AC/DC is an Australian rock band. The group formed in Sydney, Australia, in December, 1973. Their albums have sold in colossal numbers, the total now being estimated at well in excess 100 million copies worldwide. Although the group is generally considered to be a pioneer of hard rock and heavy metal music, the members have always referred to their music as rock ‘n’ roll, a claim which is perhaps supported by the broad cross-section of fans that they have amassed. Their music is blues-based with a higher level of distortion in the lead and rhythm guitars.
AC/DC fans are generally divided into the “Bon Scott era (1974–80)” and the “Brian Johnson era (1980–present)”. Some fans have a preference; others point to the merits of both singers and appreciate them equally. Overall, AC/DC is the most successful and well-known rock band to hail from Australia.
Born in Scotland, the brothers Angus and Malcolm Young moved with their family to Sydney, Australia, as children. Malcolm began playing guitar first, soon followed by Angus. Malcolm first played with a Newcastle, New South Wales band called the Velvet Underground (not to be confused with Lou Reed’s group).
Their older brother, George Young, had been a member of Australia’s most successful band during the 1960s, the Easybeats, who were the first local rock act to score an international hit (“Friday on My Mind”) in 1967. After Young and his Easybeats’ partner, Harry Vanda, returned to Australia in late 1973, they became the house producers for the newly-formed Albert Productions record label whose owner, Ted Albert (a scion of the venerable J. Albert & Sons music publishing family), had been the Easybeats' producer between 1965 and 1967.
Young asked the other members to do some session work for a project he was doing (The Marcus Hook Roll Band). Angus then formed a band called Tantrum. After the Velvet Underground, Malcolm decided to form a more pure rock and roll band, and enlisted Angus and they were soon signed to the new Albert label, and Vanda and Young produced their first seven LPs.
The early lineups changed often; original drummer Colin Burgess (ex-Masters Apprentices) was sacked after passing out on stage (reportedly because someone spiked his drink) and a number of different bassists and drummers passed through the band over the next year. In September 1974 original vocalist Dave Evans was replaced by charismatic singer, Ronald “Bon" Scott, the former co-lead singer of 1960s pop band, the Valentines and 1970s progressive rock group, Fraternity. This signified the beginning of real success. Another vital innovation was Angus Young’s adoption of his now-famous school uniform as a regular stage outfit; the original was reputedly Angus’ real uniform from his secondary school, Ashfield Boys High School, in Sydney. The band also started the myth that Angus was born in 1959 rather than 1955—claiming he was only fourteen when the band formed in December 1973.
Between 1974 and 1978, aided by regular appearances on the nationally-broadcast TV pop music show, Countdown, AC/DC became one of the most popular and successful acts in Australia, scoring a string of hits albums and singles, including their perennial 1975 rock anthem, “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll)”.
Relocating to London in the late 1970s, they worked all over the UK and Europe to establish themselves, touring almost constantly and gaining invaluable experience on the stadium circuit supporting the top hard-rock acts of the day including Alice Cooper, Rush, Ted Nugent, Boston, Black Sabbath, Cheap Trick, Heart, The Scorpions, Molly Hatchet, Ronnie Montrose, Nazareth, UFO, Journey, Foreigner, Van Halen, Styx, Blue Oyster Cult, Alvin Lee, Rainbow, Savoy Brown, REO Speedwagon, the Doobie Brothers, Thin Lizzy and The Who.
They survived the punk rock upheavals of 1976–1978, partly because they were (erroneously) tagged as a punk band by the British music press. They gained a solid cult following in the UK with their powerful performances and outrageous stage antics; Angus Young quickly became notorious for mooning the audience and the group was banned from several British venues. Their meaty hard-rock sound and Scott’s provocative, leering stage persona are also reputed to have been significant influences on the Sex Pistols' lead singer, Johnny Rotten. The band were also a pivotal influence to the then emerging New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene, with artists such as Def Leppard and Saxon clearly displaying similarities to the trademark sound of AC/DC.
The band’s albums, such as 1977’s Let There Be Rock and Powerage (the following year) garnered a strong following on both sides of the Atlantic. It was their 1979 effort, Highway to Hell, produced by Mutt Lange that propelled them into the top ranks of hard rock acts; its anthemic title track is still a radio staple.
In February 1980, Scott was found dead of an alcohol overdose in the back seat of his friend’s car. He died from both choking on his own vomit and hypothermia (Scott’s friend, Osbourne, would later write and record a song about his death, the widely misinterpreted “Suicide Solution”). The band members considered quitting, but they were encouraged to continue by Scott’s parents. Shortly after, the band found their new lead singer, Brian Johnson, formerly of the band Geordie, after a fan sent them a Geordie album; it helped that Scott had once seen him perform with Geordie, and had praised Johnson’s powerful voice.
With Johnson, they completed the song-writing and began recording Back in Black, also produced by Lange. This became their biggest-selling album, a hard-rock landmark that has sold more than twenty million copies in the United States, earning it a rare double diamond award. Worldwide, it has sold over 40 million copies. The title track, an unstated tribute to Scott, and the album’s other hit, “You Shook Me All Night Long”, are quintessential AC/DC: pounding guitars, start-stop rhythms, and the vocal style one critic affectionately described as “crotch on barbed wire”. The follow-up, For Those About to Rock, We Salute You, released in 1981, also sold very well, and was well received by critics.
The band split with Lange for the self-produced 1983 album, Flick of the Switch. Predictably, perhaps, its production values were not on par with the previous three LPs, despite some memorable tracks. Amid rumors of alcoholism, drummer Phil Rudd left after a mysterious argument with one member, possibly Malcolm. He was replaced by Simon Wright from Tytan, after the band held an anonymous audition. With the new lineup they recorded the less successful Fly on the Wall, produced by the Young brothers, in 1985; many fans and critics felt the band was now over the hill, eclipsed by newer hard rock bands, such as Ratt and Mötley Crüe. A home video of the group at a bar playing five of the album’s ten songs with various goings on (and a cartoon fly) about was also released.
In 1986, the group returned to the charts with the title track from Who Made Who, the soundtrack to Stephen King’s film, Maximum Overdrive. The album also included two new instrumentals along with old hits, only one of which was from the Bon Scott era; the band’s first compilation sold reasonably well. The next album, Blow Up Your Video (1988), saw them reunited with their original producers, Harry Vanda and George Young; it sold better than any album since For Those About to Rock. Although its production values were an improvement on Flick of the Switch and Fly on the Wall, it was not the return to the success of their earlier work many fans had hoped for, despite scoring a British Top 10 single with “Heatseeker”.
Following Video, Wright left the group, replaced by session veteran Chris Slade. Johnson was unavailable for several months (it was said he was tending to his ailing father, but he was also in rehab), and the Young brothers wrote the songs for the next record themselves, as they would do for all subsequent releases. (As a consolation, Johnson was given the task of singing all the background vocals, a feat unable to be duplicated live onstage.
Joining with Bon Jovi producer Bruce Fairbairn, the first album with this new lineup was The Razor's Edge, a big comeback for the group that included the hits “Thunderstruck” and “Money Talks”; some fans, however, were disappointed with the low-energy sound of the album. By 1994, a sober Rudd had returned. With the 1980–1983 lineup back, the group recorded Ballbreaker with hip-hop and heavy metal producer Rick Rubin (1995) and Stiff Upper Lip (2000). As of April 2005, they are working on their next album.
In 2002, Q magazine put AC/DC at the very top of the “50 Bands to See Before You Die” list.
In 2003, the Recording Industry Association of America upgraded the group’s U.S. sales figures, increasing their cumulative sales from 46.5 million to 63 million, making AC/DC the fifth-best-selling band in U.S. music history, behind the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Eagles.
In March 2003, the walls at New York’s historic Waldorf Astoria hotel shook as AC/DC performed “Highway to Hell” during part of their induction to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Alongside the band were two of Scott’s nephews. In a brief acceptance speech, the band again thanked the fans for their support.
On July 30 of the same year, the band gave a performance at Sarsfest in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with the Rolling Stones before an audience of 500,000 to help the city overcome the effects of the 2003 SARS epidemic.
AC/DC's widely-anticipated Black Ice (2008) is the band's first studio album in eight years. Black Ice features fifteen new tracks from brothers Angus and Malcolm Young, Brian Johnson, Cliff Williams, and Phil Rudd. The album was produced by Brendan O'Brien at the Warehouse Studio in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.