Brian Johnson’s voice is an alloy of all the classic rock vocalists of the seventies and eighties. The likes of John Lennon, Mick Jagger, and Frank Zappa, who one might argue transcend traditional classic rock, are not the metals, so to speak, that make up the mixture of Johnson’s voice. Think of a long haired, leather vest wearing frontman in aviators. He sings with the high-pitched shriek of a banshee—a necessary affectation among the rainforest of sound that surrounds him—monotonous (yet catchy) riffs, heavy snare hits on beats two and four, and lots of bar chords, fuzzy yet somehow sharp. Each sound fights for the spotlight as if a tree in a rainforest fighting for access to sunlight. Johnson, the Platonic ideal of this sound, has some hearing issues. Doctors recommended Johnson not play live for a little while in March of last year, due to hearing problems they described as severe.
“I am hoping that in time my hearing will improve and allow me to return to live concert performances,” Johnson said in a public statement last year. “While the outcome is uncertain, my attitude is optimistic. Only time will tell.”
Time told, and Johnson’s back. Perhaps in ’75 Johnson would have rode the high of his new hot-ticket band and disregarded the doctors’ orders. However, the sixty-nine year old was in no rush to lose his hearing, and it paid off.
Johnson made a cameo appearance at Muse’s performance for the Reading Festival on Sunday. Donned in all black after a year’s absence, it’s appropriate that Johnson sang “Back in Black” for his fans. He sounded just like he did in 1980 when AC/DC released the song on Back In Black.
Muse posted on Instagram today, telling fans, it was “such an honor to have the legendary Brian Johnson join us onstage at Reading Festival last night.”
Upon realization of the seriousness of Johnson’s hearing issues, AC/DC brought on Axl Rose to finish our last year’s tour. Rose is one of the metals, so to speak, that makes up the alloy of Johnson’s voice—and a sensible replacement. It is unclear if Johnson will now return to the band full time or if Rose will continue in his place. However, Sunday’s performance is certainly an optimistic sign of Johnson’s return to the scene.