It’s Rock or…Busted Eardrums

What do you get when a rising rock band meets an untimely tragedy only to respond by unleashing one of the most critically acclaimed and best-selling albums in the history of the world?

Brian Johnson.

Never has a vocalist so deftly swooped into a dire dilemma and dramatically turned the tide. On July 27, 1979 Australian hard rockers AC/DC released their breakthrough album, Highway to Hell, which climbed to number 17 on the Billboard album charts. Helmed by famed producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, the album propelled AC/DC to fame beyond Australian and UK borders. After the successful Highway to Hell Tour plans were underway to record an explosive follow-up. But less than one month after the tour ended lead singer Bon Scott was found dead in a car in London. He had choked to death on his own vomit after a night of heavy drinking.

Successful bands are generally the result of synergistic personalities coming together. Regardless of audience approval, most reconstructed bands fail to replicate the spirit of the original. It’s a nearly impossible task when the absent member is the singer. The surviving members of AC/DC were aware of this. Scott was a particularly charismatic vocalist and acted as the de facto leader of the group. Founding members Malcolm and Angus Young considered dissolving AC/DC. It was only after encouragement from Scott’s parents thay they chose to press on.

Dealing with the problem of finding a suitable replacement, Angus Young recalled a story Scott once told of an English singer from Newcastle who had impressed him at a local show one night. That singer was ex-Geordie vocalist Brian Johnson.

History unfolded fortuitously; AC/DC hired Johnson who promptly contributed lyrics and vocals to Back in Black. The album, released on July 25, 1980, was a smash success launching AC/DC into global super-stardom. With worldwide sales estimates at 50 million units, Back in Black became the second best-selling album of all time.

Thus it has come as a shock to many fans that after 36 years of tenure with AC/DC  Johnson is now on indefinite hiatus, and that Guns n’ Roses frontman Axl Rose will be completing the final shows of the band’s Rock or Bust Tour.

While some controversy exists over the true nature of Johnson’s departure, officially he has left the band voluntarily after being diagnosed with severe hearing damage that could result in permanent deafness should he resume touring. Johnson cited his resignation as the “darkest day of my professional life,” a sentiment shared undoubtedly by countless fans around the world. In honor of the raspy-voiced wailer Retrobacktive presents the Top 10 Brian Johnson Moments of Kick-ass-ery!

1) It’s all because of that jacket and those boots. Pre-AC/DC, Johnson shows off his pipes from hell.

2) One of his earliest interviews demonstrates an awesome-because-it’s-barely-understandable speaking voice.

3) Angus may be the rare guitar playing frontman, but Johnson’s look is equally as iconic. You’ve likely heard this one before, but it’s one of the greatest recordings ever captured and always worth another listen.

4) The title track from AC/DC’s first #1 album.

5) After two lackluster albums AC/DC bounced back in 1986 with Who Made Who, the soundtrack to the Stephen King film Maximum Overdrive. Is it just me, or does Brian’s hat keep getting bigger?

6) When your band’s history spans over 40 years you can believe there were numerous peaks and valleys. This may be AC/DC’s apex, the Monsters of Rock Festival at Donington where they just fucking owned it.

7) AC/DC/s first number 1 song on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock list. While the band has never performed the song live, this video at least gives us Arnie on stage with Johnson and crew.

8) One of Johnson’s most endearing aspects is his willingness to interact with fans. Here he relays a story involving one of his idols, Chuck Berry, that aptly represents the Englishman’s natural aplomb.

9) It isn’t all just rock and roll for Johnson, an avid race car enthusiast. His popular guest spot on Top Gear shows he can grind out impressive turns while crooning Louis Jordan.

10) Although they are one of the best selling bands of all time, 2015 marked the first year AC/DC performed on the Grammy Award Show. Nothing quiet as satisfying as seeing the look on all the snooty artists’ faces that collectively says, “oh yeah, this is what rock and roll is supposed to sound like.”

Dearly Beloved, We R Gathered Here 2 Celebrate His Life

In the last four months this blog has come to feel more like an obituary than a cultural chronicle. We opened the year in memorial of David Bowie whose secret battle with cancer came to an end on January 10. Then the Eagle’s frontman Glenn Frey died eight days later. Alan Rickman, Merle Haggard, one by one the entertainment world mournfully reported the loss of yet another great artist.

Yesterday that trend continued with perhaps the most shocking loss since Michael Jackson’s death in 2009.

Prince Rogers Nelson, better know as Prince… or that weird symbol no one could pronounce…died in his home studio at Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minnesota. He was 57 years old.

While an autopsy investigation is set to take place on April 22, little indication has been give to the cause of death for the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter. The news of Prince’s sudden and unexpected demise has left fans the world over in disbelief.

If this description sounds a bit sterile it’s because I’m sick of writing about great artists from my childhood dying. It’s a somber experience. As a writer I want to use my skill set to capture the memory of the departed as eloquently as the English language can. But I would prefer to go back to writing about cartoons and movies; 2016 has been a rather morose year.

Nonetheless, we will celebrate the life of a musical icon who rose to prominence in the 80s with hits albums such as 1999, Purple Rain, and Sign “O” the Times. Now one thing we can’t do is post a bunch of cool videos from YouTube because Prince was vehement about copyright issues and fair trade. But to be honest posting even a fraction of the highlights from The Purple One’s illustrious career would probably crash the WordPress server, so here’s a quick list you can feel free to explore at your leisure:

1999 – Prince’s career began in the late 70s, but this 1982 album was his breakthrough which featured the hits “Little Red Corvette,” and the title track which probably earned Prince half-a-billion dollars in royalties on December 31, 1999 alone.

Purple Rain – his biggest selling album, certified platinum 22 times over. The soundtrack to the movie of the same name starring Prince as “The Kid,” the album held the number one spot on the Billboard charts for 24 weeks and spawned the hit songs, “When Doves Cry, “Let’s Go Crazy,” and the title track.

Parade – follow up to Purple Rain featuring the number one hit song, “Kiss.”

“Manic Monday,” “Stand Back,” “Nothing Compares 2 U,” et al. – despite a prolific catalog, Prince still found time to pen and play on hit songs for other artists, often using writing pseudonyms so no one knew they were his.

TAFKAP – Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol in 1993. Why? It was a giant middle finger to his record label, Warner Bros., who he felt was stifling his artistry. Ever the provocateur, Prince was also a coy adversary who leveraged his image to discourage his opponents. It was kind of a bad ass move.

Super Bowl XLI – Billboard.com has called it the greatest Super Bowl half-time performance ever. Appropriately a downpour ensued for “Purple Rain.” Can’t make this stuff up.

Doin’ it All – it’s also not widely known but important to note that as a multi-instrumentalist Prince played most, if not all, the instruments on his albums. His live performances were perennially lauded, and he was critical in the development of many well know musicians and entertainers such as Vanity, Apollonia Kotero, and Carmen Electra.

As a cultural figure, Prince was an icon. His absence leaves a bottomless chasm in the musical landscape, one further cratered by the losses of Bowie, Frey, and Haggard. Indeed, death is a natural circumstance of life. But if life is just a party, and parties aren’t meant to last, it sure seems 2016 has its number of the metaphorical curfew.

“The afterworld – a world of never ending happiness; U can always see the sun, day or night.”

                     – Prince Rogers Nelson