To say that Malcolm Young was a great rhythm guitarist who guided AC/DC from its start – along with his younger brother Angus – would be an incomplete assessment. Malcolm was indeed one of the best, if not the best, rock rhythm guitarists on the planet whose famous riffs powered AC/DC into becoming one of the greatest bands in rock ‘n’ roll history.
Sadly, Malcolm Mitchell Young was found dead on Saturday, November 18, 2017, after a four-year battle with dementia. He was 64.
With Young’s passing, it’s safe to say that we’re firmly entrenched in an era in which rock music’s elite are leaving us far too fast. This year alone we’ve seen tributes to multiple generations of rockers, from early pioneers (Chuck Berry and Fats Domino) to middle generation (Gregg Allman) and late-era rockers (Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington).
And now there’s Young, who, like Allman, was a 1970s phenom and leader of a band that was the antithesis of the more formulaic corporate rock that dominated the latter part of that decade. In short, Young’s AC/DC was a hard-driving rock-and-roll band characterized by powerful kick-drum and rhythm guitar interplay that was unequaled by anyone else in the business.
Young’s contribution to the group he cofounded with Angus had already ended when he hung up his guitar for good after first being treated for his dementia in 2014. AC/DC recorded one more album without him that year and it charted high in Billboard, but Young was irreplaceable as the band’s powerful legacy mainly rested in its 40-year catalog of albums and singles for which he and his brother Angus co-wrote all the music and were the band’s creative force.
It’s their undying legacy that djrobblog celebrates in this tribute to the late Malcolm Young, with 10 unique facts about the band that you may or may not already know, followed by a selection of what we here at djrobblog consider to be the 10 most essential AC/DC tracks.
1. Second only to Thriller: Back In Black from 1980 is not only AC/DC’s biggest album, it’s also the second-biggest selling of all time with worldwide sales estimated at 50 million, behind only Michael Jackson’s Thriller (66 million). Of course these estimates are provided by the artists’ record labels, but even if it’s close to 50 million (including 22 million certified by the RIAA in the U.S.), that’s not bad for an album that only peaked at No. 4 in 1980/81.
2. Bon Scott’s Tribute Album: AC/DC’s first popular lead-singer, Bon Scott, died of “acute alcoholic poisoning” in February 1980 after a night of heavy drinking. Conspiracy theorists once suggested that his death was caused by something less savory after he had been left in a car in below-freezing weather passed out from his drinking. Those theories have long since been debunked. AC/DC very nearly called it quits afterwards, but they persisted and Back In Black was released months later as a tribute to Scott.
3. Over-saturation: AC/DC’s label, Atlantic Records, hastily capitalized on the success of Back In Black by releasing the band’s earlier 1976 album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap in America in April 1981. The LP had not been released in the U.S. initially and, based on the band’s rising popularity, it quickly climbed to its No. 3 peak, giving the band its second top-5 album in just six months.
4. 1981 Was A Good Year: The band’s official followup to Back In Black was For Those About To Rock We Salute You, which was released in November 1981. The album took just three weeks to reach No. 1, giving AC/DC its third different top-5 album in the same calendar year, placing them in élite company. Although it’s among their biggest sellers, the band’s members contended that Atlantic’s interim release of Dirty Deeds negatively affected the sales of For Those About To Rock, which spent only 12 weeks in the top ten.
5. AC/DC leaders of an all-rock year: When For Those About To Rock topped the album chart in the last Billboard issue of 1981, it capped a year in which every No. 1 album was by a rock artist. These included albums by John Lennon (and his wife Yoko Ono), Styx, REO Speedwagon, Kim Carnes, Moody Blues, Pat Benatar, Foreigner, Stevie Nicks, Journey, Rolling Stones, and AC/DC. It was only the second time that had happened, and it would also be the last.
6. Two iconic classics: In addition to the band’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2003, two of its iconic songs, “Highway To Hell” and “Back In Black” have also been recognized by the Hall of Fame as being among the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.” Additionally, Rolling Stone magazine has included the two songs in its list of the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time, with “Hell” at No. 258 and “Black” at No. 190
7. Australia’s Biggest: AC/DC and The Bee Gees are easily the two biggest-selling acts from Australia. Ironically, neither band’s members are natives of the continent. Both acts started in Europe, with AC/DC’s Young brothers originating in Scotland, while the Gibb brothers were born in the Isle Of Man.
8. A “Mutt” in their midst: AC/DC’s three biggest albums, based on sales, were Back In Black, For Those About To Rock We Salute You and Highway To Hell. It’s no coincidence that they were all produced by famed producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who later produced blockbuster albums for Bryan Adams, Def Leppard and former wife Shania Twain, for whom he produced the No. 1 best-selling country music album ever.
9. Rock or Bust: AC/DC’s most recent album was the first to not include Malcolm Young, due to his illness. It reached No. 3 in December 2014, giving them a span of 34 years and two weeks between their first top-five album, Back In Black, and their most recent, Rock Or Bust. Coincidentally, the No. 1 album that week was 1989 by Taylor Swift, whose newly released Reputation happens to be the best-selling album this week.
10. Rock or Bust 2: AC/DC made no bones about what they were, an unapologetic rock and roll band. As if to drive home that point, they recorded no fewer than 22 songs with the word “rock” in their titles. They really picked up the pace with their last two studio albums, which contained eight of those “rock” songs.
And those are the ten AC/DC rock-hard facts. Now that you’re armed with that information, scroll through the following list of AC/DC’s ten most essential songs, from No. 10 to No. 1, and see where your favorite one ranked (or didn’t rank).
You can also hear my special Spotify playlist of their 25 best songs by clicking here.
Rock in peace, Malcolm Young.
Album: High Voltage
Notable: This bluesy rocker was about...venereal disease, specifically gonorrhea, and “the jack” was Australian slang for it. The lyrics make light of a situation involving front man “Bon” Scott and one of several ladies he’d bedded. The band clearly took their music more seriously than they did their lyrics.