High Voltage / Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap / Highway To Hell/ Back In Black / For Those About To Rock We Salute You
by Simon Reynolds
Beats me why AC/DC aren't rated alongside The Ramones as seminal mid-'70s
minimalists. Both have built a career out of flogging a formula. Musically,
AC/DC's rock'n'roll fundamentalism takes the form of stop-start raunch-riffs and
lewd sub-blues rasp, as opposed to the Blitzkrieg Boppers' buzzsaw ramalama and
gabba-gabba-hey. Lyrically, AC/DC's fuckin', fightin' and hellraisin' yarns, like
the Ramones' gonzo shtick, is 50 percent tongue-in-cheek rock'n'roll parody, 50
percent genuine thick-as-pigshit moronicism.
AC/DC and the Ramones both debuted pre-punk, and hit their creative stride
in '76. But one's hip and the other's not. The reason is that AC/DC have no
progeny, whereas The Ramones blueprinted punk. Flattening the syncopation and the
sex out of rock'n'roll, the Ramones inadvertantly created a whole new rock
aesthetic. Whereas what makes AC/DC trad is precisely their strongest point, the
supple rhythm section and hip-grinding riffage: they're a reversion to the pre-
punk, pre-metal days when rock was dance music. AC/DC funk, which is why the Beasties sampled them to def (jam). In fact, "TNT", from 1976's High Voltage, is rap megalomania a decade ahead of its time, with Bon Scott boasting he's gonna "explode" just like LL Cool J in Mama Said Knock You Out, then nominating himself "Public Enemy Number One"!
The RIFF is one of those things that rock-critical thought has no purchase
on. As with the grain of the voice in soul, or the bassline in funk, it's
something you can't really talk about, or explain why one grabs you where
another doesn't. The RIFF is rock's base element, and AC/DC's absolute essence;
it's not Angus Young's solos, but his and brother Malcolm Young's dual rhythm guitars
that are the lure on "Rock'n'Roll Singer", "Live Wire", "Problem Child", "Highway
To Hell". AC/DC also have a great way with a teasin' intro, e.g. "For Those About
To Rock We Salute You."
Other aspects to AC/DC are pretty peripheral next to the meat-and-potatoes
of the boogie. Juvenile is the keynote: this is the band that put the 'base' in
back-to-basics. The bawdy misogny and puerile innuendo can get mighty tiresome:
the VD metaphors of "The Jack", the drooling lechery of "Love At First Feel",
"Beating Around The Bush", ad nauseam.
Then again (returning to the punk analogy), "Rock'n'Roll Singer" (from High Voltage) parallels "Career Opportunities" as Bon rants "you can stick your 9-to-5 living ...and all the other
shit they teach the kids at school". And "Problem Child" (from Dirty Deeds) is as psychotic as "No Feelings". AC/DC's ethos is nothing if not "the truth is only known by guttersnipes". But truthfully, their petty delinquency is closer to Oi! than Class of '77. Imagine Cockney Rejects, but with 'feel' and 'groove'.
An anthology of singles (AC/DC are one of the great singles band) and best
album tracks is way overdue, but until then these digitally remastered reissues
offer an opportunity to reappraise the aged Aussie reprobates. High Voltage is a stone classic, and the rest all have their moments.