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Hell Ain't a Bad Place To Be

Out in the school yard, a group of 5th graders who think they’re cool are discussing the music overheard from their older brothers’ collections. Names like Ozzy Osbourne, Fugazi and AC/DC are tossed around. One kid voices concern over Ozzy, saying he had heard that Ozzy is a Satanist.

“Oh yeah? Well, you know what AC/DC stands for?” asks the coolest of the 5th graders. Nobody responds.

“It means ‘Anti-Christ Devil’s Child!'”. Whoa, man.

And so begins a coming-of-age journey, one which millions have experienced. The journey to knowledge of all things sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, that ever-present mischievous combination of societal ills. It’s a combination that’s mighty tough to beat. So if you can’t beat ’em, you can at least participate.

AC/DC has been participating in the rock n’ roll game, and encouraging millions to party with them, for almost 30 years now. They have become a bona-fide rock n’ roll institution, providing levity for kids when their parents get heavy, and keeping adults both young and old smirking at silly innuendos. Meanwhile the signature crunching riffs of Angus Young on tunes like “Highway to Hell” and “Back in Black” have become as instantly identifiable as the open-G assault of Keith Richards and his Rolling Stones.

Back in Black is, after all, one of the 10 best selling albums of all-time.

In the US alone it has sold 19 million copies. Songs from this record can be heard regularly on rock radio: “Hells Bells,” “Shoot To Thrill,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution,” and of course, “Back in Black.” It’s hard to imagine somebody not having heard at least one of these songs, if not on the radio then at least coming through a friend’s car or home stereo.

The juvenile appeal of AC/DC is appropriately underscored by guitarist Angus Young’s trademark school boy attire, courting raised eyebrows as he plays songs about sex and causing trouble. The mischievous element of AC/DC is perhaps best exemplified by the title track of the album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, where the song’s narrator offers quick fixes to those in distress. Be you a troubled high school student, a cheated lover or an endlessly nagged spouse, isn’t it great to know that someone out there can extinguish the object of your misery with poisons, explosives and shoes designed for that final swim with the fishes? And at bargain prices!

So as AC/DC gears up for induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame this year, Epic Records has begun to roll out newly remastered and repackaged editions of the albums that have served as questionable influences on multiple generations. The first batch, released February 18, consists of arguably the band’s best albums: High Voltage, Dirty Deeds…, Highway to Hell, Back in Black and AC/DC Live.

Both the single and double disc versions of Live, recorded during the early 1990s, are once again available. After listening to both, I can confidently say that the single disc edition should be plenty for the casual AC/DC fan. The double disc collection does contain classics not included on the single disc edition such as “Jailbreak” and “Let There Be Rock,” but only a serious die-hard wouldn’t find that there is such a thing as too much live AC/DC. After being overwhelmed with so much ear-shattering over-the-top rock in one sitting, one may be likely to need a little nap.

Moreover, many of us do prefer to hear the early AC/DC classics sung by the band’s original singer, the late Bon Scott. His voice was more pliable and suitable for silly sarcasm than that of his successor, Brian Johnson. Bon still figures heavily in the mood of the 1992 Live releases as far as material and attitude are concerned, and Back in Black was recorded with Bon very much in mind. It arrived only months after his alcohol-induced asphyxiation death in 1980. However, few albums in AC/DC’s large post-Bon catalogue can compare with the rowdy and raucous debut album High Voltage, the classically mischievous Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, or the eerily prophetic Highway to Hell, the album that saw AC/DC fast approaching American stardom.

No matter which singer one prefers, all of AC/DC’s albums have a unifying theme: fun. They keep the rock basic, eschewing other more cerebral heavy metal topics like science fiction, politics and religion. Sticking to sex, booze and raising hell, the Aussie rockers continually appeal to anyone with a taste for light-hearted subject matter and heavy riffs. This suits many a rock and metal fan, young or old, just fine. After all, as the closing tune on Back in Black proclaims, “rock n’ roll is just rock n’ roll.”

March 10, 2003
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