Sunday, April 17, 2016

Highway to Where?: AC/DC, Axl Rose and the future- A Reaction Post

Since almost every news source has reported on this already, I've decided to do something different and write a reaction/response article to this news. This article will be based on facts, as well as my own opinion.

After weeks of speculation, AC/DC confirmed Saturday night that Guns N Roses frontman Axl Rose will fill in for Brian Johnson as lead singer for the last ten dates of AC/DC's Rock Or Bust tour. Before the confirmation, the reaction online has been mixed to negative. I would like to share my opinion- but I will first discuss the history of AC/DC in terms of lead singers and the band's last few years.

Since their formation in 1973, AC/DC have had three different lead singers. Their first singer, Dave Evans, was their singer from December 1973 till September 1974. While he didn't ever record an album with them, Evans did record a single with them- the original version of "Can I Sit Next to You Girl." However, Evans wasn't what the band was looking for. Along with some tension between Evans and brothers Malcolm and Angus Young, Evans was too much of a pretty boy. Compared to the singers that would come after him, Evans could've passed off as a member of the Bay City Rollers. After Evans was fired, the band hired singer Bon Scott to replace him. Scott, who had already sung in bubblegummers the Valentines and even once rocked the recorder in Fraternity, was the perfect fit for AC/DC's high voltage rock n roll. On stage, Scott was vicious: the curly-haired singer would often come out decked out in denim. If he wasn't wearing a denim vest, he was shirtless- showing off his tattoos. Scott was indeed a character and was adored by AC/DC fans. With Scott, the band cranked out five studio albums (six if you go by the band's Australian discography). The last of those albums, Highway to Hell, was a big seller for the band and was slowly making the band into a mainstream rock act.

However on February 19, 1980, things came to a halt. After a long night of drinking, Bon Scott died from acute alcohol poisoning at the age of 33. While Scott was already known as a heavy drinker, it was nevertheless a tragedy for AC/DC. It seemed as if AC/DC were done as Scott was deemed irreplaceable. For a while, the band were left in limbo. After getting the blessing from Scott's family, AC/DC began their search for a new lead singer. Of the singers auditioned, former Geordie frontman Brian Johnson was given the job in April 1980. While Scott and Johnson both had high pitched vocals, Johnson's style of performing was slightly different: while Scott was a man on the prowl, Johnson was high fiving fans- sporting a badass newsboy cap. Rumor has it that Scott himself told the band at one point if he were to leave at any point, he wouldn't mind if Johnson took over for him.  In July 1980, Johnson's first album with the band Back In Black was released. A tribute album to Scott, Back in Black would sell in the millions. As of 2016, it is the second best selling album of all time- right behind Michael Jackson's Thriller. The doubters were proven wrong: AC/DC could go on without the late Bon Scott. While the band's popularity did slightly decline during the 1980s, Johnson stayed with the band the whole time. Johnson's dedication and devotion to AC/DC is enough to make a convincing argument that Johnson is the best frontman replacement of all time.

Beginning in 2014, AC/DC were seemingly cursed with bad luck. Sometime in April 2014, it was announced that co-founder and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young had suffered from a stroke three weeks earlier. At the same time, rumors spread about the band calling it a day. While the band confirmed Malcolm's stroke, they denied the reports about them hanging it up. Reports later confirmed that Malcolm was suffering from dementia and was now being cared for in an assisted living center. With his illness, Malcolm was forced to retire. In September 2014, the band announced that Stevie Young- Malcolm and Angus' nephew- would take over for Malcolm. With that, the band also announced the release of a new studio album- Rock or Bust- which was released in December. A month before the album's release, longtime drummer Phil Rudd was arrested for attempting to procure a murder. While the charges were later dropped, Rudd still faced an "attempt to murder" charge and two drug possession charges. With Rudd and his legal troubles, the band asked Razor's Edge era drummer Chris Slade to replace Rudd. Slade first appearance with the band was at the 2015 Grammy Awards. With this line up (Brian, Angus, Stevie, Chris and bassist Cliff Williams), the band went on tour.

Last month, AC/DC surprised many when they announced they were postponing the ten remaining dates left in the Rock Or Bust tour due to Brian Johnson's deafness scare. More people were surprised that the band had also announced they would be looking for a guest lead singer for those last ten shows. Since last night (and even before then), the band have confirmed that Axl Rose will fill in for those shows.

Even before the rumors and later confirmation of Rose's involvement with the band, the response to this whole situation has been crazy. Having read through articles and comment sections, these seem to be the top responses,

1. First Malcolm, then Phil and now Brian. These guys need to hang it up.
2. Axl Rose? Ugh, he's an asshole and he can't even sing anymore.
3. Why can't they cancel the whole tour? Angus is a money-grubbing jerk for deciding to continue.

Of those three responses, I would lean more towards the first one- plus some additional thoughts. However, I would like to focus on the other two responses first.

It's no secret: Axl Rose is one of the most controversial figures in rock music. For many, he's seen as a great frontman and singer. However, there are those who think he's lost it a long time ago while others find it hard to like the man at all in the first place. It's easy to see why: the former members of Guns N Roses and other musicians have admitted to Rose not being the easiest person to work with. From his dictatorship approach as leader of GNR to his notoriety tardiness to his own shows, Axl Rose certainly not the easiest guy to like. For me, I don't mind the guy. While I will admit he has done and said some stupid shit over the years, the guy is an interesting character. Also, is it really all that surprising that his voice isn't what it use to be? The guy is getting older. As you get older, you might not be able to certain things the way you used to. Axl is no different from Paul Stanley or David Lee Roth: they're getting older and their voices are not what they used to be. For those who don't care for Mr. Rose, it should come as some relief that he is only a guest singer for AC/DC. It's very unlikely this will be a permanent gig for him since he's already busy with GNR. Personally, I don't think Axl's that bad of a choice. He could pull it off (at the time I'm type this, I have watched a video of GNR at Coachella last night with Angus and Axl sounds great).

As far as Angus goes, we don't know the whole story. How do we know for sure that the band really wanted to do these last ten shows? Perhaps they were contractually obligated. However, that seems unlikely as previous reports would disprove this. According to comedian Jim Breuer (who is good friends with Brian Johnson), he claims that Brian has been left in the dark. Apparently, the band have not contacted Brian since the news of his health scare was announced. It's as if they have fired him. The statement AC/DC sent to the press seems to have the same tone.

"AC/DC band members would like to thank Brian Johnson for his contributions and dedication to the band throughout the year. We wish him all the best with his hearing issues and future ventures."

I would think the band would ask him for his blessing. With it being the weekend, Brian could come out with a statement to that says otherwise. If Brian wasn't able to talk with the band about this and have a say in this, then that's not good. Those two sentences make it sound like Brian won't return to the band. Shouldn't  Brian have written a open letter to the fans?

Of the three arguments I listed, I have to side with the first one: with Malcolm's dementia, Phil's legal trouble and now Brian's hearing, I think AC/DC should call it a day. However, I don't think the split ends to be anti-climatic. For a band who have been together as long as AC/DC has, I think they deserve something special. I propose the idea of having a one off farewell show. With Brian's hearing problems, guest singers and musicians could join the current line-up of AC/DC on stage every couple of songs. Perhaps they could invite back Simon Wright or even Mark Evans to come up and play some songs with them. At the end of the show, Brian could come out and sing a few songs and that would be it. I think that would be a decent send off. AC/DC don't need to go on anymore. They've had a good run.

While I wish Mr. Rose the best of luck and look forward to see how these shows turn out, I think AC/DC need to go out on a high note while they're at it.

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