AC/DC’s Anti-iTunes Stance and the Cult of the Album

While AC/DC's still-standing refusal to make its music available on iTunes is rooted in the widely-held view of the album as a complete work, it’s important to acknowledge that LPs really aren’t the immutable documents we tend to think of them as.

In an interview with Sky News during the premiere for AC/DC’s new concert DVD Live at River Plate earlier this month, schoolboy-uniform-clad guitarist Angus Young reaffirmed his band’s still-unwavering stance on not making its music available for sale as digital downloads on iTunes. Even though notable major holdouts from the online marketplace -- Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles -- have one by one acquiesced to digital sales in recent years, the Thunder from Down Under is having none of it. As Young told the interviewer, “For us it’s the best way. We are a band who started off with albums and that’s how we’ve always been... We always were a band that if you heard something (by AC/DC) on the radio, well, that’s only three minutes. Usually the best tracks were on the albums”.

Certainly the veteran Australian rock band is free to distribute its music the way is sees fit, although it’s necessary to point out that iTunes allows artists to make certain tracks “Album Only” purchases. Still that only goes so far, as Radiohead discovered when the retailer refused to honor the band’s wishes to make all its tracks “Album Only”, causing the British alt-rock group to balk at offering its catalog there (Radiohead eventually relented, and now all its album cuts can be bought individually at the store). No, AC/DC wants classic albums like Highway to Hell (1979) and its immortal masterwork Back in Black (1980) to be consumed by buyers as unfractured wholes, and nothing less will do.

The way iTunes insists musicians offer their output on its store isn’t the issue to consider here. The real issue has everything to do with the hallowed status the long-playing album holds in recorded music. In popular music, the album is equivalent to the feature film and the novel in other media: it is held to be the primary vehicle of expression, the one that “counts” in the artist’s oeuvre. Although it originated as a method for record labels to package individually-released singles together after the fact, the LP since at least the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967 has been elevated to the top level of importance for musicians (particularly rockers), critics, and fans alike. Other formats are considered lesser entities: in the face of the favored LP, singles are considered necessary promotional evils, the EP is cast as a stopgap between “proper” full-lengths, and compilations of the best-of/greatest hits variety are continually held in sniffy disdain by certain quarters for how they grab selections from disparate works (read: albums) and mix them together in a configuration they weren’t intended for (a closed-minded attitude that denies truly great compilations from being considered the pinnacle of a musician’s output—nothing will ever change my mind that the best records Depeche Mode ever put out were its 81-85 and 86-98 singles collections). Even as the digital single garners more of the industry profit pie in the face of declining CD sales year after year, the LP remains the definitive package for the industry.

What’s odd about this notion is that albums don’t function like books and films do. They are more comparable to collections of original short stories all penned by the same author than truly cohesive long-form entities. Traditional album tracks are meant to function as autonomous units for a variety of reasons, ranging from the promotional (radio and video play) to the practical (to give performers breathers between tunes during live performances). As long as they’re divided into distinct units, it’s always been relatively easy to juggle around and recontextualize the contents of the LP, no matter how insistent the author is that it should all be taken in as a larger work. Certainly the beast known as the concept record can only properly function on a larger scale to present its narrative, but the average album doesn’t tell a story, and instead is often tied together by a mood, an aesthetic, or the mere mundane reality of housing whatever the material the musician had available when time came to record in the studio. Skipping around is easy—and encouraged, be it by lifting a turntable stylus or by hitting the shuffle button on an MP3 player. Pick up a novel and start at any random chapter, and you’re likely to be at a loss. Start an album on track five and typically you should be able to get right into it.

AC/DC should be aware of how modular and easy to isolate album contents really are: after all, the band issues singles from its LPs like pretty much every other rock group, and it had no problem mixing cuts from various albums together for last year’s Iron Man 2 soundtrack. And as awesome as Back in Black is, the power of its music is not dependent on each track being listened to one after the other in proper sequence, as any random spin of “Shoot to Thrill" or “You Shook Me All Night Long” on your local rock radio station between slabs of Led Zeppelin and Metallica can demonstrate. Furthermore, the group came to prominence in the glory days of AOR radio, so quite a few of its better non-single album cuts (especially those from Back in Black) are indeed well-known, despite what Angus Young said. I do think it’s pretty lame that iTunes won’t let artists sell albums only as complete works if that’s what they desire, but it’s important to acknowledge that LPs really aren’t the immutable documents we tend to think of them as.






Victoria Bailey's "Skid Row" Exemplifies the Bakersfield Sound (premiere + interview)

Victoria Bailey emerges with "Skid Row", a country romp that's an ode to an LA honky-tonk and the classic California Bakersfield sound.


Activism Starts at Home: A Conversation with S.G. Goodman

Folk rocker S.G. Goodman discusses changing hearts and minds in the rural American South, all while releasing her debut album in the middle of a global pandemic. Goodman is a rising artist to watch.


Shinichi Atobe's 'Yes' Sports an Appealing Electronic Eeriness

Despite its reverence for the roots of house music, an appealing eeriness blows through electronic producer Shinichi Atobe's Yes like a salty sea breeze.


Irmin Schmidt Meets John Cage on 'Nocturne'

Irmin Schmidt goes back to his Stockhausen roots with a new live album, Nocturne: Live at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.


Country's Corb Lund Finds the Absurd in 'Agricultural Tragic'

On Corb Lund's Agricultural Tragic, he sings of grizzly bears, tattoos, hunting rats and elk, the meaning of author Louis L'Amour's fiction, and the meaning of life.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

How Aaron Sorkin and U2 Can Soothe the Pandemic Mind

Like Aaron Sorkin, the veteran rock band U2 has been making ambitious, iconic art for decades—art that can be soaring but occasionally self-important. Sorkin and &2's work draws parallels in comfort and struggle.


Jockstrap's 'Wicked City' Is an Unfolding of Boundaries

On Wicked City, UK art-pop duo Jockstrap run through a gamut of styles and sounds, sometimes gracefully, sometimes forcefully, but always seductively.


Chewing the Fat: Rapper Fat Tony on His Latest Work From Hip-hop's Leftfield

Fat Tony proves a bright, young artist making waves amongst the new generation of hip-hop upstarts.


The Bobby Lees Strike the Punk-Blues Jugular on Jon Spencer-Produced 'Skin Suit'

The Bobby Lees' Skin Suit is oozing with sex, sweat and joyful abandon. It's a raucous ride from beginning to end. Cover to cover, this thing's got you by the short hairs.


'Perramus: The City and Oblivion' Depicts Argentina's Violent Anti-Communist Purge

Juan Sasturain and Alberto Breccia's graphic novel Peraramus: The City and Oblivion, is an absurd and existential odyssey of a political dissident who can't remember his name.


Daniel Avery's Versatility Is Spread Rather Thin on 'Love + Light'

Because it occasionally breaks new ground, Daniel Avery's Love + Light avoids being an afterthought from start to finish. The best moments here are generally the hardest-hitting ones.


Khruangbin Add Vocals But Keep the Funk on 'Mordechai'

Khruangbin's third album Mordechai is a showcase for their chemistry and musical chops.


Buscabulla Chronicle a Return to Puerto Rico in Chic Synthwave on 'Regresa'

Buscabulla's authenticity -- along with dynamite production chops and musicianship -- is irreplaceable, and it makes Regresa a truly soulful synthwave release.


The Cyclops and the Sunken Place: Narrative Control in 'Watchmen' and 'Get Out'

Hollywood is increasing Black representation but Damon Lindelof and Jordan Peele challenge audiences to question the authenticity of this system.

Featured: Top of Home Page

'Breathing Through the Wound' Will Leave You Gasping for Air

As dizzying as Víctor Del Árbol's philosophy of crime may appear, the layering of motifs in Breathing Through the Wound is vertiginous.


12 Essential Kate Bush Songs

While Kate Bush is a national treasure in the UK, American listeners don't know her as well. The following 12 songs capture her irrepressible spirit.


Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish Replace Form with Risk on 'Interactivity'

The more any notions of preconceived musicality are flicked to the curb, the more absorbing Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish's Interactivity gets.


Martin Green's Junkshop Yields the Gritty, Weird Story of Britpop Wannabes

Featuring a litany of otherwise-forgotten budget bin purchases, Martin Green's two-disc overview of coulda-been Britpop contenders knows little of genre confines, making for a fun historical detour if nothing else.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.