“It is a very long way to the top.”
Malcolm Young stood near the back of the stage whenever AC/DC performed, the rhythm guitarist holding his giant Gretsch guitar in front of a wall of Marshall amplifiers. He seemed comfortable in that place, letting the band’s energetic lead guitarist and his younger brother, Angus, take the spotlight.
What wasn’t clear was that Malcolm was the driving force behind the band. Jeff Apter’s biography Malcolm Young: The Man Who Made AC/DC provides an overview of Malcolm Young’s life, a determined and very private man who created one of the best-selling bands of the rock era. It’s an extraordinary story on so many levels, with a heartbreaking ending.
A bitterly cold Glasgow winter and the incentive of the assisted migration scheme saw Young’s parents move to Australia in 1963. Malcolm was 10, Angus was 8. In their Villawood hostel, older brother George formed a band, rehearsing in the laundry as his younger brothers looked on. Within two years, the band had signed a record deal and the Easybeats had a string of Australian hits. They moved to the UK in 1966 and achieved international success with their single Friday On My Mind. In 1969 they broke up, deeply in debt.
The rise and fall of the Easybeats had a big impact on Malcolm Young. Apter’s biography is fantastic at uncovering Malcolm’s life as a young musician, working as an apprentice during the day and playing covers at dances and clubs on weekends. In 1973, George Young and Harry Vanda (his song-writing partner from the Easybeats) returned to Australia. George invited his two younger brothers to join them in the studio. Though the recording sank without a trace, Malcolm subsequently invited Angus to join him in a new band. Their sister suggested they call themselves AC/DC. It was a tight family.
The band toured relentlessly, relocated to Melbourne in 1974. They were soon appearing regularly on ABC TV music show Countdown with songs that George Young and Harry Vanda helped the band shape in the studio. AC/DC released an album every year during this time.
It seems that Malcolm saw the band as a job rather than a calling, performing night after night to build their audience. He wanted success to follow his hard work and had a plan to get there. AC/DC arrived in London in 1976, playing a style of heavy rock that seemed dated even then. Critics had no time for them, though they soon connected with audiences like they had in Australia.
The band’s best-selling album Back in Black (1980) followed the death of vocalist Bon Scott. With new singer Brian Johnson the band became a huge success, though Malcolm struggled with alcohol in the 1980s.
Malcolm Young: The Man Who Made AC/DC focuses on the years leading up to their international success, a recognisably Australian band playing clubs and small towns and never stopping. The singularity of Malcolm’s vision shines through.
The Black Ice World Tour (2008-2010) should have been a pinnacle for AC/DC. With almost 5 million tickets sold, it’s one of the largest grossing tours ever. Yet Malcolm Young was struggling to remember his parts. He had early onset dementia. Malcolm effectively left the band at the end of that tour. He was then diagnosed with lung cancer and had a pacemaker fitted before entering a Sydney nursing home in 2014. He died in 2017.
A book for fans of AC/DC, celebrating their rough edges and hard-working approach of their driving force Malcolm Young. It is a long way to the top, but Malcolm got there.
VIEW AND LISTEN
Friday on my mind – The Easybeats