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AC/DC: the long road to Glasgow and the triumph of If You Want Blood You've Got It

Angus Young onstage
(Image credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

It was, as Angus Young recalled it, “the magic show”, and what came out of it was one of the greatest live albums of all time. When AC/DC played at Glasgow Apollo on April 30, 1978, they were flying. The album they had just recorded, Powerage, was their best yet, hard rock’n’roll so gritty and ballsy that it would make Keith Richards a fan. 

As a live act, AC/DC were electrifying. And in Glasgow there was a deep connection between this band and their audience. Back in 1973, AC/DC had formed on the other side of the world, in Sydney, Australia. But three of the band had been born in Scotland: lead guitarist Angus Young and his elder brother Malcolm, rhythm guitarist, in Glasgow, singer Bon Scott in the small town of Forfar. 

The Apollo was a venue famous for its cauldron-like atmosphere: the heat and noise generated by 3,500 rowdy Glaswegians. And on that night in 1978, the air was charged, the room shaking as AC/DC blasted through songs that would become rock classics and staples of the band’s live show for decades to come: Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be, The Jack, Bad Boy Boogie, Whole Lotta Rosie, Let There Be Rock

Angus, wearing a schoolboy uniform, was a blur of perpetual motion. Bon carried himself with the swagger of a gunslinger. And behind them, flanked by two great walls of amps, the rhythm section of Malcolm Young, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd hammered away relentlessly. For those present that night, it was an experience never to be forgotten. 

“I was blown away,” recalls Doogie White, who was 18 when he saw that show, still dreaming of the life he would lead many years later as the singer for legendary guitarists Ritchie Blackmore and Michael Schenker. “The power of AC/DC had the force of a storm coming off the hills and knocking the bejesus out of you.” 

That power, and that heated atmosphere, was captured on the album released later that year, on October 13. It was an album that documented the AC/DC live experience in all its ragged glory. 

As Angus Young said: “One night, guitars out of tune, feedback, singer farting, whatever.” And the title of the album spoke volumes of a band who, night after night, left everything on the stage: If You Want Blood You’ve Got It.

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It was on the road that AC/DC’s reputation was made, and where the legend of Bon Scott was born. From the start, Malcolm bossed the band, and Angus was the star of the show, the guitar hero duck-walking like the bastard son of Chuck Berry. But as Angus said, it was Bon who “gave the band its flavour”, with his whisky-soaked voice, devil-may-care attitude and dirty, witty lyrics. 

On stage Bon was the perfect foil for Angus, playing it cool as the schoolboy ran amok. But where Angus went into character whenever he pulled on his shorts – “It’s like I’m two people,” he once said – there was no such separation for the singer. “Bon was a bloke who lived what he sang about,” said Pete Way, the bassist who became a close friend of Bon’s when his band UFO toured with AC/DC. And it was in Rocker, one of the key early AC/DC songs, that Bon defined himself most succinctly: ‘I’m a rocker, roller, right-out-of-controller.’ 

Bon had first met the Young brothers in 1974 when AC/DC played a gig at the Pooraka club in Adelaide with their original singer Dave Evans, whose penchant for glam-rock stage clothes, satins and stack heels, was considered, in the parlance of the time, ‘poofy’. Bon, at 27, was already a veteran, having recorded two albums with the group Fraternity and toured with them in Australia and Europe. 

By contrast, Malcolm was just 21, Angus 19, and AC/DC had made just one single, Can I Sit Next To You, Girl. In Adelaide, after the show the Youngs told Bon they were looking for a new singer, and only half-jokingly suggested that he was too old to cut it. 

“I took the opportunity,” Bon later recalled, “to explain to them how much better I was than the drongo they had singing for them!”

He wasn’t bluffing. In a rehearsal conducted behind Evans’s back, Bon proved he had the vocal power to fit the band. A few weeks later, AC/DC were back on stage at the Pooraka with their new singer. In the dressing room before they went on, Angus had watched, amazed, as Bon sank two bottles of bourbon, snorted lines of cocaine and speed and smoked a joint before declaring: “Right, I’m ready!” 

“Bon joined us pretty late in his life,” Angus said. “But that guy had more youth in him than people half his age.” 

Bon was protective of the teenage, teetotal guitarist, telling him: “Whatever I do, you don’t.” He also had a physical presence that was reassuring for Angus when the band played in spit-and-sawdust joints where the booze flowed and violence inevitably followed. 

It was Malcolm who persuaded Angus to adopt the stage gear for which he would become famous – the uniform he had worn at Ashfield Boys High School. The first time he tried it was in April 1974, at an open-air concert in Sydney’s Victoria Park, just before Bon joined the band. 

“That was the most frightened I’ve ever been on stage,” Angus said. But he’d received some sound advice from his brother before the show. “Do you think they’ll kill me out there?” he’d asked. Malcolm replied: “You’d better jump around a bit!” This survival tactic became a part of the act. 

“In some of the pubs we played there was that much scrapping going on, you were behind the amps!” Angus said. “I remember one night I looked out and it was just like murderers’ row, and the look on their faces was like: ‘Send us the little guy in the shorts!’ I thought if I stand still I’m a target for blokes throwing bottles. So I never stopped moving.”

There was one early gig that Angus remembered for what it said about Bon’s character. “Our bus broke down,” he recalls, “so Bon walked to the pub where we were playing and said: ‘Listen, if you wanna see a show tonight, we need you to come and help us push our bus!’ Then Bon wanted to iron his jeans, so he got an iron, went over to the bar, pushed everyone’s drinks out of the way, took his jeans off right there in this packed pub and done his jeans.”

Bon was a hell-raiser womaniser whom Angus once described, with no little affection, as “the dirtiest fucker I ever knew”. But the man was such a charmer that people were drawn to him wherever he went. 

“We used to call him Bon The Likeable,” Angus recalled. “We could be somewhere where you’d never expect anyone to know him, and someone would walk up and say: ‘Bon Scott!’ and always have a bottle of beer for him.” Once Bon joined the band, AC/DC’s rise was rapid. 

Their first two albums, High Voltage and T.N.T., were released in 1975 on the Australian label Albert, and co-produced by Malcolm and Angus’s elder brother George Young with Harry Vanda, both of whom had previously starred in Australian rock group The Easybeats, and would produce every AC/DC album up to Powerage. 

On T.N.T., drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Mark Evans (no relation to Dave) completed a line-up that would remain solid for a couple of years. And in December ’75, as T.N.T. hit No.2 in the Australian chart, the band signed a worldwide deal with Atlantic Records. 

To launch AC/DC on the global stage, the man who signed the band to Atlantic, Phil Carson, compiled a first international album, also named High Voltage, from the best tracks on the two Australian LPs. In addition, there was a trip to the UK for the band’s first shows outside of Australia – for Bon and the Young brothers, a return home.

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On April 23, 1976, AC/DC made their UK debut, playing at the Red Cow pub in Hammersmith, West London, where they played two sets in one night. The first one was witnessed by just 30 or so people, one of whom was Malcolm Dome, at the time a degree student, later a contributor to Classic Rock

“It was an amazing performance,” he remembered. “So much energy. Angus was jumping all over the place and Bon was just so charismatic. And as soon as they finished the first set, Bon walked off the stage and straight to the bar. He’d taken his shirt off during the show and didn’t bother to put it back on. He just strolled up to the bar and said to a few people standing there: ‘Right, who wants a drink?’ It was a case of: ‘I’m buying you all a drink and I expect you to buy me one back.’” 

For the second set that night, the size of the audience had doubled. Word of mouth had spread fast. Soon the buzz about AC/DC had increased with a residency at London’s Marquee club. Then came a full UK tour, sponsored by Sounds magazine, named the Lock Up Your Daughters tour after a line from the song T.N.T. 

The first date was on June 11 at Glasgow’s City Hall. “That was the first time I saw them,” says Doogie White, who was then a boy of 16, living in nearby Motherwell. “That show was just mindblowing. There was this schoolboy playing guitar, and I was a schoolboy! I was just a kid, but I thought: ‘This is what rock’n’roll is all about.’”

After the tour ended at London’s Lyceum on July 7, a feature in Sounds had writer Phil Sutcliffe predicting big things for the band. “What I think AC/DC are going to do to heavy metal is crack it and tilt it sideways,” he wrote. Describing AC/DC as “a completely physical rock’n’roll experience”, he stated: “The two Youngs’ music is like a forge in a black night beating heat and energy together into something almost beautiful it’s so strong.”

In that feature there was also a comment from Bon that would become famous. “They say to me: ‘Are you AC, or DC?” Bon said. “And I say: ‘Neither, I’m the lightnin’ flash in the middle!’” 

Phil Sutcliffe later recalled of Bon: “He was so eccentric and yet so down to earth. On stage he was like a pirate, sort of leathery and macho, but in a comic way. Wherever he was, he made people feel good.” 

On August 29, when AC/DC performed at the Reading Festival, Angus added a new party piece to his act. As the band played The Jack, a blues song about STDs, in which Bon employed poker as an extended sexual metaphor, the audience was momentarily distracted. As Angus recalled: “Some blonde girl walked real slow across the photo pit right in front of the stage and thirty thousand eyes went with her. Malcolm says to me: ‘You gotta do something to get the crowd’s attention back!’ So I dropped my shorts.” 

In the years that followed, Angus would develop a comedy striptease routine for this number. AC/DC’s growing popularity in the UK was confirmed with another major tour in late ’76, which included a prestigious show at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. But with the new album they delivered at that time, they ran into trouble. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap had a badass title track, and others that kicked like mules, such as Rocker and Problem Child, the latter dedicated by Bon to Angus. 

“I never owned a knife like it says in the song,” Angus explained. “But yeah, Bon summed me up in two words!” 

There was also a blues song of a different kind to The Jack. In the melancholy Ride On, Bon reflected on the loneliness of a life on the road. It was the one song above all others in which he really bared his soul. On what was described as AC/DC’s most “deviant” album, there was also Squealer, the sordid tale of Bon’s struggle to seduce a nervous virgin, and a puerile joke number, Big Balls, ending with a chorus of ‘Bollocks! Knackers! Bollocks! Knackers!

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap was so sleazy, so rough around the edges, that senior figures at Atlantic Records considered it commercially unviable. As a result, the company refused to release the album in the US. There was even a suggestion that in this period Atlantic were pressing the band to change their singer. 

It was said that Bon was too idiosyncratic in his approach, his slurry voice difficult for Americans to understand. But the band were in no mood to compromise, and after two more UK tours in late ’76 and early ’77, they doubled down and made an album as raw as any of the great punk records of that year.

Let There Be Rock was conceived as what Angus called simply “a fucking good guitar album”. It was recorded as-live, and if the best takes had imperfections, then no matter. The title track was a riotous rock’n’roll sermon inspired by Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven – essentially the creation myth of rock, for which Bon cribbed lyrics from a Bible. In the recording of that track, the momentum in the band’s performance was such that George Young refused to stop Angus mid-solo when his amp overheated and caught fire. T

he album had other mighty anthems: Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be and Bad Boy Boogie. And, most famous of all, Whole Lotta Rosie, with its explosive intro and runaway-train riff, and in Bon’s lyric the funniest story he ever told, its subject a generously proportioned groupie with whom he’d grappled in 1975. It was a song that spoke volumes about him. Most rock stars would have been too vain to tell such a story, but Bon revelled in it. 

With more than 100 dates, the Let There Be Rock tour included some notable firsts – debut shows in the US and at Glasgow Apollo – and four dates opening for Kiss, of which Angus revealed: “We were having a lot of trouble getting on tours because our band was real good. The headliners would be like: ‘Get rid of them!’ But Kiss asked for us, they weren’t afraid. Gene Simmons saw us play at the Whisky in LA and got us on some of their bigger dates, so that was real good for us.” 

During that tour, Bon was up to mischief as usual. There had been panic within the AC/DC entourage in the hours leading up to a show in Austin, Texas – nobody had seen Bon since he disappeared the previous night with a bunch of Mexican guys. But with just 30 minutes to go before showtime, he was delivered to the venue in the Mexicans’ pickup truck, a little worse for wear after partying with them for the best part of 24 hours. Once he got up on stage, he just rolled through it as he always did. And in Jacksonville, Florida, AC/DC found kindred spirits in the city’s most famous rock band. 

“We all loved AC/DC,” said Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington. “We were really the same kind of band. They were cocky Australians and we were cocky Southern rebels.” As Rossington recalled, there was “a great mutual respect” between Bon and Skynyrd’s singer Ronnie Van Zant. Rossington also saw in them a rare quality: “They were great storytellers,” he said. “Everybody could relate to their lyrics.”

The pace was relentless as AC/DC jumped off the Let There Be Rock tour straight into the recording of Powerage, done in eight weeks in early 1978, with new bassist Cliff Williams in place of Mark Evans. For many connoisseurs, this was AC/DC’s greatest record. As Keith Richards said: “The whole band means it, and you can hear it.” 

A few tracks, most notably Riff Raff, were played at full throttle, but the meat of the album was all heavy grooves – in the gambler’s song Sin City, the funky Gone Shootin’ and the hard-grinding Down Payment Blues. In those last two songs, Bon – the “working-class poet”, as Brian Johnson would call him – was at his peak. In Down Payment Blues he laid out the harsh realities of all the years he had spent living hand-to-mouth, in Gone Shootin’ he sang of his doomed relationship with a junkie girlfriend. The devil was in the detail: how the girl never made it past the bedroom door, and how he stirred his coffee with the same spoon that she used for cooking up heroin. 

The pressure from Atlantic Records was building. During the recording of Powerage, Phil Carson had pushed hard for a song he felt had hit potential: Rock ‘N’ Roll Damnation. A new best-of compilation had also been mooted. But the band preferred the idea of a live album, which had become a defining statement for major rock acts of the 70s, such as Deep Purple with Made In Japan, and Peter Frampton with the multimillion-selling phenomenon Frampton Comes Alive! And for AC/DC there was no better place to record a live album than Glasgow Apollo, where Status Quo, fellow masters of heavy boogie, had recorded their 1977 album Quo Live! 

“It was a rocking venue,” Doogie White says. “The Apollo was a theatre, so it had a great sound. And there was no bar there, so everyone was in their seat for the whole show. That’s why it was so great for every band that played there. The stage was very high, maybe fifteen feet. The balconies used to bounce – you could see them moving. And it had that element of sticky-carpet-ness, which must have been from vomit and spit, because it certainly wasn’t from booze. If you got caught drinking in there the bouncers would beat the living crap out of you.”

On April 30, three dates into the UK leg of the Powerage tour, AC/DC rolled into the Apollo for the show that would go down in history. Among the local crew working at the show was a young Glaswegian named Brian Carr. As an AC/DC fan he had met the band before, in 1977, but as a crew member he talked at length with Angus and Malcolm, and witnessed the events leading up to the show. 

“The band arrived around noon,” he recalls. “As they were sound-checking, a film crew was setting up. They played a new song I’d never heard before – Rock ‘N’ Roll Damnation wasn’t on the original version of Powerage – and that was filmed for a promo video.” Carr remembers Angus in particular as being friendly and approachable. “He showed me where his guitar had been broken seven times from rolling around on stage.” He also recalls seeing Bon drinking throughout the afternoon. “I think you could say he was a functioning alcoholic.” 

Before show time, another crew member was dispatched to a nearby sports shop to procure Scotland football kits for each member of the band. “They wanted to wear them for the encore,” Carr explains. “It was a Sunday, nothing was open in Glasgow in those days, but the owner opened up as a favour.” 

At about 9pm, after a support set from Mott The Hoople spin-off band British Lions, the house lights dimmed and a deafening buzz emanated from the stage. “You could hear the amps humming over the noise of the crowd,” Carr says. “It’s hard to describe how loud it was. You could feel it all through you.” 

Angus appeared first, standing on top of that wall of Marshalls, cranking out the intro to Riff Raff, Phil Rudd drumming up a sound like rolling thunder before the band kicked in with the first power chord. Bon emerged in blue jeans and a white AC/DC tour hoodie, holding centre stage as Angus whizzed around him, head banging to the beat. And the electricity in that opening number flowed through the entire set. 

“They just banged it out,” Doogie White says. “It was just: let’s batter these guys.” 

After a couple of numbers Angus had discarded his school cap, satchel, jacket, tie and shirt, and was down to just his shorts, socks and sneakers. Bon, his shirt off, was slick with sweat. 

Doogie White remembers the duality in Bon: the powerful charisma, and the air of a man not to be messed with. “He was a great frontman, and had that twinkle in his eye that said: ‘I’m taking this seriously, but I’m going to have fun doing it.’ But he also had that look about him where you thought: ‘You could be my best friend, or I would cross the street just not be to stared at like that.’” 

He also remembers the moment when Angus was carried into the stalls on the shoulders of a bouncer. “That was the first time I saw a guitarist with a radio unit instead of a lead. He was going through the crowd and he was sweating on us. It was great – I don’t think I washed for a week!”

After a tumultuous end to the main set – Whole Lotta Rosie, with the audience chanting “Angus! Angus!” in the intro, Let There Be Rock building to a frenzied climax – the band returned for the encore in their Scotland strips, shirts, shorts, even the socks. At a time when the nation was gripped by over-optimistic football fever ahead of the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, the audience response was ecstatic as Angus booted a few balls to them. They played Bon’s signature song, Rocker, and Fling Thing, an instrumental based on the traditional ballad The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond, originally released in 1976 as the B-side to the single Jailbreak. 

As Doogie White puts it: “Even though they had Aussie accents, we knew they were from Scotland. We felt they were our own.” 

When the tour ended in May, AC/DC had their first UK hit single when Rock ‘N’ Roll Damnation reached No.24. Powerage also made the top 30. In America it was a different story. The album peaked at No.133 on the Billboard chart. But on a 63-date US tour, the band continued to make waves, opening for Alice Cooper and then Aerosmith, whose guitarist Joe Perry was knocked out by AC/DC’s live-wire energy. “They reduced the elements of rock’n’roll to the basics,” Perry said. “And they didn’t pull any punches.”

Another convert was the young James Hetfield, whose first concert, at the age of 15, was Aerosmith with AC/DC at the Los Angeles Forum on July 13, 1978. Three years before Hetfield became a founding member of Metallica, this show had a profound effect on him. 

“I was a big Aerosmith fan,” he recalled. “But I had no idea that AC/DC was that cool. I went with my older brother, and I remember him pointing at Angus and saying: ‘That little guy running around was annoying!’ But I wanted to be the guy up there on the stage.”

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It was on July 23 that year, just 10 days after Hetfield had seen his future in Angus Young, that AC/DC got the title for their live album. Day On The Green was one of the biggest events on the American rock circuit, an annual series of shows held at the 80,000-capacity Oakland Coliseum in California. The bill for Day On The Green#3 had Aerosmith headlining, plus Foreigner, guitar hot-shot Pat Travers, a new band out of LA called Van Halen, and, opening, AC/DC. 

Their stage time was a shock to the system. “We were on at ten-thirty in the morning and most of us hadn’t even been to bed!” Angus said. But the show’s promoter, Bill Graham, loved the band, and had done all he could to hype them up on local radio before the day. As a result, the stadium was close to full as AC/DC readied themselves backstage. 

It was in these moments that Bon and Angus, sharp-witted even at that early hour, made the joke that would become part of rock’n’roll legend. As Angus recalled: “This guy from a film crew got hold of me and Bon and asked what kind of show it was gonna be. Bon said: ‘You remember when the Christians went to the lions? Well, we’re the Christians!’ Then the guy asked me, and I said: ‘If they want blood they’re gonna get it!’”

The sheer force of AC/DC’s performance that day was not lost on a guitarist who was watching from the wings. Eddie Van Halen later recalled: “I was standing on the side of the stage, thinking: ‘We have to follow these motherfuckers?’” 

It was a similar story for Thin Lizzy, who toured with AC/DC in September ’78. “In Cleveland they blew us off the stage,” Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore said. “They fucking killed us that night.” He added, in tribute from one guitar hero to another: “Angus was unbelievable.” 

If You Want Blood You’ve Got It was released on October 13, 1978. What Angus called “the magic show” sounded incendiary on record. Its cover photo, like its title, was powerfully symbolic: Angus speared through the chest by his guitar, his mouth, chin and white school shirt stained blood red, Bon leering over him, eyes glazed. On the back cover, Angus lay prone on stage, the headstock and half the neck of the guitar sticking out from his blood-soaked back. 

Angus described the image as “tongue-in-cheek”, but the album’s title had a deeper significance for Bon. Interviewed in 1978, he confessed: “I’ve been on the road for thirteen years. Planes, hotels, groupies, booze, people, towns, they all scrape something from you.” 

The album reached No.13 in the UK. In a review of If You Want Blood, in May 1978, in Melody Maker, Harry Doherty hailed AC/DC as “one of the best heavy metal bands around at the moment” and applauded their “crude, brain-damaging, direct rock”. He added, presciently: “It’s an album that reflects precisely why AC/DC are finding a major audience."

On the tour that followed, AC/DC made a triumphant return to Glasgow Apollo. “They didn’t wear the Scotland shirts that time,” Brian Carr says. “But when they played Fling Thing they had Scottish flags, and Scottish people always go a bit mental when they see the flag.” 

Those feelings also ran deep for the Young brothers, and for the singer who was born Ronald Belford Scott, but had been known as Bon ever since he had been nicknamed ‘Bonny Scotland’ as an immigrant kid in Australia. 

As Doogie White says: “If You Want Blood is one of the great live albums. And the beauty of it is that what you hear on that album, the music and the audience, is what happened that night.” 

What he also says, with hindsight, is that this album was, for AC/DC, “the closing of one chapter”. The band – effectively, Malcolm and Angus Young – would eventually give in to the pressure from Atlantic. The following album, Highway To Hell, would be produced not by Harry Vanda and George Young but by a guy with a more commercial approach, ‘Mutt’ Lange

The result was AC/DC’s first million seller, but it was also the last record that Bon Scott ever made. What happened in the wake of Bon Scott’s death was the greatest comeback in the history of rock’n’roll. With former Geordie frontman Brian Johnson as the new AC/DC singer, Back In Black would resurrect the band’s career and go on to be the biggest selling rock album of all time. 

“I loved Back In Black,” Doogie White says, “because I didn’t want the band to die with Bon.” 

What was left behind in If You Want Blood was a monument to a great live band at its peak. On that album were the definitive versions of those classic songs: Whole Lotta Rosie, The Jack, Hell Ain’t ABad Place To Be, Let There Be Rock; the raw, undiluted AC/DC. Here was the band performing at their very best with Bon Scott. As Malcolm Young put it, with such clarity: “We were young, fresh, vital and kicking ass.”

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”