QUICK, name the greatest rock riffs of all time.
Perhaps it’s just easier to imitate them with a throaty grunt and snarl. What were the ones that you loved to play (and maybe you still do) on your cricket bat or tennis racquet in the absence of a guitar? There’s probably one by Jimi Hendrix and a Led Zeppelin wail. No doubt there are two by the Rolling Stones as well as Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’. The rest are ACDC’s though, aren’t they?
You might think “Sure, but I’m Aussie and we grew up on the stuff” — and certainly the Acca Dacca noise courses through the veins of most Aussie popular music today; even our dance music has that discernable Acca Dacca gritty crunch and drive to it – but so did the rest of any other part of the world where rock is music’s God.
Forget Dame Edna, Paul Hogan, Steve Irwin or even Fosters. Australia’s biggest cultural export over the last 50 years is a bunch of blokes who packaged ‘bogan’ up into a crotch crunching pair of jeans and three chords and blasted it out to the world.
Even our literary giants like Clive James, Germaine Greer and Thomas Keneally can’t match the universal appeal and impact of the heavy decibel strum of six strings by a guy dressed as a school kid. None of them have streets (in Melbourne and Madrid) named after them and great as their achievements are, it is doubtful they will ever have statues erected in their honour like Bon Scott – not bad for a few tunes and a big night out in Camden, eh?
Acca Dacca’s balls out, no bullshit take on rockcraft produced one of the most fun and thrilling sounds in music, one which could only have emanated from the rugged and uncompromising but blithe machismo of Australia.
ACDC are an archetypal Australian story; one that readers of Australian Times in particular can well relate to. Determined immigrants and sons of immigrants (and later an adopted pommy frontman who reportedly will retire to a farm in Australia this year), they were battlers for whom although it made them, Australia just wasn’t big enough and the globe beckoned.
In the birthplace of rock itself, the USA, where they have sold more albums than Madonna and even Michael Jackson (although worldwide Back in Black is still pipped by Thriller as the biggest selling album of all time – but, second biggest … ever … worldwide!) they still sell out the stadiums where a few bars from ‘TNT’ or ‘Thunderstruck’ will ring triumphantly to celebrate NFL touchdowns and ice-hockey goals when they aren’t playing. There’s even a 100% ACDC only radio station.
Acca Dacca became the biggest band in the world without pulling any attention-seeking stunts or pushing an artistic or social agenda. They didn’t have to ride some sort of political stance for headlines; the only axes they have ever grinded are Gibson and Gretsch guitars. With riffs alone they energised the masses.
When the band were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler, who sang with them at the ceremony in 2003 and shares the bill with them at Download this weekend, described their chords as: “the thunder from Down Under that gives you the second-most-powerful surge that can flow through your body.”
Acca Dacca’s music embodies how we as Australians, often begrudgingly, see ourselves; straight-up and not too complicated — we never say ‘simple’ though, do we. We are infectious larrikins that can take on the world, win and have a bloody good time doing it.
So if you are at Donington this Friday for the Download festival, where ACDC make their triumphant return to the spiritual home of heavy metal which was immortalised in the band’s own 1992 live CD and video, consider yourself privileged to be witnessing one of our cultural titans in what is effectively their swan song.
You won’t see an Aussie flag draped from the stage – they have never been like that, and their riffs are bigger than any country anyway. Be proud though, knowing that when the world just wants to rock out, it loves to do it most, and does it best, to the sound of Australia.
Download festival – a history of rock
Bon Scott: Oz Rock’s number 1 hellraiser