There was news of considerable importance in Australian music this week. Malcolm Young, founding member and iron-wristed bass player for rock gods AC/DC died, aged 64, a few weeks after his older brother, founding member and multi-instrumentalist for the Easybeats, Flash & The Pan and Vanda & Young, George. Within just over a month, we’ve lost 2/3 of the first family of Australian rock: only AC/DC lead guitarist Angus remains.
I wasn’t an AC/DC fan as a kid. Growing up in Rockingham, AC/DC was the soundtrack of brutality: it was the band of choice for the plaid-clad, DB-wearing bogan thugs that made my life a misery– underneath that plaid shirt was invariably an AC/DC tee-shirt, and if you didn’t have at least a Back in Black poster on your wall, you were certified poofter and fair prey. As a result I spurned their music, and got my heavy fix from other quarters.
It wasn’t until I escaped my teen years, and was able to fit them into a much wider view of musical taste, away from the Holy Bogan Trinity (AC/DC, Cold Chisel, and oddly, Australian Crawl), that I came to appreciate them, and just how individual and epic their particular brand of thunderous rock and roll was.
They may have– to paraphrase one memorable review some years ago– ‘released the same album seventeen times’, but it’s a hell of a sound, and a hell of a ‘same album’. The band’s anthemic high points have become family favourites, with three generations of heads banging whenever we’re all around and they hit the playlist.
So to commemorate one of Australia’s great rock and roll bassists, and the lasting impact he and his men have had on Australian music history, here are five of my favourite AC/DC bangers.
Rock in peace, Malcolm.
Five for Friday: AC/DC
Who Made Who
Probably my favourite AC/DC track. The title track to the soundtrack album the band recorded for the 1986 terrible-adaptation-of-a-Stephen-King-story movie Maximum Overdrive (for which I also have a fondness, in a Green Lantern I don’t know why I love this but I just do shut-up you’re not my Mum way). It’s built around an unbelievable machine-gun rat-a-tat of a lead line that just ratchets its way up your spine and forces your head to start pounding. It’s ball-grippingly fantastic stuff.
The last great AC/DC song, and only slightly less my favourite behind the one above. It hovers on the edge of the over-production that mars everything else they’ve done since, and Brian Johnson’s voice is this close to finally giving out, all of which gives it an edge-of-the-razor feel that offsets the booming thunder of that classic AC/DC rhythm section. It has all the feel of a grand final stand, starting at 11 and notching everything up from there. Big, bombastic, and ballistic.
Let There Be Rock
If I’m honest, one of the reasons I disliked AC/DC for so long was their original lead singer. Bon Scott epitomised everything I hated about bogan ‘culture’– a grimy, smirking, rat-faced little gargoyle with infinitely more low cunning than intelligence, a voice like a nasalectomy (look it up) and personal habits that ought to make a grown-up kneel on his chest and give him a bloody good wash.
Here though, it somehow all works perfectly. A combination of potted rock and roll history and cheeky-boy fuck you with a song construction that echoes the rhythms of a long, slow fuck. If the Foo Fighters had done this, everybody under the age of 30 would be fighting each other to masturbate into Dave Grohl’s collection plate.
For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)
Cannons. Fucking CANNONS.
It’s a Long Way to the Top
The song that began everything, and one of the few rock songs to incorporate the fury that comes from a musical instrument designed to frighten the shit out of enemy warriors as you approach– the bagpipes. Unarguably one of the greatest songs in Australian rock history, it holds up 40+ years later as a quintessential slice of rock and roll perfection.