One fine day in 1974, the phone on the desk of Michael Browning who was a talented and ambitious young music manager, suddenly rang. On the other end of the line was Malcom Young, the rhythm guitarist of the AC/CD band calling from Adelaide, central Australia: “we're stuck. Lend us some money, just enough to go back to Melbourne to play a few gigs and we'll pay it back " . Browning at the time was the owner of the Hard Rock restaurant chain in Melbourne (a parody of the famous Hard Rock cafe), where AC/DC had performed several times.
AC/DC, a band originally from Sydney, was on their way touring Western Australia by road, and got stuck in the middle of the road when their manager, Dennis Laughlin, meant to leave the band . The tour bus was stuck in Adelaide without any money, and the bus was about to run out of gas. They were with two brothers of Young family, melted faces sitting on a pile of amply in the 40o heat.
On the other hand, Browning has been a fan of AC/DC since a few months earlier. When he knew that AC/DC was led by his brother George Young, who was a talented artist of the group Easybeats - the group that came into the world most famous of Australian variety of the time, but they failed to find aura in the world. The first time Browning heard the melodic music led by Angus' catchy riffs against the cool rhythm of Malcolm, Browning realized this was an opportunity for George and Easybeats to fix the errors themselves. This was also the opportunity that he has been waiting for a long time without mentioning for Browning personally,. When he first explored his world aura with Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, the result was only a small success in distant England.
AC/DC in Browning's eyes, therefore, it was the "chosen one", to be the first to represent Australia to conquer the world. Browning sent money to rescue AC/DC from Adelaide, and he became the band's manager as soon as they arrived in Melbourne.
In the 70s, what made Australian music unique was the Pub Rock movement, which arose from the boxy beer shops in Melbourne. In that tight and noisy space (the sound can't be good), to play music had to be noise and heavy, but the words had to be simple and able to release all your excess energy are compensating.
After moving to Melbourne, AC/DC quickly became the most prominent Pub Rock group, and perhaps this context also contributed to the simple but their effective, rhythmic and energetic musical characteristics became so sublime. AC/DC's first two albums, released in 1975, High Voltage and TNT, received considerable airtime on the radio as well as in crowded pubs.
Also in 1975, AC/DC participated in the Sunbury Music Festival in Melbourne. That day Deep Purple would be the main lead actor, from 9PM to 10.30PM, which meant AC/DC would start at 11PM. But when DP just ended and AC/DC's team started up, DP's team asked to unload everything before AC/DC could get on, which meant ACDC would have to start at 2am. Broken, the two sides could not have a common voice. The concert's program manager was nowhere to be seen, so the crews of Deep Purple and AC/DC rushed to each other. The manager punched the other managers, the sound engineer found another sound engineer, the two sides broke out to share each other's fists. After the security came to break up the fight, the organizers pushed the AC/DC down to fight first early the next morning, otherwise they justed wait until there was an empty seat and inserted it. Frustrated! The biggest lesson of that day: no matter how famous he was in Australia, he just sat there and waited for world-famous bands to take over on his land.
AC/DC was really no different from the Young brothers family band, immigrants from Scotland. Big brother George was like the brains, taking care of the production and image of the band, while Malcolm played rhythm and wrote music, and Angus took on the role of a star performer on stage with an unpretentious lead guitar playing style where could be mixed.
That time stuck in Adelaide was also the occasion when the Young brothers met singer BonScott. Bon Scott, who knew how to play the drums and sing, after a few small successes in Melbourne had to work enough to make a living due to his co-operative playing habits. Bon was an AC/DC truck driver at the time, and the guys became close very quickly because Bon Scott was also an immigrant from Scotland. At first Bon tried to convince AC/DC to become the muscle group's drummer, but after hearing that the Youngs fired former singer Dave Evans, glam and poppy styles did not suit the Young brothers family, Bon Scott took a risk please audition for AC/DC.
The day Bon came for trial, he brought two bottles of Bourbon, some dope and some speed. Angus could only sigh "if this guy can stand up straight, I don't need to sing, I can play anything". That's how he got into the band. Angus also didn't expect, AC/DC had just recruited the "poet in the toilet", as Bon called him.
Along with Angus and Malcolm's superb guitar playing and understand idea, and ability to write funny poetry of Bon Scott's, Browning later recruited Phil Rudd to play the drums, and bassist Mark Evan, who had just switched to playing bass from guitar. Although he was not outstanding, he was able to play Mark's simple bass playing with solid wave pad due to just transitioning from guitar to really bonded well with Phil and Malcom right away. But no matter what, everything was still the best according to the bosses of the Young family.
Talking about the rhythm part of AC/DC, everyone probably thought that these guys played too simple, and each song only had a few chords. But perhaps, the greatness of Malcom Young and his teammates also lied there, when they brought simple things to a superlative level. Malcom had a right hand which was capable of coordinating short, release, and slash in sync while his left hand was exactly like a machine. The sound he made, so there was absolutely no extra noise. Even the choice of how many strings to play arpeggios was carefully chosen by Malcolm. And every time he watched that right arm swung up and down the strings, listeners were waiting for a wave of energy to rush over their heads - and not just one, but wave by wave, wave by wave. Beneath, those waves were the backgrounds of Phil Rudd and Mark Evan/Cliff Williams, and as if riding the waves were super surfers named Angus Young and Bon Scott (and later Brian Johnson).
It was no wonder that Megadeth's Dave Mustaine rated Malcolm Young as one of the three greatest rhythm guitarists. Anthrax's Scott Ian considered Malcom Young the teacher who introduced him to the art of playing rhythm guitar. With Scott Ian, even though his band played thrash metal, his hobby was from time to time playing AC/DC discs and bobbing along to Malcolm's rhythm. Scott confided that he could play every open A chord all day with Malcolm while not getting bored, because making it sound like Malcolm and playing AC/DC turned out were not easy. Instead of playing chords with power chords like hard rock/heavy guitarists often did, Malcolm played open chord through a series of Marshall amps hooked up in series without breaking.
In late 75, Browning started sending High Voltage and TNT, with some homemade video clips, to his cousin in the UK, now he has been working for Motown and A&M, to sniff out the opportunity. By this time, AC/DC had a whole bunch of self-recorded video clips from a huge fan base. And the video clip of “High voltage”, fortunately, found its way into the hands of Phil Carson, boss of Atantic Records in the UK and Europe: “my cousin runs this band in Australia called AC/DC, and they have sold over 100,000 copies.” Carson immediately called Browning to negotiate a contract.
AC/DC's first deal with Atlantic wasn't very good either: only $25,000 in advance to record the next album. AC/DC accepted, understanding that Atlantic was a big record label that has been the bed room of Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, as well as the home in America of veteran bands like Led Zeppelin, Cream, or Yes - bands from the UK trying to enter the US by "small quota".
AC/DC's third album, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, began recording at Christmas 1975, and it was also the first Atlantic-labelled album to be released in the UK. AC/DC soon went on a tour of England and Scotland in early 1976, while Atlantic continuously released High Voltage “international versions” (actually taking the best songs of High Voltage and TNT) and shortly after that's Dirty Deeds. In turn, big and small cities from South to North of England, then Glasgow were conquered by AC/DC. Whether it was a big city with a few thousand spectators, or a small town with just a few hundred, AC/DC delivered 100% of what they had. Without a doubt, AC/DC proved to be the best live band.
After Britain, AC/DC continued their conquests across Europe. Everyone did not want to miss out to be on the Europe's best live band phenomenon right now, and the fact that fans wearing school uniforms imitating Angus Young at the Show has become a phenomenon. AC/DC made England and Europe their new home in 1976, before returning to Australia at the end of the year to record their fourth album Let There Be Rock.
After doing another round of Be Rock promotions around Australia and across Europe for the whole of 1977, the ACDC was ready to take on its most difficult task: conquering America. According to them, the task was no different from conquest to conquer England. It had to be repeated 50 times because the geographical characteristics of the United States were not "open" like the old continent. Each state was like a separate stronghold.
But yes, this was Atlantic's home ground, and they have come up with a great strategy starting from Texas, where the audience was the hottest with Rock n Roll. AC/DC hit Texas, and Atlantic began rubbing his hands in anticipation that the band's next album would be the goose that produced golden eggs. Meanwhile, the Young brothers began to hate bassist Mark Evans for "not keeping up" with the band, and on their way back to Australia to record their next record, Mark was fired, replaced by Cliff Williams.
Unfortunately, the fifth album, Powerage, did not seem to have punched enough for the US market, even though the album as a whole was a fairly complete block. At this point, Atlantic had to step in, and for the first time in history, the Young's sovereignty was broken. The first, George Young was the next to hit the road, and Atlantic gave AC/DC to producer Eddie Kramer, who had produced for the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and helped with Led Zeppelin and Peter Framton. Malcom and Angus stifled their anger into the sixth album.
But just two weeks later, Malcolm called out to Browning again: “Save us. This Kramer can't play". Malcolm and Angus were so used to George's musically-revealed working style, while Eddie was only concerned with creating the best and most polished sounds. Fortunately, Browning has just met Mutt Lang, who was "only used to producing more than 500,000 albums" in the US. With Atlantic reluctance, and a cornered AC/DC, Mutt joined the band and then turned it on again, as he produced three consecutive successful AC/DC albums: Highway to Hell , Back in Black, and For Those About to Rock We Salute You.
But in the short term, Highway To Hell was extremely successful with the powerful track "Highway To Hell" gaining airtime throughout the United States, and the album reached gold music disc not long after. The Young brothers' anger still needed a place to vent. Browning, the manager who rescued AC/DC from the desert and helped bring them to the top they are today, has been the next name to be fired. Don't joke with the Young brothers.
There was a time, when it seemed that only singer Bon Scott was left untouchable, the next blow to him was probably beyond anyone's expectations. On the night of February 18th in 1980, Bon Scott fell overslept in his car after getting too drunk and dying of cold. Before meeting AC/DC, Bon Scott was once hit by a motorbike lying unconscious for 3 days but still alive. After entering AC/DC, Bon Scott once had an overdose of drugs and his heart stopped beating for several dozen minutes, but he was still alive. Too more than 3 times. AC/DC probably took their heaviest hit ever and considered disbanding.
But then AC/DC found Brian Johnson in Newcastle, in the North of England, who had a very similar performance style to Bon, who was singing for the Geordie group at the time. The Young's indomitable would tell AC/DC to go on.
So just 5 months after Bon Scott's death, AC/DC released Back In Black as a tribute to Bon Scott himself and this disc became the best-selling rock record of all time by a group (only behind Thriller of Michael Jackson). The partnership with Brian Johnson also ushered in a period of huge success with albums all selling in seven figures or more.
The 80s and 90s saw constant changes in the AC/DC team, but only one thing remained unchanged: the Young machine defied all odds.
But what’s about when fate hit the cousins themselves? In 2014, Malcolm Young could no longer continue after years of battling dementia, and he passed away in 2017 (George Young also died in 2017). By this time, the Young brothers had toured together for over 40 years, and now it was a blow to themselves. Even the controversy with drummer Phil Rudd in 2014 that got him kicked out, or Brian Johnson's departure from the band due to hearing loss later (Axl Rose was invited to join), probably couldn't compare to the loss of life cool by Malcom Young.
And yet, the only remaining Young, Angus, it still announced that the group would continue on the road and would continue to release discs. "Long way to the Top", as Bon Scott wrote the other day.
There was no room for melancholy with AC/DC and the typical Squeezed And Defiance personality probably inherited from the indomitable spirit of these Scots. And if anyone wonders why AC/DC is almost the only name Rock music from Australian that can sway the world, that defiant spirit is probably the answer most fell.
See you again!.