You’ve probably heard it before. AC/DC makes the same album and writes the same songs repeatedly. They are juvenile, crude, and possibly misogynistic simpletons who are overrated and don’t deserve the acclaim that they get. I’m here to tell you that if you think that, then you are wrong. You don’t have to like them, but I’d argue that if you are a rock fan in the purest sense of the word than you should. The insults hurled at them are off-base and often come from snobby critics who have missed the point. That’s not to say that there aren’t similarities or controversial aspects of their music. Certainly, all AC/DC songs end the same way. If you haven’t heard the mashup of all their song endings, then prepare yourself for a good chuckle. The band is even aware of their lack of diversity. Angus Young once said: “I’m sick and tired of people saying that we put out 11 albums that sound exactly the same. In fact, we’ve put out 12 albums that sound exactly the same.” Of course, such criticism would suggest that lacking diversity is a bad thing. Yes, it’s admirable to change drastically from album to album but it’s also impressive to know your style, hone it over many decades and still maintain a fervent fan-base. They aren’t groundbreaking artists, but no one can do what they do. Don’t believe me, go ask bands like Jet.
Here’s the thing, AC/DC was always going to rub some critics the wrong way. They are the least pretentious band ever, but that is what makes them great. They don’t write ballads. They don’t write 12-minute prog-adventures. They don’t write songs that they think everyone will like. They write high-octane, over-the-top rockers and I’d argue they do it better than anyone else. They didn’t invent the genre but they have taken it to its logical conclusion. They are Chuck Berry and Little Richard on speed. They take the typical subject matter of the ’50s (sex, drugs and rock and roll) and distort them to mass proportions. It’s all in fun, so if you’re getting angry at AC/DC then I feel sorry for you. If you can’t hear that Bon Scott more often than not has his tongue in his cheek and that Brian Johnson is just fucking around with the boys over a round of beer than you aren’t listening properly and probably need to chill the fuck out. Their music isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. You don’t think about their music; you feel it in your gut. I’ve always maintained they are the best band to listen to during a workout because there is never a drop in energy. You won’t want to write any theoretical dissertation on AC/DC, but you might unconsciously bop your head like Angus in his schoolboy outfit and be unable to stop yourself.
But does all AC/DC sound the same? On the surface, yes, but people tend to confuse laziness with the utmost discipline. Check out their early material like “Love Song,” or their cover of “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” and you’ll understand that they DO know how to play other kinds of material. AC/DC figured out very early on what worked for them and stuck to their guns. I’d also argue that their music is far more subtle than it ever gets credit for. The spirit and their delivery are the same, but they’ve always found little tricks to differentiate their best songs all while maintaining their style. Take Bon’s bagpipe solo in “A Long Way to The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll),” Angus’s slide guitar work on “Stormy May Day” or the eerie, apocalyptic quality to the intro of “Hells Bells.” Oh, I know they’ve been using the same chords since 1976 (you’ll rarely find a minor chord in there) but it’s all a part of their well-thought-out working-class package. These guys are secretly brilliant. Anyone who can write at least 50 iconic, stay-in-your-head forever riffs should be properly revered.
Their lyrics are often derided too, and I think in a way that’s a damn shame. Don’t get me wrong some of their lyrics are STUPID! This is the same band that once wrote “Some like it hot/Some like it quite not so hot,” but poetic imagery was never part of their M.O. They worshipped early rock and roll which was all about primal nonsense. Is there anything more wonderfully non-sensical song lyric than Little Richard’s “A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!” By design, rock is supposed to be over the top, rambunctious, rebellious, exciting and well kind of dumb. Sure, some of it has not aged well and could be accused of being regressive but none of it is any worse than some of the filth Robert Plant wrote and got praised for.
Here’s the thing though, sometimes, especially during the Bon Scott years, the band have also shown that they do have a soul. Throughout the entirety of Powerage (which is one of the best rock albums ever made), they show a gritty, bluesy side that rivals The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street and Sticky Fingers. Keith Richards himself has said that he is a fan. Powerage has all the hallmarks of an AC/DC record but there is a hint of weariness, almost as if the party is dying down and the hangover is starting to sink in. Bon certainly had his mind in the gutter, but he also always made sure to present the other side to the equation. He was a rock and roll god, but he also struggled for success, experienced heartache and lived below the poverty line. “Feeling like a paper cup/ floating down a storm drain/Got myself a sailing boat/But I can’t afford a drop of rain” he croaks, and you can tell he means it. Yes, they could be crass but AC/DC’s discography is littered with vulnerable moments like this that are never, ever mawkish.
So, if you are one of those people who dismiss them for being repetitive, then you haven’t dived deep enough. Despite what you may have heard, AC/DC hasn’t made the same song over and over and not all their songs are brain dead. Sure, they have released some stinkers like Fly on The Wall, but even those are worth a listen because even though the band knows that they don’t have any material they still give it all they have. In that way, you must admire them and realize why they have the success that they do. They are a hard-working group, with a unique style, who have never followed trends and still sell out stadiums to this day. If you haven’t seen them live, then you are also missing a piece of the puzzle. They are tied with Slayer for the most adrenaline-filled show I’ve ever seen in my life. If you don’t like AC/DC, then you don’t like rock music. It’s as simple as that. If you do, however, then I salute you.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*Edited by Dominic Abate