Base lyrics, formulaic song structure and a gimmicky schoolboy outfit equaled something close to legendary in the case of one Aussie rock workhorse known as AC/DC. After inspiring countless various-artists tribute albums over the years, the band is back in black, touring with the same vim and voracity as it did about a quarter of a century ago. And 2001 marks the release of two superb single artist/band full-length tributes to the bad boys in the band.
Mark Kozelek clocks in with a slo-mo epic take on 10 early Bon Scott-era tunes called What’s Next to the Moon, released on the appropriately titled Badman Recording Co. label. He transforms the blues and metal mayhem into sweet honey for the love struck and soothing acoustic therapy for the lovelorn. When he croons “Bein’ bad ain’t so bad/I’ve known more pretty women than most men have” in “Bad Boy Boogie,” a once simple, slightly offensive statement suddenly encompasses a world’s worth of meaning and the unbearable weight of a regret-ridden heart. His miserably dejected falsetto in “You Ain’t Got a Hold On Me” represents Kozelek’s overall interpretation. While AC/DC’s scratchy, screechy vocals fostered a sense of angered angst, Kozelek’s high-pitched melancholy softens the content inside a blender of sorrowful alienation.
What’s Next happened somewhat by accident. The Red House Painters songwriter was just fiddling around with his acoustic guitar one day and began singing lyrics to the AC/DC songs he listened to growing up. His first solo album, Rock ’N’ Roll Singer included three AC/DC covers. He continued recording and now, What’s Next, his second solo effort, includes all AC/DC songs — nearly unrecognizable and absolutely beautiful renderings of “Up to My Neck in You,” “Love at First Feel” and “If You Want Blood,” among others.
Hayseed Dixie offers an entirely different take on the same band with A Hillbilly Tribute to AC/DC. The Appalachian band “from the fertile valley of Deer Lick Holler” grabs hold of AC/DC’s later metallic classics — “Highway to Hell,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” “Hell’s Bells,” “Money Talks,” etc. — with clear, spring-water fiddle solos and “yee haaw!”s strewn throughout. It’s pretty funny and not a bad bluegrass album either.
See the real deal AC/DC with Buckcherry and Slash’s Snakepit May 2 at Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center Drive, Detroit, 313-983-6606.