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Five Replacements for AC/DC’s Brian Johnson

These vocalists could match his urgency, swagger, and sneer -- at least for a song

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    AC/DC has had more bad luck and tragedy than any arena act in recent memory. First, Malcolm Young, original founding brother, had to retire in 2014 because of dementia when he was only 61 years old — and this after he had already survived lung cancer. Then in 2015, longtime drummer Phil Rudd was arrested in New Zealand on drug charges and had to drop out of the tour.

    Now Brian Johnson is being forced to drop out of the band, having been vocalist and frontman for the band since 1980, when previous singer Bon Scott died of alcohol poisoning. Johnson is in danger of going permanently deaf and has been ordered by his doctor to “stop touring immediately or risk total hearing loss.” Dates for AC/DC’s upcoming tour have been cancelled, and the band plans to make up these tour dates with one or more guest vocalists.

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    Angus Young is a living legend, an electric live performer, and any lineup featuring him strutting and skipping across the stage is likely to be a good show. We’ve put together a short list of vocalists who we think could make it a great show: singers who could match Johnson for urgency, swagger, and sneer. Our list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, though, and we hope you’ll add to it by posting in the comments.

    Joan Jett

    The Princess of Punk has always been at her best with her middle finger in the air, and songs like “Cherry Bomb” and “Bad Reputation” showcase her particular brand of boisterous, snotty rebellion. The glee Joan Jett takes in destruction is a great match for the Aussie mates who named themselves after electricity. She covered “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” in 1990, and the choice of material works, although the same cannot be said for the jacket.

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    Lenny Kravitz

    AC/DC has a reputation for sexualized swagger, and as time has gone on, their old line “Lock up your daughters, lock up your wives” could be more accurately expressed as “Kids, lock up Grandma.” Regardless, it takes a certain personality to try and seduce all of Madison Square Garden, and Lenny Kravitz wouldn’t flinch. The man oozes sex, whatever you think of his songwriting, and his ever-present sunglasses wouldn’t be any stranger than Johnson’s trademark newsboy cap.

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    David Draiman

    There’s violence lurking underneath a lot of AC/DC’s lyrics, and while Johnson’s voice suggests a barroom brawler always ready for a scrap, it’s easy to imagine a darker take. David Draiman has one of the great contemporary metal voices, and he showed unexpected range when Disturbed covered Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”. The falsetto snarl he employed on cuts like “Down with the Sickness” would change the tone of AC/DC, emphasizing their roots in hard rock and the strains of punk that run throughout their discography.

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    Axl Rose

    Rose’s reputation is that of a man who likes living the tour life more than writing the songs that will be played on tour. If that’s true, AC/DC presents a golden opportunity for the erstwhile Guns N’ Roses frontman. Certainly, his high, menacing voice is perfect, and while he seems to be on speaking terms with bandmate Slash at the moment, recent history suggests it might not last. Rose has the flair to nail AC/DC’s larger-than-life emotions over their larger-than-life power chord progressions.

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    Ann Wilson

    Comparisons to Joan Jett are lazy comparisons, even if the two were among the few women to find success in the rock scene of the late ’70s and ’80s, and even if they are currently on tour together. As opposed to the rough-edged Jett, Ann Wilson of Heart has a smooth voice with a bluesy, sometimes theatrical range. She’s got a sexy coo, a hard spit, a broadway belt, and a wild scream, and that makes her perfectly suited for AC/DC’s power-soul stylings.

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