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…
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?
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