45 Years Ago: ‘Let There Be Rock Song’ Gives AC/DC a Chance to Preach
AC/DC and church are not often mentioned or even thought of in the same breath. But the Australian group took to the pulpit with 1977's "Let There Be Rock," the proselytizing title track of their third album and first international release.
The 6:10-long tune is a hard-rock sermon, with singer Bon Scott rhapsodizing to the congregation about the birth of rock 'n' roll while Angus Young testifies, at length, on his guitar. The only thing missing was the biblical proclamation "and it was good" – but that was for the most part implied in the tune's rowdy celebration. Moreover, "Let There Be Rock" was also a salute to Chuck Berry, the rock 'n' roll pioneer whose story is all over the lyrics.
"Back in 1955, man didn't know about a rock 'n' roll show and all that jive. The white man had the schmaltz, the black man had the blues. No one knew that they was gonna do – but Tchaikovsky had the news": Berry's first single, the Top 5 hit "Maybellene," was released in July 1955 and became an opening salvo in the rock 'n' roll era. ("Delta 88" and "Rock Around the Clock" are also part of this first wave.) Berry followed that up with "Roll Over Beethoven" – in which he likewise name-checked Tchaikovsky – some 10 months later.
"And it came to pass that rock 'n' roll was born ... and the guitar man got famous, the businessman got rich": Berry, who died on March 18, 2017, at the age of 90, got famous indeed – and infamous.
Watch AC/DC's 'Let There Be Rock' Video
He had seven Top 10 hits, three of which are among the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. (Oddly, Berry's only No. 1 was the 1972 novelty track "My Ding-a-Ling."). His "Johnny B. Goode" was included on the Voyager Golden Record sent into space to document Earth's culture. (The punchline is the aliens communicated back, "Send more Chuck Berry.")
He was part of the first class inducted into the Rock Hall in 1986, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a guitar-toting rock band that does not cite him as an influence in one way or another – as acknowledged by this song's reference to "15 million fingers learning how to play." On the infamous side, meanwhile, Berry was sentenced to three years in prison in 1962 for transporting an underage (14-year-old) girl across state lines to have sex, and he served a four-month sentence in 1979, along with community-service hours, for tax evasion.
As for the reference to "the businessmen got rich" in "Let There Be Rock," that's a nod to the exploitation of Berry and other early rockers who were not paid to commiserate to their levels of success. The "Shakin' Hand" club mentioned in the final verse is, by all accounts, an invention of the writers – as was the idea that AC/DC would only be playing at 42 decibels, anywhere. It was increased to 92 during live renditions by both Scott and Brian Johnson.
Released on Sept. 30, 1977, in the U.K., "Let There Be Rock" was not a big chart hit, only reaching No. 82 on Australia's Kent Music Report. But the video – shot in a church in South Wales with Scott as a priest and the rest of the band as choir boys – it's a hoot. (Note that it includes bassist Cliff Williams, who replaced Mark Evans after the Let There Be Rock album was recorded.)
The song became a centerpiece of AC/DC's live sets and has appeared on four of its live albums, often as a vehicle for an extended Angus Young solo during which he would be carried through the venues on Scott's and, later, a crew member's shoulders.
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