Heavy metal band
“A heavy metal band must have a vocalist who can imitate a man having an impacted wisdom tooth removed without anesthesia, a rhythm section that can pummel an innocent riff into submission, a lead guitarist/showoff, and lyrics that deal with sexism, satanism, and militarism. AC/DC scores high in each of the categories, and it has been rewarded accordingly,” declared a High Fidelity reviewer. Songs such as “Hell’s Bells,” “Big Balls,” and “Highway to Hell,” have assured the Australian group of an enduring reign at what an Audio contributor called “the zenith of simple head-banger heavy metal.” Protests by conservative organizations associating AC/DC with Satanism have probably only increased the group’s popularity.
Angus and Malcolm Young, who form the nucleus of AC/DC, had emigrated from Scotland along with the rest of their family in the 1960s. Their eldest brother, George, was a member of The Easybeats, known for their hit “Friday on My Mind.” George gave Angus and Malcolm their grounding in guitar work and also helped arrange a contract for them with Albert Records, an
Band formed 1973, in Sydney, Australia; original members included Angus Young (born March 31, 1951, in Glasgow, Scotland), guitar; Malcolm Young (born January 6, 1953, in Glasgow), guitar; Ronald Belford “Bon” Scott (born July 9, 1946, in Kirriemur, Scotland; died of acute alcohol poisoning February 19, 1980, in London, England), vocalist.
In 1974, Phillip Rudd (born May 19, 1946, in Melbourne, Australia) and Mark Evans (born 1957, in Melbourne) joined AC/DC on drums and bass. In 1977, Evans was replaced by Cliff Williams (born December 14, 1949, in Rumford, England). In 1980, Brian Johnson (born October 5, 1947, in North Shields, England) replaced deceased vocalist Scott. In 1982, Rudd was replaced by Simon Wright (born 1963).
Australian company, after AC/DC had built up a local following. The band’s early days of constant touring on the rowdy Australian bar circuit certainly influenced their no-holds-barred, attention-grabbing style. Angus Young explained to Newsweek’s Jim Miller, “An Australian audience likes to drink a lot…. So I used to jump on tables—anything to get them to stop drinking for ten seconds.” Angus further riveted his audience by dressing in knickers and a beanie, in the manner of an English schoolboy. Onstage he jerked his head up and down savagely, thereby developing a hugely muscled neck. He charged up and down the stage like an enraged bull, pausing occasionally to drop his pants and moon the audience. The more outrageous and raunchy his antics became, the more AC/DC’s Australian fans liked it. Both albums on the Albert label were number-one sellers in Australia.
A compilation of those two albums, released in the United States and England in 1976 as High Voltage, introduced AC/DC to an international audience. Supporting their albums with constant touring, the band gradually built up a loyal following. By the time of their 1978 world tour, they were drawing roaring crowds of over 15,000. Tapes from these concerts were edited into AC/DC’s first live album, If You Want Blood—You’ve Got It. Highway to Hell followed. Its domination of the U.S. charts signalled that AC/DC had indeed become a major heavy metal presence.
Tragedy struck the band just as sales of Highway to Hell peaked. Leader singer Bon Scott choked on his own vomit and died after a marathon drinking session. His presence had been considerable within the group, yet the surviving members decided almost immediately to replace him and continue on. Brian Johnson, formerly of the group Geordie, seemed to click immediately with the other band members when he joined AC/DC shortly after Scott’s death. He even co-wrote the music on Back in Black, the group’s tribute album for Scott. Released in mid-1980, the album was certified platinum by the year’s end. Rolling Stone named Back in Black “one of the milestone hard-rock albums of the decade,” and commended its “brute force and raunchy humor.”
For Those about to Rock, We Salute You is considered by some critics to be AC/DC’s most effective album, epitomizing the crushing guitar attack on which they’d built their success and from which they seldom varied. It was released in 1981 and swiftly became the topselling album in the United States. The band seemed to lose momentum after that, however; ’74 Jailbreak and Flick of the Switch were only moderately successful, and by 1984 AC/DC was playing to less than full houses for the first time in years. Controversy swirled around the group in 1985 after the “Night Stalker,” Los Angeles mass murderer Richard Ramirez, cited the album Fly on the Wall as a source of Satanic inspiration for him.
Conservative groups called for a boycott of AC/DC’s albums and concerts, but their efforts only rekindled interest in the group. As heavy-metal groups became increasingly acceptable to the music establishment, AC/DC began to be respectfully referred to as one of the foundation bands of the genre. Reviewing their 1988 release, Blow up Your Video, Jim Farber wrote in Rolling Stone: “It’s time the world stopped thinking of AC/DC as just a heavy-metal band. For thirteen albums now, Angus and Malcolm Young have been crafting the kind of guitar riffs any Who-style rock & roll band would kill for. Yet, the members of AC/DC have allowed no production compromises whatsoever: They’ve carved every one of these irresistible guitar hooks out of pure stone…. Perhaps Blow Up Your Video will finally convince those who have doubted the truth about AC/DC: it’s the metal band that plays solid-gold rock & roll.”
High Voltage, Albert, 1974.
T.N.T., Albert, 1975.
High Voltage (compilation of tracks from the previous High Voltage and T.N.T. ), Atlantic, 1976.
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Atlantic, 1976.
Let There Be Rock, Atlantic, 1977.
Powerage, Atlantic, 1978.
If You Want Blood, You’ve Got It, Atlantic, 1978.
Highway to Hell, Atlantic, 1979.
Back in Black, Atlantic, 1980.
For Those About to Rock, We Salute You, Atlantic, 1981.
Flick of the Switch, Atlantic, 1983.
’74 Jailbreak, Atlantic, 1984.
Fly on the Wall, Atlantic, 1984.
Who Made Who (soundtrack from the film Maximum Overdrive ), Atlantic, 1986.
Blow Up Your Video, Atlantic, 1988.
Audio, December 1983.
High Fidelity, March 1982.
Newsweek, April 19, 1982.
Rolling Stone, April 7, 1988; November 16, 1989.
Stereo Review, May 1982.
Members: Brian Johnson, vocals (born Newcastle, England, 5 October 1947); Phil Rudd, drums (born Melbourne, Australia, 19 May 1954); Cliff Williams, bass (born Essex, England, 14 December 1949); Angus Young, guitar (born Glasgow, Scotland, 31 March 1959); Malcolm Young, guitar (born Glasgow, Scotland, 6 January 1953). Former members: Mark Evans, bass (born Melbourne, Australia, 2 March 1956); Ronald Belford "Bon" Scott, vocals (born Kirriemuir, Scotland, 9 July 1946; d. London, England, 20 February 1980); Chris Slade, drums (born Pontypridd, Wales, 30 October 1946); Simon Wright, drums (born Alden, England, 19 June 1963).
Best-selling album since 1990: The Razor's Edge (1990)
Hit songs since 1990: "Moneytalks"
AC/DC blended power chords, hard-rock beats, and searing vocals with a theatrical stage presence that featured the ceaseless cavorting of lead guitarist Angus Young in his trademark school uniform. Blatant sexual innuendo was proudly displayed in their songs, from "Big Balls" to "You Shook Me All Night Long." After the release of Highway to Hell (1979) and the sudden death of singer Bon Scott, AC/DC returned triumphantly with Back in Black (1980) and For Those About to Rock We Salute You (1981). Through subsequent decades AC/DC continued to release albums using a pat formula.
AC/DC was formed by the brothers Malcolm and Angus Young in 1973. Playing at local pubs with Dave Evans (vocals), Larry van Knedt (bass), and Colin Burgess (drums), the group gained notice for their bombastic sound and energetic stage presence. At the suggestion of his sister, Angus began to wear his school uniform onstage, a gimmick that rapidly became his trademark. Evans and the Young brothers relocated to Melbourne, where bassist Mark Evans and drummer Phil Rudd joined the group. After Dave Evans refused to sing at a performance in September 1974, the group's chauffeur, Bon Scott, stepped in for the night and soon replaced Evans as the group's lead singer.
After recording two albums released only in Australia, the group was signed to Atlantic Records, which offered selections from these albums under the title High Voltage (1976). Mark Evans quit the group after lengthy tours, and Cliff Williams was recruited as the new bassist. Upon moving to London, AC/DC gained a cult following and was soon touring with such groups as KISS, Aerosmith, Styx, and Cheap Trick. The group's April 1978 performance at the Apollo in Glasgow, Scotland, was recorded and later released as If You Want Blood, You've Got It (1978).
During this time AC/DC released Let There Be Rock (1977), which include the perennial favorite "Whole Lotta Rosie," and Powerage (1978). Gaining international attention, the group recorded Highway to Hell (1979) with the producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange. The title track begins with a blistering guitar riff that characterizes all of the verses. This riff is balanced by a chorus with the memorable line, "I'm on a highway to hell." Bon Scott presents the melody in a characteristically forceful tone that verges on screaming.
Soon after the album's release, AC/DC incurred a tragic setback with the sudden death of Bon Scott, who choked on his own vomit after a night of heavy drinking. Many critics and fans assumed that the band would fold, but Brian Johnson was quickly recruited as the new lead singer. After two months in the studio, AC/DC released Back in Black (1980), whose title and black cover paid tribute to Scott. The title track opens with a straightforward guitar riff that concludes with a syncopated rhythm. Johnson belts out the melodic line, which is limited in pitch movement but effective in its extremely high register. In "You Shook Me All Night Long," Johnson employs a string of sexual innuendoes beginning with the first line, "She was a fast machine, she kept her motor clean."
With Back in Black and Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (originally recorded with Bon Scott in 1976 and released in 1981), AC/DC occupied the charts simultaneously with two albums featuring two different singers. Following the release of For Those About to Rock We Salute You (1981) and Flick of the Switch (1983), Rudd left the group and was replaced by Simon Wright. In the mid-1980s, the group was implicated in a bizarre controversy that centered on Richard Ramirez, a serial killer who claimed that their song "Night Prowler" inspired him to commit numerous murders. This negative publicity eventually dissipated, and AC/DC continued to record albums and tour. After the release of Blow Up Your Video (1988), Simon Wright left the group to join Dio and was replaced by Chris Slade.
After a series of mildly successful albums in the late 1980s, AC/DC released The Razor's Edge (1990), which eventually charted at number two on the Billboard chart. "Money Talks" begins with a guitar riff that echoes the melodic line. Although the song is humorous at times, with the tongue-in-cheek chorus, "C'mon, c'mon, love me for the money," it lacks energy and momentum. While exploring some new musical territory with extended introductions and prominent backup vocals, the album is uneven and uninspired. "Mistress for Christmas," with its line, "Want to be in heaven with three in a bed," sounds like a failed joke, and "Let's Make It" recalls a weaker version of "Back in Black."
AC/DC then released Live (1992) and Bonfire (1995), a box set memorial to Bon Scott. Phil Rudd rejoined the group, and with their next album, Ballbreaker (1995), AC/DC regained some of its energy. "Cover You in Oil" begins with a strong introduction and a medium-tempo rock groove. The lyrics in the chorus are effective, although the rhyme scheme in the verse is awkward and forced: "Pull on the zip, she give good lip (service)." The song "The Honey Roll" begins with a strong guitar riff that leads into a straightforward verse. The guitar solo is followed by a short bridge and extended choruses.
With Ballbreaker and Stiff Upper Lip (2000), AC/DC uses a different style of guitar riff with a single-note drone set against a melodic line. In "Stiff Upper Lip," the introductory guitar sounds lithe and blues-tinged rather than raucous. Brian Johnson begins the verse in a low register, singing "I was born with a stiff, stiff upper lip" with an effective pause halfway through the line. "All Screwed Up" explodes with an oscillating guitar riff and includes a surprisingly melodic interlude before the chorus.
Throughout their career AC/DC were intensely loyal to their musical formula: riff-driven rock replete with power chords, blistering vocals, and constant allusions to sexual acts. They eschewed popular manifestations of hard rock, from the imagery of glam-metal and hair-bands to the power ballads of arena rock. For these same reasons their recent material sounds derivative, recycled, and at times lethargic. While AC/DC gained little ground in the U.S. singles charts, their albums enjoyed tremendous sales internationally. In 2003 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a fitting tribute to their uncompromising spirit and tireless musical activity.
High Voltage (Atlantic, 1976); Let There Be Rock (Atlantic, 1977); Powerage (Atlantic, 1978); If You Want Blood, You've Got It (Atlantic, 1978); Highway to Hell (Atlantic, 1979); Back in Black (Atlantic, 1980); Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (Atlantic, 1981); For Those About to Rock We Salute You (Atlantic, 1981); Flick of the Switch (Atlantic, 1983); '74 Jailbreak (Atlantic, 1984); Fly on the Wall (Atlantic, 1985); Who Made Who (Atlantic, 1986); Blow Up Your Video (Atlantic, 1988); The Razor's Edge (Atco, 1990); Live (Atco, 1992); Live (Special Collector's Edition) (Atco, 1992); Ballbreaker (EastWest, 1995); Bonfire (EastWest, 1997); Stiff Upper Lip (EastWest, 2000).
AC/DC, American heavy metal band, formed 1974. Membership: Ronald Belford “Bon” Scott, voc. (b. Kirriemuir, Scotland, July 9, 1946; d. there, Feb. 20, 1980); Angus Young, lead gtr. (b. Glasgow, Scotland, March 31, 1959); Malcolm Young, rhythm gtr. (b. Glasgow, Scotland, Jan. 6, 1953); Mark Evans, bs.; Phil Rudd, drm. Ron Scott was replaced by Brian Johnson (b. Newcastle, England, Oct. 5, 1947).
A prototypical heavy-metal band formed in Sydney, Australia, in 1974, AC/DC established themselves in Great Britain and then the United States on the basis of tireless touring, and eventually broke through with 1979’s Highway to Hell.
Recording songs that focused on sex, violence, and the occult packaged in live-action album covers, AC/DC achieved notoriety in 1985 when Los Angeles mass murderer Richard Ramirez, known as the Night Stalker, cited recordings by the band as the source of his satanic inspiration. Fundamentalist Christians and others in the United States were outraged, and the band was accused of planting messages in their music that were detectable only when their albums were played backward. The controversy spurred Tipper Gore of the Washington-based Parents’ Music Resource Center to call for warning labels on albums, which in turn ignited the issue of censorship in mass media.
Persevering with vocalist Brian Johnson after the alcohol-related death of Bon Scott in 1980, AC/DC garnered tremendous popularity with Back in Black— ostensibly the best-selling (more than nine million copies) heavy-metal album in history—and For Those About to Rock, We Salute You. Projecting a blue-collar charm to their young, mostly male fans, and eschewing synthesizers, AC/DC again sparked public hostility when several fans were crushed to death in a rush to the stage at a 1991 show in Salt Lake City.
Dirty Deeds Done Cheap (1976); High Voltage (1976); Let There Be Rock (1977); Powerage (1978); If You Want Blood, You’ve Got It (1978); Highway to Hell (1979); Back in Black (1980); For Those About to Rock, We Salute You (1981); Flick of the Switch (1983); 74 Jailbreak (1984); Fly on the Wall (1985); Who Made Who (soundtrack to film Maximum Overdrive; 1986); Blow Up Your Video (1988); The Razor’s Edge (1990); Live (special collector’s edition; 1992); Live (1992); Ballbreaker (1995); Bonfire (1997).
Richard Bunton, AC/DC: Hell Ain’t No Bad Place to Be (London, 1982); Malcolm Dome, AC/DC (London, 1982); Paul Ezra, The AC/DC Story (London, 1982); Mark Putterford, AC/DC Illustrated Biography (London, 1992).