Mick Wall is a great storyteller and a great “Classic Rock” journalist (founding editor of that magazine in fact). He’s done the PR shill and been the hack covering albums and gigs. He’s lived as much of a rock’n’roll life as many of the people he has covered. That in itself – that side of his story – has been well documented. And in recent years, as something of an elder statesman within classic-rock writing now, he has turned his attention to book-length analysis of the big – huge – rock acts. Following excellent books about Led Zeppelin and Metallica Mick Wall turns his attention to AC/DC.
Wall’s storytelling sense is at the heart of this tale – bringing up sides of stories that don’t appear to have been explored in any great depth before. And keeping things moving, always. The focus for the story is not Phil Rudd, nor is it ever Brian Johnson. The focus for the story is the Young Brothers, including producer/hand-holder George Young (from the Vanda/Young team). And of course it’s about Bon Scott.
So, Wall’s book, Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be, focuses on the Bon years simply because that is where the story is. The book begins at the very beginning, looking at Bon’s early years and the misfires that he and Malcolm Young had, separately, as working musicians.
A basic timeline is followed, sure, but Wall’s book is about understanding the music and breaking down the myth. It’s also, then, about breaking down the music understanding the myth. He praises the Bon Scott years for the humour, for Scott singing with a glint in his eye. But he is critical of the mistakes and sceptical of the groaning beast the band has become.
It’s a smart book – but it’s also, as Wall does so well, a page-turner. An exciting, accessible read; he peppers with information, drawing on a wide range of interviewees and his own knowledge as a rock scribe from the time.
The Johnson years are explained away – accurately – as where Malcolm and Angus Young, Malcolm in particular, batten down the hatches and dictate the way the band will work. There is little room to move now, Bon’s flamboyance replaced by the workmanlike approach that Johnson, so clearly beholden to the band, can offer. He is a hired hand in his own band. Never really the frontman, only ever the voice.
The real story here is everything up to Bon dying – and then of course the mega success of Back In Black, a reward for the hard work from the Youngs, Bon and of course Mutt Lange. In the 32 years since Back In Black the band has become a colossus – with really only one album worth hearing.
Wall shows sensitive but probing analysis into Bon Scott’s death and the mystery surrounding it. And he is firm and fair in his assessment of the Youngs.
There are so many books about AC/DC already – this is the best. It’s the one you need to have; the one you need to read.