Repetition vs Consistency: where to draw the line?

iGougeriGouger Posts: 283
edited December 1969 in Songwriting
I've been trying to get into AC/DC lately--I like em, but I can't say I've ever been a big fan of them (yeah yeah I know, this is DRG, sue me), so I listened to Highway to Hell, the album, in its entirety for the first time ever (yeah, yeah, sue me...). Even after listening to what a lot of people say is one of the high points of their career, I still can't say that I can really appreciate the band as much as, say, Iron Maiden or Ratt, a band to which I'll be drawing a few comparisons in this thread. Now bear with me and my naivete; I've never written a song (ever) and I'm undoubtedly much less knowledgeable about the whole songwriting process than most members on this forum, so if anything, one of my goals in posting this is allowing me to appreciate bands like AC/DC a bit more and to take home a bit about how to craft a good song and/or a good album. But hear me out first.

Anyway, the glaring thing to me about Highway to Hell was that all the songs had a similar feel, tempo, and even subject matter--sort of what you'd expect from a typical rock song, but to me, it seemed a bit repetitive, particularly because this was the case with every song on the album. I didn't exactly hear any dynamics in any of their songs, either compositionally or sonically. Angus and Malcolm Young used primarily power and suspended chords throughout the album, which gave me the impression of very similar sounding songs. Don't get me wrong; I still like the music, but I just found it to be a bit repetitive, as I stated before.

And this brings me to my main question: where do you draw the line between consistency and just repetitiveness? When I was formulating my thoughts on this album, my mind drifted to the alchemy profile for Warren DeMartini, and after giving it another read, I thought that what was listed as Warren's weakness seemed to be listed as Angus' strength: repetitive songwriting. Under his weaknesses, the alchemy profile says
Virtually all Ratt songs songs have the same energy level and feel. There's almost no compositional dynamics. There are no quiet parts contrasted with power and glory. No mood changes.
Contrast this to Angus' profile, where under strengths is listed the statement
"It's amazing really. AC/DC has been essentially writing the same few songs over and over again for almost 30 years. Most of them are so similar in their composition that you'd think: this can't possibly work."
There's a lot of truth to both of these statements, but frankly, I actually think Ratt did better in the songwriting department. Take a look at Out of the Cellar: sure, most of the songs carry the same "80-90 BPM, raunchy rock song" feel, but then you have the odd quasi-power ballad, "Back for More" in the mix as well. Even in "Round and Round," I thought that there was a logical progression to the song--catchy, powerful riff composed of some unconventional (at least in rock) dyads, to a more sedated verse, to a pre-chorus which builds tension ("I knew right from the beginning / that you would end up winning" etc.), to a chorus which releases that tension. To me, this seems like good songwriting. Sure, not all of Ratt's songs, even on their first album, were as good or memorable as "Round and Round" or "Back for More" (IMO at least), but the songs were varied to an extent, and I can listen to Out of the Cellar in one sitting without really getting ear-fatigue, whereas with AC/DC, it personally felt a little grating to have ten VERY similar songs stacked up against one another. Ratt didn't vary the formula much, but the songs were (IMO) effective and consistent; AC/DC just felt repetitive. So in summary, I feel like Ratt could compose a more memorable, effective song and certainly experimented with more chords than AC/DC did. This is as far as I'll draw any comparisons, because I think lead-wise it's a bit unfair to compare Angus Young to Warren DeMartini or even Robbin Crosby--and this is in the "songwriting" section of the forum, not the "technique" section.

All this comes to say: where do you draw the line between consistency and repetition? Am I missing something here? (I probably am, hah. Should I listen to some other AC/DC albums?) Help me understand why AC/DC's songs are well-written and effective; I want to like them, I really do, but for me it's just hard to find something that I can really appreciate about them. Anyway, thanks for reading it all (if you did) and thanks in advance for helping me through my question.
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Comments

  • mr_crowleymr_crowley Posts: 6,627
    Essentially I don't think you should force yourself to like something just becuase you want to or feel like you have to. Listen to what you think rocks and are cool music. Of course you should explore and try to find new music that you'll like but if you find that "this isn't my cup of tea" - well, than it probably isn't. Move on and enjoy the things you like instead! :metal:

    I am not much an AC/DC-fan either whereas RATT is one of my favourites. And as you I think there is a lot more variety in RATT's songwriting than AC/DC's and I can't see the logic in bashing Stephen Pearcy while thinking Bon Scott or Brian Johnson is fine (flame suit on).


    But to get more to the core of your question.
    I think there are two pretty simple answers to it.

    When it comes to DRG a lot of it has to do with the demographic of the site. Imagine being 14 when Highway to Hell hit the shelves and you are the rock kid in school. That shit was probably quite brutal and heavy. What isn't there to like?
    And the music you hear throughout your teens make a big impression. I listen back to some music I liked when I was 14-17 (lot of power metal and OTT glam) and a lot of it is of dubious quality but none the less I like it because it is like your first girlfriend or something... A part of you will always love it.'

    Part two is the mainstream. They don't want to dig deep. They like what comes easy to them and doesn't take to much work.
    Finding out RATT at least take some knowledge in heavy metal.
    Everybody knows who AC/DC are. They want some crunchy rock music on their playlist so they go on Spotify, type the only rock band they know of (it can be AC/DC, KISS or some other of those realy major ones), pick the top three songs, put them in their playlist, hit "shuffle" (and some lame ass Britney song comes on) and don't think further about it.
    What AC/DC have succeded in their whole carrer is writing songs that resonate with a lot of people and to easier way to that is to dumb it down to the level of the mainstream. They've struck a formula with three crunchy chords, a raunchy singer singing lyrics with sexual undertones and putting a bluesy stock pentatonic solo on top and it works wonder.
    If you don't care to dig deeper and I can see why this is super cool. The mainstream wants to feel like they "rock" every once in a while. They don't want to listen to complex chords and blazing solos 'cause their numb minds just concieve it as "noise".


    And this is all just my theory so take it for what it's worth.

    But remember - don't force yourself to listen to music that you don't like. It isn't worth it :up:
  • Dinosaur David BDinosaur David B Posts: 17,926
    Don't forget that I also said in the Angus profile:
    Angus' style, like the AC/DC formula itself, can be like eating chicken for every meal — even if you like chicken, it grows tiresome after awhile.
    AC/DC and Ratt are BOTH very one-note, one-sound band with very little variation.  I think one difference is that Ratt got lumped in with a bunch of similar-sounding LA bands, all spawned -- to one degree or another -- from Van Halen. But they might have been a lot more versatile and dynamic with a different singer.  AC/DC was never going to be very versatile, even though Bon Scott was a much more more dynamic, imaginative, and better singer that Pearcy. OTOH AC/DC created a pretty unique sound and style (Ratt didn't), and, IMO, AC/DC's formula worked better longer.

    The line you speak of is different for every listener.  For me, the line is usually how good are the songs.  Accept, for example, don't show much sonic versatility either, but they use dynamics way better than AC/DC or Ratt, and they still write killer songs with great riffs and hooks.

    I think some of the early AC/DC albums are seminal, but the peak was clearly Back in Black.  In the subsequent 30+ years, there have only been a few great AC/DC songs IMO. They are largely a nostalgia act.

    And I understand if they aren't your cup of tea.  Hear any three AC/DC songs, and you've heard everything they do. You can say that about many bands. And I think Ratt is one of them.  Bands by nature typically take one of two routes: they either go for scope, and try to play a lot of different styles (Zeppelin, the Stones etc), or they find the one thing they do best, and do just that. If its that latter and you hit upon a winning formula you can be quite successful even without a lot of scope.

    In the midst of the sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament.
  • Seven MoonsSeven Moons Posts: 8,828
    What Dave said. My thoughts exactly.  A lot of great hard rock/metal bands are quite formulaic in their songwriting: AC/DC, Motörhead, Slayer, just to name a few -- and not the lesser ones. What can make one of those bands truly great is how good and memorable their songs are, as well as the personality/uniqueness of their sound. When they rose to fame, AC/DC, Motörhead or Slayer sounded like nobody else before, and they essentially still do.
  • inmyhandsinmyhands Posts: 11,668
    Knowing the key to what makes one song memorable is an aid to creating more of the same. That said ..... what usually makes a song memorable is the hook. The part of the tune that grabs the listeners ears / imagination and won't let go.

    Many bands make the mistake of thinking a certain melody line or a certain combination of verse, refrain, bridge is the glue that holds the listener. They then create the same song with a few melodic alterations and different lyrics and go for the gold. Sometimes it works. AC/DC are the proof of it. In the long run their discography becomes a study in one idea taken to the bank time and time again.

    If you're looking to study a band that's perfected the "hook" and avoided the entrapment of "more of the same" listen to a few albums by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Deep Purple or Whitesnake. An excellent post 2000 example of creating the hook multiple times on one album without any repetitiveness is Paul Gilbert's "Burning Organ." Every song has a hook and no two sound the same. Great musicianship X excellent songwriting.

    Hook's are the melodic line you can't get out of your head. The lyric that rings of truth and rightness. The refrain that screams perfection and won't let go. Whether we're talking "Paperback Writer", "Jumping Jack Flash", "Highway Star" or "Amy is Amazing" it's all the same. A great song written with a great hook that burns it's way into the listeners brain.
  • iGougeriGouger Posts: 283
    Thanks for the replies everyone.

    [quote author=mr_crowley]
    Imagine being 14 when Highway to Hell hit the shelves and you are the rock kid in school. That shit was probably quite brutal and heavy. What isn't there to like?
    And the music you hear throughout your teens make a big impression.
    [/quote]
    I think you're absolutely right with this--there's a big nostalgia factor involved whenever you're talking about stuff you liked in your early, formative years. I do like AC/DC, but I just can't get into them like I can some other bands, and nostalgia might be a part of it; I admit to having a soft spot for those first four Metallica albums despite Kirk Hammett not being that great of a guitar player because they are some of the first heavy albums that I really enjoyed.

    [quote author=Dinosaur David B]
    AC/DC and Ratt are BOTH very one-note, one-sound band with very little variation.  I think one difference is that Ratt got lumped in with a bunch of similar-sounding LA bands, all spawned -- to one degree or another -- from Van Halen. But they might have been a lot more versatile and dynamic with a different singer.  AC/DC was never going to be very versatile, even though Bon Scott was a much more more dynamic, imaginative, and better singer that Pearcy. OTOH AC/DC created a pretty unique sound and style (Ratt didn't), and, IMO, AC/DC's formula worked better longer.[/quote]
    Now that you mention it, I do find that AC/DC had a more distinctive sound than Ratt did, and uniqueness goes a long way. I love Ratt, but I would have to admit that you can get a similar package with Dokken, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Bon Jovi, etc, whereas I can't really list any bands that sound like AC/DC.

    I think it eventually becomes an issue of personally like/dislike. AC/DC wrote good songs, but I just don't like their style as much as I do Ratt's. And that, I think, is a part of music in general--subjectivity, what appeals to you as a person.
  • SirionSirion Posts: 3,115
    [quote author=iGouger link=topic=16526.msg250080#msg250080 date=1403548653]
    Now that you mention it, I do find that AC/DC had a more distinctive sound than Ratt did, and uniqueness goes a long way. I love Ratt, but I would have to admit that you can get a similar package with Dokken, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Bon Jovi, etc, whereas I can't really list any bands that sound like AC/DC.
    [/quote]

    Well, there's always Krokus, if you want to get technical, but they established their sound well after AC/DC had made it big.
  • guitardguitard Posts: 159
    [quote author=Dinosaur David B link=topic=16526.msg250065#msg250065 date=1403519033]
    I think some of the early AC/DC albums are seminal, but the peak was clearly Back in Black.[/quote]
    Minor thread hijack here - I apologize in advance.

    I never really liked Back In Black.  Sure, I bought it and listened to it back in the day.  But for me, when Bon died, a big part of the heart and soul of AC/DC went with him.  So I always reach for a pre-Back in Black CD whenever I feel like listening to AC/DC.
  • Seven MoonsSeven Moons Posts: 8,828
    [quote author=guitard link=topic=16526.msg250111#msg250111 date=1403604092]
    [quote author=Dinosaur David B link=topic=16526.msg250065#msg250065 date=1403519033]
    I think some of the early AC/DC albums are seminal, but the peak was clearly Back in Black.[/quote]
    Minor thread hijack here - I apologize in advance.

    I never really liked Back In Black.  Sure, I bought it and listened to it back in the day.  But for me, when Bon died, a big part of the heart and soul of AC/DC went with him.  So I always reach for a pre-Back in Black CD whenever I feel like listening to AC/DC.
    [/quote]

    Same here. Highway to Hell is my favorite, and Let There be Rock comes second.
  • AgrippaAgrippa Posts: 5,962
    [quote author=Seven Moons link=topic=16526.msg250112#msg250112 date=1403605448]
    [quote author=guitard link=topic=16526.msg250111#msg250111 date=1403604092]
    [quote author=Dinosaur David B link=topic=16526.msg250065#msg250065 date=1403519033]
    I think some of the early AC/DC albums are seminal, but the peak was clearly Back in Black.[/quote]
    Minor thread hijack here - I apologize in advance.

    I never really liked Back In Black.  Sure, I bought it and listened to it back in the day.  But for me, when Bon died, a big part of the heart and soul of AC/DC went with him.  So I always reach for a pre-Back in Black CD whenever I feel like listening to AC/DC.
    [/quote]

    Same here. Highway to Hell is my favorite, and Let There be Rock comes second.
    [/quote]
    Me Too.

    Powerage FTW !
  • Dinosaur David BDinosaur David B Posts: 17,926
    They actually, IMO, had a creative two-album peak with HTH and BIB.  Whether you prefer it or not, in terms of sales, BIB is far their sales peak.
    In the midst of the sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament.
  • guitardguitard Posts: 159
    [quote author=Dinosaur David B link=topic=16526.msg250120#msg250120 date=1403620149]
    Whether you prefer it or not, in terms of sales, BIB is by far their sales peak.[/quote]
    And that's what always left me scratching my head ... and wondering ... "Is this the first AC/DC album for a lot of these people?  Certainly if they had heard some of the earlier stuff, albums sales for those earlier albums would match or surpass BIB."

    And when you think about it, it's a truly amazing feat.  Your lead singer ... one of the most iconic and original dudes in all of hard rock ... dies tragically ... and then seemingly without skipping a beat ... you come right back with a new guy ... and put out one the best selling hard rock albums of all time.
  • Dinosaur David BDinosaur David B Posts: 17,926
    Highest degree of difficulty ever. Only them and Van Halen really did that (5150 outsold previous albums). And yes, it WAS many folks first intro to AC/DC.
    In the midst of the sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament.
  • iGougeriGouger Posts: 283
    I'll eventually get around to listening Back in Black and Let There be Rock, then, as per the suggestions of you guys. I've heard songs off of Back in Black on the radio--the title track, "Shook me All Night Long," "Hell's Bells." Those are on that album I think.

    I still like AC/DC, so when I'm feeling in the mood for that style of music I'll give either of those albums a listen.
  • JoebuddhaJoebuddha Posts: 2,129
    I love HTH  but I listen to High Voltage, Powerage, and Dirty Deeds a lot more often.
  • madmaxmadmax Posts: 719
    All this talk about AC/DC made me decide to listen through all their albums.

    I'm typing this up at work, so I'm not %100.

    The first AC/DC album I ever heard was BiB, so that is my benchmark to judge the other albums against.  I think they changed attributes of the instrumentation when BJ came on.  The only other album I had heard all the way through was The Razor's Edge, and that was maybe only once or twice.

    Right now, I'm listening to the first album, High Voltage(the Aussie-only release): 
    To me, the only real thing that sounds AC/DC-ish is Bon's vocals.  The guitars do come close at times.  Both the tone and what they play is much different than what I'm used to.  The bass is very present here.

    The next album is TNT: 
    I've heard ….Long Way…. many times before.  The second track, Rock 'n' Roll Singer, which I've never heard before now sounds almost 100%.  The only thing that is off is Angus's tone, but the phrasing is there.  The Jack is another song I've heard before.  this is AC/DC doing their version of the blues, so it sounds different than their regular fare.  As I'm listening to Live Wire, I'm thinking one of the things that was different in the Bon era was that the guitars were a bit more trebley.  Because I've heard the song TNT a bunch of times, it sounds like AC/DC to me even though I can tell there are differences in the tone.  I wasn't paying much attention to the next to songs(work and all).  The song High Voltage sounds a bit different in the verses.  Again, Angus's tone sounded odd during the solo.  Their cover of School Days sounds like AC/DC.  Angus's tone sounds like normal.  He is playing something more suited to the song instead of his normal style though.

    Next up is the international debut, also named High Voltage:
    This is 2 songs from the original HV and 7 songs from TNT.  I don't know if they re-recorded or remixed anything for this album.

    Dirty Deeds….: 
    Here Angus does a blusey solo for Ride On.  There is also the humorous song Big Balls.  I didn't pay that close attention to this album.

    Now it's Let There Be Rock: 
    Listening to Go Down, it seems they have turned the treble down on the guitars.  The solo tone is different than normal, and Angus was playing a bit differently.  On the song Let There Be Rock, it sounds like Malcom was using more dist/gain.  Also on Bad Boy Boogie, but less than LTBR.  On Overdose, it seems Angus is a little bit more distorted.

    Now is Powerage: 
    Rock n Roll Damnation has a lot of crunch and is rather treble-y.  On Riff Raff, Angus gets faster than normal on the solo parts.  Up….You has the "classic" rhythm tone.  Angus does a bit of an extended solo.

    I guess tomorrow I'll start with HtH, and then go into the BJ albums.  It looks like I got carried away.

    I think one of the points I'd also to make is that there a few factors that make AC/DC sound same-y.
    Bon's and Brian's distinctive vocals.
    The Young bros distinctive styles.
    The Young bros distinctive guitar tones.

    Maybe the problem is that these factors are too distinctive.

    There does seem to be some variation, but if the things above annoy you, that's just the way you are.
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