Bon Scott Vs. Brian Johnson – Great Rock Debates
Obviously Scott, who fronted the band during their meteoric rise to fame in the ’70s, and Johnson, who has helped carry the group to new heights for the past three decades, both rule. But just for the sake of a good pub argument, we asked two writers to each take on one side of this debate. Here’s what they had to say:
Bon Scott Is Better Than Brian Johnson
by Matthew Wilkening
Brian Johnson walked into one of the saddest and most difficult situations in rock history when he took over as AC/DC’s singer following the sudden and tragic 1980 death of Bon Scott.
And for more than 30 years he has done an amazing job, helping the band move forward, become global superstars and remain one of the most popular in the world. But he’ll forever be operating in the shadow of Scott, whose wit, charisma and talent helped create the identity and template the band still uses to this day.
Despite the fact that Scott was in the band for just a little more than five years, songs from the six studio albums he fronted still make up nearly half of the band’s nightly set lists. And while Bon was admittedly far from what you’d call a traditionally strong singer, his distinctive voice and delivery added something magical to those songs that Johnson can’t quite replicate.
The pro-Johnson argument will undoubtedly center on the mighty ‘Back in Black.’ We’ll grant you, it’s the best album AC/DC ever made, and yes, it features Johnson’s vocals. But let’s look at the bigger picture. We’ll give you two Bon Scott records — say, the almost as great ‘Highway to Hell’ and ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ — in trade for ‘Back in Black.’ Now, with those all off the table, you tell us: Which other albums from the Johnson era match up with ‘High Voltage,’ ‘Powerage’ or ‘Let There Be Rock?’
Brian Johnson Is Better Than Bon Scott
by Michael Gallucci
I’ll take that trade. Swapping what is probably the greatest hard-rock album of all time for an admittedly great record (but hardly one that will top any list when ‘Back in Black’ is up against it) and a spotty collection of songs (which the band’s record company refused to release until Bon Scott died) is a no-brainer.
‘Back in Black’ should be the center of the argument because it is the center. It’s the center of everything AC/DC. Without the album, they most likely would have faded into the B-list of ’70s and ’80s rock bands — like, say, Scorpions. But once Brian Johnson came on board, the band catapulted into the big leagues, something Scott was unable to achieve with them.
And here’s why: Johnson is more likable and relatable. When he sings about putting his love into you and giving the dog a bone, it comes with a playful wink. He’s in on the joke. He knows the crass and ultimately sexless words he’s singing would never really work on a woman. Scott, however, actually seemed to deliver his lines with the dripping creepiness of a sexual predator. Judging by his songs, had he not ended up dying, covered in his own vomit, after a night of heavy drinking, he most likely would have ended up in jail for sexual assault.
Plus, Johnson is a better singer. His bluesy, muscular rasp fits AC/DC’s turbocharged songs about drinking and f—ing; Scott’s thin croak often got lost in the band’s heavy musical thunder. There are two essential AC/DC albums: ‘Highway to Hell’ and ‘Back in Black.’ Everything else — from both the Scott and Johnson periods — basically fall in place behind those two classics. But which is the more powerful legacy: The new-era tolling of ‘Hells Bells’ or the dated ‘Mork & Mindy’ nod that signs off Scott for the very last time?