When you search Amazon’s catalog for books with the word “Ultimate” in the title, you need NASA-type technology to sort through the results. Whether it’s the “Ultimate Vegetarian Cookbook!” or the “Ultimate Guide to the Kama Sutra!” people use the word “ultimate” with little regard for its meaning.
In the case of Phil Sutcliffe’s massively-engaging volume AC/DC: High-Voltage Rock ‘N’ Roll: The Ultimate Illustrated History, the word “ultimate” is deadly literal. This addictive, attractively-packaged book is the last word on all things Acca Dacca.
AC/DC have long enjoyed standing as my favorite group of all time. Their bare bones, relentless rock and roll assault represents everything good and true about music- mountain-sized riffs piled on top of hard charging rhythms that seem powerful enough to propel rockets.The Bon Scott years put the band on the launching pad, lighting the fuse with the Highway to Hell album, which attracted the eyes and ears of music fans across the globe. Scott tragically died not long after that album, and in what remains as one of the most triumphant comebacks of all time, AC/DC returned with a masterpiece- the multi platinum Back in Black album, fronted by new singer Brian Johnson.
The Ultimate Illustrated History captures it all- from the band’s early gigs on the Australian club circuit to its present day, with the band filling the world’s biggest arenas. The book entertains on two levels- first, it tells the story of the band in a way that is both informative and eminently readable. Unlike other biographies of AC/DC, which have crumbled under the weight of too many details and too dry an examination of the band’s music, The Ultimate Illustrated History delivers precisely the right amount of detail- enough to thoroughly inform and entertain a neophyte while including copious amounts of factoids and analysis to enthrall longtime fans. The book is supremely well-organized, moving easily from album-to-album and including not just a top-notch biography, but also a candid and insightful afterword from Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, plus a spectrum of fascinating sidebars and essays from music’s top journalists, who uniformly agree on the vitality and relevance of AC/DC in the history of music.
A reader might fly though a biography like this were it not for the most spectacular pictoral history of the band that has ever been assembled. This is more than just a coffee table book of your standard live and behind-the-scenes band pictures. This is much, much more. This is everything. Never-before-seen pictures of the band both on and offstage lend an intimacy to the story that has not been achieved by any other biographer. Certainly live photos of the band are included in spades, but it’s pictures like Bon Scott sitting on a bicycle or the current band hanging out between takes of a video shoot that reveal the soul of the band in a way the written word never could. Moreover, the book is replete with photos of posters, tickets, press kits, PR releases, documents and a galaxy of other band-related collateral that collectively establish the dominance this band has achieved in the four decades that it has rocked the planet.
A professional discography at the end leaves no stone unturned. Indeed, it is the first time I have found a discography to be readable. More than simply a list of albums and dates, the section breaks down the band’s catalog chronologically, breaking down the songs, the line up for each album (which has changed numerous times in the band’s storied career), plus detailed behind-the-scenes notes that shed fascinating new light on the production of each album. These notes reveal the stories behind the album names, the artwork, the equipment used, and eye-opening stories like the band recording Ballbreaker while the legendary Phil Spector was recording next door and Malcolm’s reason for not walking in and introducing himself (“No one fancies a gun to their head”).
The undeniable triumph of this book is the totality of the contents- everything from the early pictures of the band to AC/DC postage stamps, establish that AC/DC has made a mark on the human race unlike any other band. Their influence is firmly rooted in the band’s boogie woogie majesty, but their reach extends far beyond the world’s stereos. Whether it’s the fearsome pride of the band’s homeland or the blue collar integrity of the band’s tireless work ethic, the appeal of AC/DC is at once unique and universal. When you reach the final pages of Sutcliffe’s volume, you understand exactly why.