Whole Lotta AC/DC: Highway To Hell Vs Back In Black

What we’re going to discuss here today may offend some of you.  Hell, it may offend all of you.   But I’m not here to worry about how your values are challenged by unconventional statements.  No, I’m here to listen to things, and write about them.  So lets get right into it.

About 2 years ago i had an auditory awakening.  For the majority of my life, I was aware of AC/DC.  Anyone familiar with rock music most likely is as well.  I would go as far as saying I was a fan.  But it stopped there.  We had a good working relationship.  When we passed each other in the halls, we would say hello, and perhaps even discuss the weekend, but we did not eat lunch together.  As a young guitar player, I learned Back In Black, and appreciated it as one of the great riffs of all time, yet it did not truly connect with my soul.  The band was just a casual fling, some I could live without.  Until one night in the Mediterranean.  (the music just went dramatic in the underscore)

In Greece, they love rock and roll.  This is just a general statement, I don’t really know if its true.  I didn’t hear too much music while there except while in one particular bar.  The group I traveled with had a local scary Greek woman taking us around.  She assumed we just wanted to hear Rock music in some American type bar, which was false.  We were after some psycho Bazouki, some Lute jams, some Pan flute explosions….but we did not find such things.  The bar we landed in seemed like something in Tribecca, a little bit forced lo fi.  We had played earlier in the evening and were significantly tired, and I was trying to drink a significant amount, hoping to wake up- which was not helping.  My eyelids were on the way down, it was a losing battle.  There is a picture of me at this precise moment, the 3 guys in the group all look like we’re about to die, the 4 girls look excited to be alive and are wide awake.

Just before my view on AC/DC permanently changed.
Just before my view on AC/DC permanently changed.

Just as I thought I had been defeated, the song changed.  I don’t know what it was before, I’m going to say Whitesnake.  But as the instantly recognizable guitar sound emanated from the speakers, everything was suddenly ok.  We barrelled on into the night, into the wee hours.  The song was none other than “Whole Lotta Rosie”  of the Let There Be Rock album, with the original vocalist Bon Scott.   I was not aware before this event, but this is without a doubt, the finest AC/DC song ever recorded.  I will fight you to the death on this one.  “You can keep You Shook Me All Night Long”.   As the once great, since fallen, blogger Jason Mulgrew wrote  (I’m paraphrasing here)   “I put this song on, and instantly impregnated 3 women within my zip code”  The energy of the song is unstoppable.  The tempo isn’t even that fast, I’m gonna say maybe around 132bpm.  But in this mid tempo drive, it maintains a confidence that a faster song just doesn’t have.  Bon Scott and Angus Young just don’t need to rush through anything, they’ve got time.  Time to talk about their love of big women (hence, there is in fact a whole-lot of Rosie).  He begins the song with a spoken intro, letting you know whats going to happen.  You will be told a story about a woman he knows, not exactly pretty, not exactly small.  But you better be prepared to rock out, because the contrast of the heavy guitars to Bon’s voice clue you in to whats about to happen.  Then there’s an odd tempo shift, he yells “YOU CAN SAY SHE GOT IT ALLLLLLLLL”, and your tray table better be up.

I believe thats Rosie on the stage
I believe thats Rosie on the stage
Angus, during this very solo.
Angus, during this very solo.

The verse is just straight up swagger, there is not a drum fill in sight, the bass is on the 8th note groove that AC/DC is famous for, the guitars just chug along.   The chorus is short and to the point, “Shes A Whole Lotta Woman, A Whole Lotta Woman, A Whole Lotta Rosie”   Then a few chord changes, and BAM!  We’re in Solo world.  There are in fact 2 guitar solos in this song.  Now, I’m not a fan of the guitar solo.  Unless you’re Marc Ribot or Smokey Hormel, I really don’t want to hear you wank out on some tired ass blues lick.  But in this case, something else has arisen.  Angus just pulls out pure emotion.  He’s writhing around the stage, gyrating uncontrolably, doing his signature kick step move, its all in there.  It doesnt make sense, hes just jamming in as many notes as he can, ending with a fantastic descending whole note section….but its just fucking perfect.  After hearing this song, I am ready to destroy not only the day, but the week.  I am ready to eat a cheesesteak so large it negates its own very existance.  But lo my dear reader, that is not what we’re here to discuss today.  We’re here to discuss Brian Johnson, and his contribution to the AC/DC catalog Vs Bon Scott.  Get your hemet on.

I’m gonna come right out and say it.  Overall Brian Johnson has contributed more to the catalog.  Back in Black is better than Highway To Hell.  Fight me on it if you want, but you will not win.  The sound overall of Back In Black is amazing. Its spacious, yet it slams you in the face with a Dodge Ram filled with football players.  There are no cheesey effects.  Listen to those drums on Back In Black (the song), they’re amazing.  The album just feels more impactful.  Maybe because it was partially recorded and mixed at Electric Lady studios in NY, whereas Highway To Hell was partially recoded and mixed in London.  And everyone knows if you want to do some serious shit, you gotta come to ‘Merica to mix.

Lets talk about songs.   Highway to hell certainly has some great jams.  “Highway To Hell” itself, wonderful.  Night Prowler?  Frikkin Fantastic and suspenseful.  “If You Want Blood”?  Serious as well, although it doesn’t get me as excited as “Whole Lotta Rosie”.  But beyond that, and I really hate to say it, The rest feels like filler.  Yes, I know this is AC/DC, and they’re clearly working within a set format, but some songs are just better than others.   Now lets switch over to Back In Black.  “Hells Bells”  “Shoot To Thrill”  “You Shook Me All Night Long”  “Back In Black”  “Have A Drink On Me”  “Rock and Roll Aint Noise Pollution” Those are all just plain amazing.  Noise Pollution almost approaches Rosie territory.  It makes you want to just do a high kick, throw a glass against a wall, and go on about your business.  These songs alone spread out over several albums would have made a lesser band rock gods in their own right.  But on ONE fucking album?  Are you kidding me?  Thats Beatles Territory.  Yes, they’re songs about much more primitave subjects, but that does not make them any less important. These choruses will be remembered througout history.  The guitar solos launched a generation of lesser players.

The song “Highway To Hell” may be fantastic, but the band seemed to take a turn with “Back In Black” as an album.  Dare I say, they became more melodic?  I’m not suggesting an operatic version of these songs any time soon, but Johnson certainly brought more melody to the verses than Scott.  Scott may be the most badass frontman of all time, I would not question his ability to stab or punch out anyone at any time, but Johnson has done more with the hoarse voice scream than anyone will ever do.  Chris Cornell is just a pale immitation of him.  Its the perfect mix of scream and sing.  Go ahead, listen to the 2 albums back to back. See which one makes you want to go out and conquer the world.  Then, once you’ve made the decision that Back In Black is superior as a complete piece of music, go listen to “Whole Lotta Rosie”.

While sitting in this bar during my religious experience, I cautiously turned to my friend Blasco, a man of great respect musically, and said “Man, sometimes, theres nothing wrong with a little AC/DC”.  He immediately resonded “There is NEVER anything wrong with AC/DC”

4 thoughts on “Whole Lotta AC/DC: Highway To Hell Vs Back In Black”

  1. Touch to much is a filler!?
    come on mate it’s one of the bands best songs EVER and personally I like it better than Rosie!
    Don’t get me wrong Rosie is a classic but I don’t get why you can get away with mentioning Highway to Hell without mentioning the BRILLIANT! Touch to much. ( like a hand down a velvet glove! )
    But this is a question I have always asked myself. What if I could only have 1 AC/DC album?! Which on would it be? Quite frankly it gives me headaches just thinking about it as though I obviously get more out of Highway to hell than you do I get exactly what your saying about Back In Black!
    It’s like Sophie’s choice to me it is really that difficult!
    If I come down one way the other I will just get a headache again when I start thinking about it again so I won’t.
    Just to say the band produce two top classed classic albums back to back with two great singers.
    I am getting a headache just thinking about this thanks a lot lol!

  2. I think a lot comes down to the initial state you were in when you first heard, and then how things have turned out since – or didn’t hear them. I’m from Australia and I was 13 – 17 in AC/DC’s time with Bon. By the time Highway to Hell came out, AC/DC had sortta checked out. They made a big bang with their cover of ‘Baby Don’t Go’, ‘TNT’, and most of all, ‘It’s a Long Way to the Top’, but songs like Lotta Rosie were not big, they became just another rock band – a good one though. Highway came out, and yeah, just another good rock song. But Bon died, then when ‘Back in Black’ and the combination of the ‘new’ old guys screamin’ and the great songs just blew everyone. I had just learned how to play a bar chord, mostly Gs, and boy I did some horrible hours trying to copy the Youngs’ riff. 25 years later, on youtube, I hear the Bon songs again. I’m not even interested in the ‘new’ ACDC. I read a crit that said Bon’s voice was so (I forgot the adjective), you could catch a disease by listening to it. Absolutley. I watch Whole Lotta Rosie on youtube, the one when Angus breaks a string. It’s absolutely awesome. I see the other Young player, Angus’s brother (WTF, I can’t remember his name)playing those chords on the back of a truck for, ‘It’s a Long Way’ and there is no doubt in my my mind. If I had to choose an ACDC album forever it would have been one of the Bon era albums. The previous ones were produced by Vanda/Young and were more brutal. Highway had harmonies etc. Still it is awesome, and that opening lazy drum beat is a killer

  3. i like highway to hell alot more then back in black, but i respect and listen to back in black just the same. Bon was something else and a good something else , i do belive however brian brought acdc into the modern era

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