Riff Raff

When I was in San Francisco a couple weeks ago, Michael introduced Girish and me to a whole pack of Bay Area bloggers and film folk, several of whom, I was happy to discover, were eager to discuss my “Great Guitar Songs” project. It’s kind of a music geek’s wet dream, really. Just deciding which three Led Zeppelin songs to include, I’ve discovered, can kill, like, 30 or 40 minutes if you pose the question to the right coworkers.

Last weekend, when Joanna and I drove down to Chattanooga, we listened to nothing but the first draft of my 5-disc compilation. She was quick to point out a glaring omission, God bless her — “Barracuda” by Heart. I also realized that I’d taken my fondness for ’60s garage rock a bit far and needed to trim some of the fat. Also, we both agreed the collection needed some AC/DC.

Here’s something I’ve learned about AC/DC, though. Apparently they’re one of the final holdouts of the iTunes era. (I assume this goes hand-in-hand with their weird distribution deal with Wal-Mart.) None of my regular sources — eMusic, Amazon, or iTunes — sell AC/DC songs, so, instead, I drove over to Knoxville’s music mecca, The Disc Exchange, and plunked down $7.99 for a brand new copy of Powerage (1978).

Here’s something else I’ve learned about AC/DC. They rock. I mean, I’ve known AC/DC rocks since I was 9 years old and my friend Steve put Back in Black on his turntable and dropped the needle on “You Shook Me All Night Long.” What surprised me, though, is that they still rock, long after the brand of heavy metal they discovered was made into a joke by ’80s hair bands, and long after I “outgrew” my fondness for early metal.

I bought Powerage rather than one of the other, more obvious choices because it includes “Riff Raff,” hands-down my favorite AC/DC song. There’s much to love about this song — the opening crescendo, Angus’s riffs, the driving 8th-note bassline, the unimpeachable beauty of a 3-chord song — but I developed my crush on it after listening to Mark Kozelek’s What’s Next to the Moon for the 15th or 20th time. Moon is an entire album of AC/DC covers, all culled from the Bon Scott era, and all given the full-on Kozelek treatment: soft, acoustic renditions, lovingly and sweetly sung. I’ll be damned if Kozelek doesn’t turn Bon Scott into a kind of Woody Guthrie or Hank Williams — a simple man capable of transforming simple desire and simple language into heartbreaking folk poetry. Check out Kozelek’s version of “Riff Raff.” Both versions, I’ve decided, are going on my nephew’s CDs.