AC/DC’s Worst Album?: Not what you think it is….

Cover of "Fly on the Wall"

Technically it's a fence...The cover of "Fly on the Wall"

There are some records I own that I think are great, despite all evidence to the contrary. The album might have had a critical mauling akin to Spinal Tap‘s “Shark Sandwich“, it might not be fit to hold a candle to the band’s previous efforts, and it might, to all intents and purposes, have been disowned by the band that recorded it. And yet…

All three of the above criteria apply to Fly on the Wall by AC/DC. It recently even featured in Classic Rock Magazine’s “Top 50 worst albums” feature as a classic example of a rotten album made by a great band. Think Tin Machine, or Born-Again Dylan…

“a joyless effort that slips down like a shot of cold porridge” they smirked, whilst acknowledging the “redeeming track” of Sink The Pink

Nonsense.

It is a very raw record, recorded in the years after the band got tired of Mutt Lange‘s polished production techniques on For Those About to Rock…The same Mutt Lange, incidentally who ended up producing (and marrying) Shania Twain. AC/DC doing “That Don’t Impress Me Much“? (shudders)…it doesn’t bear thinking about…

Fly, and its predecessor, Flick of the Switch are rough, unpolished and under-produced. They are also so much better for it.

I bought the record without hearing it. It was a £5.99 gamble. I knew AC/DC were famous however – their name was sewn on the back of countless denim jackets, so fifty thousand headbangers (a group of people often overlooked for the quality of their needlework) can’t be wrong, right? The cover was promising: a cartoon fly on a cartoon wooden wall, (NB. a wooden wall, technically speaking is a fence. I guess “Fly on the Fence” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it…).

When I put it on for the first time, my heart sank. What was this? It was nothing like that clip of “Let There be Rock” that I’d heard. The singer was unintelligible, apart from anything else – sounding like Macy Gray giving the hairdryer treatment to Southend United’s back four after a particularly poor performance. I played it to a friend who looked at me oddly…”What have you bought here…?” his eyes were saying…”that was six quid down the drain…”

Very soon, however, it began to click into place. That guitar sound was immense! Those huge riffs! The song that convinced me was on Side Two, Track One. Going by the unpromising title of “Playin’ with Girls“, the song is all about the bubbling, heavier-than-Simon-Cowell’s-Wallet riff.

The whole record appeals to my inner caveman.

The album was accompanied by a five track VHS video set in a bar similar to the one in the Patrick Swayze film Roadhouse, with the band performing whilst various goings on took place in the foreground like a mini soap opera set to music. It’s as bad as it sounds. During “Sink the Pink” – a song I reliably informed my parents was about billiards – a red-headed girl plays a game of pool and then breaks out into a bizarre ’80s Fame-style dance. The whole thing had a plot thinner than Posh Spice, and about as much acting ability.

It did, however, feature Angus Young‘s schoolboy act, and that is about ten times more entertaining than most bands – and is all you really need from an AC/DC video.

Record #33: AC/DC  – Playing with Girls

PS. What do you think their worst album is? Have I called this wrong?



Categories: Hard Rock

Tags: , , , ,

39 replies

  1. I like the album, but to this day, I can’t make out any of the words!

  2. I first heard Fly on the Wall when it came out in 85. While no track reached out and grabbed me by the throat, it was still a decent album. I also saw them on this tour and they totally kicked ass. For me, if I had to choose AC/DC’s worst album, it would have to be Flick of the Switch.

  3. Great post. I laughed at “…sounding like Macy Gray giving the hairdryer treatment to Southend United’s back four after a particularly poor performance” even though, as an American, I only partially understood what you were talking about.

    “Stiff Upper Lip” was a major letdown for me after the monstrous “Ballbreaker,” but I don’t think it’s a terrible album (although “Safe In New York City” might be their worst song). Obviously you don’t think “Fly On The Wall” is their worst, so what is your least favorite?

    Also, a lot of the albums on Classic Rock’s “50 Worst Albums By Great Bands” list were actually under-appreciated classics, and I would put the Tin Machine and Dylan “born again” albums in that category (along with Kiss’ “Music From The Elder”).

  4. One of my favorite bands! I kind of lost track after For Those About to Rock, and, as much as I love Dirty Deeds, there is some of their worst material on that album

  5. Hey bud! I started a friendly vote for AC/DC fans on my page…you got me
    going with this post. Love your input as well! Hope I did not step on your toes!

  6. Nice work. I’m of the opinion that Fly On The Wall was their last GOOD album, and Flick Of The Switch is one of their best. I “quit” the band after Blow Up Your Video.

  7. Blow Up Your Video would have been my Fly on the Fence – on release it was trumpeted as a “return to form”, as has every AC-DC album since then.

    Definition: “return to form” – so you bought the last album by this mob because of past reputation and it turned out to be utter pants, but pretty please shell out for the new one, it’s dead good, honest, and not utter pants too.

    Having been a Bon Scott snob for years, I’ve belated got into Brian Johnson’s first few albums and they’re not that bad after all. Great guitar sound on Flick of the Switch.

  8. I’m not much of a Johnson-era fan, but this and Flick of the Switch are the 2 I reach for on the rare occasion that I want to hear something from their 80s catalog. I rarely reach for AC/DC in general, but when I do it’s Powerage.

  9. Cheap shot with the Bowie crack, but other than that, I hope you get your blog turned into a book. Your posts are shit hot. Really. :)

  10. Their worst album is black ice. It has a few good songs but the rest are almost pop sounding. Fly in the wall was a great album but the production was really bad – too much reverb and a bad mix. Their second worst album was blow up your video. Again a few great songs but some real crappy riffs too

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