Joel Dwek & Danny Wiser
AUSTRALIA: Back in Black - AC/DC
Updated: Apr 10
Rock masterpiece or mindless noise? You decide...
The Case for the Prosecution - Danny:
Forget whatever Joel is about to say. At the point of writing, I haven’t read it yet. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret – he hasn’t even written it yet – but I know what he’s going to say. And it’s all wrong – every single word of it. It’s all completely and utterly wrong.
AC/DC are a massively overrated band, and in just saying that I know that their hardcore following of neanderthals are already planning my slow and brutal torture. Whilst I can just about tolerate, and at brief moments, even enjoy the tracks Back In Black and You Shook Me All Night Long, the rest of the album is derivative at its best and garish at its worst. The biggest problem with the album is that Brian Johnson 'sings' like he has pierced his foot on a spike. I know this kind of mass-market hard rock doesn't necessarily need to to have the beautiful vocals of the likes of Aretha Franklin or Marvin Gaye for it to be a success, but for it to be filled with Johnson's incessant screeching makes it rather unpalatable to my taste.
In fact, this album arguably makes me somewhat lose faith in the notion of democracy, as the world is clearly filled with either those whose taste you cannot trust, or masochists who want to put themselves through the ordeal of listening to an album with 10 songs that all pretty much sound the same, with the exception of the sound of a bell ringing at the start of the album. Unless their die hard fans bought 10,000 copies of the album each, I find it astounding that 50 million copies have been sold. As an album, Back In Black makes me realise that either the people who like the album appear to have failed to evolve to the same level I have, or rather it is that this music failed to age well, as it shows none of the invention or experimentalism that some of the best music from that era which we have grown accustomed to listening to over the last 40 years has shown. Overall, whilst the album does have glimmers of quality in its catchiness, the line between catchiness and repetitiveness is blurred, which creates a boring and somewhat irritating nature to the album. If I wake up tomorrow morning with pitchforks outside my house for my comments I'll show the angry three-chord-loving mob of cavemen my ability to light a fire with a match and I am sure it will distract them sufficiently.
“If you go into AC/DC wanting high art, Pink Floyd-style musicianship, punk style political commentary, or anything other than rock that hits you in the gut and guitar solos that melt your face, you’ll be disappointed. ”
The Case for the Defence - Joel:
Forget whatever Danny just said. At the point of writing, I haven’t read it yet. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret – he hasn’t even written it yet – but I know what he’s going to say. And it’s all wrong – every single word of it. It’s all completely and utterly wrong. AC/DC are a blisteringly brilliant band, but for all the reasons you wouldn’t expect. Yes, Bon Scott howls and Brian Johnson screeches. Yes, they only ever sing about sex, drinking and rock ‘n’ roll, sometimes all three at the same time. Yes, their songs are often lyrically questionable, seedy and puerile. Yes, they only seem to know about three chords that they repeat in every song. But I put this to you - who cares? They’re the rockingest band to have ever walked the planet, and I challenge anyone to prove me wrong. I listen to them and my blood pumps, my heart races, my body has an uncontrollable urge to air guitar and air drum my way through the song.
If you go into AC/DC wanting high art, Pink Floyd-style musicianship, punk style political commentary, or anything other than rock that hits you in the gut and guitar solos that melt your face, you’ll be disappointed. You’d also be an idiot. This is AC/DC, after all. All pretentiousness is stripped away, leaving a beating heart of pure rock 'n' roll. It is hard to imagine that any of you who may be reading this haven’t heard of AC/DC by this point. You will probably know that these Australian rock-mongers are just here to rock your socks off. If that’s not for you, then fine, I suppose. You’re missing out, but I respect the difference in taste. If you’re a fellow headbanger, I welcome you, brothers and sisters. If you’ve never listened to the before, this can be your initiation. Drink a couple of beers, check your brain in at the door, and dive in.
AC/DC were never better than they were on Back in Black. It remains their magnum opus, and it’s the perfect hard rock album in many ways. There are more rock anthems on this one album alone than there are in some musicians’ entire careers. Hell’s Bells, Shoot to Thrill, You Shook Me All Night Long, Have a Drink on Me, and of course, the title track, which isn’t just a powerful rock song, it’s a statement about the band itself. You see, Back In Black was never supposed to happen, at least, not like this. The band’s original singer, Bon Scott, after a night of heavy drinking in London, collapsed and died. The band had been riding the high of 1979’s similarly excellent Highway to Hell, and Scott’s death came as a huge shock. Scott’s occasionally whiny, high-pitched, sleazy delivery had suited the band perfectly to that point, his playful and dark lyrics had been a defining feature of the band. Highway to Hell had been their breakthrough, and contains some of their most famous songs to this day.
To lose a lead singer, and such an iconic one at that, must have been a real blow to the rest of the band, personally and professionally, and understandably they considered disbanding. If they had, AC/DC would have had a place in rock history, but nothing like what they were to achieve. After encouragement from Scott’s family, the band soldiered on, and hired a new vocalist, Brian Johnson. Johnson’s shrieking vocals immediately felt at home with the juddering joint guitars of Malcolm and Angus Young. Back In Black the song and the album are a tribute to the late Bon Scott, and what better tribute could he have? Back In Black is celebration of everything Scott brought to the band, and distilled it into a perfect rock formula. Of course, if you don’t know any of this, like I didn’t when I first heard it, the album is still excellent. For me, it’s the pinnacle of hard rock as a genre, never bettered, and with no equals. Back in Black went on to become the second best-selling album of all time, behind only Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It’s easy to see why. AC/DC know how to rock the fuck out.