In a conversation with Apple Music in 2020, Angus Young, the guitarist and principal songwriter in AC/DC, mused on what he thought made the band tick. After all, by that point, they’d been around for more than 45 years, and had spent those years making more or less the same song. Where other 1970s hard rock bands digressed into concept albums and orchestral suites in tortured efforts to prove how smart they were, AC/DC treated their records the way a cobbler might treat a shoe, or a watchmaker a watch: as a humble craft to be refined through repetition, and always geared towards the utility of the final product. Young said that his older brother George, who had produced their first several albums, stressed the importance of making your point clear and never doing more than you need to. Anyone could be complex—just put more junk into the pot. “The real art,” Young said, “is making the complex simple.”
Formed in Sydney, Australia, in 1973, the band presented a rebuttal to the bloat of art and progressive rock, but also restored the music to its roots in Little Richard, blues and a kind of pre-Beatles notion that that rock music was primarily meant to entertain. Albums such as 1979’s Highway to Hell and 1980’s Back in Black may have helped create heavy metal, but they also shared the minimalist attitude of punk: The songs were short, the chords simple, the spirit clear and uncompromising. They survived not only the death of their first real singer (Bon Scott) and, later, of Angus’ brother, co-founder and co-writer Malcolm, but the hearing damage of Scott’s replacement, Brian Johnson. “You can’t call an album Rock or Bust and then go bust,” Young joked about the band’s 2020 record. And so they remained: proud, primitive, electric.