New Band of the Month: October – Reflection

For the ninth month of the New Band feature, I selected Australian metal pioneers, AC/DC (read my initial thoughts here).

Was I ready to rock!? Aaaaaoooooooooooooaaaaya!

I guess.

Like  some of the other acts I’ve focused on in this feature, AC/DC is a band that has existed so long that they’ve amassed a back catalog I could never hope to get through in one month. So, instead of attempting that fool’s errand, I took the advice of a commentator and focused on two of the band’s biggest albums, Highway to Hell and Back in Black. These two albums represent the band immediately before and after the death of their original iconic singer, Ben Scott, respectively, with Back in Black being the debut of Brian Johnson. The latter album would go on to become the second highest album of all time, after Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

So, with such pedigree, what did I think?

Well, outside of the singers, there are some other notable differences between the two albums. Highway to Hell seems a bit more ‘hardrocking’ than its successor, with songs that feel less radio-friendly than those on Back to Black. Now, having said that, I realize that calling any of AC/DC’s music ‘radio-friendly’ is the product of time. I know when these albums came out in the late 70s/early 80s, the radio wasn’t awash with heavy metal music. But as history has proven, there is a place in our classic rock hearts for the Angus’ brothers riff heavy music.

For that reason, listening to Highway to Hell feels like listening to a classic of metal, whereas Back in Black feels more generally like a rock classic. It might be a fine distinction for some, but it’s significant. If metal were more my bag, I’d much rather put on Highway than Black if I were in need of a kick in the pants. The solos are harsher, the lyrics feel nastier and just generally the atmosphere is dripping with sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, all without having to put up a banner that says “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.”

Then again, as I’m still not a metal head after this month of listening to AC/DC (I know, shocking), if I were looking for a rock album to just throw on in the background, it’d likely be Back in Black, what with it’s one-two punch of rock classics, “Back in Black” and “You Shook Me All Night Long.” The catchier hooks make it the kind of album that would make for good casual listening, especially when less interesting songs like “Have a Drink on Me” come on.

Will I Buy An Album?  I don’t feel any great need to own either one of these albums. If someone gave them to me, I’d gladly load them on my computer where classic singles, “Back in Black,” “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Highway to Hell” would get a fair amount of play, but the other songs would almost certainly stay in the single digit play counts. If I had to choose between the albums, I guess it would depend on my mood at the moment. Musically, I appreciate Highway to Hell quite a bit more, and I think it represents a greater achievement as a band. But there’s no denying the Rock-someness of Back in Black‘s classic singles. I’d probably just be better off paying $2 to get those songs.

Favorite Song:  Of the singles, I have to go with “You Shook Me All Night Long.” It’s not the hardest rocking, it’s not an example of perfect song craftsmanship (though, some might disagree), but damn if it isn’t exactly what a rock song should be: Sexy and propulsive, a song to run, party or screw to. “Beating Around the Bush” and “Shot Down in Flames” are a great pairing on Highway to Hell and represent why the album, to me, is more interesting and fulfilling as a listen. But when it comes to AC/DC, I’m still just a singles guy, so “You Shook Me All Night Long” wins hands down.

Next Month: Hot Fuzz