It’s a clear and vivid memory but I remember coming home at lunchtime from school on February 20th 1980 and listening to the news on the radio. The newscaster told me Bon Scott had died the previous day after a drinking binge. I was devastated, he was the first of my music heroes to die and there have been many since but you never forget your first. I thought it was a valid enough reason for given afternoon school a miss and playing all the AC/DC albums very loudly in tribute. I was a few weeks short of my 15th birthday.
I’m sure my first encounter, as it was for many, was their appearance on Rock Goes To College in 1978. Rock Goes to College was a BBC programme that showed bands live in educational establishments across the country shown both on TV while also simultaneously he gig was live on the radio which allowed us tapers to get a live recording of the gigs. I think my first thought was who are these nutters and why is the guitarist dressed up as a schoolboy? But the music was the thing. Loud, fast heavy rock that you couldn’t help but nod your head to, a guitarist that to my untrained ears looked like he could really play and a singer who had the most brilliant gravelly voice and the kind of grin that screamed trouble.
I was hooked and went on a pocket money sending spree in the Soundtrack record shop in Mount Florida. At that time Soundtrack was owned by Tom Russell who was to become a rock DJ on Radio Clyde and a familiar face, even now, around many Glasgow rock shows. I spent a lot of money in that shop. At the time Atlantic records were selling AC/DC albums at £2.99 to cash in on their growing popularity. A bargain.
Bon left an incredible legacy behind, when I was spending my hard earned cash there was High Voltage, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Let There Be Rock, live album If You Want Blood and my favourite and subject of this blog, Powerage, available for purchase. At this point Highway To Hell was still to be released. That’s a pretty impressive canon for any band/singer to leave behind.
Sadly I never got to see Bon in the flesh. I was just a bit too young to see him and the band in full flight. Anyone who did will tell you how great they were. There is of course some live footage of the Bon era but that sometimes just makes you feel worse for not getting to see him. The recent large turn out to see the Bon Scott statue being unveiled in his birthplace in Kirriemuir a couple of weeks ago shows how much he is still held in great esteem more than 35 years after his death.
I often return to listen to AC/DC and it will usually be a toss up between the live album If You Want Blood and Powerage although the others do get their turn. Powerage really doesn’t have a bad track on it. The album opens with Rock n Roll Damnation which contains the opening line of:
‘They say that you play too loud, Well baby that’s tough’
There’s your statement of intent right there. There are some serious classics on this album, Sin City, Riff Raff, Gimme A Bullet and my own personal favourite AC/DC song Down Payment Blues. Bon may have been known for his lewd and occasional sexist lyrics but on Down Payment Blues we saw a new maturity in his lyric writing. In fact the whole album saw a subtle shift in the sound and feel of the band as they attempted to take their music into new worldwide territories. It was also the last album to be recorded by the Vanda and Young team who had produced all the previous albums. It also saw the debut of Cliff Williams who took over bass duties from Mark Evans.
Bizarrely when there was a run of remasters and reissues of AC/DC albums they left off the song Cold Hearted Man and also messed about with the running order. Why they did this I’ve no idea as the album is only about 40 mins long.
Powerage for me comes top of all the AC/DC releases and it has some competition to overcome to reach that exalted spot.
I don’t consider any of the Johnston era albums to come anywhere near the Bon period. Back in Black is a great album and For Those About To Rock had a few good tracks on it but it was diminishing returns and although they are/were still capable of releasing the occasional great rock song after Bon died it was never going to be with the same consistency.
It took me a few years to accept Johnston in the AC/DC role. It was actually 96 before I first saw them live and I do regret not being at the Back in Black dates which became legend. Angus is still one of the great rock guitarists of our time and Johnston was a good front man but for me it will always be a case of what might have been had Bon not died.
I’m still not sure what the feck is going on these days with Axel Rose taking over vocal duties. One of the most bizarre things in rock music for many a year. If I already had a ticket for a gig I’d probably go out of curiosity but I doubt I’d buy one. It’s wrong on so many levels and I have watched videos of recent gigs and it’s not as bad as it could have been but it’s just not right.
In 2015 I saw the band for what will probably be the last time at Hampden. I was in two minds about going as Phil Rudd was out of the band and sadly Malcolm had succumbed to dementia but I thought I should go and see Angus one more time and I’m glad I did as he didn’t disappoint.
There will never be another Angus or Bon for that matter.
See you on week 17.