Angusonics (1)
By: James Parker | Categories: Most Visited, Pop Music, Read-outs

PROBLEM CHILD

First in a series of five posts, coauthored by HiLobrow’s James Parker and Tommy Valicenti, singer/guitarist with the Boston rock band Mount Peru, parsing the solos of AC/DC’s Angus Young. Young celebrates his 56th birthday on March 31st.

From Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.

1976: AC/DC tour England for the first time, confusingly mixed up in the punky vibe that is sweeping the nation. For despite pronounced guttersnipe tendencies, and a sawn-off approach to rock’n’roll quite as radical as anything the British kids are coming up with — no one could match the piston-like punch of Phil Rudd’s drums — these boys are not punk rockers. They are reactionaries, and they want blood.

Let’s have a listen to the song itself. 21-year-old Angus has plenty to rise to here: an unimproveable up-down riff from Malcolm, and one of Bon Scott’s most gangsterishly succinct lyrics — “I’m hot/And when I’m not/I’m cold as ice!” He takes two solos. The first, at 1.48, comes growling out of the alley on an E-string. The band had envisioned Dirty Deeds as a sort of Bogart-esque crime concept, and here Angus obligingly hits the note of noir. Nothing too moody of course (he has no minor mode) but a sequence of phrases that could be threats, chuckles, leerings or brandished blades, mounting in conviction before slinking off with a low curse at 2.24.

Solo Number Two, at 3.36, builds fast towards madness or homicide as the band shift the song into its pummelling, MC5-style rave-up of an outro. MC5? Maybe Hawkwind: Mark Evans roots his bass to an E-note throb, Phil Rudd opens it up with his crash cymbals, feverish maracas catch every accent of Malcolm’s chop-chop guitar, and Angus goes out banging on the same insanely shrill double-stop for seven-and-a-half bars. Again, there is no metal in this frenzy — the power is not inhumanly sustained. It seems to derive from a current more like breath than electricity. An Angus solo contains pauses, as for inhalation: there’s a saxophone somewhere in his sound, and wheedling bagpipes too.

“Problem Child” flails itself to bits — breakdown, infarction, crashes and wallowings of noise.

A moment’s respite.

Then the drums clear their throat, and it starts all over again.

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James Parker is a contributing editor at The Atlantic.