Angusonics (5)
By: James Parker | Categories: Pop Music, Read-outs

BIG JACK

Fifth 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 celebrated his 56th birthday yesterday, March 31st.

From Black Ice.

2008: Their sixteenth album hits number one in 29 countries. “These days”, as an exceptionally talented Slate writer puts it, “AC/DC are held in the ageless, half-mystical global esteem accorded to certain religious personages and royal families.” Yes, yes. Some great records, some shit records, but always AC/DC — on and on, the cheering hordes, Angus playing ‘Thunderstruck’ into a pyromaniac sunset. There have been no lost years, no strange indulgences, no Blue Periods. The bond is unbroken.

Did Brian Johnson have throat surgery, or undergo some kind of vocal healing, between 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip and Black Ice? Because after 28 years of hysterical Janis Joplin overdrive his larynx has somehow de-shattered itself. He can sing again! Stiff Upper Lip, produced by George Young, had the George Young sound: local, in-the-room, up-your-arse. Black Ice producer Brendan O’Brien has fattened the guitars, and cushioned the low end with a soft, slow-to-detonate heaviness.

‘Big Jack’ is a tasty mid-paced rocker that throbs, nods, bobs, and jogs on the spot, with pulsing bass and creamy oofs of kickdrum. The lyrics concern a man, a talismanic kind of lover-bouncer-poolplayer: “Gonna press the flesh/ Rockin’ rollin’ soldier/ He’s the last of them all… Big Jack!” Boom-bash, boom-bash. Why have we chosen this solo, for God’s sake? Because we were eating Grillo’s Pickles, and drinking Yamazaki whiskey, and we think it’s a nice showcase for autumnal Angus — for the maestro in his maturity.

He comes in sideways, at 2.48, on a crashed offbeat, and presents us instantly with a wry compendium of Angus-ness: the chordal taps and hammer-ons and bluesy chimes, the clucked phrasing. He quotes Chuck Berry. He quotes himself. The major pentatonic scale: this is where he lives. Heaps of sizzle and elegance as always, but our hero, at this point, is basically pottering around his garden shed, picking up his favorite tools and putting them down again. 3.02 sees him slaloming spryly across the fretboard, after which he builds in the old style, and with almost perfunctory power, towards the final chorus.

photo by Weatherman90 via Wikimedia.

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James Parker is a contributing editor at The Atlantic.