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For The Record: How AC/DC's 'Power Up' Continues Their Electrifying Legacy
AC/DC

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For The Record: How AC/DC's 'Power Up' Continues Their Electrifying Legacy

As one of rock's most iconic and influential bands nears their 50th anniversary in 2023, AC/DC's 18th album proves that age is nothing but a number

GRAMMYs/Jan 21, 2022 - 01:46 pm

Editor's Note: The 2022 GRAMMYs Awards show, officially known as the 64th GRAMMY Awards, <a href="https://www.grammy.com/grammys/news/2022-grammys-awards-64th-new-air-show-date-location-las-vegas-april-3-announcement "https://www.grammy.com/grammys/news/2022-grammys-awards-64th-new-air-show-date-location-las-vegas-april-3-announcement"">has been rescheduled to Sunday, April 3, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The below article was updated on Tuesday, Jan. 18, to reflect the new show date and location.

The highest compliment a fan could pay AC/DC's 2020 album Power Up — the band's first without founding rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, the chief architect of their iconic riffs and their de facto leader — is that it sounds exactly like AC/DC. Power Up not only checks all the boxes, it also ranks among their finest work.

For nearly 50 years, AC/DC has sounded like no one except themselves. Sure, some of the members changed over the years, but the sound and look remained the same. You don't join AC/DC to bring your own flair to the mix; you assimilate into the hard-rocking style generations of bands have attempted to co-opt as their own.

Fortunately, Power Up holds its own among the highest peaks of their 18-album catalog. The 1-2-3 punch of openers "Realize," "Rejection" and "Shot In The Dark" are loaded with bone-dry, primal guitar riffs and Angus Young's lyrical guitar solos, with driving, four-on-the-floor drum beats hurling the songs forward. Leading the charge is Brian Johnson's throat-shredding screech, one of the most recognizable voices in rock.

Consistency has been AC/DC's strength through key member changes throughout the band's history. When the band lost beloved singer and showman Bon Scott in February 1980 amid their breakthrough success with Highway to Hell, it seemed unlikely they could recover.

Instead, the opposite happened: Back in Black, released just four months after Scott's death, made them the biggest band in the world. On the strength of classic songs like "You Shook Me All Night Long," "Hells Bells" and the title track — which boasts one of the most memorable guitar riffs in rock history — the album became the fourth best-selling album of all time in the U.S., eventually moving in excess of 25 million copies.

But when Malcolm Young hung up his battered Gretsch White Falcon guitar to treat his dementia in 2014, question marks hovered around the band again. Then in April 2016, with just 23 shows left on the Rock Or Bust World Tour, Johnson bowed out in an effort to save his hearing after suffering a punctured eardrum. Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose closed out the tour as his substitute, but when the dust settled, bassist Cliff Williams decided to retire. AC/DC was essentially done.

Malcolm's passing in 2017 brought the remaining Back in Black-era lineup — Angus, Johnson, Williams and drummer Phil Rudd — back to Australia, where they celebrated Malcolm's life and reconnected with each other. Rudd, who was healthy again after sitting out the Rock Or Bust Tour to sort personal and legal issues, was ready to rejoin the band. Meanwhile, Johnson was receiving experimental treatments to resolve his severe hearing loss, resulting in an in-ear device that allowed him to sing again. Williams was an easy sell at that point, and AC/DC, quietly, began plotting a comeback.

First, Angus had to reconcile the loss of his brother and songwriting partner. Their writing sessions for Rock or Bust had been especially fruitful, though, and Angus found himself sorting through riffs and song ideas that eclipsed what ended up on their 2014 release. The four original members (as well as Angus' and Malcolm's nephew, Stevie Young, who officially joined the band in 2014 after Malcom's departure) convened in Vancouver in August 2018. With their Black Ice and Rock or Bust producer Brendan O'Brien at the helm, the group began tracking Power Up.

"This record is pretty much a dedication to Malcolm, my brother," Angus told Rolling Stone in October 2020. "It's a tribute for him like Back in Black was a tribute to Bon Scott."

Power Up is loaded with anthemic choruses, fist-pumping sing-alongs and guitar riffs that pull from their bag of tricks, without sounding like retreads of their classic work. Song titles like "Money Shot" are delivered with a knowing wink, and Angus's fiery fretwork is inspired with swagger and urgency.

As they've done time and time again, AC/DC proved that consistency beats evolution in rock, as long as the well of ideas doesn't dry up. They rallied back strong as ever — because that's what they've always done.

Audiences showed up, too: Power Up debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 all-genre albums chart upon its November 2020 release, as well as the Top Rock Albums and Top Hard Rock Albums charts, and reached the top spot in 20 other countries. Lead single "Shot In The Dark" notched their first No. 1 rock hit in 20 years (since the memorable "Stiff Upper Lip" topped the Mainstream Rock Airplay chart in 2000), and marked their longest reign on the chart with five consecutive weeks on top; "Realize" also cracked the Top 10 of the same tally, peaking at No. 8.

AC/DC's latest effort also earned three nominations at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards: Best Rock Album for Power Up as well as Best Rock Performance and Best Music Video for "Shot In The Dark." They're the group's first nominations since 2010, when AC/DC won Best Hard Rock Performance for the Black Ice track "War Machine," their first and sole win; they now have a total of 10 career nominations including this year's nods.

Nearly five decades in, AC/DC's secret weapon is how they make it look so easy to sell 75 million albums in the U.S. with just a handful of guitar chords. Power Up is electrifying proof that their in-your-face sound endures — and that, through the trials and triumphs, they have too.

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N.W.A Are 'Straight Outta Compton': For The Record

N.W.A's DJ Yella, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and MC Ren

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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N.W.A Are 'Straight Outta Compton': For The Record

What started as an attitude that helped put Compton on the map grew into a worldwide music revolution celebrating the streets

GRAMMYs/Jul 26, 2018 - 11:05 pm

A debut album that landed like a sledgehammer, 1988's Straight Outta Compton has become a legend in its own right. The featured N.W.A lineup was Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and MC Ren. The album was produced by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, and released on Ruthless Records, the label co-founded by Eazy-E and N.W.A manager Jerry Heller two years before.

Although it sold well initially, its landmark status rested on the controversies surrounding its gangsta lifestyle themes and attitudes. Its provocative tracks described the world N.W.A knew through their own eyes, including the title track, which elevated the group's hometown of Compton, Calif., "Express Yourself" and "Gangsta Gangsta." The album also included "F* Tha Police," which resulted in the FBI and U.S. Secret Service sending threatening letters to Ruthless Records and the group's banishment from many venues.

Credited as one of the most influential hip-hop records of all time, in 2015, Straight Outta Compton the film appeared, dramatizing the 1988 impact of the album, with Ice Cube portrayed by his son O'Shea Jackson Jr. Confrontations with law enforcement and antagonism based on "F* Tha Police" form a core element of both the 2015 drama as well as the drama on the streets that has never stopped.

Among the album's many aftermaths, Eazy-E died in 1995, Ice Cube went on to produce and star in his extensive filmography and the adventures of Dr. Dre touch on many other histories, including those of Eminem and Kendrick Lamar. Meanwhile, in recognition of its critical importance to music history, Straight Outta Compton was inducted into the Recording Academy's GRAMMY Hall Of Fame as well as the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry.

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Alanis Morissette's 'Jagged Little Pill': For The Record

Alanis Morissette

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Alanis Morissette's 'Jagged Little Pill': For The Record

Learn about the singer/songwriter's big GRAMMY night at the 38th GRAMMY Awards with her third studio album

GRAMMYs/Mar 23, 2018 - 03:10 am

For a generation of music lovers, the '90s hosted a boon of hits that have now attained classic status. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill is arguably at the top of the list.

Released June 13, 1995, as her third studio album, Morissette worked on the project exclusively with producer/writer Glen Ballard. She plumped the depth of raw emotion to craft the LP's 12 alt-rock tracks, marking a departure from her previous pop-centered releases.

The Canadian native's honest approach to Jagged Little Pill flipped the industry upside down. The album went on to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and produce three No. 1 Billboard singles: "You Oughta Know," "Hand In My Pocket" and "Ironic."

As of 2015, sales of the album surpassed 15 million copies in the United States, making it one of only three albums to reach that milestone behind Metallica's self-titled album (16.1 million) and Shania Twain's Come On Over (15.6 million).

Further solidifying its legacy, a musical stage production based on the LP will premiere in spring 2018.

Jagged Little Pill also brought Morissette her first four career GRAMMY wins at the 38th GRAMMY Awards. She took home the coveted award for Album Of The Year and Best Rock Album, while "You Oughta Know" earned Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song.

"I actually accept this on behalf of anyone who's ever written a song from a very pure place, a very spiritual place," Morissette said during her Album Of The Year acceptance speech after thanking Ballard. "And there's plenty of room for a lot of artists so there's no such thing as the best."

Kendrick Lamar, 'DAMN.': For The Record | 2018 GRAMMYs Edition

Kendrick Lamar

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Kendrick Lamar, 'DAMN.': For The Record | 2018 GRAMMYs Edition

Celebrate the Compton rapper's successful fourth album, which brought home a total of five GRAMMY wins on Music's Biggest Night

GRAMMYs/Feb 9, 2018 - 03:16 am

Kendrick Lamar's phenomenally successful fourth LP, DAMN., landed with a bang in mid-2017 that saw fans digging voraciously into the full media experience of the album's release in an intense manner.

There were rumors based on tweets, there were secret second album release theories, there were even guesses at the tracklist's double-meanings that actually turned out to be true.  Altogether, it made for a moment in pop culture that coalesced into an explicit public statement: Lamar was no longer content to merely capture the attention of hip-hop purists and music scenesters with their ears to the street; he was here to convert new listeners over from the mainstream without sacrificing the authenticity of his core sound. And along the way maybe raise a few middle fingers in the direction of his oftentimes befuddled political detractors.

"The initial goal was to make a hybrid of my first two commercial albums," Lamar explained to Zane Lowe on Beats 1 Radio. "That was our total focus, how to do that sonically, lyrically, through melody – and it came out exactly how I heard it in my head. … It's all pieces of me."

Lamar's soul-bearing reaped obvious rewards at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, with DAMN. generating a total of five GRAMMY wins, including Best Rap Album, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("LOYALTY."), Best Rap Song ("HUMBLE."), Best Rap Performance ("HUMBLE."), and Best Music Video ("HUMBLE.").

Along with its successes on Music's Biggest Night, DAMN. also proved to be a commercial windfall for Lamar, with lead single "HUMBLE." clocking in as his first-ever No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, with supporting singles "LOYALTY." And "LOVE." both charting in the Top 15. For its own part, DAMN. debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, has been certified double-platinum by the RIAA, and ended the year as the No. 1 album of any genre for 2017, by chart performance.

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Alabama Shakes' 'Sound & Color': For The Record

Alabama Shakes

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Alabama Shakes' 'Sound & Color': For The Record

Wilder than before, the band's fusion of country and soul with immersive rock on their 2015 album defined a sound all their own

GRAMMYs/Jun 21, 2018 - 09:43 pm

Alabama Shakes' 2012 debut Boys & Girls was such a wild success, no one expected the band would get even wilder on 2015's Sound & Color. But the band took their music way out, exploring a spacious, country-soul rock sound that would be more completely their own if it didn't seem so timeless.

"We're just a normal group of people who believe in writing and making something, and honestly, it was truly from a point of having fun," lead singer/guitarist Brittany Howard told our oral history of the album. "It wasn't to get famous or anything like that. We wanted to play gigs, that was our goal, but we didn't have anywhere to gig."

Bassist Zac Cockrell, guitarist Heath Fogg and drummer Steve Johnson write together with Howard, and the band shared in their Best Rock Song win, at the 58th GRAMMY Awards for "Don't Wanna Fight," as songwriters, in addition to winning Best Rock Performance. Sound & Color also won Best Alternative Music Album that year.

Alabama Shakes' 2012 debut brought them 55th GRAMMY Awards nominations for Best New Artist and Best Rock Performance for the song "Hold On." As a single, it remains their biggest hit so far, having reached No. 93 on Billboard's Hot 100. The following year the band was nominated for Best Rock Performance again, for "Always Alright" from the soundtrack to Silver Linings Playbook. A truly admired band, their album sales suggest Alabama Shakes falls better into the category of classics-makers than hit-makers. Their debut reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200 in 2013 and Sound & Color reached No. 1 in 2015.

Although Alabama Shakes hasn't released an album since Sound & Color, their performance of "Joe (Live From Austin City Limits)" drew another Best Rock Performance nomination at the 59th GRAMMY Awards. Earlier this year at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, Alabama Shakes' performance of "Killer Diller Blues" won Best American Roots Performance, the band's fourth win. The song was originally recorded by Minnie Lawlers, and as for other artists participating in the Jack White and Bernard MacMahon 2017 project American Epic: The Sessions, all final recordings were made on an antique 1925 Western Electric direct-to-disc system. How's that for a historic recording?

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