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Rock in a hard place

I can agree with most of this. But not all of it.

From Vinyl Roofs to Classic Vinyl
REVIEW: ‘The Lives of Brian’ by Brian Johnson
Brian Johnson joined AC/DC in 1980 after the death of the band’s original singer Bon Scott. Before we proceed to Johnson’s amiable rockography, The Lives of Brian, we should clarify the musical technicalities. AC/DC are not a heavy metal band. They are frequently hard rock, but essentially they are a rock ’n’ roll band. Like Motörhead, and like the early punk bands that shared their energy and glee, they are the last, late progeny of ’50s rock ’n’ roll. They are loud and bluesy, and have more in common with Johnny Kidd and the Pirates than with Metallica or Def Leppard. The boogie in their early albums carries echoes of the age before Elvis. Like Motörhead’s Philthy Phil Taylor or The Damned’s Rat Scabies, the drumming of AC/DC’s first drummer Phil “The Stud” Rudd swings with the ghost of Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.

Second, AC/DC are Australian. Formed in 1973, they came up the old way, which is the hard way, on the Australian pub circuit. The “pub” part might evoke cozy and ramshackle British country inns, but Australian pubs, according to those who have visited them and survived, are cavernous beer halls full of raging drunks. These bracing conditions made AC/DC what the Irish call a “show band,” playing other people’s hits, and entertaining the punters like a very loud vaudeville act. Hence their guitarist Angus Young dressing as a schoolboy, complete with satchel.

Third, Bon Scott was and always will be AC/DC’s singer. This is the Raft of Theseus part. Scott had been with the band for six years before he choked on his own vomit after an especially exuberant night out in South London. Brian Johnson replaced him in 1980, and freely admits that he is a singing caretaker, preserving Scott’s songs and the band that made them. Johnson’s 42 years on the job begin where The Lives of Brian ends. This is the story of what Johnson did before he became famous, and what he did to become famous. It is, as Bon Scott wrote, “a long way to the top if you want to rock ’n’ roll,” but the scenic route is much more interesting than the rock star’s cycle of arena shows and private jets.

“Caretaker”? Like hell. No slight of any kind to the inimitable Bon Scott intended, of course, but AC/DC has done some of its very best work with Johnson up front and center. I’ve been fortunate indeed to see Oz’s gift to real rock and roll live four times over the years, including my first time shortly before Scott passed on, and I can say without fear of contradiction that Johnson stepped up and filled some unimaginably oversized shoes with aplomb, class, and style. He never tried to make anybody forget about Scott, or to supplant him; he made the wiser choice to go his own way and add to Scott’s legacy instead, which is greatly to his credit both as a singer and as a man.

Yes, Bon Scott was AC/DC’s singer—WAS. But now Brian Johnson is, and not just the band itself but all of its fans have benefitted greatly from that. And if you try to tell me that this doesn’t stand on its own, no reference to the late great Bon Scott needed, well, I’m gonna tell you you’re as full of shit as a Christmas turkey.

WHOA, that’s good squishy.


2 thoughts on “Rock in a hard place

  1. Heh. Last night I was wailing away on my Les Paul to Donington. Great concert footage.

  2. This is like Mantle and Mays. That debate could never be decided either.

    Bon made it look easy when it’s not and Brian does look like he has to work at it.

    In the end they’re both great frontmen for one of the greatest Rock and Roll Groups ever and one of the few (only?) to find a replacement for their high profile lead singer after his death. Not only a replacement, but Johnson-led AC DC continued to scale the heights they were scaling with Bon to reach the Pinnacle.

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