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April 2, 2018

Jeff Apter's Playlist for His Book "High Voltage: The Life of Angus Young, AC/DC's Last Man Standing"

High Voltage

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Jeff Apter's High Voltage: The Life of Angus Young, AC/DC's Last Man Standing is a well researched and compulsively readable biography of both the guitarist and band.


In his own words, here is Jeff Apter's Book Notes music playlist for his book High Voltage:



My first encounter with AC/DC was from the other side of a thick brick wall. Let me explain: I was 15, a raw suburban kid with a face like a pizza and the hair of a hippie. It was the long, hot summer of 1977, and my friends and I had gotten word that "the band with the schoolkid guitarist" was playing somewhere in Sydney. Being way too young to get into the licensed venue, we spent much of the night standing outside, absorbing their rock and roll blitzkrieg through the concrete, all the while trying to talk our way inside. As first encounters go, it may not have been the most intimate, but it set in motion a life of AC/DC watching and listening (and writing) that finally resulted in my book. And the following songs provided my soundtrack.

The Easybeats, "St. Louis"
A minor hit from 1969, this last hurrah of the great Australian band is one feisty, soulful slice of boogaloo, a sort of sonic template for AC/DC. It's funny, on reflection, to hear a band that comprised five expats—two Englishmen, two Dutchmen and a Scotsman—longing for the promised land of faraway St. Louis, but I guess it's no stranger than a kid from the wilderness of Sydney (that'd be me) doing the same when I first heard the song.

The Marcus Hook Roll Band, "Natural Man"
I didn't know much about this fairly obscure record until I started writing High Voltage. It turns out that in 1973, not long back from an extended period in the UK, George Young and Harry Vanda (formerly of the Easybeats) set themselves up in Sydney as songwriters/producers for hire. This, their first project, was a chance for George to show his younger brothers, Malcolm and Angus, exactly how a studio operated. It proved to be a major stepping stone on the highway to AC/DC.

Skyhooks, "Living in the 70's"
Every band was a rival in the minds of AC/DC, but none more so than Skyhooks, glam rockers from Melbourne, who were Australia's biggest-selling and most controversial act of the mid-1970s. My first exposure to Skyhooks was via an older sibling. I came home from school and was told by my brother, "You must check out this album; almost all the songs are banned"—Skyhooks sang about sex and drugs and kinkiness—and my naïve response was, "Of course: they're a group, aren't they?" I'd gotten my "banned" and "band" all mixed up. Silly me.

AC/DC, "Baby, Please Don't Go"
I'm pretty sure my very first exposure to AC/DC was via this song, when they performed it on the hugely influential Oz TV music show "Countdown." (This was well before I tried to talk my way into their show in 1977.) Now, I'd heard that their guitarist wore a school uniform, but I had no idea, until I saw this clip, that singer Bon Scott was one for cross-dressing.

AC/DC, "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock ‘n' Roll)"
What self-respecting band on the rise—in this case AC/DC—wouldn't jump at the chance to set up on back of a truck and roll up and down the main drag of Melbourne, right in the thick of morning peak hour, playing their new song while being filmed for a film clip? (With three bagpipers on board, no less.) But "A Long Way" is much more than that: it's a user's guide for any contender trying to make it in rock, regardless of whether it's 1975 or 2018.

AC/DC, "Live Wire"
This was a regular opener for AC/DC in the 1970s, the song that launched a thousand gigs. My friend Mark Evans, who was bassist for the band for several years, told me that it was the first song he played live with the group—drummer Phil Rudd simply pointed with his stick to Mark's place on the stage, counted them in and away they went. As Mark would state in his great memoir, Dirty Deeds, "I knew I was flying first class with these guys."

AC/DC, "Ride On"
Since writing my book High Voltage, I've often been asked about my favorite AC/DC song. I'm not sure that this is my all-time, absolute, stone-cold fave, but it does show another side of the group: it's a slow, sinewy blues, gritty and authentic, and a standout of their "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" album. The solo from Angus Young is an absolute killer.

AC/DC, "Let There Be Rock"
I had a lot of fun writing about this video. Bon Scott dresses as a preacher (his leather strides visible beneath the robes), delivering his rock ‘n' roll sermon from the mount, a grin from ear to ear, while Angus Young poses as one shop-worn choirboy. It's hilarious. I learned that the band gatecrashed a Sydney church to shoot the clip, convincing the local vicar that they had come to spread the word of the lord. The big guy upstairs must have been chuckling when they pulled that off.


Jeff Apter and High Voltage links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Daily Review review

Illawarra Mercury profile of the author
The Scottish Sun profile of the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
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my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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