AC/DC are nearing 40 years as a classic band. And while the riffs may remain the same, they are defined by two singers: Bon Scott and Brian Johnson. But who do you prefer?
AC/DC experts will know that Bon Scott wasn’t even the original singer in AC/DC– that was Dave Evans. Evans still performs, but he was only with AC/DC briefly, notably for 1974 single "Can I Sit Next to You, Girl."
After Evans left, in came Bon Scott. Let’s have fun looking at the merits of Scott versus his replacement (only due to tragedy) Brian Johnson…
Ronald Belford "Bon" Scott was born in Scotland – as, indeed, were Malcolm and Angus Young. His family moved to Australia when Scott was six. In 2010 Gibson.com rated Bon Scott just ahead of Brian Johnson on the Top 50 Frontmen (and Frontwomen) readers poll. In 2004 Classic Rock magazine rated Scott as number one in a list of the "100 Greatest Frontmen of All Time", even ahead of Queen’s Freddie Mercury and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. Scott died, at 33, in 1980.
1. Bon Scott the frontman
To quote the AC/DC song, Scott was a live wire. He played drums as a teen, but seemed destined to front a band. Scott never stayed still on a stage. Vintage footage of Bon Scott-led AC/DC remains electric.
2. Bon Scott the singer/lyricist
Bon Scott was a wailer. He had a limited vocal range but Scott hoooowled. Lyrics were never a big AC/DC concern. But Scott could be funny. “I’m a rocker / I’m a roller / I’m a real out-of-controller” for one. “The Jack,” “Big Balls”, “Up to my Neck in You” and “Whole Lotta Rosie” all play with ribald jokes and clichés, but Scott made them work.
3. Bon Scott’s AC/DC albums
Early AC/DC albums were rock-solid, but it took AC/DC a few years to truly find their feet. Powerage (1978) and Highway to Hell (1979) remain two of their best ever. But maybe the best of the Bon era? 1978’s If You Want Blood You've Got It live album.
Johnson stepped into a dead man’s shoes: the music for what would become Back in Black was half-written when Bon Scott died. Johnson, previously of English rockers Geordie, was brave. Even Malcolm and Angus Young thought AC/DC would end… until they found Johnson. It was maybe meant to be: Bon Scott had seen Johnson sing in the late 1970s and even mentioned his talent to the Young brothers.
1. Brian Johnson the frontman
Johnson’s a bruiser. With his muscle vests and flat cap, he has always looked like an off-duty motor mechanic. (In down time, his passion is automobiles – fact.) Johnson can prowl the stage. He was never as lithe as Bon Scott, but Johnson knows how to work a crowd. And he can sing/shout, for sure.
2. Brian Johnson the singer/lyricist
Johnson is a gritty screamer. He won the AC/DC audition by belting out AC/DC’s own “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “Nutbush City Limits”. The Youngs were won over. Back in Black was the unlikely comeback. Lyrics wise, Johnson is no Bob Dylan (neither was Scott.) But when Johnson had trouble adjusting to the Nassau recording environment of AC/DC from the off, he referenced self-doubt/confidence about the bad weather on the opening lines of "Hell’s Bells" ("I'm rolling thunder, pourin' rain / I'm comin' on like a hurricane / My lightning's flashing across the sky / You're only young but you're gonna die.”) With “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “Break A Leg” for starters, Johnson immediately fitted the AC/DC template and his screeching vocals have been perfect for the band. "Hard as a Rock,” “Ballbreaker” et al proved Johnson could do AC/DC lyrics.
3. Brian Johnson’s AC/DC albums
Back in Black remains a highpoint and is, according to some calculations, the second-best- selling CD in the USA ever. AC/DC seemed to stutter in the 1990s, but kept delivering and became a stadium band. The Razors Edge (1990) was a highpoint until Black Ice (2008) became massive all over the world.
Here’s an opinion. Bon Scott-sung albums were more reliable, if doomed. And Brian Johnson-led albums, now 32 years in the making, require massive editing. Scott died aged 33. Johnson is now 64. You just have to find the best AC/DC tracks.
So, who is your favourite AC/DC frontman? And what are the best tracks and albums?
Here are two eras to consider.
Bon Scott-era AC/DC – “Riff Raff”
Brian Johnson-era AC/DC - “Black Ice”
Check out the Angus Young SG here.