Dirt Cheap

I saw a music blog post today noting that the plaque has been stolen again from Bon Scott’s grave in Australia, and that the latest theft was discovered on Sunday, which would have been his 60th birthday. That got me to thinking about how AC/DC is one of my all-time most-hated performers.

As an adolescent, my tastes were shaped by AM radio. I didn’t have any older siblings who might have exposed me to whatever was hip amongst the college crowd at the time. And, as I have chronicled here previously, my non-Top 40 music of choice was prog rock. So I never really got deeply into what we’ll call, for lack of a more descriptive term, “hard rock,” beyond whatever the Top 40 of the time could provide–BTO, Edgar Winter, the odd Zeppelin cut, etc.

At college, my first exposure to AC/DC was their 1979 album Highway to Hell. Our college station played the, uh, hell out of it, although the band seemed almost laughably incompetent to me. The next year came Back in Black. Nobody could have imagined at the time what a landmark Back in Black would turn out to be. Certainly not I, who hated it with a passion. Yes, Brian Johnson’s nails-on-the-blackboard vocal screech made Scott sound like Frank Sinatra, but in my iconoclastic 20-year-old-asshole fashion, I hated it just as much because so many other people liked it.

When AC/DC’s 1975 album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap got its first American release in early ’81, Back in Black was still in heavy rotation, and suddenly the station seemed to become all AC/DC all the time. We could have played “Dirty Deeds,” “Big Balls,” “Back in Black,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “Hell’s Bells,” and “Shoot to Thrill” hourly and our audience wouldn’t have complained much. Somebody–and I don’t remember doing it, but it sounds like something I might have done in those days–eventually put a track-wide scratch across the decidedly R-rated “Big Balls” to keep it off the air. I do remember a loud argument with the music director at some point (I was program director at the time) in which I suggested I’d heard enough goddamn AC/DC and if it were up to me, we’d dump them entirely. He volunteered to replace them with Air Supply, but I apparently came to my senses before he could go through with it.

It goes without saying that at my college, the release of For Those About to Rock We Salute You in 1981 was a musical event on par with the release of Sgt. Pepper. And I was surprised to find that I hated the album a lot less than I expected to–although I didn’t like to admit it. All I’d say–and I stand by this 25 years later–is that I’d like to hear “For Those About to Rock” performed by a competent vocalist. Fortunately for me, AC/DC pretty much dropped off the map after that. “You Shook Me All Night Long” occasionally turned up at places I programmed or worked, but that was it. They vexed me no longer.

Two postscripts, many years later. First, for a couple of years in the mid 90s, I hosted the all-request show on a classic rock station, and I had a no-AC/DC rule. I never mentioned it on the air, and jocks who would sit in for me were free to play the stuff if they wanted to, but I wouldn’t.

Second: My youngest brother got married in 2001. At the reception, somehow, my mother ended up out on the dance floor while the DJ was playing “You Shook Me All Night Long.” I said to my other brother, “Look out there . . . Mother is dancing to AC/DC.” “Our mother?” That was the moment my 20-year hatred of AC/DC jumped the shark. It just didn’t seem worth the effort anymore.

5 thoughts on “Dirt Cheap

  1. dave

    well variety is the spice ‘o’ life my man & hey,if we all liked the same thing the world would be a pretty boring place dontcha think? oh yeah,you do know that ac/dc are top 10 world wide for album sales,must be doing something right huh? nigh on 40 years as well,not bad for incompetents

  2. Anonymous

    I’ll never forget the first time I heard AC/DC on an AM radio station. It was July 1979 and I was driving home late at night after working my part-time airshift on WXXQ/Freeport Illinois. I was listening to WLS on the drive back when Yvonne Daniels played “Highway to Hell.” I think that was the beginning of WLS becoming more of a “rock” station at night.

  3. Jeff

    It’s OK to come late to the AC/DC party. Somehow, I missed out on the first 15 or so years. It wasn’t that I disliked them. I just never heard enough of them to get a feel for them. The song that got me was “Thunderstruck” in the early ’90s. Angus Young’s guitar was remarkable, unlike anything I’d heard in a long time. So I started going back and checking out some of the older stuff. Five years ago, I was fortunate enough to see them live. The power of their rhythm section was astonishing. Not everything they do is my cup of tea, but what I do like I like a lot.

  4. You should check out their first couple Aussie releases, before they got really “heavy”. More bluesy than hard and fun 3 chord rock. I must admit I’m an ac/dc headcase though.

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