Off their heads

This one is for the clearly I have now seen it all category. From Robert Oxoby at the University of Calgary, a paper entitled “On the Efficiency of AC/DC: Bon Scott versus Brian Johnson.” From the introduction:

… with respect to the rock band AC/DC, who is the better vocalist: Bon Scott or Brian Johnson? …

In this paper, we explore this issue. Since it is difficult to ascertain which vocalist was better given the heterogeneity of musical tastes, our analysis does not focus on the aural or sonic quality of the vocalists’ performances. Rather, using tools from the field of experimental economics, and we consider which vocalist results in individuals arriving at more efficient outcomes in a simple bargaining game. Our results suggest that having participants listen to songs by AC/DC in which Brian Johnson served as vocalist results in participants realizing more efficient outcomes. Thus, in terms of a singer’s ability to implement efficient behavioral outcomes among listeners, our results suggest that Brian Johnson was a better vocalist than Bon Scott.

Take that, supposed soothing effects of Mozart. I wonder what would have happened if they had also used The Wiggles’ version of “It’s a long way to the top”? As I re-read the paper, I have no idea what Oxoby was thinking when we decided to spend money on this experiment (low sample, who knows if it is the singer or the song, and, of course, is efficiency the criterion for vocalists).

On the other hand, this study puts Levitt and Dubner to shame in the ‘Super-Freakonomics’ department (which by the way will be an excellent title for their sequel).

[Update: Tyler Cowen is amused but Steve Levitt doesn’t care much for the paper. I think it is probably more that he doesn’t like the economic method rather than appreciate the debate. Maybe he is also concerned that it will lead to money spent on similar experiments in relation to INXS, Split Enz, Little River Band, Crowded House, The Wiggles and other bands from this part of the world that have had changes in line-up.]

4 thoughts on “Off their heads”

  1. An interesting idea for a paper, but “It’s A Long Way To The Top” is not the best choice of Bon Scott songs, due to the highly unusual bagpipe solo (!). If I had to pick a Bon Scott song that was thematically similar to “Shoot To Thrill,” I might consider “What’s Next To The Moon” from the “Powerage” album. Alternatively, pick a single song which has been performed live by both singers… “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “The Jack” are both available in live versions by both singers.

    And the conclusion that Brian Johnson is better than Bon Scott is, frankly, ridiculous. I don’t deny that Johnson might yield higher efficiency ratings, but I would twist the conclusion around: the better singer is more likely to *distract* the listener from the transaction, and hence reduce efficiency.


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