I have to give Radio 1’s ‘Friday Rock Show’ the credit, in the person of Tommy Vance, who, during the late 1980s, introduced a whole range of rock artists to the airwaves ranging from death metal outfits, 60s folk rock, to early tracks from big names like Quo, Purple, Sabbath and Zeppelin.
It must have been 1985 (shortly after a whole show had been devoted to a live gig by Motley Crue) that Vance played a track which made the twelve-year old me sit up and take notice. The track was ‘Ride On’, and the band was AC/DC – a band which I had previously only associated with ‘Hells Bells’ and ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’, with a singer whose voice sounded as if he was scraping fingernails against a blackboard, a good rock voice, sure, but not this one that I was listening to on the FRS.
I was of course listening to the band’s previous singer, Ronald Belford Scott (known as ‘Bon’) who had passed away in 1980. The 35th anniversary of his death has just been and gone, on the 19th February, and although their most enduring singer, Brian Johnson, has now been in the band longer than Bon Scott was alive, he is still one of my favourite frontmen, an attractive and vibrant personality with a huge sense of fun (Vance would play other songs from the era which played on this, from ‘She’s Got Balls’ and ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ to ‘I’m a Rocker’ and ‘Up To My Neck’), but it was ‘Ride On’ which made me place him in that rare group of superb vocalists who stand head and shoulders above everyone else.
I love ‘Ride On’. It not only has fantastic vocals but also great lyrics and perhaps Angus Young’s best guitar work – until I heard this track I hadn’t really rated him as a musician but here, he was the real deal. It’s hard to find the song in the usual places – all the YouTube videos which feature it have been muted through copyright claims – but if you look on Dailymotion, you’ll find it. I don’t want to deprive people of the pleasure so I’m not linking it here.
I will however link a little bit of fun, which was how Bon started off, in the 1960s, in ‘The Valentines’. He isn’t the lead singer here, and he does look just a little embarrassed, but this is fun.
When Bon Scott died he was at the peak of his success and, so it seems from a Top of the Pops appearance less than two weeks’ before (‘Touch Too Much’), of his fitness too. There have been all sorts of rumours around the events of that fateful night when he drank a little more than he should and died in a freezing car in the middle of the night that February – but whatever the truth, it still feels a terrible waste of an admittedly difficult but talented individual to pass away at the age of just thirty-three, but perhaps it was inevitable given his alcohol and drug addictions, and at least he did not become a member of the 27-club along with others of his contemporaries.
Anyway, if it hadn’t been for Tommy Vance’s inclusion of these songs in his broadcasts I probably wouldn’t have known about the first few years of AC/DC’s existence, and what might have been. He’s gone now, too, and although Radio 1 still rocks it isn’t quite the same. On 6th March it will be ten years since we lost Vance, so I raise a glass to both him and Scott, and say we miss both of you, very much.