Consistency in music has been a perfect strategy for one of the greatest acts to detonate explosions in the inner-ears of listeners. AC/DC spent several solid decades releasing mostly quality recordings that generated in steady support from a loyal fan base. Call them metal, call them hard rock. Whatever the category, it is all music that is recognizable and respected because of simplistic formulas that work.
The Young brothers will forever be enshrined in music for an amazing dynamic on stage and on record. The recently passed Malcolm Young is, without question or debate, the greatest rhythm guitarist in the history of recorded music. His brother Angus could be considered one of the all-time legends of lead guitar, given his legendary performance presence and melodic style for the music. The most challenging thing about their music could be Angus’s guitar solos. Lead guitar is still considered a core element of hard rock music. From a performance and recording perspective, Angus Young has set a standard that is beyond compare, and stands up along with some of the absolute greatest hard rock and heavy metal guitarists of all time. AC/DC has always made great music sound so easy with absolute bare basic elements. The compounds that come together in their songs are what the main ingredients need to be. Two guitars, fitting bass and drums, and brashly loud vocals.
Bon Scott was more of a storytelling kind of singer. Much of the early AC/DC work lyrically is Bon telling tales as if he were the village pub poet. Those records were always spaced out with great rocking anthems in between those stories. Brian Johnson’s vocals were much more fittingly aggressive when he joined the band. “Back In Black” was a perfect message back to the music universe. It was at a time where AC/DC was on the crisp cusp of kicking their way into the 1980’s. It would be a decade that proved to be one of the most productive recording and touring wise. “Back in Black” to this day remains a collection of staples for any rock radio over the world. It has become a trusted favourite for programming directors who want to fill air spots with loud familiar music.
Angus and Malcolm Young had a trusted colleague in longtime bassist Cliff Williams. Cliff’s lines emphasized song serving with an occasional ear-grabbing upper-register fill. Much of his contributions to the music he recorded on with the band focused on what he didn’t play. Having a bass line during the verses to “Highway To Hell” would have made no sense at all. He played the spaces, and created space where it was needed.
It’s incredible for anyone to realize how few ingredients were necessary to make AC/DC’s music as successful as it is. They truly embraced minimalism and music without probably realizing the direction of their recordings. A less is more approach really can deliver the goods. They were always in the right place at the right time to bring their songs to eager fans.
Looking at their recorded history, there is only a couple of AC/DC albums that in my view stray slightly too far from their trademark sounds. “The Razors Edge” was wildly successful financially and critically. Several songs remain classics from the catalog. Personally, I find the album too over-produced and straying.
The absolute best example of AC/DC’s style lies in my view with the follow-up 1995 studio album “Ballbreaker”. It was a welcome return to all the basic elements that make AC/DC’s music pleasantly strong and simple. It is an ear-shattering collection of rock anthems, hard blues and melodic but simple riffing that rolls strong from start to finish.
AC/DC continued in 2016 with Guns N Roses vocalist Axl Rose filling in for the departed Brian Johnson on the “Rock or Bust” Tour. Another member of the Young family, Stevie Young, had long been brought in to replace Malcolm Young when his health could not permit him to continue. Cliff Williams retired after the completion of the tour in 2016. As of this writing, Angus Young reportedly plans to continue the band with Axl Rose and returning drummer Chris Slade.
Note: It is important for me as a bass player to acknowledge the contributions of Mark Evans. Safely considered the band’s first bassist, Evans’ role in the band’s history is important and should not be disregarded.