AC/DC lead screecher Brian Johnson has had a lot of bad news lately. First his doctors told him that the massive hearing loss he’d sustained over the course of his 35-year career emceeing a show that, in addition to a literal wall of Marshall stacks, included actual cannon fire at the end of every performance, was permanent and likely to get worse. They strongly recommended that he quit performing immediately, or risk losing what little hearing he has left.
AC/DC announced Johnson’s retirement soon after, promising to soldier on and honor their ten scheduled summer 2016 dates with a replacement singer to be named later.
And that was news to Johnson, who says that he told the band about the doctor’s advice, but also offered to do the last ten shows as a kind of farewell tour. The next day, all of Johnson’s tour belongings and other personal effects in the possession of the AC/DC organization were dropped off in his driveway, and he has not spoken to Angus Young or anyone else with the band since.
I can only speculate, but I assume that Brian Johnson can be dropped from AC/DC like an old piece of luggage because he is not an original member of the band; when he replaced far superior but deceased frontman Bon Scott in 1980, they must have put him on the payroll rather than cutting him in as a full voting partner in AC/DC Enterprises.
It’s a rotten thing to do to Johnson, but let’s be honest: the guy is not exactly easy on the ears. He never was, but he was better in the ‘80s. Now he’s just a screech with just the slightest hint of a key. His voice is not really a voice. Bon Scott’s voice was really his voice — it was weirdly high, but that’s what made it interesting. Brian Johnson’s voice is more of a trick, a way of leaning into your throat to screech an octave or two higher than your normal range, sort of like a falsetto on steroids. It’s an easy way to imitate a voice higher than your own — it was a great way to keep the band’s sound consistent, by staying right in Bon Scott’s range — but it’s hell on your throat and vocal cords. Do it for two hours on Friday night and you probably won’t be able to speak more than a croak on Saturday. Multiply that by 200 shows a year for 35 years and you’re left with the sound Johnson makes now, which is like the noise a giant ostrich would make if it was trapped under something heavy.
I am familiar with this trick of the voice because I used it like a crutch for years singing in bands with repertoires higher than my range. It sounds screechy and kind of ridiculous, and you’d never want to do it in an unplugged setting, but it’s the easiest shortcut to hitting really high notes in front of a big loud rock band. I stumbled across the technique trying to sing James Brown songs on a flatbed truck in the desert, but I always called it the Axl Voice, because that’s who I really sounded like, but I would bet good money that Axl got it from trying to sing “Shoot to Thrill.”
Which is why I found it so amusing when this link started showing up on my Facebook yesterday:
Now look: I think it would be hilarious to see Axl Rose front AC/DC, not least because like Brian Johnson, he has so completely abused the Axl Voice that he has no voice at all anymore. But come on, guys. Axl Rose just reunited Guns N’ Roses. He’s about to go on tour with Guns N’ Roses, and they are going to make approximately all the money (adjusted for inflation). He has no reason to go on tour with AC/DC, and they have no reason to bring him; since Bon Scott choked on his chum in 1980, primary songwriter Malcolm Young had to quit the band in 2014 because of dementia, and drummer Phil Rudd was accused of plotting to murder his coke dealer, it’s just down to Angus and bassist Cliff Williams in terms of original members; with hired hands rounding out the band, the original members stand to make a lot more money — it’s probably the exact reason they’re bouncing Johnson. Whoever they get to fill in will cost a fraction of what Johnson gets.
So why would they cut deep into their own payday by bringing in Axl Rose? They wouldn’t, and he wouldn’t do it even if they wanted him to. It’s ridiculous. It’s a fun idea, but it’s not gonna happen.
But that doesn’t change the fact that AC/DC is clearly committed to soldiering on for ten gigs and possibly beyond, and they’re going to need a singer. So let’s go over some candidates!
Love him or hate him, the Ronald McDonald of Rock has the strongest high tenor voice around. It’s just a fact. He could probably rock “Highway to Hell” harder than anyone without even breaking a sweat, and best of all, he’s got plenty of experience coming into bands with great singers and making them 88% cheesier. And who doesn’t want to hear AC/DC’s version of “Right Now”?
If what we want to do is find someone who sounds like 2016 Brian Johnson, you could hardly do better than Courtney Love, who sounds like a giant ostrich trapped under something heavy while giving birth. In a blind A/B test, I bet no one would know the difference.
I don’t know why she popped into my head for this gig but once she did I couldn’t get her out. Not only would her voice do both Bon Scott and Brian Johnson-era AC/DC justice, she has a rather similar onstage presence to Johnson’s, pacing the stage and holding her arms like they’re floating off her body. Sure, she’s 75 years old, but she looks better than Angus. Think about it: Tina Turner singing “You Shook Me All Night Long” would be goddamn terrific.
When you’re looking to replace a frontman who can’t sing, you’ve got to at least consider Anthony Keidis, the non-singingest frontman of all time. But I don’t think he’s right for this gig. I bet he could holler you a somewhat convincing “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” and he’d probably get to the gigs on time, but go ahead: imagine Anthony Keidis singing any AC/DC song. It’s impossible. You should be embarrassed for even bringing it up.
I bet Perry Farrell could do pretty well with the Bon Scott material, with all the recitations and the shit talking tone and the nasal drawl, if he can pull himself away from smoking crack out of a sex doll or whatever Perry Farrell does in his free time. I am also willing to bet that Perry Farrell would make AC/DC smell at least 88% better. He couldn’t be much worse than AC/DC than he is with Jane’s Addiction.
One word: GAYC/DC. I think we’re done here.