Oh man, not another one. I awoke this morning to the sad news that Malcolm Young, the extraordinarily talented rhythm guitarist for AC/DC, one of the world’s (and one of my) favorite hard rock bands, had passed away. He had been suffering from dementia and had to retire from the band prior to the tumultuous recording of their last record, Rock Or Bust. Dementia claimed my maternal grandmother and it’s a tough way to go. By every account that I’ve read, statements from other musicians, Malcolm was described as being a “sweet” guy. Being that talented and that nice are some pretty great things to be remembered for. He was preceded in death by his older brother George Young, who was in the Easy Beats, an early Aussie rock band and who was later a producer for AC/DC. Tough couple of months for the Youngs.
It had to be somewhat difficult for Malcolm. He’s always been a bit overshadowed by his brother Angus on lead guitar who, in his school uniform, was the visual symbol of the band. He was also probably overshadowed by the lead singers – who wouldn’t be overshadowed by larger than life Bon Scott and later Brian Johnson. The front man always gets the attention and the chicks. Yet, Malcolm cowrote every song they did with Angus and Bon Scott and later with just Angus. I would say Malcolm was more important than anybody on the microphone to AC/DC. His riffs were the foundation of every tune they put out. Even though he retired prior to the recording of their last album, Rock or Bust, Angus said most of the song ideas and basic riffs were written by and demo’d by Malcolm. He was as important to rhythm guitar as Keith Richards. That bedrock rhythm guitar allowed his brother Angus to soar on so many great solos.
One of the first albums I remember buying was AC/DC’s Back In Black. I was working as a bus boy at a steak joint named York Steak House in Oak Park Mall out in the suburbs of Kansas City. The crew I worked with there was one of the funnest, most degenerate group of people I’ve ever met. And believe me, I know a lot of degenerates, but these guys took the cake. One of the managers had a big keg party for the employees, most of whom were underage for drinking, but why split hairs over silly rules. We were out at some lake in western Johnson County. Somebody dropped the Back In Black cassette into the boom box and it was like an explosion in my head. My life had changed. Listening to that album, and marveling at the monster guitar riffs, I thought it was some band’s greatest hits album. I remember we were so fiercely air-guitaring I fell and hit my head on a park bench… maybe that’s why I remember that party so clearly… it was literally jarring. Talk about your head banging, I lived it, baby.
It was shortly after almost wearing out Back In Black, that I started researching AC/DC. It was then that I realized that they had just replaced their lead singer Bon Scott with Brian Johnson. I thought it was Brian singing on Highway To Hell, their vocals were so similar. Now, I can hear the difference clearly. One of the reasons their sound stayed so consistent was Malcolm and Angus’ monster riffage. I remember going to the mall and for some inexplicable reason I bought Highway To Hell on cassette instead of vinyl. The mistakes of youth… I think I wanted to play it in the car. That album underscored to me, it doesn’t matter whose up front singing, it’s the guitars that power that band.
I saw AC/DC on the Ballbreaker tour with my buddy, The Accountant, and they were just so spectacular. A lot of that was due to Malcolm’s perfectionist tendencies. He was so committed to the fans. He even quit AC/DC in the 80s to go to rehab to quit drinking. He’d realized his playing was suffering and he loved guitar more than booze. That’s commitment.
I had drifted away from AC/DC, even after seeing that great Ballbreaker show. It wasn’t until I met the Rock Chick and she turned me onto some of their great later albums, The Razor’s Edge, Stiff Upper Lip, that I reconnected with this great band. The Stiff Upper Lip tour was the first concert I ever took the Rock Chick to, chronicled on this very blog, AC/DC’s Stiff Upper Lip Concert – I Discover I’m Dating The Rock Chick. I’m very glad I saw that show, and glad that Rock Chick reintroduced me to this wonderful band. AC/DC remains and will remain in high rotation here at the B&V home.
Today the rock and roll world has lost another foundational player. We down here at the B&V lab will be flying the rock flag at half mast. Me, I’m going to pour a tumbler full of something strong, brown and murky and turn on the Rock Chick’s fabulous AC/DC play list. RIP Malcolm!