100 Greatest Artists

72

AC/DC

Illustration by Christopher Kasch

When I was in junior high, my classmates all liked Led Zeppelin. But I loved AC/DC. I got turned on to them when I heard them play "Problem Child" on The Midnight Special. Like Zeppelin, they were rooted in American R&B, but AC/DC took it to a minimal extreme that had never been heard before. Of course, I didn't know that back then. I only knew that they sounded better than any other band.

For AC/DC, rock began with Chuck Berry and ended around Elvis. They poured their lifeblood into that groove, and they mastered it. Highway to Hell is probably the most natural-sounding rock record I've ever heard. There's so little adornment. Nothing gets in the way of the push-and-pull between the guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd. For me, it's the embodiment of rock & roll.

When I'm producing a rock band, I try to create albums that sound as powerful as Highway to Hell. Whether it's the Cult or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I apply the same basic formula: Keep it sparse. Make the guitar parts more rhythmic. It sounds simple, but what AC/DC did is almost impossible to duplicate. A great band like Metallica could play an AC/DC song note for note, and they still wouldn't capture the tension and release that drive the music. There's nothing like it.

The other thing that separates AC/DC as a hard-rock band is that you can dance to their music. They didn't play funk, but everything they played was funky. And that beat could really get a crowd going. I first saw them play in 1979 at Madison Square Garden, before their singer Bon Scott died and was replaced by Brian Johnson. The crowd yanked all the chairs off the floor and piled them into a pyramid in front of the stage. It was a tribute to how great they were.

I'll go on record as saying they're the greatest rock & roll band of all time. They didn't write emotional lyrics. They didn't play emotional songs. The emotion is all in that groove. And that groove is timeless.

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