Monday, January 28, 2008

AC/DC – Maximum Rock & Roll by Murray Engleheart and Arnaud Durieux

I picked up this massive tome at the library on a whim and it seems to be a good, exhaustive biography of this r’n’r band whose career has spanned more than 35 years!

The book opens with a brief history of The Easybeats, which featured George Young, older brother to Malcolm and Angus Young of AC/DC. It gives a good overview of their success and gives the groundwork for the influence that George and partner Harry Vanda had on the burgeoning Australian rock scene. Their influence was wide-ranging and covered most of the major acts of the 60’s and 70’s especially, of course, AC/DC, who they produced and mentored. Having an older brother who was a successful rock star and kept his hand in the music business certainly helped the younger band, as well!

Malcolm and Angus both picked up the guitar at a young age and both played in several of their own bands – with varying degrees of success and notoriety – before joining forces. By the time they decided to work together, each brother was known as guitar virtuosos and, due to similar tastes in music, had bands that played music like the Stones, Jeff Beck Group, Jimi Hendrix, etc. It is somewhat surprising to hear that each brother was capable of imitating some of these major players considering how simple and stripped down their band became. Some people even say that Malcolm was the better lead guitarist but he was also a visionary and leader who saw a strict separation of duties as a good PR move. Malcolm remained the concept man and Angus became the wildman lead guitarist. It is pretty rare to find a rocker who is willing to keep his ego in check for the betterment of the band!

Once finding a reasonably stable line-up, the new band started taking the country by storm! They played constantly, performed on TV regularly, recorded and had hits in their native land before moving on to conquer the world!They first stop was England, and they happened to land just as the punk movement was starting out. While it is funny to think about this now, at the time they were lumped in with this genre at first – basically because this happened to any new rock band (the Police and Tom Petty were called punk at first also!). This was probably more of a draw back than anything at the time, but they soon overcame that!

The story continues with the many ups and downs of their career before they became established. It seems like it really was "a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll"! After an initial burst, their popularity slowed and they had to build up an audience all over again, for some reason. But they made plenty of high powered friends - besides the contacts that the Easybeats had made years before, AC/DC made pals with everyone from Cheap Trick to Ted Nugent to Kiss, who all helped them with important gigs.

One funny point that reoccurs in the book is that the authors truly seem to think of Bon Scott as a "street poet" and they reference his "poetry" repeatedly. While he had some clever/silly hard rock lyrics that were simple enough to fit into the fairly simple rock backdrop of the band, this was hardly poetry and the authors really are stretching with that point!

So, after their years of struggling, they really hit in America with a double dose of the live record - If You Want Blood - and Highway to Hell (which American record execs were scared to issue with this title, funnily enough).

With these releases they became gold record selling stars. They knew that their next record would be even bigger and better and had just started pre-production on it when tragedy struck - singer Bon died, supposedly from alcohol poisoning. Considering his legendary tendency for partying, this took many by surprise, especially when the coroner said he only had a 1/2 bottle of whiskey in him! Hell, I've drunk more than that on a quiet night! Very strange...

But they knew that they couldn't stop...

After considering unreachable names such as Steve Mariott and Noddy Holder, management suggested former Geordie singer, Brian Johnson and the rest is history!

Although the authors go to great lengths to assure that they did not want a copy of Bon, I honestly can't tell the difference in the two singers - I thought that they were looking for someone who sounded as close to Bon as possible.But they continually emphasize the differences, which I don't really hear.

Of course, Back in Black turned into their biggest hit despite or because of the emotions running high during the recording and while Bon remains a legend, Brian is the man who sang their greatest hits.

Oddly, Dirty Deeds hadn't been released in America prior to this and of course, the record company changed their mind when they saw the dollar signs looming. So for new fans whose first AC record was Back in Black, their new purchase was one with the previous singer!

Doubly oddly, when the song “Dirty Deeds” was released in Europe, some people thought that Bon's "36-24-36" was a phone number rather than the obvious, but the book claims that someone in America thought so, as well, even though American numbers are 7 digits! No explanation to that is included which makes it sound more like an urban legend!

Well, I’m telling the whole story here, but basically the book covers the rest of their career, from the follow-up massive hit, For Those About to Rock, through their present day entry to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame and continued success. While no record is as legendary as Back in Black, they continue to sell huge numbers and fill arenas and don’t seem ready to stop!

A good read on a subject that shows that it pays to keep it simple and just rock!