Angusonics (2)

By: James Parker
March 29, 2011


Second 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 celebrates his 56th birthday on March 31st.

From Powerage.

1978: The band have co-headlined with REO Speedwagon in Florida, toured Europe with Black Sabbath, Cliff Williams is the new bassist, and Angus — an early patron of Ken Schaffer’s innovative wireless guitar system — is literally off the leash, wading as far into the (ever-increasing) audience as he pleases. The Powerage sessions, back in Australia, have a cultivated intensity. Remembers engineer Mark Opitz, in Murray Engleheart’s AC/DC Maximum Rock’n’Roll: “To do a take, we’d all come in, throw a cigarette around the room and all be sitting there and someone would say ‘What about that fucking so and so? What a cunt! Do you know what I mean?’ And everyone would go, ‘Yeah, he’s a cunt. What about that other so and so? What do you think of him?’ ‘Ah, he’s a cunt.’ And we’d get into this whole thing… just pouring it on and on and on and on until George [Young, producer and older brother of Malcolm and Angus] said ‘Right, do a take.’” The mix is sharp, antagonistic: more bite and grind to the guitars, a more hissing immediacy to Phil Rudd’s cymbals.

Lots of people love “Sin City”: Bruce Dickinson covered it, as did Twisted Sister. Diamond Nights might be said to have based their whole career on it. In our opinion, on an album that also features “Down Payment Blues” and the immaculately understated junkie bummer of “Gone Shootin’” (“I stir my coffee with the same spoon/ To a favourite tune…”) it’s only a B+. Brute hedonism is the theme, with a sleazy riff and Bon Scott gurgling like a randy old witch over his dry martinis and Lamborghinis. Still, for whatever reason, “Sin City” triggers total Angus-ignition: an absolute nosebleed of a solo. Screaming in at 1.55 on a descending streak of treble, he proceeds through pinched harmonics, high-low alternations, technical aggro, strange quacking statements, NOISE, until a mental panorama is summoned in which Chuck Berry has ridden a lolloping, long-eared Greg Ginn into the fieriest halls of Lightning Bolt. Almost unbelievably, Angus could reproduce this live. He sails out on a metallic low-end zoom, cut off with a wicked ugly pick slide at 2.43. Fritzed pleasure-circuits, smoking eyeballs… Bass and drums keep going, but it’s time to leave Sin City.


Pop Music, Read-outs

What do you think?

  1. Ahhh, Powerage, the album of choice for the discerning AC/DC fan.

    “Riff Raff,” “Sin City,” “Downpayment Blues…” just a blistering assault. This is really the band’s peak for me.

  2. My first exposure of AC/DC was the Powerage album. I purchased a copy simply because I looked at the cover and thought “this looks interesting.” On the first listen I became an instant fan. I still get chills listening to Angus’guitar solos especially the Sin City one. I was fortunate enough to catch AC/DC live while Bon Scott was still alive–they were the opening act for UFO. It probably should have been the other way around…

  3. Does he go into 5/4 towards the end? Or is that just my bad counting? There’s something odd going on with time signatures — but it’s not self-cvonsious like a jazzer. It’s more like when John Lennon slips into a bar of 5/4 on a Beatles track. Which track is that? I shall leave it for someone to show off or will reveal the answer tomorrow.

    Sorry I am bringing everything towards the Beatles like a monomaniac, like Schopenhauer writing about The Will or the comics artist Gil Kane drawing everybody from the perspective of a three-year old so you can see up their noses. (It was technically proficient but disempowering to the viewer.)

    Sorry, I’ve gone off-message again.

  4. Welcome commenters! 5/4, Greg? Could be. It does sound a bit waltz-ish, the way he flares away from the beat at the end… But with that I have reached the limits of my insight. My critical M.O. is more along the lines of drawing everybody from the perspective of a three-year old so you can see up their noses.

    The Beatles track to which you refer is ‘When I’m 64’.

  5. I count off four measures of 5/4, bookended by straight time. But what they’re doing in there is heavily syncopated against the 5/4 (it’s so slanted off the rhythm that it makes me doubt my counting, too). It’s cool—think about all the metrical decoration of metal, compared to AC/DC’s assertion of straight rock & roll. Little hauntings & easter eggs are very metal, aren’t they?

    As for the Beatles, there’s a 5/4 measure that trips things up going into the verse of “Don’t Let Me Down,” too.

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