Friends and family said goodbye to Malcolm Mitchell Young on a muggy morning, 28 Nov. 2017, at Sydney’s stately St. Mary’s Cathedral, he was only 64 when he succumbed to dementia. Among the many mourners were Harry Vanda, and Malcolm’s bandmates past and present – Brian Johnson, Phil Rudd, Mark Evans, Cliff Williams, and Angus, who was a pallbearer, along with Malcolm’s son Ross.In attendance too were Malcolm’s peers and friends; Jimmy Barnes, Angry Anderson, the Brewster brothers from the Angels, and Malcolm’s long-time mate Herman Kovac, a former bandmate with Malcolm in the Velvet Underground, and better known as a member of the Ted Mulry Gang. As the mourners entered the cathedral, they were given a service program; inside was a plastic bag containing a plectrum, inscribed with the initials MY, the portrait of Malcolm that stood at the altar captured him playing his beloved Gretsch, in his standard dress of jeans and singlet,
The year had been a tumultuous one for the Young family, Malcolm and Angus’s older brother George (see below), their mentor, musical collaborator, and record producer, and Australian rock royalty in his own right, had passed away only three weeks before on Oct 22, 2017, at the age of 70.
George’s bandmate Stevie Wright (below) had died after a 20 -year battle with heroin addiction in 2015, he was 68, and the Youngs’ great mentor and supporter, Ted Albert, scion of the Alberts Music family, had died prematurely in 1990, just 53 years of age.But AC/DC were seemingly indestructible, on Feb 20th 1980 Bon Scott had died of alcoholic poisoning in the back of a Renault 5 mini-car outside 67 Overhill Rd, East Dulwich, it was a significant loss for the band, his carnal lyricism and engaging stage presence seemed impossible to replace. But after recruiting new lead singer Brian Johnson, the band soldiered on, and produced Back In Black, the second biggest-selling album in rock history at over 50 million copies, it was their tribute to a fallen clan member.Not for the first time then the members of Australia’s most famous rock and roll band were facing the loss of a seemingly irreplaceable band member, Malcolm was one of the best rhythm guitarists in the world and co-composer of all their hits. Should Angus and his bandmates now be contemplating the distinct likelihood that the end was nigh, that retirement was beckoning, and with it an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their great success, as one of the pre-eminent hard rock groups in the world, for the past forty years.Over the journey AC/DC had demonstrated a clannish determination to survive, and be true to their working class roots, to play hard rock and roll, and never embrace the gimmickry of pop nor the faddishness of punk, metal or other tags that music writers tried to attach to them. The brothers Malcolm and Angus, with the astute backing of older brother George had ruled with an iron fist over a shifting ensemble of players and managers, who seemed to come and go at their whim, but rarely deflected the band’s trajectory from its ultimate goal to be the greatest hard rock band in the world. AC/DC’s seeming immortality was built on a brutal determination to preserve the clannish right of the Youngs’ to manipulate, maneouvre, and where necessary marginalize, anyone who threatened the solidarity of their beloved band; even to the extent of almost devouring the very band they loved and cherished, in the process, because in the end the brothers unshakeable trust in each other, had been seriously threatened.
Their road to the hyperspace of rock fame, with global record sales in excess of 200 million, and two of their songs – Highway To Hell and Back In Black – included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll – was littered with the debris of shattered careers. From their humble #50 chart entry in 1974 with the self-penned Can I Sit Next to You Girl, to their arena rock superstardom of 2008, some good men were lost along the way – drummers Peter Clack, Phil Rudd, Simon Wright, and Chris Slade came and went and in Phil Rudd’s case came again, like the souffle that rose twice, albeit eleven years separated those two Lazarus-like comebacks.
Managers Mike Browning, Peter Mensch, Ian Jeffrey, and Steven Young had all worked tirelessly to ensure the band’s success, but were ultimately regarded with suspicion and unfairly blamed for dud albums – the mid-80’s produced some less than memorable efforts with Flick Of The Switch (’83), Fly On The Wall (’85) and Blow Up Your Video (’88) – so they were deemed not worthy of the clan’s trust, and summarily sacked.
Record producers too were not spared the ire or envy of the Young brothers, “Mutt” Lange had resurrected the career of the band with a trio of blockbuster hit albums – Highway to Hell, Back in Black and For Those About to Rock…We Salute You, sold 65 million copies globally, but he was deemed to be too costly and took too long to record albums. He had also replaced brother George Young behind the production console, so his card was marked down for disrespecting a clan member, even though he thought he was just doing his job.
Bassists Rob Bailey and Mark Evans disappeared, and Cliff Williams showed remarkable resilience to sustain a long-term occupancy in the band, Dave Evans the original lead singer was an early casualty, and while no doubt his replacement in Bon Scott was an inspired choice, Evans sacking was unnecessarily brutal.
In 2003 AC/DC were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with the Clash, the Righteous Brothers, the Police and Elvis Costello and the Attractions; Steve Tyler of Aerosmith delivered the induction speech. Of all the people who had contributed to the success of the band over the years only Malcolm, Angus, Cliff, Phil, Brian, and Bon in absentia were approved by the brothers to attend the induction ceremony, it seemed churlish that bassist Mark Evans, who had played on many of their seminal albums between 1975-78 – High Voltage, TNT, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and Let There Be Rock– was not included, and drummer Chris Slade who had sat behind the skins between 1989-94 could also feel similarly overlooked.
AC/DC had already been inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame way back in 1988 as one of the original inductees, along with their mentors Vanda and Young, early rock icons Johnny O’Keefe and Col Joye, opera diva Dame Joan Sutherland, and country legend Slim Dusty.
In 2010 at the end of the decade, AC/DC had overtaken the Beatles as the number-one-selling catalogue in the US and their collective financial futures were assured, but would the passing of Malcolm also be the final epitaph for AC/DC, if history does repeat itself, then it most surely would not be the last we would hear of this band?
In 2014 with Malcolm now retired and battling the pernicious ravages of dementia, Angus with producer Brendan O’Brien, Young’s nephew Stevie on rhythm guitar, and Cliff Williams (bass guitar), Phil Rudd (drums), and Brian Johnson (vocals),the band went into the Warehouse Studio in Vancouver to record their sixteenth studio album Rock or Bust. The Young brothers had collected unreleased songs, and riffs over time, that became an impressive album, certainly short at around 35 minutes, but full of throbbing, heaving, defiant, life-affirming hard rock, it was #1 in Aust. and nine other countries and #3 in the UK and USA, and sold over 2.80 million copies. The word is that AC/DC are now working on their seventeenth studio album, it will be just another day on the production line for the famously teetotal Angus Young, who could by now afford to just sit back and enjoy a cup of tea and a ciggie, but there is still work to be done.