The Day AC/DC Moved Into the Video Era With ‘Fly on the Wall’
AC/DC's career was in a very curious place when they unveiled their ninth studio album, Fly on the Wall, on June 28, 1985.
On the one hand, AC/DC were one of Earth's absolute biggest concert attractions. They were fresh off a sold-out world tour in support of 1983's Flick of the Switch album, which had culminated in a pair of headline appearances before hundreds of thousands of people at the first Rock in Rio festival.
On the other hand, the band's actual album sales and radio airplay were both in relative free-fall when compared to the dizzying figures achieved by previous juggernauts, Back in Black and For Those About to Rock -- to say nothing of the ever-more important MTV, which remained a mystery that traditionalists Malcolm and Angus Young had yet to crack.
Measures to rectify this troublesome state of affairs were central to Fly on the Wall's marketing campaign, which saw the group – including new drummer Simon Wright (who replaced veteran timekeeper Phil Rudd immediately after the Flick of the Switch sessions) mugging for the cameras on five stylized performances released on home video later that summer.
Musically speaking, Fly on the Wall, not surprisingly, stuck to the band's tried-and-true recipe for blue-collar hard rock. But its songs were given just the slightest amount of extra polish by producers Angus and Malcolm to counteract the raw-as-sushi Flick of the Switch, and eventual singles like "Shake Your Foundations," "Danger" and "Sink the Pink" also boasted strong choruses and melodic hooks.
Deeper album cuts, meanwhile, tended to rock a little harder but produced extremely mixed results, ranging from some of the most forgettable filler of the band's long and distinguished career (see the deplorable "Playing with Girls," "Stand Up" and "Hell or High Water") to the rather memorable title cut, the explosively vicious "First Blood," the simple but effective singalong of "Back in Business" and even the bluesy, grimy (but endearingly so) "Send for the Man."
All told, these songs did manage to boost AC/DC's radio presence somewhat (not to mention give them a few looks on MTV, finally) but they got just a lukewarm response from the band's fan base. To make matters worse, Fly on the Wall was overshadowed by the arrest and trial of serial killer Richard Ramirez – which cast another negative spotlight in AC/DC's direction, in part because he shared a nickname in Night Prowler with a song from 1979's Highway to Hell LP.
Australia's biggest hard rock export would face difficult career prospects for the remainder of the '80s.
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