40 Years Ago: AC/DC Hits a Rough Patch With ‘Flick of the Switch’
AC/DC's storied career hit a rough patch when their opinion-dividing Flick of the Switch was released on Aug. 15, 1983.
As AC/DC first began to lay down plans for recording their ninth studio album, their career was at its commercial peak. First came the world-beating success of 1980's flawless Back in Black and then its worthy successor, For Those About to Rock. Both albums had kept the band in action for nearly two years straight – though the human toll would soon be felt in drummer Phil Rudd's exit.
So, once they finally found the time to reflect on their next move, AC/DC to go back to basics.
Fatefully, after three albums working with studio perfectionist Robert John "Mutt" Lange, the group decided to produce Flick of the Switch themselves in a concerted effort to strip their songs of any lingering studio polish. To that end, AC/DC spent less than a month recording 10 new songs, and later drove their point home with the help of a spartan, startlingly white cover art, featuring nothing but a pencil sketch of Angus Young preparing to flick that giant electric switch.
Unfortunately, not benefiting from a producer's helpful outside perspective also wound up stripping many of the songs of their top-shelf ideas, too. It's telling that none of Flick of the Switch's tunes – save for the electrifying "Guns for Hire" and possibly the title track – have enjoyed much of an afterlife beyond the album's supporting tour.
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Brothers Angus and Malcolm Young still churned out a reliable batch of excellent riffs and solos on "This House is on Fire" and "Landslide," but nothing on par with recent triumphs. Other tracks like "Deep in the Hole" and "Brainshake" were virtually forgettable. Even more shocking was the sheer absence of energy in "Nervous Shakedown" and "Badlands." Most damning of all, "Rising Power" may be the least rousing album opener of AC/DC's career.
Ultimately, the best thing one could say in Flick of the Switch's defense is that its quasi-religious bid for simplicity makes it the Brian Johnson lineup's equivalent of Powerage. But its songs sure don't measure up to Powerage.
The final verdict on Flick of the Switch was frankly handed down by AC/DC fans, who barely saw fit to nudge the album towards platinum sales over many slow-selling years to come, thus falling well short of the multi-platinum thresholds established by its predecessors. For AC/DC, a long spell in the relative, merely gold-certified wilderness would follow, interrupted by occasional spikes when they traded on old glories via the Who Made Who soundtrack/greatest hits combo.
Coincidentally, it was only when they finally resolved to working with outside, non-blood-relative producers again that the AC/DC ship was turned fully around, beginning with 1990's hit-laden The Razor's Edge.
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Was AC/DC’s ‘Flick of the Switch’ Doomed to Fail?