As one of Australia's best known rock exports, AC/DC has quite a reputation to uphold. With worldwide album sales in the multi-millions and superstar status on the international hard music circuit, AC/DC's place in rock history is well assured. The band even overcame the potentially disastrous death of original lead singer Bon Scott in 1980 to surpass their previous achievements.
The guitar-packing Young siblings, Malcolm and Angus (both born in Glasgow, Scotland and younger brothers of ex-Easybeats' George Young), formed AC/DC in Sydney at the end of 1973. Older sister Margaret named the band after a warning sign she noticed on her sewing machine. She also suggested that Angus, who was 17 at the time, wear a school uniform on stage. Legend has it that AC/DC made its live debut on 31 December 1973 at Chequers discotheque in Sydney. The band's set comprised covers of Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry and Beatles songs, plus a smattering of old blues standards and tentative originals.
By April 1974, AC/DC comprised Malcolm, Angus, Evans, Rob Bailey (bass; ex-Natural Gas) and Peter Clack (who joined after Ron Carpenter had a short stint on drums). The new line-up issued `Can I Sit Next to You Girl?'/`Rockin' in the Parlour' on Albert (July) and supported Lou Reed on his Rock'n'Roll Animal tour of Australia (August). AC/DC's original image was bisexual glam rock. With the departure of Dave Evans and the arrival of Ronald `Bon' Scott (ex-Spektors, Valentines, Fraternity) in September 1974, AC/DC's working-class style, boogie-rock sound and earthy humour fell into place. Phil Rudd (drums; ex-Buster Brown) also joined in January 1975 (replacing Clack) and Malcolm switched to bass (replacing Bailey) until a suitable replacement could be found. Mark Evans (bass) completed the first classic AC/DC line-up when he joined in March 1975. During those formative stages, the redoubtable production team of Vanda and Young at Albert Productions guided the band and went on to oversee the first six albums.
AC/DC's initial achievement was to take the raw energy of Aussie pub rock, extend its basic guidelines, serve it up to a teenybop Countdown audience and still reap the benefits of the live circuit by packing out the pubs. The first evidence of the new AC/DC came with a thumping reworking of the Big Joe Williams blues standard `Baby Please Don't Go'/`Love Song' (#10 in March 1975) and the Young–Scott–Young-penned `High Voltage'/`Soul Stripper' (#6 in July). The albums High Voltage (March 1975) and TNT (December) also charted nationally (reaching #7 and #2 respectively).
When stacked up against the melodious pop of Sherbet and the glitter/glam of Skyhooks and Hush, AC/DC's brand of hard rock was rugged, outrageous and irrepressible. AC/DC were the bad boys, the brats who were not afraid to whoop it up a little on the Countdown stage. Bon Scott was the crude, lewd and tattooed larrikin who oozed a real macho sensuality. Angus was the manic guitarist in the schoolboy uniform who grabbed the girls' attention. AC/DC was not doing anything original at that stage (mostly recycling boogie-blues riffs and Chuck Berry licks at high volume) but it was the way they did it that got fans excited.
In 1976 AC/DC issued four classic hit singles `It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock'n'Roll)'/`Can I Sit Next to You Girl?' (#5 in January), `TNT'/`I'm a Rocker' (#11 in March), `Jailbreak'/`Fling Thing' (#5 in June) and `Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap'/`R.I.P. (Rock In Peace)' (#21 in October). The band was huge in Australia, and Atlantic Records showed great foresight by signing AC/DC to an international deal. AC/DC left Australia in April 1976 bound for the UK, and Atlantic (UK) issued the High Voltage album (a combination of the first two Australian albums) in May. `It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock'n'Roll)'/`Can I Sit Next to You Girl?' also appeared as the band's debut UK single in April.
The British rock press initially dubbed AC/DC street punks (and to a certain degree they were), but they earned a reputation as a hard-working rock band with a series of uncompromising, high-energy performances across the UK and Europe (including tour supports to Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow and Black Sabbath). Rarely had audiences encountered the likes of leering, bare-chested madman Bon Scott and the hyperkinetic, blues guitar pyrotechnics of Angus Young.
The Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap album (Australian #4 in October 1976) had been thrown together between heavy touring. Overall it lacked the bite and melodrama of TNT, although the manic `Problem Child', the rough'n'raw `Jailbreak' and the slow and insinuating `Ride On' were the equal of any in the AC/DC canon. The band's next single, `Love At First Feel'/`Problem Child', reached #31 in February 1977.
Englishman Cliff Williams (ex-Home, Bandit) replaced Mark Evans in April 1977, and AC/DC set their sights on cracking the USA. Between 1977 and 1979 the band issued a series of phenomenal hard rock classics: Let There Be Rock (Australian #20 in May 1977; UK #17), Powerage (UK #26 in May 1978), the live If You Want Blood, You've Got It (UK #13 in October) and Highway to Hell (Australian #13 in October 1979; UK #8). Australian singles included `Dog Eat Dog'/`Carry Me Home' (March 1977), `Let There be Rock'/`Let There be Rock Part Two' (May), `Rock'n'Roll Damnation'/`Cold Hearted Man' (UK #24 in June 1978), `Whole Lotta Rosie'/`Dog Eat Dog' (live) (November) and `Highway to Hell'/`If You Want Blood' (Australian #24 in October 1979).
Scott made `Let There be Rock' his great personal statement; he appeared as a priest in the film clip, grinning lasciviously and preaching the rock'n'roll bible. In 1981, UK headbangers' bible Kerrang! voted `Whole Lotta Rosie' the greatest heavy metal track of all time. In 1990, readers of UK magazine Raw voted `Whole Lotta Rosie' as the greatest-ever rock riff.
Highway to Hell (produced by Robert `Mutt' Lange) became AC/DC's breakthrough album in the USA (#17 in October 1979). Just as supergroup status loomed, tragedy struck on 19 February 1980 when Bon Scott died following a night of heavy drinking. He was found dead in a car with the official verdict being `Acute alcoholic poisoning—Death by Misadventure'. The rest of the band decided to continue and recruited former Geordie lung-screamer Brian Johnson as Bon's replacement. AC/DC recorded a new album with Lange at Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas, and on release in July 1980 Back in Black became an immediate success. It reached #2 in Australia, #1 in the UK and #4 in the USA and remains one of the greatest rock albums ever issued.
It spawned three hit singles, `You Shook Me All Night Long'/`What Do You Do For Money Honey' (Australian #8 in September 1980; UK #38; USA #35), `Rock'n'Roll Ain't Noise Pollution'/`Hell's Bells' (Australian #7 in December 1980; UK #15) and `Back in Black'/`What Do You Do for Money Honey' (USA only; #37 in March 1981). To date, Back in Black has sold over ten million copies, making it, alongside Def Leppard's Hysteria and Metallica's Metallica, one of the best-selling heavy metal albums of all time.
For Those About to Rock (We Salute You) (Australian #3 in December 1981; UK #3; USA #1) was another monster seller. It produced two singles, `Let's Get It Up'/`Snowballed' (USA #44 in February 1982) and `For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)'/`Let There Be Rock' (live) (UK #15 in June). Flick of the Switch (Australian #3 in September 1983, UK #4; USA #15) continued the formula with little variation. It yielded the singles `Nervous Shakedown'/`Brain Shake' (September 1983), `Flick Of The Switch'/`Badlands' (November) and `Guns For Hire'/`Landslide' (March 1984).
Simon Wright (ex-Tytan) replaced Phil Rudd in 1984 and the new line-up issued Fly on the Wall (Australian #1; UK #7 in August 1985; USA #32), Who Made Who (Maximum Overdrive soundtrack; Australian #3, UK #11 in June 1986; USA #33) and Blow Up Your Video (Australian #1, UK #2 in March 1988; USA #12). `Who Made Who'/`Guns For Hire' (live) (May 1986) and `Heatseeker'/`Go Zone' (from Blow Up Your Video) (January 1988) were #16 and #12 UK hit singles respectively; otherwise this was a period of little advancement. Fly on the Wall included the singles `Danger'/`Hell or High Water' (June 1985) and `Shake Your Foundations'/`Stand Up' (January 1986). `That's The Way I Wanna Rock'n'Roll'/`Kissin' Dynamite' (March 1988) was also lifted from Blow Up Your Video. `Heatseeker' peaked at #5 in Australia.
During May 1988, cousin Steve Young (ex-Starfighters) deputised on tour for the briefly `indisposed' Malcolm Young. In 1989, bald-headed drummer Chris Slade (ex-Gary Moore Band, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, The Firm) replaced Wright, who joined Dio. These changes ushered in a revival in the band's fortunes.
The albums The Razor's Edge (Australian #1, UK #4 in February 1991; USA #2), Live (Australian #1, UK #5 in November 1992; USA #15) and Ballbreaker (Australian #1, UK #6 in October 1995; USA #4) returned AC/DC to the charts in a big way. Likewise, the singles `Thunderstruck'/`Fire Your Guns' (Australian #10; UK #13 in October 1990), `Moneytalks'/`Mistress for Christmas' (UK #36; USA #23 in December), `Are You Ready'/`Got You by the Balls' (UK #34 in April 1991), `Highway to Hell' (live)/`Hell's Bells' (UK #14 in November 1992), `Big Gun'/`Back in Black' (live) (from the Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Last Action Hero) (UK #23 in July 1993; USA #35) and `Hard as a Rock'/`Caught with Your Pants Down' (UK #33 in November 1995) sold well. In 1996, Phil Rudd returned to the AC/DC drum stool after an absence of 12 years. The 1996 `Ballbreaker' Australian Tour EP reached #49 on the national chart during September. EMI issued the five-CD box set Bonfire in October 1997. It contained Back in Black, Live from the Atlantic Studios, the two-album set Let There Be Rock the Movie: Live in Paris and the rarities set Volts.
To date, AC/DC's international standing has remained at a premium, with sell-out tours being the order of the day. AC/DC has toured Australia four times since Scott's death (1981, 1988, 1991, 1996), appearing with increasingly spectacular stage shows on each occasion. The sonic, frontal assault of an AC/DC concert was guaranteed to provide prime entertainment and value for money. On the international circuit, AC/DC had the distinction of headlining the UK's massive Donington Monsters of Rock Festival more times than any other band (three), as well as playing to 347 000 people at the 1985 Rock in Rio festival. Equally significant, but more tragic was the fact that, in January 1991, three youths were crushed to death at an AC/DC concert in Salt Lake City, USA.
Following a four-year break from the studio, AC/DC returned to recording in 1999. Produced by long-time associate George Young, and recorded at The Warehouse Studio, Vancouver, Canada the new album, Stiff Upper Lip, appeared in February 2000. It arrived just nine days after the 20th anniversary of Bon Scott’s death on 19 February 1980. Containing such typical AC/DC fare as ‘Stiff Upper Lip’, ‘Hold Me Back’, ‘Safe in New York City’ and ‘Can’t Stop Rock’n’Roll’, the album made its debut at #3 on the national chart, selling gold (35 000 units) in the process.
There were, no doubt, many events across the globe commemorating the 20th anniversary of Bon Scott’s death, but one of the most interesting occurred in Melbourne. On 19 February 2000, original AC/DC singer Dave Evans appeared at the Melbourne Bon Scott 20th Anniversary Memorial Concert featuring Thunderstruck (The Australian AC/DC Show). The event was run as a one-off historical tribute to the life and music of Bon Scott, with Evans singing a set with Thunderstruck.