AC/DC - Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be
Orion Books/Hachette Australia
Renowned/legendary music journalist Mick Wall has penned a number of books throughout his career, but it’s been Wall’s last couple of efforts that have enabled him to reinvent himself as a fully-fledged author in his own right.
Following on from his critically acclaimed Led Zeppelin effort, 2008’s ‘When Giants Walk The Earth: A Biography Of Led Zeppelin’ (2008), and his all encompassing Metallica book, 2010’s ‘Enter Night - Metallica: The Biography’, Wall has once again returned with a new literary effort in the form of ‘AC/DC - Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be’.
Given the number of books written on AC/DC over the years, one has to wonder whether Wall has anything new to add to the story behind the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band? Well, if recent history tells us anything, it’s that Wall can tell a great story. His literary efforts on both Led Zeppelin and Metallica have since gone on to become definitive biographies, and absolute must have’s for even the most diehard fan. Well, as predicted, Wall’s latest effort is a no holds barred honest telling of AC/DC’s rise, fall and return to fame over their near forty year existence. And as you would expect, the real story behind AC/DC is far more fascinating than the legend that’s been passed down by almost anyone else’s retelling of the band’s lengthy career.
Wall starts the book off with a brief introductory note that makes clear to readers that the book is anything but an officially sanctioned telling of the band’s history. Instead, this is an honest and detailed account of the band’s story that bypasses the gloss of any official AC/DC biography. Within the four hundred and forty pages of ‘AC/DC - Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be’, Wall manages to take the reader inside the inner sanctum of the band, and get an insider’s perspective of the workings within AC/DC.
In the early part of the book, Wall dedicates a fair amount of time laying down the groundwork that went into making up the foundations for AC/DC, most notably the background story of the real players behind the band – including three Young brothers (Malcolm, Angus Young and older brother George, who initially found fame with The Easybeats), Harry Vanda (Also of The Easybeats), Ted Albert, Dave Evans and his eventual replacement – ex-Fraternity vocalist Bon Scott. What emerges clearly right from the start is how much of a stronghold the three brothers had over the band, and how set their sheer bloody-mindedness was to do whatever it would take in order for the band to succeed. In other words, if you didn’t go along with the terms laid down by the Young’s, you were no long a part of the Young’s ‘clan’. It was a lesson that many former members of the band learnt the hard way, including Evans – who after a year with the band, was eventually dismissed after butting heads with the Young’s.
It’s around the time that AC/DC recruited vocalist Bon Scott that the book really takes off. And it’s here that Wall really shows off his skill as a storyteller and author. By removing much of the myth and legend surrounding Scott, Wall manages to present an image of a vocalist who externally portrayed himself as a hard living rock ‘n’ roller on every level, but who was in reality a man who was looking for a laid back life that was far less transient. Pinning down the real Scott is a near impossibility, but Wall managing to separate the man from the myth, and allow his existence to live beyond the cliché rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle many know him by.
The tragic death of Scott in February 1980 is covered in detail, and is another area where Wall excels at stripping away the lies that have been mistaken for truth over the years and recount the honest chain of unfortunate events. It’s also worth a mention too that the nature of Scott’s untimely death has also raised a few questions, both before and after the event. While Wall has no real evidence of what took place, his explanation of who did what makes for a compelling and believable read.
But this book isn’t just about the band. There’s a lot more to this book than that. Wall goes into detail about the making of the albums, as well as offering his own take on the band’s releases (Although hits the mark more often than not, I think his views on some albums are quite different to my own). There is also a look into the band’s ongoing label issues (Particularly in the U.S., where the band fought relentlessly with Atlantic Records), dealing with producers (The most notable being the band’s deteriorating relationship with Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange after 1980’s ‘Back In Black’), various band personnel (Manager Peter Mensch, tour manager Ian Jeffery and various band members) and the band’s rollercoaster career (Which in short is a phenomenal rise from strength to strength from 1975’s ‘High Voltage’ through to 1980’s ‘Back In Black’). What emerges is the role of Malcolm Young with AC/DC, who unwittingly has not only allowed the band to prosper through his determination to do what’s best for the band, but also allowed the band to fall from grace through some really poor decisions – which again can be blamed on his dictatorship over everyone within the band.
Surprisingly, much of the Brian Johnson era of the band is brushed over for the most part, and rightfully so. It’s around the time that Johnson stepped into Scott’s role that AC/DC bunkered down and locked out anyone who wasn’t a part of their inner circle (Or ‘clan’ as it’s described throughout the book), and that little is known about what went on behind closed doors. Essentially, AC/DC sorted out everything in-house, and rarely relied on anyone they didn’t trust. But despite this, Wall has unearthed more than enough factual information to keep the story moving forward, and provide the background on how AC/DC managed to do the impossible and claw themselves back to the top of the heap after a decade long creative decline prior to 1990’s ‘The Razors Edge’. Wall does document everything AC/DC related to the present day, where the band is still doing their thing. The gap between albums is getting longer, and the chance of the band making one last classic seems more and more unlikely with each year that passes. But it matters little. AC/DC do whatever they want to do, regardless of what anyone thinks. And that’s the way it’ll stay until the very end.
For someone like myself who had but only a passing interest for AC/DC, I have to admit that as soon as I picked up ‘AC/DC - Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be’, I couldn’t put it down. Wall’s tell-all AC/DC biography had me riveted from the start, and kept me interested right through to the end. I still might not be the biggest fan, but I have an appreciation and understanding of the band that I never thought possible before picking this book up.
If you’re merely a casual fan, then rest assured you’ll find it hard to put this book down. It’s really is that well written. But even if you’re a diehard fan, you can be assured that there’s plenty within the pages of ‘AC/DC - Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be’ that you’ll never find in any so-called definitive AC/DC biography.
For more information on Mick Wall, check out - http://www.mickwall.com/
© Justin Donnelly