“You can stick your golden handshake
And you can stick your silly rules
And all the other shit
That you teach to kids in school.
Gonna be a rock ‘n’ roll singer”
— Bon Scott, “Rock n’ Roll Singer”
The crowd, in frenzy, thunders for the start of the show. Five slight figures walk out onto the dark stage. After a few moments, the bass player starts hammering out eighth notes. After what feels like an eternity of measures, a single spotlight illuminates a pasty-white skinny-boy who starts playing an axe as big as he is. The drums join in. They are clearly building to something.
And then you see him — a shirtless, blue-jeaned wolf with a sublime pants bulge. The wolf surveys the audience and snarls, “Well if you’re lookin’ for trouble, I’m the man to see.” It’s Bon Scott singing “Live Wire.”
Ronald Belford “Bon” Scott wasn’t the first singer for AC/DC, and he wasn’t the last, but dang it, he was the best. He died on Feb. 19, 1980, of asphyxiation due to excessive drinking. It may be inappropriate, then, to drink a pint to one of the last great rock n’ rollers on the 30th anniversary of his death next week, but there’s probably no better way.
Here are five songs sung by Bon Scott that Brian Johnson could never touch:
Bon Scott’s signature song. It features an unprecedented two volumes from the band — namely loud and really loud, as opposed to just really loud. During the verses Scott sounds calculatingly threatening without being in your face about it, while he shrieks the chorus with abandon.
Best lyric: “Like a hot rod baby? Oh stick this in your fuse box” —right before Angus rips into a blistering guitar solo.
“Ain’t No Fun (Waiting ‘Round to be a Millionaire)”
This gem from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap is clearly autobiographical for the band. Scott syncopates the lyrics with swagger as the song progresses from a steady, plodding rocker to Bacchic frenzy, mirroring the growing frustrations of a struggling rock band.
Best lyric: “I got patches on the patches of my old blue jeans, well they used to be blue, when they used to be new, and when they used to be clean.”
One of the few AC/DC songs that doesn’t sound exactly like all the others, “Ride On” is a slow blues and marks a maturity from the band not seen before, or since, for that matter. The deliberate, brooding song showcases Bon Scott’s dynamics and pitch. Brian Johnson would have nowhere to hide with his strained falsetto.
Best lyric: “One of these days I’m gonna change my evil ways, till then I’ll just keep ridin’ on.”
“Kicked in the Teeth”
The last song on Powerage opens with a call and response between Scott and the rest of the band. His vocals stand up equally to the other four members of the band — no easy feat.
Best lyric: “I used to think that you were sugar and spice. I should’ve listened to my mother’s advice. Kicked in the teeth again.”
This timeless Chuck Berry tune was given the AC/DC treatment on the band’s first album, the Australian release of TNT, which was later issued in North America as High Voltage without the song. Perhaps this is biased against the direction that the entire band took during the Brian Johnson era, but Johnson could never do this song precisely because it is not a rock song. He can sing loud, brash rock songs. “School Days” is a rock n’ roll song. It has a swinging rock n’ roll shuffle that the band never regained after Bon’s death. Bon is clearly having fun on this track, paying tribute to the gods of rock n’ roll. Thirty years after his death, his apotheosis is complete. Hail hail, rock n’ roll. Hail hail, Bon Scott.
Best lyric: “Feeling the music from head to toe, ‘round and ‘round and ‘round we go.”