AC/DC (1973–PRESENT). Malcolm Young (guitar), Angus Young (guitar), Bon Scott (vocals, 1974–79), Brian Johnson (vocals, 1979-present), Cliff Williams (bass), Phil Rudd (drums).
One of the most influential hard rock bands of all time, AC/DC have built their reputation on a less-is-more approach, doing more with three (or four) chords than most groups could do with many more and influencing scores of imitators during their three-decade-plus reign.
Unique among hard rock/heavy metal bands is the fact that the group eschews overreliance upon power chords and heavily distorted guitars, instead favoring a less-distorted (yet still mightily crunchy!) guitar tone, and the use of “open” chords, which combine to give the band its signature ringing guitar sound behind its anthemic classic songs.
The band got its start in 1973, when guitarist Malcolm Young and younger brother Angus (whose signature schoolboy uniform became his stage outfit when he joined the band at 15) started the band in Sydney, Australia. After releasing a single, “Can I Sit Next to You,” which was produced by their brother George Young and his partner Harry Vanda (both ex of the Easybeats).
In 1974 the band moved to Melbourne, where they enlisted drummer Phil Rudd, bassist Mark Evans, and a roadie named Bon Scott. When original vocalist Dave Evans refused to take the stage, Scott happily volunteered and the band’s classic lineup was largely set. Scott’s mischievous sense of humor and characteristic caterwaul complemented the band’s style, and his streetwise pedigree (with numerous misdemeanor convictions to his credit) added to the band’s nascent bad-boy image, which they would exploit throughout their long career. Later that year the band’s first full-length album, High Voltage, was released in Australia.
1975 saw the release of TNT, and in 1975, an adapted version of High Voltage (featuring material from TNT as well) was given broader release in both the U.K. and the U.S. with the band touring Britain and the States for the first time. Later that year, the band released Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.
In 1977, the band recorded Let There Be Rock, with new bassist Cliff Williams. The band was beginning to experience a new level of success with their heavy touring schedule, and Let There Be Rock became their first album to do well in the American charts.
For the next couple of years, the band worked diligently, both in the studio and on the concert trail, slowly but surely building a loyal and ardent fan base. Subsequent albums such as Powerage, and the live If You Want Blood You’ve Got It, cemented a rocking reputation as a no-holds-barred live act, and set the stage for their breakthrough album, Highway to Hell, released in 1980. Thanks to the title track, and the wide radio play it received, the album got to 17 on the U.S. charts (8 in the U.K.), and was the band’s first platinum (million-plus sales) release.
Unfortunately, it was at this fortuitous time that the hard-charging, hard-living Scott found his own limits. He was found dead in his car of alcohol poisoning, after an all-night binge (Engleheart & Durieux, 2008). Devastated, the band took time to mourn and assess their situation. Most of their next album had been largely recorded with producer Robert “Mutt” Lange, but without the band’s longtime frontman, the band was at a standstill. Once the band decided to soldier on, however, they recruited ex-Georgie vocalist Brian Johnson. In retrospect, Johnson was a natural choice, given his raspy caterwaul and working-class demeanor. At the same time, however, his six-foot-plus frame and cap-wearing image presented quite a contrast to Scott’s (and the Young brothers’) diminutive stature.
With Johnson at the vocal mic, AC/DC finished work on Highway’s follow-up, the suitably titled Back in Black. Arguably the band’s finest work both in terms of writing and production quality, the album became the band’s best-selling album, has gone on to sell over 42 million copies, and helped to confirm the band’s status as one of the world’s greatest hard rock acts.
The band stayed on a roll for the next few years. With For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the band stayed on the charts. However, after the recording of Flick of the Switch (1983), drummer Phil Rudd was sacked from the band. Rudd had taken Scott’s death hard and was experiencing a growing conflict with Malcolm, the band’s leader. Rudd was replaced by Simon Wright, who first appeared in the early MTV videos “Flick of the Switch” and “Nervous Shakedown.”
Flick of the Switch marked the end of the band’s working relationship with producer Mutt Lange, who had shepherded the band’s breakthrough albums. With Flick, the band had produced themselves, attempting to bring the band’s sound back to its basics. In that they largely succeeded, and the album was in some ways a return to their rougher Scott days. Nonetheless, the album did less well than its predecessors, and the band began to experience a bit of a commercial decline, although they still sold well in the record stores and on tour. Even so, their subsequent eighties albums, Fly on the Wall (1985), Who Made Who (1986), Blow Up Your Video (1988), and The Razor’s Edge (1990), marked a period of less impressive, though still decent quality work from the band.
Producer and longtime fan Rick Rubin stepped in in 1995 to produce Ballbreaker, which proved to be something of a return to form for the band, both performance-wise and commercially. Rubin’s stripped-down aesthetic fit the band well, and their erstwhile drummer Phil Rudd had been brought back into the fold, marking the first time that the Back in Black lineup had recorded together in a dozen years. Upon its release, Ballbreaker went platinum within the year and went as high as number four on the U.S. album chart.
The band has since slowed its work schedule considerably, releasing Stiff Upper Lip in 2000. 2008 found them in the studio with renowned producer Brendan O’Brien working on their seventeenth studio album, Black Ice, which was released in October of that year.
Discography: TNT (EMI, 1975); High Voltage (Epic, 1976); Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (Epic, 1976); Let There Be Rock (Epic, 1977); Powerage (Epic, 1978); If You Want Blood You’ve Got It [live] (Epic, 1978); Highway to Hell (Epic, 1979); Back in Black (Epic, 1980); For Those About to Rock We Salute You (Epic, 1981); Flick of the Switch (Epic, 1983); Fly on the Wall (Epic, 1985); Who Made Who (Epic, 1986); Blow Up Your Video (Epic, 1988); The Razor’s Edge (Epic, 1990); AC/DC Live (Atco, 1992); Ballbreaker (East West, 1995); Live in Madrid (Atlantic, 1997); Stiff Upper Lip (East West, 2000); Black Ice (Columbia, 2008).