The digital music world is a bit louder this morning. AC/DC, the Australian hard rock band whose heavy metal thunder has never been available for legal download, has stepped into the 21st century and released its music through iTunes, the band announced Monday morning.
After years of stubbornly arguing that iTunes was, in the words of singer Brian Johnson, “going to kill music if they’re not careful,” the band reached a deal with the company to sell its entire catalog -- 16 studio albums, four live albums and three compilations -- through the service. It’s too early to predict whether this move marks the death knell for melody, rhythm and/or song.
But “Hells Bells” sure sounds great. Like the rest of the Australian band’s big-riffed music, the classic 1980 song about Satan, death and “black sensations” has been remastered, and the opening church bells have never rang clearer (that is, unless you’ve grabbed a copy of “Back in Black” on vinyl for a dollar at a garage sale, but that’s a whole other conversation).
Until Monday, AC/DC was one of the last high-profile holdouts from the digital music marketplace. It had outlasted the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, all of which jumped into the realm long after much of the population had accepted the downloading future. Only two artists remain steadfast: Garth Brooks and Kid Rock, neither of whom offer downloadable versions their backcatalog, but Rock recently broke ranks and is selling his new album "Rebel Soul" via iTunes.
Angus Young, AC/DC’s lead guitarist (known for wearing a schoolboy’s uniform when performing), had long argued against hawking the band’s music via iTunes or any other digital service. He didn’t like the idea of allowing for individual song downloads -- submitting that the group’s albums were designed to be listened to from beginning to end.
“It’s like an artist who does a painting,” he said in 2008. “If he thinks it’s a great piece of work, he protects it. It’s the same thing: This is our work.”
He’s since changed his mind. Each of the group’s songs -- “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “Highway to Hell,” “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” “Thunderstruck” and “Whole Lotta Rosie” among them -- is available individually for $1.29. Albums are priced at $9.99.
In keeping with Young's point, iTunes also offers a package deal that buys mega-fans the entire lot -- live albums, compilations and all -- for $149.99. And for those who haven’t had the time or sense to manually insert CD versions of the band’s studio albums into their computer and import them into iTunes, a mere $99 provides digital copies of all those in one fell swoop.
The untethered option is a good thing, however, because while AC/DC’s peaks have been spectacular over its nearly 40-year career, it’s also put forth a lot of compost. For example, suffering through “Big Balls” just to get to “Ride On" when buying “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” isn’t too good a deal, especially when a used CD is also dirt cheap.
Still, AC/DC's brand of proto-metal remains timeless, and its ability to resist the technology until now proves how devilishly immortal the band's sound remains in any format. Even if its work were only available carved into stone tablets, fans would still find a way to listen.