In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: Great songs in terrible movies.
There’s been quite a lot written about why Last Action Hero, the 1993 wannabe-blockbuster starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a celluloid hero who finds himself pulled into the real world, didn’t connect with audiences. Every ingredient in the recipe for a surefire hit seemed to be in place: the director of Die Hard, the writer of Lethal Weapon, and one of the world’s biggest stars, yet somehow it didn’t gel. The movie is awkward and stilted, with more than a few cringe-worthy moments, and overall, the general impression is that of the cinematic equivalent of Scrooge McDuck going for a swim through his vault of money.
But one aspect of the whole mess remains spot-on, in terms of absolutely nailing it: The killer single from the movie’s soundtrack, the AC/DC song “Big Gun.” Here’s the thing: AC/DC has a simple formula, and it sticks to it. It’s as dependable a verse-chorus-verse hard rock band as has ever existed, and that’s all it ever strove to be. Right around the time of the single’s release, MTV had a brief interview with guitarist Angus Young, one that sadly wasn’t preserved for posterity by the internet. I’m paraphrasing here, but when asked about his band’s dependable strategy of churning out material, Young said, “Yeah, well, we have a certain way of writing songs, that’s it, and we never stray from it.” [Long pause.] “Maybe we should?” He then makes a goofy face, and you realize, happily, that the group is never going to change.
The song features all the hallmarks of a formidable AC/DC track: a killer guitar riff from Young, a higher-than-falsetto wail from singer Brain Johnson, and a thick and chugging rhythm section. AC/DC maybe have a total of three different songs, but damn, they’re three really ass-kicking songs. Last Action Hero will continue to stand as a cautionary tale of cinematic miscalculation, but “Big Gun” will never be anything but another great AC/DC tune.