AC/DC’s recent album Power Up – Classic Rock's favourite album of 2020 – is dedicated to the late Malcolm Young, the band’s former guitarist, and comprises 12 tracks that he wrote years ago with his guitarist brother Angus.
The album also marked the return to the band of singer Brian Johnson, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd, while Stevie Young, Angus’s nephew, continued as rhythm guitarist in place of Malcolm. Power Up was the biggest album of 2020, and here Angus and Brian explain how it happened.
2020 was a tough year for everyone, but a new AC/DC album has put a smile on a lot of faces.
Brian: I hope so. It has been a hard time, but everybody has had to go through this thing together.
Angus: We’d have liked to get it out earlier – we were plugged in and ready to go. But in the end it’s come out really well. It’s also by the line-up of the band that the fans wanted.
Is that how you see it too?
Angus: Yeah, with Stevie filling in for Malcolm, it’s what we wanted. And really it just kind of evolved. I was putting together ideas and tracks and everything, so I had to wait till that was done. Then we talked to each other and got together and worked out that everyone was happy to be on board. That’s basically it.
Cliff had retired, and Phil had been out of the band for a few years after some well-publicised ‘legal difficulties’.
Angus: Cliff said right away that he wanted to do this. He wanted to be involved again. And with Phil, he did some work on himself, continued with that, and got himself all together.
Brian (who left the band on medical grounds in 2001): Aye, it was awful. My doctor had said: “If you carry on singing you’ll end up stone deaf.”
But now, thanks to a new miracle cure, you’re back in the ring to take another swing.
Brian: It’s great. This wonderful man from Colorado invented this new treatment. And I couldn’t believe how good it was.
Angus: Before we did the album, Brian also did a bit of prep work, trying beforehand to see how he was doing. He’s done quite a few stages of testing.
With all the songs that you’d already written with Malcolm, how did you decide which ones to use for Power Up?
Angus: There was a lot of stuff that Mal and me had worked on. Some were just rough ideas. So I spent a lot of time going through it, and then it was just a case of, hey, I’ve got enough good stuff.
Were you still writing bits and pieces of songs while you were in the studio?
Angus: Kind of. We still work up to the wire. Always have done. And sometimes while we’re doing the backing tracks we might change something here and there. If we needed something more, we’d call Brian in from the next room to get a little vocal thing together so you can hear how the song is working out.
As with every AC/DC album, there are some great riffs on this one – in songs such as Realize and Shot In The Dark. But do you ever find that what you think is a great new riff is actually one that you did thirty or forty years ago?
Angus: What, I liked it so much I did it twice? That’s one way of looking at it, I guess! Sometimes, when I’m just doing something by myself, I’ll doodle away, and I might experiment a bit. I’ll play about with different ideas, look around for different sounds and other stuff. But usually I do that for half an hour or so, and then I go: “Right, I got that out of my system.” Then I get straight back into what I know.
Do you each have a favourite track on the album?
Brian: No! Don’t ask me that. It’s like trying to pick your favourite Beatles song. It ain’t gonna happen. And if I pick one I’ll only change my mind tomorrow. The first thing I said to Angus when I got a copy of the album was: “Jeez, I do not envy the man who’s got to pick a single from this lot.” And I really meant it.
Angus: I really like the opening track a lot, Realize. But I like them all – Rejection, Shot In The Dark, Wild Reputation, Demon’s Fire… and Money Shot is a big song. I’m a bit biased, you know? Ha ha.
You’ve also said that you’re not thinking that this is AC/DC’s last album.
Angus: Yeah. I mean, who knows? But I can tell you, there’s still plenty of ideas and stuff. As soon as I’m finished with an album, I start looking for the next song.
This feature originally appeared in Classic Rock 283, in January 2021.