AC/DC Forever, No Axl Rose Necessary

First, a little background.

I was a few years old – old enough to remember a lot of things, at least – when my dad had this black truck. My memory says it was “giant” but I’m sure I’ve distorted it over time. I definitely remember the color, the absurd number of fog lights he had on the top with smiley face covers over them, the Playboy bunny symbol that was on the glove box, and most importantly, the hot pink AC/DC Who Made Who 8-track cassette that was always stuck in the player. Who Made Who was released in 1986 and contained a variety of new material, songs written in the Bon Scott-Era of the band, and a few instrumentals that were combined to form the soundtrack to the film Maximum Overdrive, written and directed by the great Stephen King. If memory serves, I believe I was told it was the only 8-track we owned.

Knowing this, it’s not hard to believe that I’ve been an AC/DC fan, quite literally, my entire life. When my dad got a new truck with a cassette player, we “upgraded” to a copy of Back in Black (upgraded in quotes because the album was released 6 years prior to our earlier selection and wasn’t bought new, but borrowed – and kept – from my uncle Dean). This was probably 1989-ish, and at this point in my life I knew that I loved music, but due to not being introduced to anything else yet (it would be a few more years before I found out about Aerosmith and Motley Crue, Madonna and Prince) I was under the impression that AC/DC played all music. Listening to an AC/DC album? It’s them. Hear any other song on the radio? It had to be them. Hear a jingle on a fast food commercial? Definitely AC/DC.

razorsEdge

I speculated 1989 above because it was 1990 when the Razor’s Edge was released. This record was huge for me in many ways. With songs like Thunderstruck, Fire Your Guns, Moneytalks, and the title track, this is easily one of my favorite AC/DC records. The band came to the area on their tour and my parents went and brought back stories of how incredible they are to see live, what a wild man Angus Young was, how elaborate their stage set was. My mom bought a t-shirt that would eventually become mine – a Razor’s Edge Tour shirt that depicted Angus Young holding his guitar in the reflection of a guillotine blade, free-falling after having the rope cut. The back was designed with tour dates and a picture of a man with AC/DC shaved into the back of his head. I wore this shirt until it ripped under my shoulder pads – I was in the 8th grade.

shavedHead

-Side note- While researching dates on some of the above, I learned that in 1990, Rolling Stone Magazine gave the Razor’s Edge 2 stars, citing Slade and Sabbath rip-offs (that I don’t see), the monotonous lyrical content they produced (and had already been established as their “thing” so I’m not sure why the reviewer took issue), and finding fault with the fact that Angus was over 30, Brian Johnson over 40, like that means anything. This is why I only accept Rolling Stone when it’s free, y’all.

I began branching out into the rock stars of pop music (read: Prince, Madonna, etc.) and more glam-style rock and metal, but in 1992 AC/DC Live was released and quickly replaced the Razor’s Edge in my dad’s truck. The cassette player could play the A side and then “flip” itself and play the B side automatically so there was never any need to take the tape out…Ever. And so we didn’t. I’m pretty sure we burned that tape up over time.

With the newly emancipated Back in Black and The Razor’s Edge cassettes in hand, I would retreat to my basement and blast them both in a little tape player I had. I would stomp around my basement with a baseball bat fantasizing that it was a special edition Gibson SG and I was Angus Young, busting out the harsh intro to the The Razor’s Edge, the slow and ominous intro to Hell’s Bells, the bluesy intro to Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution. I’d collect these baseball cards with rock stars on them I’d pick up from flea markets and admired each member of the Live album’s line-up (Brian Johnson, Angus Young, Malcolm Young, Chris Slade, and Cliff Williams).

acdcLive

As I got older, I better understood that AC/DC had life before Brian Johnson and I became a fan of Bon Scott-era AC/DC after being given Highway to Hell (1979) and High Voltage (1976) once I got a CD player and officially started a music collection that actually belonged to me. To me, it seemed that AC/DC had always been around, would always be around, and would exude greatness for all eternity.

Over the years, my taste would grow to incorporate metal (glam, thrash, black, death, doom – you name it), country, ska, punk, jazz, blues, easy listening, hip-hop, and folk. Interests come and go, but one thing that’s been a constant is my love for AC/DC and adoration for Angus Young. Even this morning, as a 31 year old video nerd sipping coffee, having woken before 7am on a Saturday, there’s not much I wouldn’t give to be Angus Young.

Well, I mean, back in October I sort-of was him for a day…

acdcHalloween

If you don’t frequent music websites, aren’t a fan of the band or their style of music, you may not know, otherwise it’s been widely publicized that the last few years haven’t been great for the band. Starting back in early 2014 when news of rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young being too ill to perform (later revealed to be dementia in addition to lung cancer and receiving a pace maker). Malcolm had been a member of the band since day one and it was hard to hear of his departure, especially under those circumstances. It was said there was an agreement between the Young brothers that if one wasn’t in the band, then the band would cease to exist, so I pictured this being the end of a four-decade era. Instead, Malcolm was replaced by his nephew, Stevie, and the band continued, presumably due to a family member loophole in the brotherly agreement.

And why shouldn’t they continue? They picked themselves up out of the absolute pits after the death of Bon Scott to not only achieve success with a new front man in Brian Johnson, but even bigger success (Johnson’s debut with the band, Back in Black, is still the second highest selling album in history, having sold well over 50 million copies, second only to Michael Jackson’s Thriller).

A few months later in 2014 came the news that long time drummer Phil Rudd had been busted on a variety of charges that included attempting to procure a murder, threatening to kill, and possession of meth and cannabis. Reportedly, the band had been having issues with Rudd in the year or two leading up to this and after this news broke, decided to part ways with him and bring back Razor’s Edge drummer Chris Slade. The attempt to procure a murder charge was dropped, but Rudd would plead guilty to the other offenses.

Then, most recently, the news was released that long time lead singer Brian Johnson had been warned by his doctor that his partial hearing loss would soon become total hearing loss if he continued to perform at the venues AC/DC played at (arenas and other large venues, obviously, the only places AC/DC can play and, unfortunately, venues that require louder than usual sound systems). Rumors quickly spread that he’d been kicked out of the band, some say confrontationally, others said he learned on social media he’d been kicked out. It wouldn’t be until earlier this week when Johnson, himself, released a statement explaining the situation and how it was a mutual agreement between himself and the band due to his concern that his hearing loss would hinder his performance and would inadvertently disappoint fans and/or embarrass the band.

No matter the circumstances, the fact remained that the band had lost yet another iconic lead singer. Tour dates were canceled and the future of the band was up in the air.


When I mentioned above that I started to branch out musically, one of the bands I got heavily into was Guns’n’Roses. My mom had Appetite for Destruction (1987) on a cassette that was so worn out, the track listings on the tape had worn off so you didn’t know which was the A side, which was the B. Singles Welcome to the Jungle, Paradise City, and Sweet Child o’ Mine were already huge and while I listened to this cassette early on just for those songs, it wouldn’t be long before I took my time to listen to the entire thing and learn what a masterpiece it is. Songs like Nightrain, Mr. Brownstone, My Michelle, and Rocket Queen have stuck with me since those days. These guys were grittier* than AC/DC, faster* than AC/DC, sloppier* than AC/DC, and to my young eyes, looked cool as shit.

gnr

*does not equal better

As G’n’R took off, so did music television and I was addicted. In 1991 the Use Your Illusion records came out and I was all about their cover of Live and Let Die, Don’t Cry, You Could Be Mine, Civil War, and there was a time when I thought November Rain was the best song ever recorded.

Give me a break, in 1991 I was 7 years old and had never even heard of the MC5 for Christ’s sake!

In the years since, however, I’ve learned a lot more about the band that’s made me lose a lot of respect for them. The band were all junkies (not that that matters, since I’m such a big Motley Crue fan, and let’s not talk about how much I love Dee Dee Ramone). Knowing how out of it Slash was when he was doing all of this mind-blowing guitar playing really disappointed me. Knowing how unorganized they were during the peak of their career really disappointed me. Knowing how much they all hated each other during this time really disappointed me.

Not to mention Axl Rose is…Well, Axl Rose. He was a great performer with a truly unique voice and stage presence, but the ego he brought along with him hurts my eyes and heart to read about. Stories about the band going on 4 hours late (and sometimes not at all) because of him are innumerable and the general consensus that it was his attitude that soured most of the relationships within his band do nothing to help his cause. Any shred of credibility Axl had with me was lost during the 11 year span between the beginning and actual release of the long awaited record Chinese Democracy. During production there were so many stories of Axl getting into heated arguments and fistfights with crew, band members, and fans. Countless lawsuits ensued, inexplicable delays resulted, and the album’s personnel were a seemingly-endless revolving door of musicians. At more than $13 million, Chinese Democracy is named the most expensive rock album ever produced.

After 11 years of anticipation and $13 million blown, fans were expecting a lot more than they received. I personally think the record was lackluster at best and the rock and roll community as a whole seemed to quickly forget about it. The numbers say the album went platinum but they don’t mention the Best Buy exclusive release (Best Buy bought a platinum amount) of the record that actually flopped from a sales perspective. As far as I’m concerned, one of the biggest disappointments in rock and roll history.

This coming from a guy that actually thought Metallica’s collaboration with Lou Reed – Lulu – was a good thing, so take my opinion with whatever grain of salt you have handy.


Fast forward to present day. While AC/DC are struggling with the loss of another lead singer, Guns’n’Roses have sort-of regrouped with some original members for the first time in nearly two decades and have gone on a short reunion tour. There was no real reason for this, in my opinion, after years of “it’s never going to happen” statements from the very band members that are currently making it happen. The only real reason to do it is the pay day it would produce for the members. Metalsucks.net recently reported that while it was a marketing risk to get these guys back together hoping the fans would care, it’s working and it’s working well: Opening weekend (read: 2 shows) at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas saw both shows sold out, grossing nearly $6.5 million. There’s definitely money in nostalgia.

Sometimes, at least.

You could say Axl Rose is experiencing a resurgence in his career. Nobody’s tripping on his weight gain or his awful hair style like they had during his silent Chinese Democracy shut-in years. Even if it means nobody cares about anything new he has up his sleeve, I can’t blame the guy for being willing to take the stage to sing Welcome to the Jungle every night for a good pay day – very much like the Rolling Stones or KISS. This doesn’t change the fact that Axl Rose is an ass.

I can back this up with stories of him calling Metallica a cartoon band, ripping on his old bandmates for being in an actually (at the time) relevant band in Velvet Revolver, numerous physical and verbal attacks on fans, getting butt-hurt when Kurt Cobain declined his offer for Nirvana to open for G’n’R, and referring to the Eagles of Death Metal as the “Pigeons of Shit Metal”. Reportedly, he also hates small dogs. I’ve had enough of Axl.

So when I heard Axl was officially replacing Brian Johnson as the lead singer of AC/DC, you can imagine that I was beyond disappointed. Heart-broken, even. There were lots of other candidates, including Al Barr, lead singer of Boston celtic-punk band the Dropkick Murphys, that would’ve made it work well enough to fulfill what appears to be the main objective here of making up those canceled tour dates and finishing AC/DC’s tour.

The Who’s Roger Daltrey calls Axl’s inclusion into the Thunder from Down Under “karaoke” and I couldn’t agree more.

I can’t rip on AC/DC for wanting to make up the shows, but why Axl? And what happens after this tour is over? His attitude, his stage presence, his lifestyle, all contrast with that of classic AC/DC and the formula they’ve used for the last 40 years.

I think what pisses me off the most is that Angus recently came out on stage during the Guns set at Coachella to perform Whole Lotta Rosie…And it actually worked.

Regardless, I can’t accept Axl Rose as the lead singer for a band I’ve loved since before I knew what music actually was. As selfish as it sounds, I genuinely hope AC/DC use Rose to gain some serious dough during this last little bit of touring, and after finishing the last date, calling it quits. AC/DC has nothing else to prove – they’re the biggest band in the world – and nothing will ever change that. It doesn’t matter if you’re 5 or 95, your head is going to bang (or at least nod) when you hear You Shook Me All Night Long, you’re going to briefly love the devil when you hear Highway to Hell, and the walls will crumble all around you every time you hear Thunderstruck. Take it easy, guys, and enjoy the life you’ve built for yourself over the course of your careers.

AC/DC forever, no Axl Rose necessary.

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