A decade ago, I wrote a series of entries ranking my favorite albums from 1985 to 2004. My collection has expanded greatly since then, particularly in the last five years. So I wanted to see what has changed in 10 years.
If my 8-year-old self were in control of this list, the soundtrack to Xanadu would occupy the top spot. The only other title he might have recognized would be Diana. And he would have questioned the inclusion of AC/DC.
David Bowie, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
Kate Bush, Never for Ever
Diana Ross, Diana
X, Los Angeles
Grace Jones, Warm Leatherette
Killing Joke, Killing Joke
Talking Heads, Remain in Light
AC/DC, Back in Black
Emmylou Harris, Roses in the Snow
Other favorites from the year:
The Police, Zenyatta Mondatta
ABBA, Super Trouper
The B-52’s, Wild Planet
The roots of my collecting bug are anchored in 1980.
I would bug my mom to buy me 7-inch singles. I was told I didn’t have the sufficient capacity to judge whether a full album would be worth the purchase price. My mom wasn’t about to drop cash on a set of songs if only one of them would entertain me.
So I amassed quite a lot of singles — “Tell It Like Is” by Heart, “A Lover’s Holiday” by Change, “Stomp!” by the Brothers Johnson.
I was, however, a pest about ABBA. The age of eight seems to be the right level of maturity for ABBA to sink its sugary hooks into an impressionable mind. My niece was crazy for Mamma Mia, the movie musical, right around the age I bugged my parents to get me their Greatest Hits, Vol. 2. The first volume didn’t have “Chiquitita.”
Video games interrupted my interest in music for four years, so it makes me wonder in how much more trouble I’d be today without that disruption.
Back in Black has meant different things to me over the course of forty(mumble-mumble) years.
In my childhood, the album represented scandal. My dad hated the color black, which meant this album got his withering disapproval. The mock calligraphy of the band’s logo surely meant something altogether unseemly, and didn’t AC/DC stand for “After Christ/Devil Comes?” That was just too much for my devoutly Catholic parents.
But my brother took it all in. Asia, Blue Oyster Cult, Foreigner, Toto, AC/DC — it seemed pretty rebellious to me. I stuck with ABBA and Manhattan Transfer.
In my teen-aged years, the album represented stagnation. I had become an insufferable post-punk, and I sneered at classic rock. The future was R.E.M., the Dead Milkmen, Camper Van Beethoven. If you listened to AC/DC, you were stuck in the past and had no clue.
In my early adulthood, the album was persona-non-grata. There was all this Japanese indie rock to explore. And all the music festival buzz bands. And a few local bands who put on great shows. AC/DC? I’m not their target market. They’ve got enough fans to earn them coin. They don’t need my cash.
Today, Back in Black, for me, is that-one-album-you-get-from-a-band-of-which-you’re-not-a-fan. You know the one: Oh, Inverted World, Storm Front, Born in the USA, White Blood Cells. It’s the album that transcends any misgivings you may have about a band.
AC/DC hew close to the blues-based tradition forged by the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, a tradition rejected by the punk-rooted bands of my formative years. But Back in Black struck that fine balance between rock ‘n’ roll grit and pop radio polish that allowed the album to belong to more than just than fans.
Even if you didn’t like blues-based rock, it was hard to get the riff that started side two out of your head.
Back in Black didn’t convince me to become an AC/DC devotee, but it also helped me not to dismiss them out of hand. I may never become their target market, but at the very least, I’m a fan of something they made.