When I think about the AC/DC sound, I think about pure rock and roll. Their Brian Johnson years have, in a way, a heavier sound than the Bon Scott years, but AC/DC has always been about kicking ass and making you beg for more. They are consistent and loud and genuine. Some bands evolve their sound, they’ll do radio-friendly ballads, or they might follow trends or add pop singers or rappers to bring in a new audience. I am a fan of many artists who have done such things, but AC/DC doesn’t fuck around with all that. They are who the fuck they are, and they will never change.
And I know that some critics look at that as a negative thing, like it means they aren’t real musicians because they keep putting out the same style of rock and roll album after album. Fuck that. These guys know what they’re good at, they know what their very loyal fans love, so why not keep doing it? How different does one Chuck Berry song sound from another? Chuck is my number one music idol and one of the architects of rock and roll, and if he was smart enough to keep making songs that sound like Chuck Berry songs, why shouldn’t everyone be allowed to do that?
And how much has Angus stolen from Chuck, including the duck walk?
I completely feel what this NME critic says in their review of 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip, in which they not only praise the album but the awesomeness that is AC/DC:
…They’re immovable. Every song is like architecture. And every song rocks absolutely because its sole purpose in existing is to… rock. Absolutely. There are no pretensions above, below or beyond that one single-minded, unashamed aim. To rock. Why the fuck would a rock band wanna do anything else? They never ask that question, by the way. They don’t have to….
…And you can take your self-parody and stick it up yer arse because the ‘DC’s power actually derives from their utter inevitability. You know what’s coming and, when it comes, it’s always great. Each song starts at the start. With a riff. An Angus riff. Cool. Clean. Heavy. It repeats and builds and then Brian comes in. He screeches. His voice is like a metal shrew. It is absurd….
Stiff Upper Lip is a great album, one of the best of the Brian years. Every song brings it home, every riff is necessary and spine-tingling. As soon as you hear the opening of the title track, you know you’re in for it. Brian’s raspy, throw-you-against-the-wall-and-fuck-you-senseless delivery keeps you breathless throughout. Every word he says is innuendo, but it never sounds creepy or cheesy—you know he’s got a reason to brag. And can’t you just see all those strippers masterfully working their poles to this one?
“Meltdown” is one of my favorites to sing along to—hey hey hey! It’s got some stank on it that gets inside you and makes you crank it up to 11. And for the love of God, don’t ever listen to it on earbuds!
“House of Jazz” is a grinding number with some great guitar solo work that stands out amid the throbbing drums and Brian’s powerful vocals. “Hold Me Back”—holy shit, this one will get your heart pumping! Phil’s drum work sets the mood, and once Brian’s voice and all the guitar pieces fall into place you know that the boys will take excellent care of you.
“Safe in New York City” is a cheeky nod to the era in which Mayor Giuliani claimed to have cleaned up the city. After 9/11 it was one of nearly 200 songs considered “lyrically questionable” by Clear Channel Communications (who are the goddamned devil and now known as iHeartMedia); songs on this list were not technically banned from being played by Clear Channel radio stations, but they really didn’t want anyone to give them air time.
“Can’t Stand Still” is one of my favorites from this album. It pulls you in immediately. Obviously, it’s about sex, booze, and rock and roll. And isn’t that really all we want from AC/DC?
And when I hear a noisy party
You knows it gives me a chill
It gets me rockin’ and a rollin’
And I can’t stand still
From morning ’till midnight
You know I can’t stand still
One of the many things I love so fucking much about AC/DC is how many songs they sing about rock and roll. “Rocker,” “Rock & Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution,” “There’s Gonna Be Some Rockin’,” and “Rock Your Heart Out” are classics. “Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll” is a powerhouse addition to that list. And though I often mourn the death of rock and roll in contemporary popular music, I do believe that it is still a force that cannot ever fully be stopped.
Another one I love to sing along with is “Satellite Blues.” “Damned” is a ball-busting good time as well. The sinister and alluring “Come and Get It” is cool as fuck. I sing “All Screwed Up” when I’m driving, and I especially dig the bombastic ending.
The final track on Stiff Upper Lip, “Give It Up,” is as classic an AC/DC song as you can get. It tells you everything you need to know about the band and what they want for their fans.
I’m ready to rock yeah I’m gonna rip it
Ready to rock yeah I’m gonna stick it
Give it up give it out
I said whip it up all about
You gotta stick it up shout it loud
Come on, give it up, give it up
Give it up, give it up
I’m going crazy on a wild man’s night
Take your pick of anything you like
Give it up
Give it up
I’m sitting pretty on the ready to bite
She givin’ up a bit of cream delight
Give it up
Give it up
Give it up
Give it up
And when the song ends, that’s it—it just ends. Brian doesn’t do any crazy, last-minute screaming. There are no wild guitar solos or drum crashes. They’ve given you a good time, and now you need to go fuck some shit up. That’s what AC/DC is for. And that’s what rock and roll is for.