Wednesday, November 3, 2010

AC/DC - Let There Be Rock (Atlantic, 1977)

Any album that begins with a song about oral sex and ends with a tune about banging a plus-sized woman is bound to be great. The only question is the degree of greatness. And if AC/DC is the second-greatest rock n’ roll band of all-time and Let There Be Rock is their best album, we’re talking a very high degree.

Let There Be Rock may not be the most popular or obvious choice for greatest AC/DC album, but it’s been my #1 for years. Yeah, sure: Back in Black is an incredible record. But with all due respect to Brian Johnson (a hall of fame singer in his own right), Bon Scott era AC/DC is where it’s at! All six Bon-era studio albums are gold standard classics in my book, so picking just one out of the lot becomes a matter of personal preference. I go with Let There Be Rock - probably the band’s bluesiest LP, yet also one of its heaviest. AC/DC, in its heyday, was like Chuck Berry on amphetamines; and that vibe is more pronounced on Let There Be Rock than it is on any of the band’s other albums. And for those of you who are guitarists – try and tell me this album doesn’t have some of the greatest rock n’ roll guitar playing you’ve heard in your life! Praise God! Praise Angus!

In contrast to commercially streamlined, Mutt Lange-produced albums like Highway to Hell and Back in Black, the earlier Vanda & Young produced AC/DC albums are rawer, looser affairs retaining a “bar band” feel. Let There Be Rock typifies that feel. It’s a rock n’ roll record, and it sounds like it. It’s all energy and power and sexed-up swagger, well-produced but not over-polished. It plays to the band’s strengths: Scott’s amazing raspy vocals, Angus Young’s wildfire guitar leads, and a rock-solid rhythm section that never got enough credit. While the likes of Cream and Led Zeppelin imitated the blues, AC/DC truly had the blues in their hearts and their souls. If you want to hear the true spirit of rhythm and blues seamlessly integrated into hard rock music, head straight to Let There Be Rock. I don’t know if it was something in the water, or in the air, or in its unique cultural heritage, but 1970s Australia produced some of the hottest and most authentic rock n’ roll the world’s ever known. And at the head of the class was AC/DC. Let There Be Rock, the band’s last album with an all-Aussie lineup, doesn’t re-invent rock n’ roll. But it damn well perfects it.

Working mostly a raunchy mid-tempo groove, Let There Be Rock kicks off with a monster guitar riff on “Go Down” and never looks back. The late, great Scott never sounded better – his delivery depraved and libidinous, yet soulful to the core and utterly lovable. The songs are simply constructed, yet perfect in every way. The Young brothers are on fire – Malcolm banging out riffs that shake your bones; Angus soloing with such fury that it seems your stereo speakers may shred. But Scott’s clearly the star of the show, wailing away with a blend of confidence and dynamism that only Iggy and Jagger have ever been able to match. He lends muscle to underrated rockers like “Dog Eat Dog” and “Bad Boy Boogie” but still comes across with convincing tenderness on the bluesy love song “Overdose”. And he totally kills it on the album’s two classic songs – the epic title track and the barnburner finale “Whole Lotta Rosie”. And although five of the album’s eight tracks clock in at longer than five minutes, the songs don’t seem long. “Let There Be Rock” and “Whole Lotta Rosie” are musical equivalents to The Godfather – so delightful and action-packed that you’re left wanting more in spite of their length.

The ultimate value of any rock n’ roll record cannot be quantified or even adequately conveyed by the written word. There’s no real way to analyze the greatness of Let There Be Rock. All I know is that whenever I put it on, my day becomes more awesome. I find myself immediately launching into air guitar outbursts of the craziest order. I sing along at the top of my lungs. Routine activities like walking to a shelf to put away books become opportunities to dance and jump around. What’s that? Unemployment is only getting worse, America is trillions of dollars in debt, a terror attack is imminent, Iran’s got the bomb, and if the world doesn’t end in 2012, there will at least be another Great Depression? So what! The music’s loud, and I love it!

-Josh Rutledge

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