Fourth 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 today, March 31st.
From Back In Black.
1980: Death and rebirth. In London, the magical Bon Scott has succumbed at last — a lonely non-event in the back of a parked car, after a night of kamikaze boozing. His bandmates are privately shattered; the entity called AC/DC coughs once and carries on. Within a month of Scott’s death auditions are being held in a cold London rehearsal studio. Posers, no-hopers, primadonnas and prospects go writhing across the band’s viewfinder. Who can follow Bon? Enter Brian Johnson, from the North, in a flat cap. He requests Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘Nutbush City Limits’. Road manager Ian Jeffery, in Murray Engleheart’s AC/DC Maximum Rock & Roll: “The first fucking strain you could feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Angus gets out of his seat from his cross-legged position and his right leg’s on the go. We’re off and racing!”
Nine lives, cat’s eyes. Bon’s spirit speaks in ‘Back In Black’, mediumized through the snarling scat lines of his successor. It had to be Brian Johnson. The riff is futuristic — a post-‘Kashmir’ judder topped off with a twist of a Freddie King lick that’s as clean and discrete as a sample. You can hear the next ten years of metal; you can hear shaggy stirrings of rap. Mutt Lange, hilo hero, has clinically scooped the guitars, boosting them in the upper and lower ranges and sucking out all the terrible mid, the crawling everyday mid, the shitty mid. Who needs it? A last squeeze of broken-glass falsetto from Johnson at 1.48 and the solo arrives, rearing hugely out of the song’s interstices. Deep Angusonic notes, taking their time — a cavernous, humorous sound that you remember forever. Then a switcheroo, a sleight of hand, and he begins to talk to us, his tone juiced-up yet articulate, with double-wide vibrato and mad pentatonics and call-and-response… We exit downward, from 2.18, via a terrace of plangent, almost Townshend-esque half-chords, to find Johnson even more insistently furioso than he was thirty seconds ago. He’s back! And he only just got here!