We look back on the work of Malcolm Young as co-founder, composer and guitarist in AC/DC, the band with the most successful hard rock album of all-time, “Back in Black,” and share hard rock insight from KISS drummer Eric Singer.
By Warren Kurtz
Courtesy of Getty Images – Photo by Ullstein Bild
On October 22, we lost George Young, and covered his passing in our Goldmine Easybeats memorial. Less than a month later, on November 18, we lost rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young of AC/DC, one of the younger brothers of George Young in that band along with lead guitarist Angus Young. In our prior memorial, we mentioned that George Young and Harry Vanda, after their Easybeats years, produced the first five AC/DC albums in the ‘70s. During the latter part of that era, AC/DC began gaining recognition in the U.S., including opening for KISS at some of their U.S. concerts.
KISS’ Eric Singer told Goldmine, “The impact of anyone who grew up listening to hard rock cannot be casually mentioned without including AC/DC. Malcolm was the anchor, manning the helm of that ship. Undeniable is the only word that I can use to describe his contribution to rock and roll. His influence and impact will live on ad infinitum.”
By the end of the ‘70s, George Young and Harry Vanda left producing AC/DC behind, focusing on their avant garde duo Flash and the Pan. Production for AC/DC shifted to Mutt Lange for the band’s sixth album, “Highway to Hell.” It’s title song, sung by Bon Scott, brought the group to the Top 100 in the U.S. for the first time, peaking at number 47 that fall. The group hoped that they would finally gain mass recognition in the upcoming decade and then a tragedy befell AC/DC as Bon Scott died accidentally in early 1980. The search for a new lead singer led to finding Brian Johnson, whose shrill vocal style seemed to be a perfect replacement for Bon Scott. He quickly co-wrote ten songs with Malcom and Angus Young for their next album. By mid-summer, not only was AC/DC back, but they were “Back in Black!”
The album “Back in Black” opened with haunting bell sounds, similar to what was heard on Black Sabbath’s debut a decade prior, and introduced the listeners to “Hells Bells” with the new vocal sound of Brian Johnson. Mutt Lange’s production presented to U.S. radio listeners a solid, hard rock band who gave a tribute to American girls with the line “knocking me out with those American thighs” on AC/DC’s U.S. Top 40 debut and rock dance hit “You Shook Me All Night Long.” The single reached number 35 with “Have a Drink on Me,” from the album, as its flip side.
(Canadian label version photo)
Flip side: What Do You Do for Money
A side: Back in Black
Top 100 debut: December 20, 1980
Peak position: 37
In February 1981, the album continued to do well, as the hard rocking title tune “Back in Black” debuted in the Top 40, spending five weeks there, a bit longer than its predecessor. The flip side, also from the album, was called “What Do You Do for Money Honey.” With raw vocal power, most of the lyrical lines were simple and quick. There were a few couplets which bore a bit more grammatical dignity including “your apartment with a view, on the finest avenue,” and about the girl’s men, “they’re all standing in a queue, just to spend the night with you.” There were hard rocking guitars from the Young brothers, along with the solid rhythm section of Cliff Williams on bass and Phil Rudd on drums, making this song almost as danceable as “You Shook Me All Night Long.”
The group that survived tragedy of the loss of its vocalist has the best-selling hard rock album of all-time with “Back in Black.” FM radio has played most of the album’s songs for years including “Shoot to Thrill” and “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.”
Riding on the successful momentum of “Back in Black,” the group’s next album, “For Those About to Rock,” became their first number one album in America. It featured the opening song “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” and the Top 100 single “Let’s Get It Up,” which reached number 44 in the U.S. in 1982.
In late January of 1991, AC/DC entered the U.S. Top 40 for a final time with the catchy cassette single “Moneytalks,” from the album “The Razors Edge.” It reached number 23, the highest charting single in the U.S. of their career.
In the latter part of the next decade, Wal-Mart promoted a pair of hard rock bands, KISS and AC/DC, with bargain pricing on CDs and other memorabilia including T-shirts. KISS’ “Sonic Boom” was produced by Paul Stanley and featured his compositions “Modern Day Delilah” and “Say Yeah.” AC/DC’s “Black Ice” was the final album for the group with the “Back in Black” lineup. The album went to number one in over twenty countries including the U.S. and Australia. Malcolm Young continued with AC/DC through 2014.
Link to our recent George Young memorial:
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, on WVCR radio as part of “Moments to Remember.”