Friday, December 31, 2010

December 31: AC/DC, "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)"

Artist: AC/DC
Song: "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)"
Album: For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)
Year: 1981

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There must always be some reason for a song to be written, as unlike other art forms, there must be some form somewhere that the music will follow.  Over the course of recorded history, the themes for songs have become as wide as the mind can imagine, yet most bands find a few themes they enjoy, and these become consistent.  The idea of "wine, women, and song" is certainly the most popular grouping, and few bands have brought these themes out in as many different ways, and with as perfect a feeling of menace and danger as one finds in the catalog of AC/DC.  Though most bands would call it quits with the passing of their lead singer, AC/DC pressed on, and one can make the case that much of their post-Bon Scott work is their finest, as Brian Johnson proved to have a voice and attitude that were worthy of filling those shoes.  It was with Johnson on board that the band began to further expand their subject matter, and while every band at some point acknowledges how much they appreciate their fans, it seems that very few bands understand the fact that without those fans, they themselves would not have careers.  Thankfully, there are a few moments in music history where the true connection between the band and fans becomes clear, and few groups in history have as rightfully and perfectly shown their appreciation for their fans as one finds in AC/DC's 1981 single, "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)."

The entire heart of the sound of AC/DC has always been built around the tremendous guitar playing of Angus Young, and "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)" is no different, as even in the opening riff, there is a tension, yet sense of grandeur that is rarely found elsewhere in music.  The almost scattered progression that he plays highlights he almost unsettling anticipation of the song, and it is nothing short of hard rock perfection when the rest of the band all fall onto the song at once.  It is this massive sound that the band achieved throughout their career that personified the hard rock sound, and the way in which Angus and Malcolm Young play along with one another easily makes them one of the most impressive guitar pairings in history.  Joined by the rhythm section of bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd, and AC/DC proves time and time again that their sound is instantly recognizable and absolutely timeless.  On "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)," the band again manages to being a dark, heavy sound, as the music seems to almost push the listener around, yet simultaneously create a mood of an uprising.  In many ways a "rock and roll rallying cry," the song demands crowd interaction, and few songs were as perfectly crafted for throwing your fist in the air in rhythm with the music.  It is this unique way in which AC/DC was able to make a song just as important to the band as it was to the crowd that sets "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)" so far apart from other musical achievements.

As previously mentioned, filling the shoes of any frontman is one of the most impossible tasks one can be asked to do, and yet the way in which Brian Johnson almost effortlessly found his space in the band is a testament not only to his talents, but to the band as a whole.  Though there is an easily distinguishable difference in their voices, they share the same ability to hit the highest notes on the scale, as well as bring a gritty, almost sinister tone to the songs.  On "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)," every aspect of Johnson's voice is employed, from the forceful sound he brings to the verses to the soaring screams that one can experience during the bridge sections of the song.  In many ways, it is this latter tone that defines everything it means to be a rock star, and it is much the reason the song remains such a treasured tune.  Furthermore, though many have tried, no other band has been able to compose as perfect a tribute to the fans as is found here, and there are few lines more memorable than when Johnson sings, "...we're just a battery for hire with a guitar fire, ready and aimed at you, so pick up your balls and load up your cannon, for a twenty-one gun salute..."  In live settings, the true spirit behind the song becomes more clear, as the band is notorious for bringing out air cannons and firing them on the down-beat, as they and the crowd all yell "FIRE!" together.  It is moments like this that define the true rock and roll spirit, and it the reason that nearly thirty years later, "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)" remains an absolute rock classic.

Truth be told, there are a handful of interpretations as to where the song took its influence, as most believe the source was from ancient Roman times, as gladiators in the arena were told to say, "ave Caesar, morituri te salutant," which roughly translates into "Hail Caesar, we who are about to die, salute you."  While this interpretation certainly makes a great deal of sense, Angus Young claims that the actual source of inspiration behind the song was when he overheard cannons being fired on a television in another room during the wedding ceremony of Princess Diana during work on the song.  This makes sense as well, and also gives a reasoning for the cannons on stage, as well as on the cover of the album.  Regardless of the actual source of the song, it remains one of the greatest and most powerful in history, and it has become the groups' closing song, sending the crowd away in the best way possible.  The song perfectly captures everything that makes rock music so great, and it also highlights AC/DC's ability to bring a heavy sound in a manner all their own.  Over the decades, a number of covers of the song have emerged, and a handful of professional sports teams also use parts of the song for their entrance or "score" music.  Though AC/DC have a long list of unforgettable hits to their name, none pack the same punch or feeling of connection than one finds in their now-standard show closer, 1981's, "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)."

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