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AC/DC’s Brian Johnson and the art of being the new boy for 36 years

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It feels like every one last (The) Jack of us, the public, has been subjected to the ongoing media frenzy surrounding the confirmation of the much rumoured appointment of a certain Mr Rose to the ranks of AC/DC, to fulfil the remaining dates of the Rock Or Bust world tour. The one thing that has struck me up to this point in the whole drama has been how silent and dignified Brian Johnson has remained. His one and only official statement gives a heartbreaking insight into the pain and anguish he must be going through. Whether he manages to come back, as he hopes, remains to be seen. Now I am not here to raise debate, argue, or give my own personal opinion as to the way this whole thing has been handled, nor am I here to chastise or complain about Axl or anyone else.

However, the one question I would put out there is to ask what legacy Brian leaves behind after 36 years in arguably the biggest Rock band the world has ever known?

I guess we better go back to 1980, a very different world indeed. There were no mobile phones, no internet, and I was still riding around on my Raleigh Chopper. For AC/DC it was a defining moment in their history, still reeling from the loss of Bon Scott at a time when the world was at their feet following the success of Highway To Hell. Big decisions had to be made, whether to carry on or quit (a decision that maybe needs to be made again some would say), and with the blessing of Bon’s parents, the search was on. Now, it’s well documented that Bon had mentioned Brian in despatches, but he was not the only person the band looked at. Rumours that Noddy Holder was strongly in the frame seemed perfectly plausible but the Geordie lad got the gig. Probably just as well considering the Hoover commercial recorded just before the audition!

 

There is not a Rock fan on the planet that does not instantly recognise the opening riff to Back In Black. The album itself is cemented as the biggest selling Rock album of all time, and a great chunk of that success is down to Brian’s vocal performance and lyrics. As a young teenager, Brian’s voice was everything I wanted to hear, not because of any particular technical brilliance, quite the opposite in fact.  It was like listening to a chainsaw attacking a tin can but it was raw, dirty and downright rebellious, the theme tune to my youth. Despite the success of Back In Black, the band were still playing relatively small venues including places such as Deeside Leisure Centre at this point, but all that was beginning to change, and when For Those About To Rock was released in 1981 the world had more or less been conquered.

 

Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s the hits followed but not enough people, in my view, give praise to Brian’s lyric writing, whether it be ‘Spellbound’ from’81:


Blinded by a bright beam
Shattered by the windscreen
Stunned by the whiplash
I’m a victim of a bad crash
I can’t do nothin’ right
I never sleep at night
Can’t even start a fight
My feet have left the ground
Spinnin’ round and round
Spellbound
My world keeps a tumblin’ down
Spellbound
My world keeps a tumblin’ down

OrGuns For Hire from 1983’s ‘Flick Of The Switch’:

The word is out that I’m about
And I’ve come gunnin’ for you
I’m a real entertainer a mischief maker
A lover of no fixed abode
Ooh quick draw on the floor
No law give you more
Sweet talkin’ lover of sin
You want what you get
You get what you want
Look out woman
I got gun’s for hire
Shoot you with desire
The gun’s for hire
Shoot you with desire
I’m a wanted poster a needed man
Wanted right across the land
I’m a smooth operator a big dictator
Gonna mark you with my brand
My gun’s for hire
Shoot you with desire
Got gun’s for hire
Shoot you with desire
Quick draw
On the floor
Big shot

Brian’s lyrics were always short, sharp, punchy and masterful in emphasizing his cheekiness; a trait that was sadly lost when the lyric writing duties were returned to the Youngs. This was a decision I never understood but to quote another Brian lyric, ‘Come on come on, listen to the Moneytalk’ (‘Moneytalks’).

As a stage presence, Brian Johnson was immense. Not because of any David Lee Roth style star jumps, but because he knew exactly when to take the lead and exactly when to fade into the background. His little quips in between songs during the early 80’s were hilarious. Not for the content but because we couldn’t understand a bloody word. Yet you always got the impression he was in his element on that stage and by projecting that feeling, we the crowd, felt like it was ourselves up there, living the dream. Donington 1984 stands out for me personally as I stood in total awe of how he held the stage. Yes, of course Angus caught the eye and Mal was lurking in the background running the show, but Brian was the focal point, that connection between the giants of rock and the fans.

Brian was and still is the ultimate professional; no dramas, no egos, no tantrums, just head down and get the job done. Take a listen to ‘Can’t Stand Still’ from 2000’s ‘Stiff Upper Lip’, a track that he laid down the vocals to in one take, resulting in the audible round of studio applause at the end (Also a rare track to feature Malcolm on lead guitar by the way). As a spokesman, he gradually took over from Angus in many respects, especially during the last fifteen years, it was mainly Brian that faced the interviewers. Although a difficult role, he made it his own. I guess because he always has been a people person. Indeed it was he that did all the talking when the band (minus Phil Rudd) took to the stage at Hammersmith in 2011 for the premier of ‘Live At River Plate’, an event that proved to be Malcolm’s final public appearance.

 

What the future holds for Brian Johnson and AC/DC remains to be seen, but if the journey has reached its conclusion, surely there can not be a single fan out there that wouldn’t want to shake him by the hand and say thank you. As vital a component to the AC/DC machine as anyone over the years, quite simply the voice of the greatest Rock band that ever was.  Not many singers can front a band for 36 years and still be known as the ‘new boy’.

Mr Johnson sir, we salute you

 

Listen to the PlanetMosh Playlist on Spotify

Brian Johnson – 36 Years Of AC/DC

 

http://www.acdc.com/

Simon Bower
Rock/Metal junkie living in beautiful Anglesey.Love live music and have a musical taste which can go from Cannibal Corpse to Kate Bush in the blink of an eye.