Remember When: AC/DC’s Contributions to Stephen King’s “Maximum Overdrive” Boosted Their Career

Author Stephen King’s star had risen very high by 1985. The literary master of horror had written numerous bestsellers like Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and The Shining, each of which had been turned into popular feature films. He wrote the screenplay for the George Romero-directed anthology Creepshow, a classic 1982 film inspired by the lurid EC Comics titles of the 1950s. He even starred in one of the segments, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill.” Thus it seemed only natural that Hollywood would then allow him to make his own movie.

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A Mutually Promising Opportunity

Starring Emilio Estevez and featuring Yeardley Smith (the future voice of Lisa Simpson), Maximum Overdrive was King’s adaptation of his short story “Trucks” (from the Night Shift anthology) about a comet sweeping by Earth that led to machines and appliances turning on their human masters and killing them. In the movie, a group of people find themselves trapped at a remote truck stop as a group of possessed trucks keeps them trapped inside. For the soundtrack, King shirked the conventional route, enlisting the aid of his favorite band, Australian hard rockers AC/DC. This was a rather unusual project because the quintet had never written a score before, and they had just finished touring in support of Fly on the Wall.

But truth be told, their profile had been waning. The multi-Platinum Back in Black was a phenomenal breakout success in 1980 that turned them into international superstars; it recently reached sales of 26 million in the U.S. The follow-up For Those About to Rock did well but not nearly close to the heights of its predecessor. Flick of the Switch and Fly on the Wall sold respectively (initially half a million copies each domestically), but it was clear younger bands were stealing their thunder.

Hits that Powered a Flop

The Maximum Overdrive soundtrack featured three new AC/DC tracks—a single called “Who Made Who” plus two instrumental rock tracks, “D.T.” and “Chase the Ace.” The other six cuts on the soundtrack were from the band’s catalog—five featuring newer vocalist Brian Johnson and one with original singer Bon Scott (the somber ballad “Ride On”). It is the closest the band has ever gotten to releasing a greatest hits package, and it remains one of the top-selling releases in their catalog with domestic sales of 5 million units. There were also some incidental sounds they added in like guitar squeals, while a couple of cues were provided by an outside composer. But it was mostly the band.

It was an inspired idea for King to enlist the help of his favorite band for the soundtrack, and it compensated for the fact the movie was not very good. Maximum Overdrive featured some clunky dialogue and moments that were not particularly well-executed. It was a noble attempt but ultimately a very flawed film that did not fare well at the box office. It remains King’s lone directorial effort and a cult curio for genre movie fans. (See if you can spot his cameo.) But he has certainly maintained one hell of a writing career.

Angus Clones and Beautiful Bombshells

The release of Who Made Who helped revitalize AC/DC’s career. The video for the title track featured shiny cyborgs generating clones of guitarist Angus Young, and in one shot he appeared above them, soloing while they played air guitar with their cardboard instruments. This would become a thing during their two-month summer tour in which contest winners dressed like Angus appeared on stage for the song and mimicked his playing on their cardboard guitars. The group did not include any footage of the film in the video (which was a wise idea). The song has 142 million YouTube views and 111 million Spotify listens.

The second video was for “You Shook Me All Night Long,” a song that previously got a performance clip during the Back in Black era. The new version combined performance footage—featuring Simon Wright on drums (Phil Rudd played on the original)— along with a storyline in which singer Brian Johnson walks to the house of a blonde bombshell for a hot hookup. Schoolboys Angus and Malcolm Young shadow him until he makes it to her apartment. When Johnson arrives, the lady is clad a hot leather outfit while striding a mechanical bull. Her flat then opens up into a club setting where AC/DC are playing as beautiful, scantily clad women dance or sit astride workout bicycles. It was a teenage boy’s fantasy, and it got substantial MTV airplay. Oddly enough, while the original video has 334 million YouTube views, the racier ‘86 version has less than 8 million. Additionally, the song has racked up nearly 1.2 billion Spotify listens.

A Lively Revival

Although Maximum Overdrive bombed (it earned $7.5 million globally against a $9 million budget), Who Made Who worked out for AC/DC. They didn’t need to put the effort into doing an entirely new album, and the title track became a Top-30 entry on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock radio chart. “You Shook Me All Night Long” was originally a Top-40 hit in America, but the video extended its life and brought the song to new fans. As of now, it has sold 6 million units in America.

AC/DC’s subsequent summer North American tour raked in a lot of money. The Australian icons made the most of the promotional opportunity afforded them by King’s movie. “Who Made Who” spent 42 weeks on the Billboard Top 200 album charts (peaking at No. 33 here and No. 11 in the UK). It became their first Platinum-selling record in five years, and its companion video collection became their first Gold video release. Their next album, Blow Up Your Video in 1988, went Platinum in two months; however, their real resurgence came with the six-times Platinum The Razors Edge in 1990, possibly their heaviest album ever. The movie helped them stay in the public eye.

While Maximum Overdrive may not be a great movie—the 1997 remake Trucks was also critically panned—combining Stephen King and AC/DC was a fiendishly fun concept that gave us some unexpected new music from the famed group. Although 2010’s Iron Man 2 used some previously released AC/DC songs in the film and its trailers, Maximum Overdrive is the only movie to have music exclusively composed by the band.

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Photo by Ilpo Musto/Shutterstock

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