music you love, and enjoy being a white, middle-aged Floridian.
Articles in this series use affiliate shopping links and ads. If you enjoy my reviews and writing, consider visiting these vendors through these links to support this website at no extra cost to you. For more about the monetization of this site, see my full disclosure. Metal cover image via Flickr by Photos by Mavis