Rocks and Clubs

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(Pictured: AC/DC clowns around, circa 1979.)

I grew up an AM radio geek without older siblings or older friends to get me into other stuff. When I dallied outside the Top 40, I got into prog rock. To the extent that I listened to hard rock at all, it was the kind that made the top 40 in the mid 70s, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Foghat, and such. (I had one friend who tried to turn me on to Rush, but I found it incomprehensible.)

I’d never even heard of AC/DC until I got to college, and I still remember the first time I played “Highway to Hell” on the radio. “What the fk is this supposed to be?” I asked no one in particular. AC/DC seemed to me not just illiterate, but pre-literate, Neanderthals who had discovered musical instruments and set about destroying them with rocks and clubs. This, of course, was the precise moment that the band’s popularity skyrocketed, particularly among the college-aged demographic circa 1980. I was about to hear a lot more AC/DC.

At one time or another, our college station played every single track from Back in Black, which I hated for the same reasons I’d hated Highway to Hell. It seemed to take no talent at all to do what AC/DC was doing: the same three or four chords, the same screeched vocals track after track, as unvarying as the dial tone and far less listenable. I understood that lots of people liked hard rock, but this was the worst hard rock I’d ever heard, and the overwhelming appeal it held for my peers eluded me entirely.

In the fall of 1980, if we’d simply tracked Back in Black over and over again, a significant percentage of our audience would have been satisfied. I was the station’s program director, and I was not satisfied. I once got into a shouting argument with the music director, the general gist of which was “there’s too much fking AC/DC on my radio station.” (His response was to pull Back in Black and replace it with something by Air Supply, which wasn’t really what I wanted, either.) The 1976 album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap got a re-release at some point that fall, and suddenly, we were playing three AC/DC albums in heavy rotation. It was a good thing I exited the PD’s chair at the end of the year.

But I got the job back in the fall of 1981, just in time for the release of For Those About to Rock. I did not hate it as much as I hated the other records. “Are those keyboards?” I asked no one in particular. I even found the title song somewhat listenable, although I said then (and I still believe now) that I’d like to hear it sung by a competent singer, as opposed to Brian Johnson, whom I believed then (and I still believe now) to be a talentless hack.

After I got out of college, I was able to avoid AC/DC for years. When I did the all-request show on a classic-rock station in the mid 90s, I had a no-AC/DC rule, although it was never mentioned on the air.

But at a different classic-rock station a decade later, after a new program director dumped a dozen of AC/DC’s top cuts into the library, I found myself able to recognize why people liked them way back when. They weren’t only hard and loud but remarkably tight and polished, and Bon Scott sang with a sly wink that made me believe he might just have realized how ridiculous AC/DC’s act was. (As opposed to Johnson, who sings like he really believes he’s fronting a troupe of rock gods.)

By the time that happened, however, I had already decided it was too much trouble to go on hating AC/DC. At my brother’s wedding in 2001, I had looked out onto the dance floor to see my mother, then in her mid-60s, dancing to “You Shook Me All Night Long.”

Shark . . . jumped.

This post is another repeat from March 2012. Additional note: for the last several years, the University of Iowa football team, which wears black at home, has taken the field to “Back in Black.” There is no video on YouTube that does justice to how cool it is, or how loud it gets in the stadium. I was there for the Iowa-Wisconsin game a few years ago and even I got amped, although I’m a Wisconsin fan.

6 thoughts on “Rocks and Clubs

  1. Sometimes I think we were separated at birth, JB.

    I felt the same way about AC/DC. It actually took me a bit longer to hear what made it popular than it took you.

    The late P.J. O’Rourke had a phrase for it that I liked: Music that “sounded like someone had tipped over the china cabinet.

    I still don’t get Rush, but since that’s my wife’s ex-husband’s favorite band, I’m okay with that.

  2. I agree with almost all you said JB. 40 years later I still think they’re talentless hacks. 45 years later I still feel the same way. I believe anyone who likes them is still emotionally 13 years old.

    1. Chris Herman

      I’m not a big AC/DC fan either but the odd thing is, I actually like them better now than I did when I was 13. I would say that I must be emotionally regressing as I get older but I also like Steely Dan better now than I was 13. You couldn’t find two more disparate groups that were on album-oriented rock playlists in 1980.

      (And I always liked “For Those About to Rock” because any song that has a cannon in it is automatically cool.)

  3. porky

    In the Fall of 1978 I started school at the local junior college and met other kids from all the surrounding small towns. When talk turned to music, kids from one particular town all raved about AC/DC, a group I, and others from my hometown, had never heard of. I mean, everybody from this town knew about them. I never cared for them, though I admire Angus for his meat and potatoes guitar tone.

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