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AC/DC—Backtracks(Columbia/Albert Productions)

Judas Priest—British Steel: 30th Anniversary Edition(Columbia/Legacy Recordings)

Yeah, the Rolling Stones can still crank out a decent tune if and when they deign to try, but by this point they’re obviously far beyond feeling much need to prove themselves. So of the very few comparably long-running acts out there, the greatest pure rock ’n’ roll band on the airwaves today has gotta be AC/DC. Okay, so the barrel-chested Oz-rockers are about as predictable as the sunrise. And, sure, they’ve got a couple of clunker LPs in their catalog (see 1985’s Fly on the Wall). But across the arc of their nearly 40 years they’ve known enough to not fix what ain’t broke. Thus, no questionable reggae or disco forays. No glossy, embarrassing cocaine/supermodel-friendly dance mixes. No nauseatingly dull MOR attempts. Just solid, monolithic, cliff-faced, balls-to-the-friggin’-concrete wall rawk, with no-BS delivery and hooks the size of Oklahoma. Which, in these frightfully uncertain times, is at least one great thing music lovers can count on. So, then, all hail Angus and the boys: We, the fans, salute you.

And fans will revel in Backtracks, a compendium of rarities and videos plucked from all phases of the band’s career, that’s available in standard and deluxe versions. For serious fanatics, the high-end deluxe package is the motherlode: three CDs of scarce live and studio tracks, two DVDs (“secret” 2003 club show in Germany; “Family Jewels Disc 3” of promo videos), a vinyl LP of studio outtakes, a coffee-table book, band memorabilia facsimiles, and lithograph prints. Plus the whole thing comes housed in—get this—an actual working guitar amplifier. Ya gotta wonder who dreams this stuff up. Taking things down a few notches, the standard box comprises two CDs of rare tracks, the “Family Jewels Disc 3” DVD, and a 35-page color booklet packed with unseen images but sadly devoid of liner notes (admittedly, though, the target audience probably doesn’t read much). Highlights are, of course, the tracks with much-missed front man Bon Scott: early, mega-raw in-concert versions of “Live Wire” and “Shot Down in Flames” that remind listeners that although the group has long been lumped into the heavy metal scene, at first AC/DC was taken for a punk band—indeed, its snotty, unpretentious attitude and down ’n’ dirty attack fit much better alongside the Dictators or Ramones than the bigger-selling “heavy” acts of the late ’70s.

Judas Priest, conversely, has pretty much come to define heavy metal, well beyond the point of cliché. 1980’s British Steel was Priest’s commercial breakthrough, going Top Five in the U.K. and Top Forty in the U.S. thanks to the eternal stoner-party anthems “Living After Midnight” and “Breaking the Law.” Admittedly, as embarrassingly dumb as those two hits are, for some—not this writer, of course (ahem)—when the mood is just right they sound pretty goddamn good blaring out of the car speakers. And so do the other fist-pumping rockers like “Rapid Fire” or “Grinder” (though the latter’s inane lyrics never fail to generate a laugh). On the other hand, some cuts are simply too cheesy to stomach: Check the annoying soccer chant “United” or the ultra-moronic “Metal Gods.” Yet for all its inconsistencies British Steel remains a genre benchmark, and despite its remedial-school liner notes, most diehards will want this double-disc reissue. The set adds two bonus tracks to the remastered album, along with a performance/interview DVD; a deluxe three-disc version also includes a live CD.—Peter Aaron

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