Back in Black 8va
December 20, 2007 2:49 PM   Subscribe

How the heck did Brian Johnson of AC/DC sing that way?

The classic example is Back in Black. He sings so high, but with a snarl, and it sounds uber-cool. I heard a rumor that it's actually very very soft and needs tons of micage to be heard over the din. Anyone have any insight on this?
posted by toastchee to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Don't know how, but based on the AC-DC cover band I heard last Saturday, I can attest that the mic levels are not pushed really high.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:16 PM on December 20, 2007

Falsetto? I can sing ridiculously high as well, although it's definitely not my normal tone of voice and I can't smoothly transition to it from normal range singing.
posted by DMan at 3:25 PM on December 20, 2007

He's blessed with an iconic rock & roll voice. See also Robert Plant and Roky Erickson.
posted by desuetude at 4:20 PM on December 20, 2007

How? He just could... It's like asking the same question of any singer - the voice is a gift and everyone's is different. Brian's gift though was not that he could sing that way, but that he could continue to sing that way night after night without damaging his vocal chords. For instance, I'll lay money down that Chester Bennington will not be able to continue singing the way he does in a few more years, whereas Brian could have stepped into Linking Park without missing a beat, a howl, a snarl or a growl, night after night...

It's interesting sometimes, to sit and listen to a singer and try and hear what their gift is - range, breadth, roundness, tone, colour - man, how many times have I heard a vocalist and thought ... "with the right training, I could sound like that!" But the reality is different - you can be trained to make the most of your voice, even to extend it's range a small amount (much like any muscle, the vocal chords can be strengthened and stretched), but you can never really be taught to sing with someone else's gift...
posted by benzo8 at 4:25 PM on December 20, 2007

I thought I read that rumor in Tape-Op, so I googled: Tape Op Brian Johnson, and found
. A few posts down some (random) guy (on the internet) says he saw him record and that he belted it out.

Then I searched for: Tape Op Brian Johnson quiet, and found this. They mention the source of the rumor, an interview w/ Rich Barone in Tape Op, maybe you can find article.
posted by JulianDay at 4:45 PM on December 20, 2007

Julian: You're mixing up Bon Scott and Brian Jones there...
posted by Brockles at 6:17 PM on December 20, 2007

Johnson. Dammit.
posted by Brockles at 6:18 PM on December 20, 2007

Wait, so are they. Odd. I'd heard that rumour about Bon, but that article gets all futzed about which one, too.

Rock conspiracy!

Looking at the way Johnson sings, I'd be shocked if Johnson was a quiet singer. He puts way too much veiny-necked effort in to squeak. I don't see how that much physical effort would be squeaky. His head would have to explode or something to lose teh excess energy.
posted by Brockles at 6:23 PM on December 20, 2007

I can't speak about Johnson in particular, but other singers I have spoken with have mentioned that the only way you can sound like you are screaming night after night is to do it very quietly and be mic'ed very loud. At the same time, you have to act as if you are singing at the top of your lungs. Johnson might just be a freak of nature, but I would suspect that there is a lot of technique in what he does.
posted by imposster at 6:59 PM on December 20, 2007

but that he could continue to sing that way night after night without damaging his vocal chords

? IIRC by around "Thunderstruck" his voice was thoroughly fracked.
posted by panamax at 7:02 PM on December 20, 2007

Mix one part BeeGees impression with two parts Beavis or Marge Simpson impression and you're pretty much there.

Which is to say, it's just a scratchy falsetto/head voice. Not hard to do, but I imagine it'd be murder on your vocal chords night after night. (I haven't had to do this, but I'd definitely try out the sing-softly, crank-the-PA approach.)

It's also about the only way I can sing falsetto and not sound like a 10 year old.
posted by LordSludge at 11:50 AM on December 21, 2007

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