Fly On The Wall Is AC/DC’s Great Lost Album And Here’s Why
The summer of 85 brings back fantastic memories. I got my driver’s license, my first job as a lifeguard at the local pool, and my biggest worry was how I was going to meet the bikini-clad beauties I so bravely guarded. And the soundtrack to it all? AC DC fly on the wall.
And to this day, I don’t understand why he’s so underrated. classic rock included it in a list of the worst albums of all time (and listed it as DC’s worst album in our worst to best guide), rolling stoneit is original review dismissed it as sexist and incomprehensible (“You’ll never guess how sexist and politically incorrect all of this is if you haven’t read the lyric sheet, because you sure can’t make out a single word coming out of the glottis Brian Johnson’s Dentist”) and at the time was only No. 32 on the Billboard album chart – a far cry from the multimillion-selling triumph of Back in black and US No. 1 For those about to rockjust four years earlier.
It does not mean anything. FOTW is AC/DC’s great lost album and here’s why.
In 1985, AC/DC was in professional difficulty. A new breed of rockers were selling millions of albums via massive exposure to MTV. Ratt, Motley Crue, Twister Sister and others were channel darlings. Unlike the very dramatic turmoil and triumphant return that surrounds Back in blackthey now faced a challenge perhaps more daunting for any veteran rock band – they were reluctant to be pass.
1983 Switch shot felt a little “old fashioned” to my barely teenage self (I love it today for that same “old fashioned” feeling). The band needed to catch the attention of young American rockers and the five promotional videos they made for Fly – Fly on the wall, danger, sink the pink, get upand Shake your foundations, all released on 5-track VHS at the time – did just that. Suddenly, we could see the high voltage, stop your smile, and drop your laundry charm on our own. Of course the Fly the videos were cheeky (which band wasn’t then?) but there was genuine joy about them that came through as you watched them.
MTV embraced the boys. The videos of Fly perfectly integrated into Who made Who – the soundtrack to Stephen King’s pseudo-greatest hits Maximum overdrive film (which included both Le Rose washbasin and Shake your foundations of Fly) – later the same year. Who made Whoand a new concept video from Shake me all night did massive broadcasts on MTV.
In a short time, Fly had helped them recapture America’s youth and in turn set up the band’s next three albums for MTV and sales dominance. And while the album peaked in the US at No. 32, slow sales from touring and MTV exposure helped it earn platinum status regardless. Not too shabby for “a disaster”.
The manufacturing on Fly was by the Young brothers themselves and is one of the issues people have with the album. The mid-80s marked the start of the burgeoning digital audio production movement, and although it was all the rage at the time, the fashionable treatment left a fair amount of mid-80s rock records 80s sound a bit thin and cold, a sound that isn’t quite so timeless today.
Fly clearly sounded like an attempt to keep up with the poodle-haired Jones whose albums were flying off shelves at the time. Who can blame them? In fairness, he always looked like AC/DCbut not your older brother’s AC/DC.
Of course, this new approach is in itself a sore point for AC/DC purists. Whether Powerful is more your speed, so I completely understand your position on the matter – I love Bon Scott-era bloody looseness as much as anyone. But, having grown up in the 80s, I’m also a big fan of the Brian era and that is the same approach that produced the stadium-rattling Stunned among others. Put Stunned and Shake your foundations back to back and you’ll see they’re really cut from the same fabric.
At the end of the day, it’s the music that counts – and to my American teenage ears, the music was rocked pretty hard. This opinion has not changed with age. If you now listen to songs like Fly off the wall, shake your foundation, get back to business and Le Rose washbasin, it’s inherently AC/DC kicking ass with that slinky groove and grin present throughout. For me, this is the last of their albums to be a complete collection of quality, thoughtful songs.
track by track, Fly still compares to subsequent albums. Explode your video was full of pedestrian filler after the singles Heat detector and That’s how I want rock ‘n’ roll. Even the huge commercially The razor’s edge is, in truth, quite a skimpy affair beyond the ever-impressive Stunned, money talks and Are you ready simple. Bullet breakers and Stiff upper lip followed suit.
That said, in many ways the album seemed to reinvigorate DC. After Fly, the group made considerable efforts to keep up and began to regularly use established producers of the time – Rick Rubin and Bruce Fairbairn to name a few – to oversee album production.
Gone are the after-the-fact live clips: each subsequent single came with a great production video. Fly had entered the rock party of the 80s, notched a whole new generation of rockers and revived a stalled career.
Additional Note: The capture of serial killer Richard Ramirez, aka The Night Stalker, also thrust the band’s name into the national spotlight in 1985. A Satanic-influenced psychopath with an alleged love for AC/DC – police uncovered a AC/DC baseball cap at a murder scene, while a childhood pal confirmed that DC was one of his favorite bands – media coverage around his capture meant AC/DC was caught up in the satanic panic of the 80s.
people magazine said Ramirez’s mental illness, mixed with his drug use and being “reprogrammed by the heavy metal lyrics of AC/DC and Judas Priest”, led to his killing spree. Soon, city councils tried to ban the group from their places. (A baffled Angus Young, taken to task for songs on Highways to Hell, pointed out that, far from being satanic anthems, DC’s songs were all a bit ironic. “What happened to the sense of ‘humor of people?’ he asked. the LA Times.)
As we all know, in terms of rock’n’roll, there’s no bad press where Beelzebub is involved. America’s mainstream media and moral majority waving a finger turned out to be an eerily perfect time for a band in decline with a hopeful new album. AC/DC were dangerous again. It’s ‘Murica for you guys…
Learn more the making of Flick Of The Switch & Fly On The Wall.