Can rock giants AC/DC be successful without Malcolm Young? In the short term, that answer will be an obvious yes. Their new album, titled Rock or Bust, is set to come out in November. AC/DC is a band that has the luxury of being an iconic band and the album will sell a tremendous amount of copies immediately. Their success becomes a little trickier to predict, though, when you look at their long term future.
The rock world got some unfortunate yet expected news this week when AC/DC announced that co-founder and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young would be officially and permanently retiring from the band due to a battle with dementia. Young has been placed into a full time facility where he is receiving ’round the clock care.
This band has proven a few times, though, that they should never be counted as down and out. Just as the band truly hit superstar status after the release of Highway to Hell in 1979, their world came crashing down when vocalist Bon Scott died. Most folks believed that that would be the end of AC/DC. Instead, they returned with a new singer. With Brian Johnson on the mic, they released the second highest selling album of all time in 1980 with Back in Black. From there the band exploded into a whole different level of popularity, joining the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and becoming the biggest rock band in the world.
They’ve also played without Malcolm before. In 1988, while on the Blow Up Your Video tour, Malcolm left the band to rehab an alcohol dependency. His nephew Stevie Young filled in for him for the remainder of the tour. It is Stevie, once again, who has been tabbed to officially join the band and take Malcolm’s place on the new album and tour to follow.
After 1981’s For Those About to Rock (We Salute You), the band released a few uninspiring records that weren’t received well. By the end of the decade, many people believed that their best days were behind them. Instead, in 1990, they released The Razor’s Edge and reasserted themselves as icons. After 1995’s Ballbreaker wasn’t well received, the band was once again assumed to be toast. Again, they would prove the critics wrong. In 2000 they released Stiff Upper Lip and in 2003 were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; although that institution is more of a joke than anything else, the distinction is still impressive. The AC/DC world was largely silent yet again after that until they released another extremely successful album in 2008; Black Ice.
So, like I said, this is never the band to count out. They’ve survived the death of their lead vocalist only to return even more popular. They’ve beaten addiction. They’ve returned from long periods of mediocrity and irrelevance, only to return to the scene and further cement their legacy as the greatest hard rock band of all time. That legacy is exactly why, in the short term at least, they will be fine.
Malcolm Young was not only the most underrated member of his own band, but he remains as one of the most underrated figures in rock. His younger brother Angus has always had the AC/DC spotlight with his legendary lead riffs and his infamous schoolboy outfit on stage. Outside of Angus, the typical fan doesn’t know much about the members of the band and what they bring to the table. In the case of Malcolm, he is AC/DC. Him and Angus not only founded the band, for the past forty years they have written the vast majority of the songs. Together. As the band forges on, will Angus be able to write by himself? Will he be able to find that chemistry with another member of the band?
I believe that that will be hard to do. A brother’s chemistry will be hard to replace. If the new record isn’t great, will fans remain interested in a follow up without Malcolm? As convinced as I am that losing Malcolm as a songwriter will be insurmountable to overcome in the long run, I remind myself that we are talking about AC/DC. If there is a band out there that will find a way, it is them. They have spent their whole career beating the odds and overcoming obstacles that few bands have ever been able to do. It’s a long way to the top, if you wanna rock & roll, indeed.
Join me in celebrating my top ten favorite rhythm tracks that Malcolm Young contributed to the band over the years. Click the links to enjoy these masterpieces!
10. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976)
9. Who Made Who (1986)
8. Thunderstruck (1990)
7. Hells Bells (1980)
6. Touch Too Much (1979)
5. Shoot to Thrill (1980)
4. Riff Raff (1978)
3. For Those About to Rock (We Salute You) (1981)
2. Bad Boy Boogie (1977)
1. Let There Be Rock (1977)
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