AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll: The Ultimate Story of the World’s Greatest Rock-and-Roll Band by Murray Engleheart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I wanted to give this bio on AC/DC more stars, but I think it has too many weaknesses to do that. That said, this 488 page book is a beast of a bio and one does learn quite a lot about the band.
This well-researched book starts out in the ’60s with the Young brothers. Malcolm and Angus watched as their older brother George achieved some international stardom with a group called The Easybeats, but that group didn’t last too long. The brothers were excellent guitar players and started playing early on. They were also tiny — Malcolm’s 5’3″ and Angus is 5’2″ — and took a lot of crap from people. However, they were feisty Scots living in Australia and held their own in fights. A lot of fights. They formed AC/DC around 1973 with singer Dave Evans, who was replaced by the infamous Bon Scott, and they started producing records in the mid ’70s. They worked hard, but didn’t get much of a following for a long time. They toured England, Europe, the US, etc., opening for KISS, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Cheap Trick, Boston, Styx, Foreigner, even the Little River Band, much to their disgust. Their intent was to blow the headliners off the stage, and they usually did. They developed a reputation for being LOUD and even though their records weren’t selling off the charts, they believed in themselves. Then in early 1980, Bon Scott died of alcohol poisoning, and they found Brian Johnson to replace him. They came out with Back In Black, which catapulted them into mega-stardom. That album has gone on to sell over 50 MILLION copies, second only to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Whereas before, they were playing to crowds of 8,000 or 17,000, they soon found themselves headlining and playing to much larger crowds in stadiums all over the world. I’ve always been a big fan of Queen and was a little put off by the books’ claims that AC/DC has sold some 150 million albums internationally, trying to make them big shots, when I know Queen has allegedly sold some 300 million albums, and I didn’t care too much about AC/DC playing to 50,000 people in a stadium when Queen played to 130,000 people in Brazil, in fact 250,000 in two nights. But AC/DC apparently played for as many as a million people at a concert in Moscow, so I guess that’s saying something.
One thing that bugged me about this book was the authors are such fan boys. AC/DC is the greatest band that ever walked the earth for these two, and that’s crap. I wouldn’t even list them in my top 20 bands of all time; indeed, I don’t know where I’d place them. One of what they considered to be their strengths is what I consider to be a weakness — their musical formulas. They have hits that are formulaic and they don’t want to waiver from that. They want to play AC/DC music. Well, other bands branch out, expand, experiment, and I have a lot more respect for those bands than I do for those resting on their musical laurels pumping out the same stuff year after year. But that’s me.
Another thing that bugged me about this book was we learned some details I didn’t want to know and didn’t learn other details I would consider important. For instance, during the ’70s, the band kept getting and giving VD to girls all over the world, especially Bon Scott. WTF? Did I really need to know that? That’s gross. However, at some point Angus got married, yet we never learn a thing about that, how he met his wife, who she is, where they lived, what she did, etc. Totally omitted from the book. Same with the other guys in the band. We learn the drummer is into fast cars. We learn Malcolm hit the bottle pretty hard. But here’s where I think the real weakness of the book is — it’s formulaic, just like AC/DC’s music. Virtually each chapter is about an album. It begins with the group making the album, has a few lines about a couple of the songs, and then goes into length on the subsequent tour. Over and over, year after year. It gets really repetitive. And boring. What about the people? What about the relationships? What about critiquing the songs? Other rock bios I’ve read critique the songs from each album. This doesn’t. At least this one covers album art, which has been one of my major complaints of other rock bios, the fact that most don’t cover that aspect of things, and I think it’s important.
AC/DC continued to get bigger and bigger post-1980, which surprised me. I can only think of one or two albums they put out past Back In Black, but they actually sold well and did huge tours. I didn’t know.
One nice thing about this book is the pictures. Lots of color photographs, as well as some black and white ones. Here’s another complaint though — the first half of the book felt a lot more detailed than the second half. The authors go into extensive detail on the band’s early years, the recordings, Bon’s goings on, the touring, and then after Brian comes aboard, they seem to just jump from highlight to highlight, leaving a lot out. Oh well. Oh, I also got tired of the band’s hubris. Unwarranted.
This is a pretty decent book which could have been much better with more detail. The band is pretty good, although not as good as they think they are. I do like listening to them and listened to a lot of their stuff while reading this, but I’m glad I’m done with the book and can move on, because as I mentioned, it got quite repetitive. I’m not sure if I can recommend this book. Certainly not to the casual reader. I guess AC/DC fans will like it though. Read with caution.
2 thoughts on “A Review of AC/DC: Maximum Rock and Roll”
Great review. I think maybe you have to be somewhat of a fanboy (or girl) to write an entire book about an artist.
I just never knew AC/DC was so popular!
Yeah, I didn’t know they were that popular either, but 150 millions albums sold is nothing to sneeze at…
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