Writer Gretchen Rubin once said, “Being taken for granted is an unpleasant but sincere form of praise. Ironically, the more reliable you are, and the less you complain, the more likely you are to be taken for granted.”
Coincidentally, I used Google to find that quote, something I often take for granted to find information, particularly quotes that make me seem worldly and educated. I looked it up because I wanted to find a quote that perfectly summed up my feelings on AC/DC, because it sure looks like we’re not going to have them for much longer.
The Australian hard rock quintet is set to release their eleventybillionth album, “Rock or Bust,” later this month, to answer the question “what has AC/DC been doing lately to warrant this article?” that none of you are asking. But most of the publicity the band has procured in the past few months has been of the damning variety.
The razzle-dazzle stories have come from drummer Phil Rudd, who has been characterized as some Australian take on a mob don. Rudd was recently accused of procuring murders of his enemies, and though those charges were dropped, that still leaves the accusations of threatening to kill a man and soliciting prostitutes for unprotected sex – or to clean his boat or something.
It’s pretty easy to imagine the drummer of a band famous for a song entirely about being contract criminals to be a slimeball, though. Plus, Rudd’s off-tour shenanigans seem to be perfectly timed tabloid fodder to get AC/DC back in the news before their latest release.
The bigger blow, though, came months ago, when founding guitarist Malcolm Young left the band for medical reasons and was later diagnosed with dementia. The elder Young probably won’t play with the band ever again. In a hypothetical scenario where Rudd is forced to leave the group to deal with his boat full of legal troubles, this leaves lead guitarist Angus Young as the sole remaining original member of the band, based on the lineup that produced their first album, “High Voltage,” in 1975.
The band is becoming strained to the point of breaking apart, even as they plan yet another world tour to support Rock or Bust. This is a damn shame, because AC/DC is the best pure rock and roll band of all time.
One can look at AC/DC’s staunch refusal to change their sound a couple different ways. It could be interpreted as lazy or creatively bankrupt. Angus Young has acknowledged as much in a late-80s interview, saying, “I’m sick to death of people saying we’ve made 11 albums that sounds exactly the same. In fact, we’ve made 12 albums that sound exactly the same.”
The band’s biggest departure from their core sound, 1990’s bombastic “The Razor’s Edge,” also produced their last megahit, Thunderstruck. That album fit much better in arenas than in the dive bars the band made their living in back in the 70s. The band immediately returned to their lo-fi, blues rock roots on their very next album, “Ballbreaker,” as if they were Monty Python’s Knights of the Round Table having just arrived at “The Razor’s Edge’s” Camelot. “On second thought, let’s not make ‘The Razor’s Edge’ again. ‘Tis a silly album.”
So yes, you could look at 17 albums of the same dozen or so combinations of three-to-four chords from Malcolm, and the same blues-ish leads from Angus, and the same “sneering gremlin” vocal style from Brian Johnson, and the same “hey, we’re just happy to be here” steady rhythm section of Rudd and bassist Cliff Williams, and dismiss AC/DC as an unspectacular relic of decades-old hard rock, worth burying under thousands of more talented, more exciting bands.
Consider, however, the band’s 40-year history, and how songs like T.N.T and Highway to Hell, written decades ago with a completely different lead singer, are still considered standards of hard rock to this day.
Consider how, after the death of the band’s immensely popular first lead singer Bon Scott, they seamlessly integrated a singer with a completely different vocal style, the aforementioned Johnson, and produced “Back in Black,” the third-best selling album of all time. Consider that even today, Mutt Lange’s production on “Back in Black” could easily make it pass for a modern rock CD, without even going into the powerful hooks written by Johnson and the Youngs.
Consider how the band put out a handful of really mediocre CDs after “Back in Black,” yet maintained their Q rating enough to reclaim the hard rock throne in the early 90s with “The Razor’s Edge,” right when 80s heavy metal was taking body blow after body blow from grunge bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden.
Consider how many trends the band has outlasted. As punk rock, hair metal, grunge and emo have all come and gone, Angus Young and his dinky little schoolboy uniform have remained unshakeable. They have become everybody’s rock and roll uncle. When Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco were inundating us with thesis-length song titles, AC/DC continued putting out very good songs prominently featuring the word “Rock” and typical old man double-ish entendres. There’s something comfortable about their greasy, back-of-the-bar attack that’s half pleasingly hokey and half rock ‘n’ roll nonsense, treating the mere act of “rocking” like a sacred practice worthy of (un)holy reverence.
Consider that the band is still shockingly relevant decades after “Back in Black.” Their last studio album, 2008’s “Black Ice,” debuted at No. 1 in 29 countries and sold the second-most albums worldwide that year, only behind Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida.” Their music constituted the entire soundtrack for two very different movies in two very different time periods – 1986’s “Maximum Overdrive” and 2010’s “Iron Man 2.”
Consider that, man, it’s still really fun to watch a 67-year-old man bound across a stage to ring a huge bell at live concerts in front of 64,000 people.
This isn’t meant to be a public service announcement for a band that’s sold hundreds of millions of CDs, but there’s a tendency to assume AC/DC will always be there. Consider that a testament to the band’s reliability and an indictment on the hundreds of bands who have co-opted their style over the years. From Guns ‘N’ Roses in the 80s, to Metallica in the 90s, to Buckcherry in the new millennium, countless bands still pleasing crowds with this style of hard rock owe a debt of gratitude to the old geezers in AC/DC.
Now, with the band aging and members falling off the train, it’s clear our time with these fellas is short. Don’t cry for them – they’ve lived the lifestyle and made kazillions of dollars in the process, enough to acquire, say, a huge boat and a couple five-star women of the night. Just be aware of what we may be about to lose in the next few years, and remember that it’s a long, long way to the top if you wanna rock n’n roll. They know – they’ve traveled it.