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

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Phil Sutcliffe has been writing about music long enough to have been around since AC/DC first formed. With a pedigree covering Sounds, Q, Blender, the Los Angeles Times and Mojo, he’s got enough form to take on the task of living up to the word ultimate that’s lodged in the title. And in terms of “illustrated,” this is probably the best AC/DC book out there.

The cover itself will be enough to draw a few AC/DC fans in, what with a disc that allows you to spin Angus Young around on stage! Yes, it’s a gimmick, but there are an awful lot of AC/DC books out there, so having something that attracts attention is no bad thing. But it’s the words and pictures that really count, and that’s where things are a bit more hit and miss. The pictures are fabulous. There are rare, early shots, loads of obscure sleeves from the collection of Bill Voccia, and some classic images of the band in full flight that are irrepressible.

The story itself is told well, with a plethora of detail on the early, more interesting years, including a few facts that even I hadn’t encountered before. And I’ve been a fan since the late seventies. There are plenty of details on the early, forgotten members of the band, who contributed to their early live and recorded work, with the likes of Larry Van Kriedt, Rob Bailey, Peter Clack and Colin Burgess reappearing after decades of airbrushing.

Sutcliffe’s prose moves along well, but the layout of the book does cause a few problems. You see, the story is broken up by a series of essays detailing each album. Now these are written by other people, some of whom seem to only have a passing familiarity with AC/DC and who don’t seem to have a bad word to say about the band — something that is hard to believe when you are dealing with records as risible as Fly On The Wall and Blow Up Your Video. In addition, the essays don’t always flow with the story, so you find yourself reaching an essay about an album you read about ten pages ago, or haven’t reached yet. Which is downright annoying. I’d also suggest skipping the essay on For Those About To Rock completely, as it’s so nauseatingly sycophantic you may find yourself retching.

Sutcliffe, at least, doesn’t try to put any undue shine on the rather grim mid to late eighties, when the band were in a slump creatively and commercially, something that makes the lack of new source material in this unofficial book forgiveable. He also doesn’t skip over their hard-nosed approach to management and personnel issues, something that makes you view the Young brothers much less sympathetically. There aren’t many obvious, factual errors, and the design of the book is excellent. Elsewhere, there are sections on the Young brothers’ guitar and gear, but it’s the pictures that keep drawing you back in, along with the assorted memorabilia — posters, flyers, tickets, badges etc.

It’s by far the best illustrated history of AC/DC I’ve encountered, and would be more than welcome in any fan’s Christmas stocking. Mistresses, please take note.

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About Stuart A Hamilton