Electrified by the screaming SG of pint-sized powerhouse Angus Young, AC/DC exploded out of Australia in the mid-’70s with a sound and a style that rewrote the definition and possibility of hard rock. Gone were the wizards, warlocks, and wood nymphs; no more black masses or sweet leafs. Bustles in the hedge row were replaced with boozy, bruising blues about the clap (“The Jack”), Oy!-powered gang choruses (“T.N.T.”), and gritty, tell-it-like-it-is tales of on-the-road debauchery and squalor (“It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ’n’ Roll)”). When AC/DC sang about a whole lotta love, they meant it literally (“Whole Lotta Rosie”).
At the heart of AC/DC’s sound, image, and live show was the legendary and incomparable lead guitarist Angus Young. After 30 years as an iconic cornerstone of rock ’n’ roll, it is easy to forget that nobody had ever seen or heard anything like him when the band appeared. Just over five-feet tall—in an Australian schoolboy uniform, with an arsenal of incendiary B.B. King and Albert King licks—Young was half as tall as his cranked Marshall stack. That is, when he was not performing on the shoulders of the shirtless and considerably older Bon Scott, the band’s menacing and much-missed lead singer. With smoke bombs loaded in his prop book bag, Young would duck walk through the audience, firing off scorching blues leads and billows of blue smoke, while the band’s rock solid rhythm section—led by older brother Malcolm Young—watched from the stage without missing a beat.
What the hell was this stuff, wondered everyone from Rolling Stone (who panned the band’s debut as “an all-time low.”), to the leery and sheepish record industry, to nearly all rock fans living outside of Australia, where AC/DC were instantly and consistently loved. It was not punk, not metal, not the widely-accepted synthesizer stadium schlock of the ’70s. The answer: It was AC/DC, the pure concoction and vision of the Young brothers, who hammered it out together in the tough clubs of Sydney and went on to become one of the best, best-selling, and most beloved rock ’n’ roll bands of all time.
Born March 31, 1955 in Glasgow, Scotland, Angus McKinnon Young started playing guitar when he was five years old. In 1963, the Youngs moved to Australia, where his older brother George found pop success in the Easybeats, whose 1966 hit “Friday On My Mind” was the first international hit by a band Down Under. Obsessed with British invasion groups like the Stones and the Who, and American early rockers and bluesmen like Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters, Angus and his older brother Malcolm picked up guitar lessons from George during breaks from his heavy touring schedule. Malcolm eventually gave Angus his old acoustic, and Young then found his first electric, a new 1968 SG that he still plays to the present day.
Angus and Malcolm, who had been playing in a number of local Sydney acts, began assembling their own group in 1973. They christened the band AC/DC after their sister Margaret’s sewing machine. An acronym for “alternating current/direct current,” the name was an ideal representation of the powerful electric sound the brothers were bent on pursuing. AC/DC performed their first gig on New Year’s Eve at the Sydney club Chequers with a band that consisted of bassist Larry Van Kriedt, drummer Colin Burgess, and singer Dave Evans.
From the beginning, Angus experimented with a number of larger-than-life onstage personas?including a gorilla, Zorro, Spiderman, and his own super-hero, Super-Ang?before following Margaret Young’s suggestion to don a schoolboy uniform onstage. Angus’ spastic, SG-slinging Problem Child character came to personify not only AC/DC, but, eventually, hard rock itself.
Not long after releasing the 1974 single “Can I Sit Next to You”/”Rockin’ in the Parlour,” AC/DC’s friend and driver, Ronald Belford “Bon” Scott, replaced Dave Evans on the mike. With the addition of the playful lyricist, dynamic performer, and distinctive vocalist, the template for the AC/DC sound, stage show, and attitude was fully realized. Playing deafening three-chord rock ’n’ roll that was as heavy as contemporaries like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, but devoid of any art rock grandiosity, AC/DC began their long ascent to the top.
Albert Productions, the Australian label that also put out the Easybeats, released AC/DC’s first two Australian albums, High Voltage and TNT, in 1975. But, after inking a deal with Atlantic Records, the band combined material from both albums foran international release also titled High Voltage. Their next, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976), didn’t see a U.S. release until the 1980s?when it became one of their best sellers. In the late 1970s, AC/DC laid the foundation of their legacy with three consecutive hard masterpieces, Let There Be Rock (1977), Powerage (1978), and the live If You Want Blood You’ve Got It (1978).
Though they took time to catch on outside of Australia, AC/DC found rapid cult status in the burgeoning U.K. punk scene and gradually developed a global following through constant touring and opening slots for Kiss, Aerosmith, Styx, and Blue Öyster Cult. With that pummeling rhythm section and the incomparable Bon Scott, AC/DC was like a force of nature. At the center of the storm was Angus Young, who came to be regarded as one of rock’s greatest entertainers. Young sent AC/DC audiences over the top with stage-spanning sprints across stage, duckwalks, and stripteases—and would often climb onto Bon Scott’s shoulders, a smoking school bag on his back and a screaming SG pressed to his chest. Together they’d move through the crowd, a stupefying spectacle.
AC/DC’s first album without the help of production team Harry Vanda and George Young was Highway to Hell, polished by award-winning producer Mutt Lange in 1979. It would prove to be the band’s international breakthrough and their first to chart in America. It was also Bon Scott’s last?he died from alcohol poisoning a few months later. Despite the singer’s heartbreaking and untimely death, AC/DC soldiered on, replacing Scott with Geordie’s glam rockin’ frontman Brian Johnson, of whom Scott had been an admirer. In 1980, AC/DC released Back in Black, which featured hits like the title track, “Hells Bells,” and “You Shook Me All Night Long,” co-written by Johnson and the Young brothers. The comeback album not only established AC/DC as one of the world’s most popular bands, but with an astonishing 42 million copies sold, also became the second best-selling album of all time, behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The follow-up, 1981’s For Those About to Rock We Salute You, was another significant landmark for the Australian band, becoming the United States’ first No. 1 hard rock record.
The last quarter-century has seen AC/DC continue to sell out arenas and release hit albums like the self-produced Flick of the Switch (1983) and Fly on the Wall (1985), the semi-greatest hits Who Made Who (1986), the Vanda and Young production Blow up Your Video (1988), the top ten The Razors Edge (1990), the mammoth live album and video Live (1992), the Rick Ruben-produced Ballbreaker (1995), and the critically acclaimed Stiff Upper Lip (2000). Their late career also included their first two U.S. No. 1 singles?1993’s “Big Gun” and 1995’s “Hard as a Rock.”
AC/DC has had an immeasurable impact on contemporary rock, informing the sound of artists across time and space from a variety of musical perspectives?from Def Leppard to Guns N’ Roses to Nirvana to Nashville Pussy to Jet. Over the years, their influence has continued to grow as generations of guitarists study and marvel at Young’s incredible interpretation of the blues. Gibson is proud to have honored Angus Young with his own signature Gibson SG, as well as a paint-peeling, signature PAF-style humbucker.
To this day, AC/DC sells out arenas on every tour and scores hits with every new release. From a gritty dream shared by Malcolm and Angus Young, AC/DC have gone from the rowdy clubs of their hometown to become one of the most influential bands of all time, selling more than 150 million albums worldwide?68 million in the U.S. alone.
You need the latest version of Adobe Flash Player to watch this video.