is one of the most influential hard rock sounds of the '70s. In
its own way, it was a reaction against the pompous art rock and
lumbering arena rock of the early '70s. AC/DC's rock was minimalist
-- no matter how huge and bludgeoning the guitar chords were,
there was a clear sense of space and restraint.
fans are generally divided into the "Bon Scott era (1974–80)"
and the "Brian Johnson era (1980–present)". Some
fans have a preference, others point to the merits of both singers
and appreciate them equally.
Scotland, the brothers Angus and Malcolm Young moved with their
family to Sydney, Australia as children. Malcolm began playing
guitar first, soon followed by Angus. Malcolm first played with
a Newcastle, NSW band called The Velvet Underground (not to be
confused with Lou Reed's group).
Their older brother
George Young had been a member of Australia's most successful
band during the 1960s, The Easybeats, who were the first local
rock act to score an international hit ("Friday On My Mind")
in 1967. After Young and his Easybeats partner Harry Vanda returned
to Australia in late 1973, they became the house producers for
the newly-formed Albert Productions record label whose owner,
Ted Albert (a scion of the venerable J. Albert & Sons music
publishing family), had been the Easybeats' producer between 1965
Young asked the other
members to do some session work for a project he was doing (The
Marcus Hook Roll Band). Angus then formed a band called Tantrum.
After The Velvet Underground, Malcolm decided to form a more pure
rock and roll band, and enlisted Angus and they were soon signed
to the new Albert label, and Vanda & Young produced their
first seven LPs.
The early lineups changed
often; original drummer Colin Burgess (ex-Masters Apprentices)
was sacked after passing out on stage (reportedly because someone
spiked his drink) and a number of different bassists and drummers
passed through the band over the next year. In September 1974
original vocalist Dave Evans was replaced by by charismatic singer
Ronald "Bon" Scott, the former co-lead singer of '60s
pop band The Valentines and '70s prog rock group Fraternity. This
signified the beginning of real success. Another vital innovation
was Angus Young's adoption of his now-famous school uniform as
a regular stage outfit; the original was reputedly Angus' real
uniform from his secondary school, Ashfield Boys' High, in Sydney.
The band also started the myth that Angus was born in 1959 rather
than 1955—claiming he was only 14 when the band formed in
Between 1974 and 1978,
aided by regular appearances on the nationally-broadcast TV pop
music show Countdown, AC/DC became one of the most popular and
successful acts in Australia, scoring a string of hits albums
and singles including their perennial 1975 rock anthem "It's
A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll)".
Relocating to London
in the late '70s, they worked all over the UK and Europe to establish
themselves, touring almost constantly and gaining invaluable experience
on the stadium circuit supporting the top hard-rock acts of the
day including Alice Cooper, Rush, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Boston,
Black Sabbath, Cheap Trick, Heart, The Scorpions, Molly Hatchet,
Ronnie Montrose, Nazareth, UFO, Journey, Foreigner, Van Halen,
Styx, Blue Öyster Cult, Alvin Lee, Rainbow, Savoy Brown,
REO Speedwagon, The Doobie Brothers, Thin Lizzy and The Who.
During AC/DC's appearance
on the VH1 series Behind the Music, Malcolm Young recalled an
incident from an England tour with Black Sabbath in which Geezer
Butler (Black Sabbath's Bassist), in a drunken rage, pulled a
knife on him. The incident was quickly resolved without conflict,
and the conjoined tour promptly ended. Scott and Sabbath's then-lead
singer, Ozzy Osbourne, stayed in contact, however.
They survived the punk
rock upheavals of 1976–78, partly because they were (erroneously)
tagged as a punk band by the British music press. They gained
a solid cult following in the UK with their powerful performances
and outrageous stage antics; Angus Young quickly became notorious
for mooning the audience and the group was banned from several
British venues. Their meaty hard-rock sound and Scott's provocative,
leering stage persona are also reputed to have been significant
influences on The Sex Pistols' lead singer Johnny Rotten. The
band were also a pivotal influence to the then emerging New Wave
of British Heavy Metal scene, with artists such as Def Leppard
and Saxon clearly displaying simililarities to the trademark sound
The band's albums,
such as 1977's Let There Be Rock and Powerage the following year
garnered a strong following on both sides of the Atlantic. It
was their 1979 effort, Highway to Hell, produced by Mutt Lange,
that propelled them into the top ranks of hard rock acts; its
anthemic title track is still a radio staple.
In February 1980, Scott
was found dead of an alcohol overdose in the back seat of his
friend's car. He died from both choking on his own vomit and hypothermia
(Scott's friend Osbourne would later write and record a song about
his death, the widely misinterpreted "Suicide Solution").
The band members considered quitting, but they were encouraged
to continue by Scott's parents. Shortly after, the band found
their new lead singer, Brian Johnson, formerly of the band Geordie,
after a fan sent them a Geordie album; it helped that Scott had
once seen him perform with Geordie, and had praised Johnson's
With Johnson, they
completed the song-writing and began recording Back in Black,
also produced by Lange. This became their biggest-selling album,
a hard-rock landmark that has sold more than twenty million copies
in the United States, earning it a rare double diamond award.
The title track, an unstated tribute to Scott, and the album's
other hit, "You Shook Me All Night Long," are quintessential
AC/DC: pounding guitars, start-stop rhythms, and the vocal style
one critic affectionately described as "crotch on barbed
wire." The follow-up, For Those About To Rock, We Salute
You, released in 1981, also sold very well, and was well received
The band split with
Lange for the self-produced 1983 album, Flick of the Switch. Predictably,
perhaps, its production values were not on a par with the previous
three LPs, despite some memorable tracks. Amid rumors of alcoholism,
drummer Phil Rudd left after a mysterious argument with one member,
possibly Malcolm. He was replaced by Simon Wright from Tytan,
after the band held an anonymous audition. With the new lineup
they recorded the less successful Fly On The Wall, produced by
the Young brothers, in 1985; many fans and critics felt the band
was now over the hill, eclipsed by newer hard rock bands such
as Ratt and Mötley Crüe. A home video of the group at
a bar playing five of the album's ten songs with various goings
on (and a cartoon fly) about was also released.
In 1986, the group
returned to the charts with the title track from Who Made Who,
the soundtrack to Stephen King's film Maximum Overdrive. The album
also included two new instrumentals along with old hits, only
one of which was from the Bon Scott era; the band's first compilation
sold reasonably well. The next album, Blow Up Your Video (1988)
saw them reunited with their original producers, Harry Vanda and
George Young; it sold better than any album since For Those About
to Rock. Although its production values were an improvement on
Flick of the Switch and Fly on the Wall, it was not the return
to the success of their earlier work many fans had hoped for,
despite scoring a British Top 10 single with "Heatseeker."
Following Video, Wright
left the group, replaced by session vet Chris Slade. Johnson was
unavailable for several months (it was said he was tending to
his ailing father, but he was also in rehab), and the Young brothers
wrote the songs for the next record themselves, as they would
do for all subsequent releases. (As a consolation, Johnson was
given the task of singing all the background vocals, a feat unable
to be duplicated live onstage just as Freddie Mercury could never
have done the same when he and his band Queen toured live.)
Joining with Bon Jovi
producer Bruce Fairbairn, the first album with this new lineup
was The Razor's Edge, a big comeback for the group that included
the hits "Thunderstruck" and "Money Talks";
some fans, however, were disappointed with the low-energy sound
of the album. By 1994, a sober Rudd had returned. With the 1980–1983
lineup back, the group recorded Ballbreaker with hip-hop and heavy
metal producer Rick Rubin (1995) and Stiff Upper Lip (2000). As
of April 2005, they are working on their next album.
In 2002, Q
magazine named AC/DC as one of the "50 Bands To See Before
You Die". In
2003, the Recording Industry Association of America upgraded the
group's U.S. sales figures, increasing their cumulative sales
from 46.5 million to 63 million, making AC/DC the fifth-best-selling
band in U.S. music history, behind The Beatles, Led Zeppelin,
Pink Floyd and The Eagles.
In March 2003 the walls
at New York's historic Waldorf Astoria hotel shook as AC/DC performed
"Highway To Hell" during part of their induction to
the Rock'n'Roll Hall Of Fame. Alongside the band were two of Scott's
nephews. In a brief acceptance speech, the band again thanked
the fans for their support.
On July 30 of the same
year, the band gave a performance at Sarsfest in Toronto, Ontario,
Canada, with the Rolling Stones before an audience of 500,000
to help the city overcome the effects of the 2003 SARS epidemic.
Johnson has long been
working on a musical version of Helen of Troy; he was inspired
to do so after seeing Cats and thinking it was "crap."
saw the Recording Industry Association of America certify the
classic Back in Black album as Double Diamond (20,000,000) sales
in the US, making it the sixth best-selling U.S. album in history.
The name "AC/DC"
(alternating current/direct current) was suggested by their sister
Margaret after she read it on an electric sewing machine's label.
The term has a bisexual connotation that they were supposedly
unaware of initially. Public response brought it to their attention.
This public perception was exacerbated by their early "glam
rock" image, which included satin jump-suits (common rock
attire in the early '70s) and other costumes including Angus'
schoolboy persona. Note: Many bands adopted a deliberately theatrical
and androgynous look at the time, including Malcolm's heroes The
Rolling Stones and Marc Bolan.
Some have suggested
that the name stood for "Anti-Christ/Devil's Children";
the rumour has long persisted both among critics who, already
disliking the band's image, use it to paint the band as Satanists,
and among some fans who, especially in the 1980s, enjoyed the
counter-cultural offense such a meaning would cause.
On 1 October 2004 Melbourne's
Corporation Lane was officially renamed ACDC Lane in honour of
the band (street names in the City of Melbourne cannot contain
the "/" character). It is near Swanston Street, the
location where the band recorded their 1975 video "It's a
Long Way to the Top".
The name AC/DC
is pronounced one letter at a time, although the band is nicknamed
by its Australian fans as "Acca Dacca".