Angus Young and Brian Johnson hyperactive lead guitarist and gritty lead vocalist of AC/DC, the world's premier in-your-face band are only 10 minutes late for tea. As they make their way through one of Manhattan's posher hotel lounges, all tinkling crystal and bogus old-world charm, the hostess leads them to the most unobtrusive spot she can find short of the sidewalk. ''It'll be quieter here,'' she says primly, and seats them under a speaker that's blasting a Gabrieli canzone at Highway to Hell volume. ''Oh, I remember this place,'' says the gravel-voiced Johnson, peering out from under his scruffy street cap and sounding like he spent the night at the bottom of a mine shaft. ''We came in here one time and this bar was lined with hookers. Hookers in fur coats. Fur coats and knickers! Mink dresses! And they wouldn't let us in without a jacket 'n' tie!''
Such are the time-honored hypocrisies that have helped AC/DC sell 53 million albums worldwide in the last 15 years, mainly to white adolescent males most inclined to the band's no-bull, life's-a-bitch-but-there's-always-rock-&-roll metaphysic. Still, while a perpetual supply of alienated youth has put AC/DC up in the mink-knickers tax bracket, the band hadn't made a musical dent in the wider public consciousness since the dawn of the '80s, when it emerged from Australia to provide relief to a world still reeling from the '70s disco inferno. But now, totally unpredictably, they're on top. Their new Razors Edge album went platinum in just four weeks, their ''Thunderstruck'' video is all over TV, and, most surprising of all, these grizzled veterans of the arena circuit suddenly find themselves in the rock mainstream.
As Young slouches uncomfortably on the ultra-swanky banquette, a visitor manages to offend him, though one shouldn't have to worry too much about social gaffes with a man who is in first place on at least one fundamentalist group's list of the world's most fiendish rock stars. The visitor suggests that AC/DC has profited from the current taste for big-haired, lewd-lipped, mascara-prone heavy metal bands, and Young reacts as though he has just been compared to Wayne Newton.
''We're a rock & roll band, of the roughest category,'' he says evenly. ''Metal bands spend more time on the look, the image, whereas with us the music comes first.''