My thoughts on AC/DC…..

The first time I heard AC/DC was on the local Rock radio station when I was about 8 years old…..yeah, I go way back! I heard this powerful guitar play the heaviest riff (didn’t know what a riff was back then!) and then the singer came on and the guy couldn’t sing. It was like he was shrieking into the microphone! The one thing I did know was that the song I was listening to was cool…..that song was ‘Back in Black’. I started out at the beginning of the Brian Johnson era with AC/DC and I was finding it hard to understand what was so cool about a singer that couldn’t sing and a new album with a plain black cover. I laugh about it now but at 8 years old I just had no clue! I didn’t even know that AC/DC had a different singer (Bon Scott) and that he had died just a few months prior. This was part of the innocence, or ignorance, of my youth.

I spent hours at my local record stores pouring over vinyl to look at the covers and then buying the cassette version. My first AC/DC album was bought in 1981 and it was BACK IN BLACK. I remember it like yesterday because I was looking through the new albums and there was this new AC/DC album with a cannon on the cover (FOR THOSE ABOUT TO ROCK…WE SALUTE YOU) and I decided that if I was going to listen to AC/DC, I’d better start with BACK IN BLACK. Now I had already heard the whole BACK IN BLACK album, I just didn’t own it. I was lucky to have some older kids living across the street and they were the “rockers” of the neighborhood. They used to sit on their front porch with their friends and listen to tapes all day and smoke cigarettes. Back in those days, us kids were always outside, especially on weekends and in the summer, so I always tried to get the kids my age to play ball closer to the guys playing the music. That idea didn’t always work but sometimes I would get a hit and make it to third (the driveway of this particular house) and I would groove to the tunes these denim clad guys were playing. One day, I was the only kid outside and I decided to actually cross the street and ask if these guys liked AC/DC. These guys were all in high school, 8 to 10 years my senior, so I was a bit afraid but they ended up playing me the BACK IN BLACK album.

Anyway, I ended up buying FOR THOSE ABOUT TO ROCK a few months later and then I bought FLICK OF THE SWITCH (1983) and FLY ON THE WALL (1985) when they came out. At this point I wasn’t really into the older AC/DC albums with the original singer, the current AC/DC was my AC/DC. My first album of the Bon Scott era was HIGHWAY TO HELL (1979) because I always heard the title track on the radio. I knew it word for word and I liked it so I decided to grab it when I bought the WHO MADE WHO (1986) soundtrack. It was like two different bands but also the same. After that, I was hooked on the Bon Scott era and I slowly collected all the older AC/DC albums. Today I tend to lean more towards the Bon Scott era.

AC/DC has been an important band for me because of the way I first heard them on the radio and outside on the neighbor’s porch. I wish it was still that way today! When was the last time you saw a group of teenagers huddled around a boombox or stereo listening to the newest albums? Ask kids today and they are either playing video games or surfing the Net while music is playing as background noise. Same goes for radio…..when was the last time you heard a song so distinct and so cool on the radio? Seriously, today’s radio is more about repeating the same playlist loop over and over to give the listener something to hear in between commercial breaks. It wasn’t like this back in my childhood and I will always remember hearing bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and AC/DC for the first time the way I did.

AC/DC – Black Ice (2008)

AC/DC – Black Ice (2008, Columbia)

  1. Rock N Roll Train
  2. Skies On Fire
  3. Big Jack
  4. Anything Goes
  5. War Machine
  6. Smash N Grab
  7. Spoilin’ For A Fight
  8. Wheels
  9. Decibel
  10. Stormy May Day
  11. She Likes Rock N Roll
  12. Money Made
  13. Rock N Roll Dream
  14. Rocking All The Way
  15. Black Ice

Band Lineup:
Brian Johnson – Lead Vocals
Angus Young – Lead Guitar
Malcolm Young – Rhythm Guitar & Backing Vocals
Cliff Williams – Bass & Backing Vocals
Phil Rudd – Drums

Producer: Brendan O’Brien

Total Time = 55:30

AC/DC official website

Hard to believe that it’s been 8 years since AC/DC released a new album! Turn the radio to any Rock station at any time and you can bet an AC/DC song is playing…..there, I just did it…..’Highway To Hell’. After many attempts to get started, and rumors flying the band was on permanent hiatus, AC/DC delivered one of the most anticipated albums of the year with the release of BLACK ICE. I was at the front door of my local Wal-Mart on Monday 10/20 for this exclusive release with the band’s latest radio single ‘Rock N Roll Train’ firmly planted in my brain.

So what is really new about the band? Nothing. That is what makes AC/DC great, they never change. Some Rock fans preach how a band needs to grow, to improve on their accomplishments, but the guys in AC/DC are still following their basic formula for strong Blues-based three chord Hard Rock that they’ve had since 1975. Why mess with success? Brian Johnson may be 61 but he still has a strong growling voice, Angus & Malcolm Young still play their guitars with attitude and power, and Cliff Williams & Phil Rudd supply the rhythmic foundation that the songs are built on. What more is needed?

After tearing the cellophane away and hearing the anthemic new single (a song that fits right in with all the other hits), the band moves into the bluesy stomp of ‘Skies On Fire’, a song that sounds like the FLICK OF THE SWITCH era, and the fist-pumping hard rocker ‘Big Jack’, a tune full of meaty chords from the brothers Young. Both songs easily fit alongside ‘Rock N Roll Train’ as possible singles. ‘Anything Goes’ features a more melodic side rather than pure power with Brian Johnson toning down his balls out style for more of a singing style. More power chords are in store when the fist pumping battle cry ‘War Machine’ hits the stereo. This is one of my favorite tracks on the album because it sounds like early AC/DC from the Bon Scott era where the band builds on a simple blues base and attacks with precision. Brian Johnson adds a trace of the sinister Bon style to his straight forward growl while the backing vocals from Malcolm and Cliff  sound like they came straight off HIGH VOLTAGE or HIGHWAY TO HELL.

‘Smash N Grab’ is a mid-tempo blues number with some cool licks from Angus and a smooth delivery from Brian but the best part of this song is the thumping bass from Cliff Williams. A lot of accolades get thrown at Angus, Malcolm and Brian but Cliff Williams has been providing solid bass playing for 31+ years, the guy is as solid as they come. The band continues the Hard Rock flow with the guitar driven ‘Spoilin For A Fight’ and the old school vibe of uptempo rocker ‘Wheels’. ‘Wheels’ especially catches my attention as another potential single or song in the setlist because it’s uptempo, has some serious Angus axework and has that full sound with the rhythm guitar and backing vocals filling the sound nicely. The pace slows down to a mid-tempo groove on ‘Decibel’, a song where things are taken down a notch but still provides that power punch the band delivers so well. It’s another blues rock affair with some of the best Angus leads on the album. Same formula follows for ‘Stormy May Day’, another mid-tempo stomper that retains it’s power with a subtle delivery. Put ‘Decibel’ and ‘Stormy May Day’ together in the same box because they sound close to each other…..then again most people think all AC/DC songs sound the same!

‘She Likes Rock N Roll’ is a little simplistic in the chorus but the guitar riff is very catchy and the bass has a little funkiness to it, definitely a good radio song. Mid-tempo bluesy Rock hits hard on ‘Money Made’ with one of the most simple but catchiest choruses of the album: “Work, work, money made”…..sounds like all I do! Nice simple pounding from Phil Rudd here right up front in the mix with a clean main riff and cool rhythm track, the song just gets the head bobbing and foot tapping. ‘Rock N Roll Dream’ starts off like a ballad (something AC/DC rarely does!) but the main guitar kicks in and the song gets heavier when the chorus arrives. Brian Johnson gives us some actual singing rather than his “go for the throat” style so it’s a different change of pace all around. Not my favorite song on the album but it’s not a bad one either, just average. ‘Rocking All The Way’ sounds like one of those mid-80s AC/DC songs from either the FLY ON THE WALL or WHO MADE WHO albums. It just sounds a bit light and commercial, not enough bite until the guitar solo. The album closer is the title track and it is an strong blues rocker that has the bite that ‘Rocking All The Way’ lacked. Ultra cool riff, solid rhythm guitar and a pounding backline all added to a smooth Brian Johnson delivery…..AC/DC save a good one for the parting shot!

Bottom Line:
Was 8 years worth the wait? Hell yes! AC/DC decided to buckle down and gives the fans an album worthy of standing toe to toe with some of the greats from years past. Sure this isn’t the famed BACK IN BLACK or THE RAZOR’S EDGE from the Brian Johnson era but the band has taken charge and created an album rich in Blues based Hard Rock. I’d call BLACK ICE a continuation of the sound the band had on STIFF UPPER LIP but done better. And the band gives us 15 solid songs! That’s a lot of good music for your buck! I’ve been enjoying this record since I grabbed it the day of release and I can tell right away that this is one of those CDs that is not going to leave my playlist for a long time.

Favorite Songs: ‘Rock N Roll Train’, ‘War Machine’, ‘Black Ice’, ‘Big Jack’, ‘Wheels’, ‘Money Made’