AC / DC has written some of the most important pages in the book of the world’s rock history. It’s been almost 50 years since the band formed in Sidney, Australia in 1973. From the first album “High voltage”, through the success of “Highway to hell”, and all up until to the last album “Rock or Bust”, their music has been described as hard rock, blues rock, heavy metal…but if you asked the Young brothers and company what kind of music does AC/DC play, the answer would be just simply Rock n Roll.
If there’s a band that had never changed their style and stayed true to the sound of rock n roll for decades, it would have to be AC/DC. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, and having sold more than 200 million records, the Australian band ruled supreme until Malcolm Young’s passing in 2014. These legends have shown the world that raw, stripped-down Rock n Roll has the power to last forever, and move millions.
The First Spark
Before the release of their first album “High Voltage” in 1975, AC/DC’s lineup underwent several changes, although the Young brothers were at the nucleus of the band from day 1 until Malcolm’s death. The first established line-up consisted of Angus and Malcolm Young on lead and rhythm guitars, Phil Rudd on drums, Mark Evans on bass guitar, and Bon Scott holding the microphone. In 1977, Evans was replaced by Cliff Williams, who would appear on all of the subsequent albums. Rudd left the band in 1983 and was replaced by Simon Wright, who was in turn replaced by Chris Slade in 1989. Rudd would eventually return in 1994 as drummer for the band again.
The Young brothers took the band’s name after their sister Margaret had seen that the abbreviation AC/DC means “alternating current/direct current”, and thought it perfectly described the band’s energy and performance. It was in the earliest days that Angus adopted the schoolboy uniform as a live show alter ego after having tried several costumes (spiderman, superman, gorilla…).
Around 1974 the band had moved to Melbourne and already abandoned their initial glam rock image in favor of a stronger blues-rock sound and the look we all know them for. They were slowly building a live act reputation and their following was rapidly growing. That’s when Bon Scott enters the picture. At the time Bon Scott was working as the driver for the band, but in September 1974, after an audition, he became AC/DC’s frontman.
By October 1974 AC/DC recorded their first album “High Voltage”, and the path for success was set. By the end of the year the band released their single “It’s a Long Way to the Top”, but the best was yet to come.
The real spark that lit the fire that would burn for more than 4 decades was the release of “TNT”, their second album, in December of 1975. This was the album that set the tone for the rest of the band’s career. While there was still some sound experimentation on “High Voltage”, “TNT” established the blues-rock based rock and roll for which AC/DC will be famous for until this day. Angus focused strictly on lead guitar, while Malcolm played solely rhythm. A recipe for stardom was concocted and the legend started unfolding.
Between 1974 and 1977 AC/DC became one of the most popular and successful acts in Australia. In 1976 the band signed with Atlantic Records. The band went to London and played small gigs for a while. Being that they arrived in the U.K. during the punk rock era, they were often associated with the movement, which would cause an angry reaction from the band, since they didn’t want to identify with punk and thought it was a passing trend.
Their first material to be distributed internationally was a 1976 compilation album which featured tracks from the “High Voltage” and “TNT” albums, titled “High Voltage”. In the same year AC/DC released their third studio album “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”. That year they toured extensively throughout Europe only to return to Australia to record their fourth album “Let There Be Rock”.
In early 1977 they returned to England and promoted their new material touring with Black Sabbath. Nearing the end of 1977 bassist Mark Evans left the band due to disagreements with the Young brothers, and was replaced by Cliff Williams. In 1978 the band released their fifth studio album “Powerage” which was the hardest sounding until then. Only one single was released from the album: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation/Sin City”.
1979 was the year of AC/DC’s big breakthrough. They released their legendary sixth studio album “Highway to Hell”, which is still considered among the classics of rock music. It was their first album to get them to rank high on the US charts, and it placed them in the pentacle of hard rock acts. “Highway to Hell” propels the group for the first time in the English top 10 and in the US top 20. During the ensuing world tour, AC / DC also perform at Wembley Stadium with the “Who”.
The Death of Bon Scott and the Arrival of Brian Johnson
It was the beginning of 1980 and the band had begun working on their seventh album titled “Back in Black”. On February 19th tragedy struck. Bon Scott was brought to a hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival after a night of excessive alcohol and drug abuse. The rest of the band was devastated. They briefly considered quitting altogether, but fortunately, Scott’s parents insisted that Bon would have wanted them to continue, and AC/DC started looking for a new vocalist after a few months.
Ex-Geordie vocalist Brian Johnson was among the first to audition, and the band was impressed, even after going through the rest of the candidates. Angus would later recall that the first time he had heard of Brian Johnson it was from Bon himself. He had talked about this singer that he really liked that used to sing in Geordie.
On March 29 Malcolm called the surprised Brian and asked him to join the band over the phone. On April 1st, 1980 AC/DC officially announced that Johnson is the new singer.
The recording of “Back in Black” was completed and released with Brian Johnson as the new vocalist. It was recorded at Compass Point Studios in The Bahamas only a few months after Scott’s death. It was an instant worldwide sensation, and many skeptics who doubted the band’s comeback was possible after the loss of such a great singer and charismatic frontman, were shut. The cover of the album was black, as an homage to the late Scott. The album became their best-selling album to date and a landmark of rock n roll. With hits like “You Shook me all Night Long” and “Hells Bells”, and the title track, it reached No 1 in the UK, and No 4 in the US, where it stayed in the top 200 records for over 130 weeks.
The band had survived the terrible blow of losing Bon Scott, and not only that, they had come on top stronger than ever. Their next, eighth album “For Those About to Rock We Salute You” was released in 1981. It did well in sales and with the critics likewise.
The Decline of Popularity
Their ninth studio album “Flick of the Switch” was released in 1983, and things started to unfold a bit differently. It was considered unmemorable by critics, and Kerrang magazine readers voted it the biggest disappointment of the year, even though it would eventually reach No 4 on UK charts.
The remaining years of the decade were on the same note, and Phil Rudd was replaced by Simon Wright after falling out with the other members of the band due to an alcohol and drugs problem. Their following albums “Fly on the Wall”, “Who Made Who”, and “Blow up your Video” were good albums, but far from the level of “Highway to Hell”, and “Back in Black”.
In February 1988, AC/DC was inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association’s Hall of Fame. In the same year, they released their eleventh studio album “Blow Up Your Video”, and once again, they conquered the charts. “Blow Up Your Video” sold more copies than the previous two albums combined, and they reached position No 2 in the UK, which was their best ranking since “Highway to Hell” in 1980.
The Big Comeback
Along came 1990, and the release of AC/DC’s twelfth album “The Razor’s Edge”, which they recorded in Vancouver, Canada with producer Bruce Fairbairn. The album was a major success. The rock gods from Down Under retook the throne and reconquered the charts with hits like “Thunderstruck”, Moneytalks”, and “Are You Ready”. “The Razor’s Edge” was well accepted by the old fans as well as by new generations of rock music lovers that discovered AC/DC through their 12th album.
In September 1991, AC/DC, alongside Metallica, Pantera, and The Black Crowes played the Monsters of Rock festival in Moscow in front of 1.6 million people. It was the first open-air concert to be held in the former Soviet Union, and one of the concerts with most people attending in history.
In 1992 the band released their live album “Live” which featured several recordings of their live performances during the Razors Edge tour. In 1991, in Salt Lake City, Utah, 3 fans tragically lost their lives while many others were injured during AC/DC/s performance at the Salt Palace. The band settled with the families out of court, and future festival seating was eliminated from the Salt Palace. In 1993, their single “Big Gun”, which was the soundtrack for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie “Last Action Hero”, reached No 1 on the US Mainstream Rock chart.
Re-enter Phil Rudd
In 1994, Malcolm and Angus Young had invited Phil Rudd to several jam sessions. Slade, who was the band’s drummer at the time decided to part ways with the group mainly because of the desire of the rest of the guys to re-hire Rudd. The parting ways with Slade was amicable, and the 1980 – 1983 lineup was once again reunited.
AC/DC released their thirteenth album “Ballbreaker” in 1995, with Rick Rubin as producer. The three singles released from the album were “Hard as a Rock”, “Hail Caesar” and “Cover You in Oil”.
In 1997, they released the box set “Bonfire”, which contained four albums; a remastered version of “Back in Black”; “Volts”, which contained alternative takes, outtakes, and stray live cuts, and two live albums, “Live from the Atlantic Studios” and “Let There Be Rock: The Movie”.
In 1999, with George Young as the producer, AC/DC recorded their fourteenth album “Stiff Upper Lip” in Vancouver, Canada. It was released in February 2000 and received well by critics, although considered lacking in new ideas. “Stiff Upper Lip” had 3 singles released: “Stiff Upper Lip”, “Satellite Blues” and “Safe in New York City”.
2000 – Today
The first half of the first decade of the new millennium was eventful for the Australian band in terms of appearances, re-releases, and other projects, but new material wouldn’t be recorded and released until 2008. They played with the Rolling Stones in Toronto, Canada, signed with Sony Music, and had their best-selling albums re-mastered and re-released, they were featured in video games, and released various DVDs, and live material.
In October 2008, AC/DC released their fifteenth studio album “Black Ice”. It was their first studio album in 8 years. It was yet another of their albums that was recorded in Vancouver, and it went multi-platinum in eight countries including the US, Australia, and Canada. With the North American release of Black Ice, MTV, Walmart, and Columbia created “AC/DC Rock Band Stores” in New York City. “Black Ice” trucks were also dispatched on the streets of New York and L.A. playing AC/DC music aloud and selling merchandise.
In April 2010, AC/DC released the soundtrack for Iron Man 2, which contained previously released songs. On November 19th, they released “Live at River Plate”, their first live album in 20 years.
In 2014, due to rumors about Malcolm Young’s severe illness, and possible departure from the band, Johnson stated that the band will be back in the studio, and record new material. In July 2014, the band announced that they had recorded the new album with Malcolm’s nephew Stevie Young replacing him in the studio. Malcolm’s departure from the band due to his health condition was officially confirmed on 23 September 2014.
On November 6, 2014, Phil Rudd was charged with possession of illegal substances, attempting to procure a murder, and threatening to kill. The charges for attempting to procure a murder were later dropped, but Rudd plead guilty for the rest of the charges. He was again replaced with Chris Slade on drums.
In 2016, Brian Johnson had to be replaced by Guns ‘n’ Roses’ frontman Axl Rose due to hearing problems. Johnson had suffered a ruptured eardrum during a car race, and his overall hearing was deteriorating in such a severe way that he risked going deaf. On July 8, 2016, Cliff Williams announced that he would be leaving the band after the completion of their Rock or Bust World Tour.
After completing the Rock or Bust tour in 2016, AC/DC went on hiatus. Over the next few years, there was speculation that Johnson and Rudd were back and working with the band again, after a fan claimed to have seen them entering the Vancouver studio.
In September 2020 AC/DC updated their social media accounts with a short video depicting the bolt in their logo shining with a neon light, and speculations rose once again that they were preparing new material. On 30 September 2020, AC/DC officially confirmed the return of Brian Johnson, Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams to the band, together with Angus Young on lead guitar, and Stevie Young on rhythm. On October 7, 2020, the band confirmed the upcoming release of their new album “Power Up”, and released their first single “Shot in the Dark”.
“Power Up”, the band’s sixteenth album, was released on November 13, 2020, and, as Angus stated, is dedicated to Malcolm, his brother.
- High Voltage (1975) (Australia only)
- T.N.T. (1975) (Australia only)
- High Voltage (1976) (international version)
- Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976)
- Let There Be Rock (1977)
- Powerage (1978)
- Highway to Hell (1979)
- Back in Black (1980)
- For Those About to Rock, We Salute You (1981)
- Flick of the Switch (1983)
- Fly on the Wall (1985)
- Blow Up Your Video (1988)
- The Razors Edge (1990)
- Ballbreaker (1995)
- Stiff Upper Lip (2000)
- Black Ice (2008)
- Rock or Bust (2014)
- Power Up (2020)
AC/DC Musical Influence and Legacy
Where to even begin to talk about the legacy of AC/DC or the way they have influenced, not only rock artists but the music in general? Every rock band, every musician with love distorted guitar riffs, or groovy, hard-hitting drums has been influenced by the Australian legends. It’s enough to see the tirade of celebrities, or musicians in other genres wearing shirts with the AC/DC logo to get a hint on how far their reach was. I will just say that they are responsible for generations of young people falling in love with rock.
AC/DC is a true monument to what Rock n Roll is and should be, even after almost 5 decades of hitting those hard riffs that can move you as nothing else can. I wish Angus and the rest of the guys another 50 years of rocking out!
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