WHEN the punk manifesto of ‘here’s three chords, now form a band’ was nailed to the mast in 1977, AC/DC were probably the uncoolest band in the world.
Sleazy blues rockers led by a squealing drunk singer and a guitarist in a school uniform were a few brain cells short of the punks, with their art school degrees, political sloganeering and heads full of Situationist theory. But even before the famous A, E & G poster in the Sniffin’ Glue fanzine, AC/DC had been raising hell with three chords since 1973. And 40 years after plugging in with their debut High Voltage, the Aussies have a bomb-proof formula that’s outlasted and sidestepped every single step on rock’s evolutionary rung.
AC/DC have taken this primal rock minimalism to its perfectly formed conclusion — filthy downtuned riffs, a carnal howl, pulsing basslines and that unwavering drumbeat. It’s a formula we never want changed — a constant ticking over that’s AC/DC’s eternal backbone, a formula that led to the Aviva Stadium selling out quicker than a single Angus Young headbang. Guitarist Angus even once joked: “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.”
Besides the three chords, AC/DC are fairly constant with their three lyrical themes — songs about smut, songs about hell, and rock itself. Their new album Rock Or Bust has four songs with Rock in the title, and let’s not forget For Those About To Rock, Let There Be Rock, Rock’n’Roll Singer, It’s a Long Way to the Top if You Wanna Rock’n’Roll, and the brilliantly dumb R.I.P. (Rock In Peace). And that’s not even the half of it.
This literal simplicity bleeds into their spectacular live show. At their last gig in Punchestown in 2009, Rock’n’Roll Train featured an actual train crashing through the stage; Hells Bells had Brian Johnson swinging off a rope on a huge bell; Whole Lotta Rosie featured the biggest blow-up doll you’ve ever seen, and there was a full cannon 21-gun salute during For Those About To Rock (We Salute You). It’s this utterly predictable and eye-popping reputation that sold out this stadium tour worldwide, with grizzled fans knowing this is AC/DC’s last time round the block. They’re missing Angus’s brother Malcolm this time after he was diagnosed with dementia, and drummer Phil Rudd is out after he appeared in court — with no shoes and no teeth — on charges of ordering a hit on a former employee.
But they’re going out in a blaze of filth and glory — with two generations worth of classics under their belts. After all, this is a band who lost first singer Bon Scott — maybe the greatest dirtball rocker of all time — and followed it up by signing Brian Johnson for Back In Black in 1980, still their biggest ever album.
Back in Black is the one that does the rounds in karaoke, with the title track and You Shook Me All Night Long becoming two of the most unlikely pop songs ever. Their ability to appeal to rockers, metallers, ironic indie-heads at Coachella and your aunt at a wedding just means they’re the most unsinkable hard rock band left.
- AC/DC play the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Wednesday (SOLD OUT)
Original version in Irish Daily Star