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Book Review, AC/DC at 50 by Martin Popoff

I had high hopes for this book. AC/DC’s rousing, sing along anthems were a staple of my teenage years. If any band was ready for a serious, critical reevaluation, it’s AC/DC, who were generally slagged as unlistenable by the rock critics of their era. (Rock critics of the 1970’s had an almost genetic disposition against any hard rock/heavy metal music). My excitement grew during the introduction, when Popoff described AC/DC as “my favorite band of all time.” As you may have guessed from my first sentence, my high hopes were shot down in flames.

Popoff gets AC/DC’s influences correctly, noting their “weirdly heavy ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll” (specifically Chuck Berry), along with elements of blues and boogie music that evolved into their unique brand of riff driven, ferocious rock ‘n’ roll. As we’re all busy humans, let’s discuss the main problem with this book. John Mendelssohn once wrote in the pages of Creem magazine that, “Rock ‘n’ roll is music for balling, in both the sexual and non-sexual senses – a music of joy and exuberance.” Martin Popoff writes in such a dry tone that absolutely no sense of joy or exuberance is conveyed. There’s no feeling of love or poetry or headbanging or dancing or any expression of genuine goddamn EMOTION in this entire book. For Christ’s sake, here’s Popoff on the “Stiff Upper Lip” album, “Soft contours from Angus add to the subtraction. His tone is clean, there’s much palm-muting of his individually picked notes and chords, and he’s mixed in judicious use of finger-picking, giving the riffs a sort of delicate embroidery. Malcolm is sympathetically conservative of tone and reticent about playing too hard, all of which can be heard unencumbered due to Phil Rudd’s spare timekeeping.” This writing is so mechanical, I expected to see an itemized list of required maintenance on my Ford Focus at the end of the book.

Popoff carps often about the quality of AC/DC album artwork throughout the book, which makes the awful cover even more ironic. An eyes-shielded Angus Young appears to be approximately 110 years old while still wearing his schoolboy costume. The only reason anyone would purchase an AC/DC book in 2023 is due to nostalgia and the dear reader probably isn’t dying, in a manner of speaking, to be reminded of their mortality and of their hero’s mortality in such a visually obvious fashion.

If one is looking for a solid history of the band or is an AC/DC completist, this book would make a suitable gift. There are tons of photos of the boys throughout their career and the art direction, minus the cover, deserves much applause. As for me, I’m glad that me and my aimless teen buddies had 8-track tapes of “Highway to Hell” and “Back in Black” that we could crank at volume levels that would rattle car windows and raise eyebrows from a block away. And I will hold onto my memories of screaming the lyrics to “Problem Child” and “Whole Lotta Rosie” as loudly as I could with my friends much longer than I’ll hold onto this book.

Note: Martin Popoff’s “AC/DC at 50” will become commercially available on March 28th, 2023.

Grade – B

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