Tuesday, July 24, 2007

No. 73: Back In Black

Band: AC/DC
Album: Back in Black
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: One of the best-selling albums of all-time, "Back in Black" showcased AC/DC at its peak of popularity. Record shortly after the death of lead singer Bon Scott, Angus Young and friends enlisted former Geordie lead singer Brian Johnson to try and emulate Scott's famous wail. He did and the record spawned three top ten hits.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Well, it's AC/DC. Almost every damned song sounds the same. For those who complain about sexuality in lyrics, you need not look further than "Let Me Put My Love Into You" or "Givin The Dog A Bone." Not exactly subtle.
Best song: The title track is wonderfully typical of AC/DC.
Worst song: Well, as far as lyrical genius goes, "Let Me Put My Love Into You" is not up there with "All Along The Watchtower."
Is it awesome?: Yes, but it's repetitive.

I'd like to relay a conversation I've had with my father (and to a lesser extent, my sister, who is three years my senior). It involves rap music and it goes normally revolves around the typical boomer, older white guy notion that rap music is overly dirty and "why can't they clean up this music?" That sort of thing. Violence is sometimes a part of the conversation (rap music is too violent, they say).

I don't disagree with two parts of this conversation. The first is that, yes, rap music is largely misogynistic. After all, this is the genre that gave us "pimp" as a compliment.

The second is my sister's involvement with it. No big music connoisseur, she listens to a fair amount of country music (despite the South's generally backward culture, country music isn't particularly misogynistic) and what she terms "angry girl rock" (Kelly Clarkson, Avril Lavigne, etc.). So, she's out of this conversation.

My dad, however, is a different story. He tried to argue with me that a song like "Candy Shop" is much dirtier than older rock and roll. They used subtler language, back in the day, and weren't as overt.

(Now, before we get any further, I want to say that I don't totally disagree with that, as far as low-level, non-hit rap songs go. Certainly, Three Six Mafia's "Slob On My Knob" is a testament to this. "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)" and just about anything by Lil' Kim spins that the other way -- women being the sexual aggressor -- and that, like it or not, is progress.)

I don't know exactly what type of music my dad listens to. I know he used to listen to a lot of dad rock (Clapton, the Beatles, etc.). Back when I was in high school and college, he would discover some band on VH1 (Metallica one week, Social Distortion the next) and try to explain to me how great they were.

The giant hole in my father's argument is AC/DC. My dad likes AC/DC. He's not a huge music guy, but he does like AC/DC, once even threatening to see them live. AC/DC is a band that almost defined dirt-bag filthy in the late '70s and early '80s.

"Let Me Put My Love In To You" and "Givin' The Dog A Bone" make us of the tried and true AC/DC formula: Heavy riffs, start/stop drums and overly mysoginist lyrics. They are two of the most overt filthy songs ever to be put on vinyl (and later, CD).

The idea that sexist lyrics are just of rap music and weren't around before rap is ridiculous. AC/DC does it better than nearly anyone else.


All this makes "Back in Black" a strange tribute to Bon Scott. The two songs referencing Scott's death are fittingly AC/DC. "Hell's Bells" seems to be about a fighter or some sort of vigilante ("I won't take no prisoners won't spare no lives/Nobody's puttin' up a fight") and the title track sounds like some superhero who escaped the gallows or something ("Back in a band,i got Cadillac,/Number one with a bullet, I'm a power pack/Yes I'm in a band with a gang,/they gotta catch me if they want me to hang"). Strangely, I guess it fits, as we're talking about AC/DC, a band that mostly writes songs about sex or violence.

Don't get my wrong, they're cool songs. And certainly, I'd be a hypocrite for disrespecting AC/DC while praising Guns 'N Roses for making hedonistic, chauvanist records.

In fact, most of "Back in Black" is pretty great. It's repetitive (AC/DC's formula is pretty set in stone), but it's a ton of fun. They're catchy hard rock songs set against a fantastic rhytymn section and Angus Young's interesting guitar work. It's kind of like a big, dumb movie. While you watch it, you love it. After thinking about it a day later, you realize there were 500 holes in the plot.

"Back in Black" is littered with holes in its plot. It's sexist. It's repetitive. It's strangely violent for a record in tribute to a dead guy.

Still, it's the best big dumb movie I've ever listened to. It's the first "Die Hard" movie.

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