AC/DC: The Gateway Band

Everyone who listens to metal music has a Gateway Band. Honestly anyone who listens to any style of music that doesn’t get constant mainstream media attention has a Gateway Band. That’s because you need to start somewhere. You need that one band/artist that makes you want to dig deeper into a certain style of music. For most metal (and to a lesser extent punk) fans a lot of Gateway Bands are bands that straddle the line between metal and rock. They are the bands that are accessible enough to have easy access to their music, but they are just heavy enough to make you want more.

Sure there are exceptions to the rule. You’ll occasionally meet someone who first started exploring metal because their older sibling was blasting something like Cannibal Corpse in their bedroom. It happens, and certainly you have Gateway Bands for specific genres. Napalm Death was my Gateway Band for death metal/grindcore, Darkthrone was my Gateway Band for black metal, etc., etc. But my, and in turn my children’s Gateway Band for all things heavy was AC/DC (or as my two year old calls them “AD/DD” which sounds like something you don’t want the unqualified school guidance counselor ‘diagnosing’ you with in elementary school).

Let me paint a picture for you. I moved around a lot as a kid but did a huge chunk of my growing up in rural southern New Jersey and it was, for the most part, a barren wasteland for heavy music. There was the occasional college radio show that would air in the middle of the night that sounded to my untrained ears like something very foreign. There was Philadelphia, where I would eventually buy a ton of music, but as a 10-12 year old was only the place we trekked to for the occasional Eagles or Phillies game. My parents record (and 8-track) collection was an eclectic mixed bag – lots of Motown, classic country, and what we now consider ‘oldies’ and ‘classic rock’. My father had albums by acts like Led Zeppelin, Cream, Hendrix, and one random Blue Cheer album (which I was honestly fascinated with) but my mother was more Elvis, The Supremes, and the Beach Boys than she was anything else. While I grew to love, and still do, almost everything that played in my house, the only place to find music of my own for those lean years…was the grocery store.

Can you pick us up some smokes with those records, sonny?
Can you pick us up some smokes with those records, sonny?

I kid you not. The local ACME supermarket in my town sold vinyl and cassette tapes. There they sat in the same aisle as the stationary and the scented candles. Thinking back it was pretty insane, because it was in the paper goods aisle of an ACME supermarket where I purchased my first two AC/DC albums with several weeks of saved-up allowance. There were really two things that clearly drove me to the ever-loving arms of heavy metal music – the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s (which we will definitely cover in another post) and AC/DC. The first two albums I purchased were Back In Black (of course, because that record was pretty much standard issue to all suburban youth in the 1980s) and Flick of the Switch – an album I think to this day is one of the most underrated records in rock history.

Everything about those two AC/DC albums was fascinating to me. The heaviness, the open references to taboo subjects like Satan and Hell, the guitar riffs, everything combined was like a million light bulbs going off all at once. It all clicked. While I would discover Black Sabbath shortly after this, and they remain my all-time favorite band, I’m not 100% positive I would have been ready for them if AC/DC hadn’t readied me. Black Sabbath solidified my love of all things heavy, but AC/DC first opened the door. So it made perfect sense to me that as each of my children started to show an interest in anything that wasn’t children’s music that I started them on a fairly steady diet of AC/DC.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds though. Let’s just say AC/DC likes the women…and the booze…all the women and the booze. Even the biggest fans probably don’t truly realize how many songs this band has penned about drinking and some form of sex acts until you sit down with the lyrics. So I had to pick and choose certain songs off certain albums to start. The last thing I needed was to try and explain to a seven year old what a song like “Big Balls” was all about. Yeah, no thanks. But there was enough material to make believers out of all of them. I’m not surprised. Listen to any AC/DC and at its core the songs are very simplistic and easy to digest (which isn’t a bad thing, just an observation). When my 15 year old first picked up a guitar the first half a dozen songs she learned were AC/DC songs. It was just easier than trying to imitate Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden or Metallica. That all came later.

“Oh man, I just thought of another way to sing about doin’ it.”

When the needle first touched down on those records at my parents house all those years ago what was set in motion was a lifetime love affair with heavy music and for the last 30 or so years AC/DC has been part of our family. When I was a child my mother would actually listen to them with my brother and me as we rocked out in our living room. My 15 year old went with me to see them at Gillette Stadium this past August and we shared one of the most memorable concert experiences I’ve ever had. My nine year old owns not one but two AC/DC shirts. “Jailbreak” was for a brief period an unofficial family anthem as we blasted it from mini-van speakers while blasting down various highways. Even my normally quiet 11 year old gives me the ‘blast it Dad’ when they come up on the iPod. And just this past weekend that little voice from the middle row of the van, when asked what he would like to listen to, finally and for the first time, said…”AD/DD.”

Just like that another heavy music fan was born.

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