- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

In the early 1970s, in the wake of the Beatles' breakup, there bloomed a new sound called art rock.
Trying to expand on the Fab Four's experiments with orchestral music and complex arrangements, it cultivated a haughty contempt for the simple three-chord structure and throbbing backbeat of blues-based rock music.
You might say art rock looked away from Africa and toward Europe for its inspiration.
Stretching rock beyond its accustomed and comfortable limits, progressive rock bands including Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer and King Crimson set high-flown, effetely "poetical" lyrics to busy, pompous, meandering musical backgrounds decorated with baroque touches of jazz and classical music.
Then there was AC/DC.
Formed in Australia in 1973, AC/DC produced a sound that was like a swift kick in the crotch, a minimalist snarl. The guitar tones were crunchy and brash, the rhythm section hulking, the arrangements sparse and the vocals ah, the vocals.
AC/DC's original lead singer, the late Bon Scott, sounded like a wild, howling dingo in the Australian outback. Between Scott's sore-throated screech and the chugging guitar riffs of brothers Angus and Malcom Young, AC/DC could split lumber.
into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last weekend, auspiciously pegged to Sony-owned Epic Records' reissuing of the band's back catalog, digitally remastered and dressed in lavish packaging that includes new liner notes and photos.
There's also a bonus for the computer-savvy: When dropped into a CD-ROM drive, each disc is equipped to access special material, including rare video footage, extended liner notes and tour memorabilia, via the band's Web site: www.acdcrocks.com.
The first tranche of AC/DC rereleases came out Feb. 18; two more batches are slated for April 8 and May 20.
So, herewith, a revisit to the initial batch, still the best of AC/DC's 25-year career.
Before we start, though, a caveat: Much of this material was digitally remastered and rereleased previously, in 1994. My guess is that only the most obsessive audio snobs will be able or care to hear the difference.

'High Voltage'
The cover of the band's 1976 American debut says it all: lead guitarist Angus Young in his trademark schoolboy outfit, his tongue wagging, a garish lightening bolt striking his foot.
The tones contained therein weren't pretty, and they weren't meant to be. Perhaps no band captured the purity and boiling grit of a tube amplifier better than AC/DC.
This, surely, is the sound God intended the electric guitar to make.
As reflected in the full-tilt boogie and sleazy lyrics of "High Voltage," this band partied hard, brawled and womanized. An indication of its nose-thumbing attitude: At the end of "The Jack," Mr. Scott says a "Thank you" to a booing audience that was pasted into the recording.
The album's two openers, "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" and "Rock 'n' Roll Singer" basically work around the same riff, but it's a pretty good one why let it go to waste?
The title track is a particular standout. Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson once said it made him want to "gasp for air" when he first heard it. You'll know exactly what he means when you hear the brothers Young interplay. For all its raunch and rawness, the AC/DC style was quite disciplined and carefully executed.

'Highway to Hell'
The well-known title track of this album proved prophetic, as lead singer Bon Scott died shortly after its 1979 release.
Highlights include "Girl's Got Rhythm," a midtempo rocker with an infectious call-and-response chorus, and "Beating Around the Bush," propelled by a well-spaced, bone-crunching three-chord riff.
Listen for Mr. Scott's bloodcurdling howl on "If You Want Blood (You've Got It)." It's a wonder he didn't keel over from an aneurysm right then and there.

'Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap'
Released in Australia in 1975, this one didn't hit the United States until 1981, after Mr. Scott's alcohol-related death the previous year. The title track a slinky, down-tempo rocker that makes a hit man's sales pitch is one of the band's best and most famous.
The uproarious Chuck Berry-ish boogie of the aptly named "Rocker" is particularly enjoyable, as is the obnoxious "Big Balls," which switches to and from a rowdy chorus chant and Mr. Scott's pouty half-spoken, half-sung delivery.
There's also the lesser-known "Ride On," a rueful bluesy tune that's one of the band's more thoughtful compositions.

'Back in Black'
Most bands never would have recovered from the loss of a lead singer, especially one as distinct as Mr. Scott, but AC/DC plowed on, replacing him with a Brit named Brian Johnson.
Then they went and scored the biggest hit of their career. According to Sony, "Back in Black," released in 1980, is the sixth-best-selling record of all time, with an astounding 41 million sales worldwide. More than 300,000 copies of it have been sold this year alone, according to Billboard magazine.
With the apocalyptic "Hells Bells," the ferocious title track and, of course, the megahit "You Shook Me All Night Long," "Back in Black" is probably AC/DC's definitive release, appealing to both hard-core and casual fans.
There's something missing from it, though, and it's not just Mr. Scott. A title like "Let Me Put My Love Into You," for example, smacks of self-parody, and the hiring of Mr. Johnson, whose voice is even more ear-splitting than Mr. Scott's, was an attempt to play to type rather than possibly explore a different direction.
On the other hand, AC/DC has never seemed to care about trends or formulas; the band members have never been anything but themselves, as '90s tracks such as "Thunderstruck" and "Money Talks," both minor hits, demonstrated.

'AC/DC Live'
This is where one suspects Epic of gouging consumers. "Live" is reissued in both of its previous iterations, as a single set and a two-disc "collector's edition." Why not just release the double CD?
Either way, "Live," originally released in 1992, is mostly unremarkable and is worth the buy only for the AC/DC completist.
Well, there you have it: the best and meatiest of the AC/DC catalog. The band's subsequent releases, such as "Who Made Who," "Flick of the Switch" and "The Razor's Edge," were spotty at best.
A true lover of rock music cannot go wrong with the albums reviewed above.
For those about to buy one or more of these reissues, I salute you.

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