Yesterday, I found myself listening to AC/DC and once again was reminded what a kick-ass rock band they were. While I’ve covered them on previous occasions, it occurred to me that I had not put together a playlist. Well, the time has come, but before getting to some music, a bit of history is in order.
AC/DC were formed in Sydney, Australia in November 1973 by Scottish-born brothers Malcolm Young (rhythm guitar) and Angus Young (lead guitar) who teamed up with Larry Van Kriedt (bass), Colin Burgess (drums) and Dave Evans (vocals). Apparently, the Young brothers came up with the band’s name after their sister Margaret Young had seen the initials “AC/DC” on a sewing machine. Margaret also inspired Angus Young’s characteristic school uniform stage outfit.
In September 1974, Evans was replaced by vocalist Bon Scott. Like the Young brothers, Scott had been born in Scotland and come to Australia as a child. In October 1974, AC/DC recorded their first studio album High Voltage. It was produced by Malcolm’s and Angus’ older brother George Young and Harry Vanda, who both were also members of The Easybeats. The album was released in February 1975 in Australia only.
By the time AC/DC started work on their sophomore record T.N.T. in the summer of 1975, Mark Evans (bass) and Phil Rudd (drums) had joined the band. Not only saw the record, another Australia only release that appeared in December 1975, the band’s classic lineup but also the hard-edged R&B-based rock & roll that would become AC/DC’s trademark sound.
The next important stage in the band’s history was the signing with Atlantic Records and their first international release in April 1976, an album that was also titled High Voltage. The record was a compilation of tracks from the band’s first two albums. AC/DC have since recorded 14 additional studio albums, and released various live and soundtrack records, one EP and two box-sets. The band has also gone through numerous lineup changes, with Angus Young being the only remaining original member. Let’s get to some rock & roll!
I’d like to kick it off with Love Song, a tune from AC/DC’s first record, the aforementioned Australia-only release High Voltage. Like all their songs until the Highway to Hell album, it was co-written by Angus Young, Malcolm Young and Bon Scott. The track is one of two tunes from that album that were never officially released internationally until 2009 when they were included in the box-set Backtracks.
AC/DC’s first international release, which as noted above was also titled High Voltage, includes two of their early classics: It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll) and T.N.T. It was a tough choice since I dig both of these tunes. I decided to go with the former song, which also became the album’s second single. Who would have thought bagpipes and hard rock guitar form such a friggin’ perfect harmony!
For the next tune, I’m jumping to Let There Be Rock, AC/DC’s fifth album from July 1977. It was the last record with bassist Mark Evans, who after clashes with Angus was replaced by Cliff Williams. Here’s one of my favorite tunes from that record, the fantastic closer Whole Lotta Rosie.
Highway to Hell marked another important milestone for AC/DC’s. The band’s seventh studio album released in July 1979 was the last with Bon Scott, who died in February 1980 after a night out in London. The official cause of death was acute alcohol poisoning, but according to a book by British-Australian author Jesse Fink, heroin was involved as well. While the album’s title track certainly hasn’t lacked exposure, I think it remains one of the greatest rock songs of all time, with a beautifully simple, instantly recognizable guitar riff. Here’s the official video.
Perhaps not surprisingly, AC/DC almost called it quits after Bon Scott’s death. But they decided to carry on and, apparently with the Scott family’s encouragement, hired Brian Johnson. Not only did Johnson become the band’s new vocalist, but throughout the ’80s, he also assumed Scott’s role in co-writing songs with the Young brothers. Five months after Scott’s death, AC/DC released Back in Black. The title and the all-black cover were in honor of Scott. With more than 50 million copies sold worldwide, Back in Black not only became AC/DC’s most successful record but one of the best-selling albums in music history. Here’s the official video of the great title track, another tune with a brilliant guitar riff.
For the next tune, let’s jump to January 1988 and AC/DC’s 12th album Blow Up Your Video, the last produced by Harry Vanda and George Young. That’s the Way I Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll also came out separately as the record’s second single in March 1988. Here’s the official video.
After releasing five albums during the ’80s, which certainly was a remarkable pace, AC/DC started to slow down. The ’90s only saw two new records. Another change was that the two Young brothers took over all of the song-writing. Here’s Hard as a Rock, the great opener from Ballbreaker, the second of the two albums that appeared in September 1995. Phil Rudd, who had left during the recording sessions for the Flick of the Switch album from August 1983 due to drug problems and frictions with Malcolm Young, returned as the band’s drummer.
Stiff Upper Lip, AC/DC’s 15th studio album from February 2000, saw the return of George Young as producer. Here’s the opener and title track. It also became the album’s lead single.
In October 2008, AC/DC released Black Ice. With an eight-year span since Stiff Upper Lip, it marked the longest gap between the band’s successive studio albums. The record’s development was delayed due to an injury bassist Cliff Williams had sustained and the band’s switch from Elektra Records to Sony Music Entertainment. But I guess AC/DC made it count by making Black Ice their longest-running studio album to date. Here’s the official video of opener and lead single Rock ‘n’ Roll Train.
The last track I’d like to highlight is from AC/DC’s most recent record Rock or Bust, which came out in November 2014. While all songs were co-written by Angus Young and Malcolm Young, Malcolm had retired earlier in the year because of his declining health due to dementia. All of his guitar parts were recorded by his nephew Stevie Young. Here’s the fantastic Play Ball, a true late career gem, in my opinion.
Sadly, AC/DC’s story has been pretty grim since Malcolm Young’s departure. Shortly before Rock or Bust’s appearance, Phil Rudd was arrested and charged with attempting to procure a murder, threatening to kill, possession of methamphetamine and possession of cannabis, following a police raid on his home. While the murder procurement charge was subsequently dropped, Rudd was convicted of the other charges and sentenced to eight months home detention and a fine of NZ$120,000 in July 2015. As a result, he missed the 2015-2016 supporting tour for Rock or Bust.
Things got worse. In April 2016 during the Rock or Bust tour, AC/DC announced the departure of Johnson due to hearing issues. Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose was brought in to complete the tour’s remaining gigs. In July 2016, bassist Cliff Williams announced his retirement from the band at the end of the tour. On November 18, 2017, Malcolm Young passed away at the age of 64. Three weeks earlier, George Young had died. A cause of death wasn’t reported. He was 70 years old.
AC/DC have sold over 200 million albums worldwide, including approximately 71 million in the U.S. alone. And the story may not be over yet. Over the past couple of years, there have been rumors about a new AC/DC album in the making. And it appears they weren’t just rumors.
In February this year, heavy metal vocalist Dee Snider told Blabbermouth.net that Brian Johnson not only had confirmed to him that he was working with the band again, but that AC/DC was indeed recording a new album. Apparently, Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams are back in the fold. Supposedly, the material includes recordings of Malcolm Young from the early 2000s. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Sources: Wikipedia; Blabbermouth.net; YouTube