Tag Archives: Australia

[5] AC/DC – Back In Black

10 May

And just like that – after the cheesy pop and exotic world albums, the experimental jazz and mediocre gospel – we’re in my wheelhouse for the first time.  An album I already know.  An album I already own!

Although, it turns out not one I’m especially familiar with as a holistic recording.  I am more than familiar with the hits – usually played through poor quality sound systems at loud and smoky rock clubs.  I have heard the rest of the tracks a time or two of course, but it turns out I don’t recall sitting and listening to the entire Back In Black album since the day I first picked it out of a $5 bin sometime in the 2000s.

Cover of "Back in Black"

Listening with a critical ear, settling in for a week with this sub 45 minute disk, I was prepared to be underwhelmed, remembering the sideshow of a grown man in schooliform and a dead frontman. I mean, I just got finished slamming a recording of 120 fervent believers praising god with all they’ve got . . .

Instead this 3 decades old, straight forward hard rock album is a breath of fresh air – tight and catchy, with the blistering yet clean guitar solos that, in hindsight, probably influenced all of my favorite hair bands and albums from the late 80s and early 90s.

The singles, “Back In Black” and “You Shook Me All Night Long“, remain instantly, gloriously recognizable standards, with two of the sleaziest, hard driving, most infectious riffs in rock.  But throughout, true to the opening track’s title, the ringing, jangling guitars are brash and almost obnoxious without ever veering into actually annoying.  The guitars need to be big and bad to balance the screaming vocals, which are carried off with a remarkable lack of subtlty or nuance, yet somehow the whole works – it’s a tightrope walked arrogantly, effortlessly.

There is nothing earth shattering here (except perhaps the tone of Brian Johnson‘s screeching delivery), nothing new. But the performances are precise without losing passion, the songs tongue in cheek without entirely giving up their touch of danger.

And in the final analysis this stuff is just fun, even moreso than the pop purity of ABBA.  These are songs that have permeated seemingly every facet of pop culture, from blockbuster movies to network sitcoms, kids cartoons to TV ads for just about everything . . .

This has always, unashamedly been my favorite genre – wannabe bad boys talking a good game of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll with just enough of a grin to let you know that there’s a nice guy underneath the posturing and double entendre.  Exploring one of the earliest and most influential albums in that vein, I hear the musical prowess that also went into it, explaining the longevity, the appeal, the inclusion on every “Best Of” rock list you care to mention.

I’m enjoying this week more than I possibly thought I could.  There are nods to early Aerosmith (or at least to those same blues greats that Steve and Joe were reimagining for a new audience), moments of almost Zeppelin-like mysticism in the melodies, but the biggest surprise is the sound quality.  I grew up listening to 45s on crackling vinyl, albums on tape through cheap headphones.  I clearly recall the fuzzy mess of sound that I often used to listen to and love.

On CD, each guitar lick is crisp, each drum beat distinct allowing the musicality of the performers and their instruments to come through.  All of which again contrasts with Johnson’s mush mouthed, chord shredding screeching of the vivid if puerile lyrics.  It is fun to hear.  It is fun to (try to) sing along with.

It is even fun to dance around the living room to with your 3-year-old.
I wonder if she’ll still be listening to AC/’DC in 2043 . . .

Owned before blogging?  Yes. (1 of 5. 20%)
Heard before blogging?   Yes. (2 of 5. 40%)
Recommend?                    Yes. (4 of 5. 80%)

Next Week:  John Adams – Harmonium

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Guest Blogger Pat Higgins: AC/DC – Back In Black

7 May

One good guest blog deserves another, so here’s Jinx Media’s Pat Higgins with his take on this week’s Recording.  Please “Follow” to make sure you don’t miss my own thoughts in my regularly scheduled Friday post.

—–

I’d never heard AC/DC’s Back in Black before listening to it for this blog, and before I talk about the album itself I want to talk a bit about why.

Music is tied to our identities, of course, but never more so than when we’re teenagers. As our friends and classmates slam into the brick wall of puberty and fracture into different tribes, we may choose to nail our colours to a particular musical mast and allow that to represent us. To let the bands we follow make a statement for us; this is how I’d express myself if I had the ability. This band is the way I’d sound if you could hear me screaming into the tornado of my teenage years.

See, AC/DC could easily have been one of my bands. As a 14 year old, I was picking my way through the (in retrospect, rather endearing) landscape of 80s hair metal and dirty rock. I’d mow the lawn at my parents’ house listening to Guns n Roses Appetite for Destruction as loud as my Dixons own-brand Walkman knock-off would play. I’d crank up Def Leppard’s Hysteria and bounce around my room. I was a gloriously unselfconscious kid, cheerfully filing these newly discovered rebellions into a vinyl collection that otherwise included Paul Young and T’Pau albums bought in the months and years beforehand.

So AC/DC should have been a no-brainer. The guitars, the innuendo, the sheer big loud silliness of it all; how could a kid already cranking Def Leppard and GNR not fall into the loving arms of AC/DC’s most famous recording at some point or another?

Well, towards the end of 1989, a buddy played me a track from Pop Will Eat Itself’s still-brilliant album This is The Day, This is the Hour, This is This… and something clicked in my head. I’d found my tribe, and I nailed my colours to that particular mast hard enough to split the goddamn wood.

I became an early 90s indie kid. Looking for Senseless Things bootlegs in dodgy underground markets. Finding out about secret gigs by Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and turning up hours early.

Wearing Ned’s Atomic Dustbin shorts.

In winter.

By 1991, my music collection showed no trace of GNR, let alone Def Leppard. I’m pretty sure that Sisters of Mercy were the *only* band to survive from my earlier collection to my new image-conscious one. And, like many people who dabble with one thing before settling on another, I held a real grudge against the big, brash, silly stuff that I’d enjoyed so much a mere summer beforehand.  In fact, I can remember standing staring at a cardboard standee of Angus Young in my local HMV and feeling a sort of anger. How could people listen to that *garbage* when they could be listening to, well, THE FIRST ALBUM BY GARBAGE?

Teen tribes subside, of course. My musical identity will always feel the closest allegiance to those UK indie bands of the early 90s (and if you ever wonder why such a thing would appeal, check out one of Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine’s occasional reunion shows; they’re STILL awesome) but nowadays my iPod has got a lot more variety. I’ve reinstated the purged bands from my early record collection (yes, even the embarrassing ones, although I haven’t got around to reacquiring any Paul Young yet, for some reason) .

And so, when Avri asked if I fancied writing an entry for this blog, I realised that I was well up for listening to Back in Black.

God, that was a long introduction.

As befits an album with an entirely black cover other than the band’s logo (by no means the only disc to do this, but one of the best known), the first track starts moody and dark, with a tolling bell finally giving way to a pretty glorious mid-tempo riff and a set of opening lyrics that set out the album’s style pretty effectively; “I’m rolling thunder, pouring rain, I’m coming on like a hurricane…”

Subtle it ain’t, but it works. No wonder it still gets plundered for movie soundtracks over 30 years later.

The lyrics continue in pretty much this vein for the majority of the album; vague metaphors and similes about male prowess, often accompanied by equally vaguely worded threats. You aren’t going to find the meaning of life or the cancer cure here, but goddammit, that ain’t why you bought a ticket in the first place.

And make no mistake, this album still rocks in 2013. The production is clearly a product of the time, but so many more recent bands have still been trying to reproduce the feeling the album generates that it manages to vault free from the era and feel oddly timeless.

Well, more than T’Pau does, anyway.

Background research tells me that this was their first album with Brian Johnson after the death of Bon Scott (knew that names, didn’t know the chronology), but this doesn’t sound like the product of a band finding their feet with a new frontman. This sounds confident as hell, and very nearly as loud.

I could do without some of the crasser double entendres (“I’m just giving the dog a bone” really isn’t my style), but there’s a lot here that I really got a kick out of. Of course, even a Back in Black virgin such of myself had heard the title track already, but in the context of this set of songs it sounds even better than ever. A kick-ass, dick swinging swagger of a track which sounds like a stone-cold classic from the very first time you hear it, it’s a good enough reason to buy the album all by itself. The fact that it leads straight into You Shook Me All Night Long ensures that there’s no midpoint flagging of pace on this album; it’s as solid a chunk of rock as you’re likely to find anywhere on the record shelves.

The last track on the album, Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution, is a crowing statement of victory, and a promise for the future. It sounds for all the world like a victory lap.

You really can’t blame them.

—–

Born during a particularly close game of Scrabble between his parents in 1974, Pat Higgins spent his early life roaming the streets of Essex busily imagining that vampires and werewolves lay around every corner.

In 2003, Pat set up Jinx Media Ltd and directed his first film, TrashHouse. It was released on DVD in February 2006.

In the summer of 2006, Jinx Media shot two follow-ups, KillerKiller and Hellbride, followed by award-winning mockumentary The Devil’s Music in 2007. He was the original writer / creator of Strippers vs Werewolves.

Called the ‘Essex Auteur’ by Empire and ‘the Tarantino of budget gore flicks for style and dialogue’ by SFX, Pat is also the co-creator of the Death Tales series of films, with Jim Eaves and Al Ronald.

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