Not where it actually began for AC/DC - that’s the next cab off the rank - but where my association with the band began. To wit, Explosive Hits ‘76. Obviously I wasn’t alive in 1976, but my mother was, and she was at the bar at a pub in Adelaide, where AC/DC had just played, and Bon Scott approached her and said, “I suppose a fuck’s out of the question, then?”, and he and Angus Young collapsed in giggles and Mum probably blushed, so I always liked to think of myself as Bon Scott’s spiritual lovechild, even before I knew much of the band itself. It was a cool story™ to tell to people who also didn’t know much about AC/DC.
Because contrary to what you might imagine about growing up in Australia, a healthy diet of AC/DC wasn’t one of the tenets of Australian child-rearing. Sure, they were there, in the vernacular, in “it’s a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll”, but to actually listen to them? Probably not. That was for bogans, which everyone tied themselves in knots to avoid self-identifying as, despite the fact that we were whatever-sits-just-above-dirt poor and living in a renovated pub on an industrial street, next to the Transport Workers Union and a huge tin shed where the Hare Krisnas would build the giant sacred cows for their Moomba parade floats.
Highway To Hell and Powerage and Let There Be Rock were all in the family record collection, and I knew my cousin Sam - a farmer with a roo-shootin’ rootin’ ute - was a mad keen fan, but I was too busy listening to Stephen Sondheim to spend much time learning about our country’s hard rock heritage.
Until, that is, I received a copy of Explosive Hits ‘76for my 15th birthday.
As rock critics, we’re all supposed to have “that” story, about the time John Cale blew our minds or whatever - “Some people never got over Vietnam, or the night their band opened for Nirvana” - and one of the great millstones I carried throughout my time writing about music was that I didn’t so much have one lightbulb moment as a slow and steady tidal wave of them throughout my childhood; hell, my childhood had only barely finished when I started writing “professionally” (ho ho) about music at 19. But if you can have lightbulb moments about a band, then side one, track one of Explosive Hits ‘76was mine.
To understand the sorry state of the Australian pop charts at the time you need only look at the track-listing: AC/DC’s Jailbreak is immediately followed by Cliff Richard’s dreary Devil Woman and Dr. Hook’s miserable Only Sixteen… it only gets worse from there (with the brief exception of Starbuck’s Moonlight Feels Right). When it came to understanding AC/DC’s place in my country’s history, this was the context I needed.
The sheer poetry (yep) of Scott’s lyrics - “With a hole in his body where his life had been” - astounded me. I don’t know a lot about poetry, but I do know that the vast majority of the dross held up as the grand canon of popular/unpopular music can’t hold a candle to that. And to compare the “worthy” stuff to Scott-era AC/DC musically? Forget about it. There’s no contest. For my money, only a handful of bands ever approached the same level of power and efficiency, and they’re all arguably cut from the same cloth: Black Sabbath, early Aerosmith, and Slayer for the entirety of Reign In Blood. Pretty sure they’d all agree with me about AC/DC, too. Maybe even about the specifics of this song.
And what a song. What power, what efficiency. Efficiency’s something I’ll return to a lot this week as I try to explain the importance of AC/DC to you; try to remove them from the slag-heap of irrelevance that the New Rock Revolution’s namedropping left them in; try to explain why “Bon Scott era” and “the new guy era” are so incredibly different as to almost make them two separate bands; try to encapsulate how important AC/DC are to you when you’ve been poor; try not to just post lots of photos of Bon Scott and sigh like Sandra Dee with my face in my hands; and try to articulate a love for a band that runs so deep I sometimes wonder if it’s even worth trying to articulate it. (But don’t worry, I still will.)
In the meantime, some visual context for you: here’s the video, which was shot in a quarry outside Footscray in 1976:
Let’s hit the highway.
Guys! I’m doing this all week, I hope you come along and watch my virtual spittle fly as I try to convey my love for AC/DC.
I thought this was interesting. +I like AC/DC so there.