Farewell to Malcolm Young, the Mastermind of AC/DC (New Yorker)

Farewell to Malcolm Young, the Mastermind of AC/DC


Picture yourself, if you will, at an AC/DC show at some unruly venue in
Albany or Toledo in the fall of 1978. Perhaps a friend has brought you,
or maybe hearing one of the band’s songs on FM radio has drawn you
there. Regardless, you’re in luck. You’re catching AC/DC at the perfect
moment, as it’s on the cusp of transforming itself into a musical
juggernaut. The group, hailing from Australia, has just released
“Powerage,” a forty-minute distillation of swinging, aggressive rock and
roll that Keith Richards will later say is his favorite AC/DC album. In
a matter of months, the band will record “Highway to Hell” and, soon
after that, “Back in Black,” which will become the sixth-best-selling
album of all time.

So, what do you notice? Up front and hard to miss is Angus Young, the
diminutive dynamo of a lead guitarist, wearing the sweat-soaked remains
of a velvet schoolboy uniform, duck-walking and thrashing his head like
the lightning-strike victim on the cover of “Powerage.” Nearby, prancing
bare-chested, is the lewd and mischievous lead singer, Bon Scott. (He’ll
be dead by the end of the decade.) But, if you can take your eyes off
these two showmen for a moment, you might find your gaze drifting to the
left of the drum riser, where a pugnacious long-haired kid (he looks like
he’s still in high school), wearing jeans and a white T-shirt, is
strumming his Gretsch guitar and shaking his leg in time to the driving
beat. His name is Malcolm Young, and you could be forgiven for seeing
him as just another part of the backing band, but he is in fact the
mastermind of the whole operation, at once its visionary and its
taskmaster. He is the soul of the band, its leader on and off the

Malcolm, who founded AC/DC with his younger brother Angus, in 1973, died
on Saturday at the age of sixty-four, succumbing to the dementia that
had first manifested nearly a decade ago. He had not performed with the
band since 2014, when the condition became so disabling that he was no
longer able to play the immaculate hard-rock songs he had helped to
write. (His nephew Stevie Young replaced him on the road.) Malcolm’s
passing comes a month after the death of his older brother George, a
member of the nineteen-sixties Australian hitmaker the Easybeats. In
addition to mentoring Malcolm and Angus in the art of songwriting,
George helped foster in them a distrust of the business side of the
music industry. AC/DC was a notoriously insular family enterprise, one
whose inner workings often seemed veiled and capricious.

But there is no questioning the brilliance of the formula that George
and his longtime songwriting partner, Harry Vanda, helped nurture in
Malcolm and Angus: a rigorous fidelity to the musical tradition
established by Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, coupled with the volume and
propulsive force of hard rock. The hybrid resulted in sales of more than
two hundred million albums and a decades-long career as a top-grossing
live act. Many bands tried to emulate AC/DC; few came close to equalling
them, in part because few could match the sheer musicianship that the
Youngs brought to the task. “It’s harder than it looks,” sang Bon Scott
in “It’s A Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll),” and the
Youngs always made it look easy. For his part, Malcolm saw the members
of the Rolling Stones as his only true

Mark Evans, who played bass for AC/DC in the nineteen-seventies, once
wrote that Malcolm was “the driven one . . . the planner, the schemer,
the ‘behind the scenes guy,’ ruthless and astute.” There was a dogged
consistency to AC/DC’s songwriting, which stemmed directly from
Malcolm’s stated unwillingness to change. This spared the band’s fans
from having to put up with the experiments that other groups engaged
in—collaborations with classical musicians, or investigations of music
from other cultures. You knew what to expect, and AC/DC always
delivered. But, as the members of the group aged (with Brian Johnson
replacing Scott as vocalist), the roguish, rebellious songs that formed
the core of their legacy—songs with titles such as “Problem Child,”
“Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be,” “Riff Raff,” and “You Shook Me All Night
Long”—came to seem more and more removed from the graying men who sang

My AC/DC obsession began in the late nineteen-seventies, right around
the time I was reading the works of S. E. Hinton in middle school.
Though Angus always dressed like a delinquent English schoolboy onstage,
Malcolm struck me as having walked straight out of the pages of “The
Outsiders.” He was a Greaser itching for a chance to rumble with the
privileged Socs. It’s that scrappy, committed presence that stays with
me. A special kind of self-confidence and self-awareness is required to
embrace the undersung role of rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist,
ceding the limelight to your brother, but he correctly saw that this was
the best distribution of their talents.

The interplay of Malcolm’s and Angus’s guitars is the essence of AC/DC’s
sound. You can hear it if you listen closely to almost any of their
songs. A favorite of mine is
Overdose,” from “Let
There Be Rock,” released in 1977. The song opens with a series of
arpeggios played on a single guitar, almost like a warm-up exercise.
(It’s uncharacteristic of the band to have left such a rough intro in
the final edit.) Drums soon arrive, adding some structure, followed by a
thrumming bass line, and then the second guitar, with a striking,
unforgettable riff. The other guitar shifts to playing open chords
before finally locking in on the riff with the first. Lars Ulrich, of
Metallica, singled the song out earlier this
year, noting that AC/DC almost never performs “Overdose” live. Thus, it’s hard
to know which brother plays which part of that intro. One thing’s for
sure, though: the song, like the band, wouldn’t work with only one of


via New Yorker http://bit.ly/2v93nIt

November 19, 2017 at 08:13AM