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Book Review: AC/DC: The Ultimate Illustrated History by Phil Sutcliffe

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I’d be the first to admit that I am an AC/DC newbie (I’ve heard three of their songs and have one on my iPod), but I was intrigued by a book that called itself the Ultimate History. I was surprised to discover that they’d been going for so long and that their lead singer died in 1980. Like I said, I’m a real newbie.

Author Phil Sutcliffe, on the other hand, has quite a bit of experience with the band (he first saw them back when they were a few years old), which was probably why he was commissioned to write the roughly 200-page book in the first place.

The bulk of this book is taken up by a running narrative of the band’s history by the author, and lots of photos of stage work and backstage dicking around. Occasionally, you will find yellow pages with essays contributed by others on the album released at that point (for example, when the narrative rolls around to the point where they made Back In Black, an essay is there regarding that album). One problem inherent in this is that the essayist is likely to talk about the same stuff that you’ve just read. Certain anecdotes and sordid stories get repeated.

There are also scans of various AC/DC materials, such as backstage passes, posters, tickets, and a rather interesting series of scans from an AC/DC comic done in 1990, which follows the story currently being told.

The back cover promises “exclusive commentaries and reflections from Jimmy Page, Meat Loaf and Billy F. Gibbons,” among others. While it’s technically true (they are there, but they’re often one sentence long), having all of the brief quotes from the musical geniuses in the inside cover feels a bit misplaced somehow. They would’ve been better placed in different sections throughout, as they did with extracts from the text.

I found the book a bit hard to get into at first, but it’s worth persevering with if you want to expand your Acca Dacca knowledge. Exactly how Ultimate it is, I can’t really say, but I certainly feel a lot more informed, and the essayists do a fair bit to give you differing accounts of what was going on within the band. All the quotes are attributed to the best of their ability and many of them come from times when he had interviewed the band. If nothing else, it’s worth getting for the person in your life with the short attention span, who will be amused by the little spinner on the cover. This is a book that will stay on my shelf for quite a while yet.

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About Scott Varnham