The A-Z of AC/DC

(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Everyone loves AC/DC, no argument. Their back catalogue is packed with genre-defining anthems that transcend generations and their live shows are the stuff of legend. But how much do you know actually know about the Aussie icons? Here’s 26 things every AC/DC fan should know…

A is for Angus Young

In what other universe could a tiny man dressed as a schoolboy emerge as one of hard rock’s most celebrated heavyweights? From his arresting hyperkinetic stage presence to composing licks so catchy that you’ll hear your nan humming them in the supermarket, Angus Young is one of the most gifted, entertaining and universally-beloved musicians of our time. Fans, critics and his colleagues agree — the profound extent to which Angus Young has influenced the course of modern rock can never be understated.

B is for Berry, Chuck

Without the groundbreakinig rock’n’roll swagger of Chuck Berry, there would be simply be no AC/DC as we know them today. One of Angus and Malcolm Young’s earliest obsessions, you can hear Berry’s influence most strongly in their early-to-mid ‘70s output, particularly on tracks like Show Business, Rocker and Can I Sit Next To You Girl. Apparently however, that old maxim that it’s better to not meet your idols holds true. After finally meeting Berry, Brian Johnson slagged him off as “the biggest piece of shit I’ve ever met in my life.”

C is for Comeback?

AC/DC continued to churn out albums and tours for more than 40 years, battling through personnel changes, death, shifting fashions, crap albums and all manner of other obstacles. But after the departure of Malcolm Young due to the onset of dementia, 2014’s Rock Or Bust looked like being their swansong.

Except… it might not be. The last couple of years have spawned rumours that the band will be making another album – and one featuring singer Brian Johnson, who departed in 2015, to be temporarily replaced by one Axl Rose. Whether the rumours are true remain to be seen, but we live in hope.

D is for Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

With cover art designed by Hipgnosis, the band’s second international release galvanised their exhilarating thrust of filthy dual guitar interplay locked seamlessly into the propulsive, airtight rhythms of drummer Phil Rudd and then-bassist Mark Evans. Produced by their trusted, team of Harry Vanda and George Young (Angus and Malcolm’s older brother), Dirty Deeds stands as the band’s most diverse outing, showcasing the stompy pub shouts of the title track with sinister purr of Squealer, the bluesy languor of Ride On and the joyfully risque Big Balls. Better, more-focused albums would follow, but none would match the scope or depth of Dirty Deeds.

E is for Evans, Dave

AC/DC were briefly fronted by Dave Evans in the earliest days, a man whom their former manager, Michael Browning, wrote off as nothing too thrilling. Former bassist Mark Evans enjoyed a far more fruitful run, appearing on TNT, Dirty Deeds and Let There Be Rock. Malcolm dismissed him shortly after AC/DC were kicked off a Black Sabbath tour after a drunken altercation between Malcolm and Geezer Butler. Evans suspects that his own clashes with Angus led to his sacking, though the band claimed that they replaced him with Cliff Williams because they wanted a bassist who could sing. Anybody who has heard Cliff Williams’ harmonies understands the utterly preposterous heft of the band’s claim.

F is for Flick Of The Switch

The band’s first dud. For the follow-up to For Those About To Rock, Malcolm stepped into the producer’s chair with George and Harry on hand to assist as needed and Tony Platt engineering and mixing the record. They recorded thirteen tracks, ten of which would comprise the lo-fi shit show known as Flick Of The Switch. Platt reported that Malcolm rejected the first round of mixes on the grounds that they sounded too much like Back In Black. Given the tinny echo of the finished product, it’s hard to conceive that the first mixes could have actually sounded worse. Which means that quite likely, the band rejected a superior record.

G is for Guitars

Where the roles of rhythm guitarist and lead guitarist are brightly marked in other bands, in AC/DC, the feverish strafing of Angus and Malcolm blends these roles magnificently, the two parts forming a complex lattice of patterns, melodies and gooey rhythms, particularly on earlier tracks like Riff Raff, Whole Lotta Rosie and the old blues cover, Baby Please Don’t Go. Later works favoured ginormous, fist-pumping hooks on tracks like Back In Black, For Those About To Rock, Thunderstruck and even lesser-known fare like Sink The Pink and Hail Caesar.

H is for Hell

Today, nobody in their right mind would ever confuse AC/DC with a Satanic band, although in the early days that’s precisely how many perceived them, due in no small part to songs like Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be, Highway To Hell and Rock ‘N’ Roll Damnation. Wearing the cartoony image like a Halloween mask, the boys upped the ante considerably on the Highway To Hell album cover, with Angus fitted out in devil horns and a demon’s tail, Bon wearing a pentagram necklace and the rest of the band glowering malevolently above what most construed to be the flames of Hell. Not to be outdone, Brian picked up the theme on Hell’s Bells with a scattershot of Hades references, but only a fringe gaggle of swivel-eyed, witch-hunting Bible-thumpers took such mugging at face value.

I is for Inconsistent

Rare is the band who boast an unbroken three-decade career without a few misses and AC/DC are no exception. Quite the opposite, their catalog — particularly after For Those About To Rock – is littered with misses. Not only Flick Of The Switch, but Fly On The Wall, Blow Up Your Video and Ballbreaker fall maddeningly short of the high water mark left by their predecessors. Each would cough up one or two radio-friendly heatseekers and all went platinum – a testament to their loyal fanbase rather than the quality of the songwriting – but such works are dominated by formulaic mid-tempo filler. And we can’t raise the spectre of inconsistency without a nod to AC/DC’s revolving door drum tool, rivalled only by Spinal Tap in numbers.

J is for Jagger, Mick

Among the classic rock titans, only The Rolling Stones stand shoulder-to-shoulder with AC/DC in terms of longevity and output (though AC/DC have sold more a lot more records than the Stones). During a Rolling Stones concert in Sydney in February, 2003, Mick Jagger invited Malcolm and Angus to jam with the Stones on Rock Me Baby — an unqualified validation for the Young brothers, who had long believed themselves worthy of sharing a stage with the Stones. If AC/DC enjoyed themselves, the Stones must have as well because they invited their new friends to join them for a trio of German gigs that June and a benefit concert in Toronto in July, where a SARS outbreak had decimated both its tourism industry and the city’s good name. That concert was filmed, with two AC/DC songs appearing in the final cut.

K is for King, Stephen

1986 arrived with an offer to provide the soundtrack for the new Stephen King movie, Maximum Overdrive, based on his story Trucks from the Nightshift story collection. King was an Acca Dacca man from the get-go and fortuitously, the band badly needed a bit of momentum at the time. The soundtrack included new track Who Made Who plus two new instrumentals (Chase The Ace and D.T.), as well as selections from Back In Black, For Those About To Rock, Fly On The Wall and the bluesy Bon Scott classic, Ride On.

L is for Lange, Mutt

While AC/DC’s sleazy blues attack was carefully-cultivated with George and Harry as co-producers, it would be Robert John “Mutt” Lange who would oversee their trio of chartbusters: Highway To Hell, Back In Black and For Those About To Rock. Where Lange has earned a reputation for opulent layering and heavy-handed studio wizardry, on these albums he favoured a pure analog sound, creating a booming, Zeppelin-esque vibe that felt simultaneously retro and impossibly muscular. When the band went in a different direction for Flick Of The Switch, they ended to one of the most creatively and commercially successful collaborations in history.

M is for Malcolm’s band

Malcolm wasn’t just AC/DC’s principal songwriter, but their gruff and occasionally pugnacious capo. After Mark Evans’ AC/DC audition, a roadie drove him home and told him, “There’s two things you’ve got to remember: number one, it’s Malcolm’s band; and number two, we’re gonna be in the UK in 12 months.” Both were unassailably true. Malcolm was the mastermind behind it all — the riffs, the finances and the battleplan. Mark recalled, “Angus and Malcolm’s vision for that band, and particularly Malcolm’s vision, was always that the band’s the band, straight down the line, and we’re gonna do it… It became plain to me that world domination was the only option.” Malcolm sadly died from dementia on 18 November 2017 at the age of 64.

N is for Night Stalker

Dubbed the “Night Stalker” by the media, Richard Ramirez murdered 16 people in California in the ‘80s. On some he drew pentagrams with lipstick, others he required to swear allegiance to Satan before raping and killing them. In August, 1985, the band were cast into a PR nightmare when Ramirez was finally caught — wearing an AC/DC shirt at the time of his arrest. The killer had also left an AC/DC cap at one of the crime scenes — grisly vignettes that bore an unnerving resemblance to their song Night Prowler. Show cancellations and protests followed during the Fly On The Wall tour, and in September 1985, when another killer was caught in possession of AC/DC gear, what little radio support they were receiving in California quickly dried up.

O is for Overhill Road

On February 19, 1980, after another night of prodigious boozing at a club called the Music Machine, Bon Scott passed out in the back of a friend’s car parked in front of 67 Overhill Road in South London. Sometime during the early morning hours, Ronald Belford “Bon” Scott shuffled free of his mortal coil. He had fatally choked on his own vomit, though the coroner cited alcohol poisoning as the official cause of death. Bon was cremated and his ashes are currently interred in Fremantle Cemetery, in Western Australia.

P is for Powerage

The least commercially-successful album of the Bon Scott era is arguably their all-time best, at least according to many of the dyed-in-the wool, seen ’em-twenty-times, named-my-kid-Angus breed of AC/DC purists, a group that also includes Keith Richards and Eddie Van Halen, incidentally. Far superior to Back In Black in both consistency and ambition, the real debate among the fanatics is whether Highway To Hell or Powerage is the superior outing. Bon tapped into a newfound lyrical maturity and musically it served up hits (Rock ‘N’ Roll Damnation), smouldering blues (Down Payment Blues, Gone Shootin’), and riotous, speed limit-destroying belters (Kicked In The Teeth, Up To My Neck In You). It also features Riff Raff, which, as far as this writer is concerned, is their unqualified finest moment.

Q is for Quintessential

AC/DC are the quintessential hard rock band. With the classic five-piece configuration, AC/DC have mastered no-bullshit rock at its very basic – the precise four-on-the-floor timekeeping of Phil Rudd fattened by Cliff Williams’ airtight bass forming a sturdy rhythmic undercarriage for the Youngs’ scorching fretwork and the laddish vocals of Bon Scott and later Brian Johnson. Their sound was defined not by technicality, but their preternatural ability to create mountain-rattling hooks and chest-pounding choruses that impelled listeners to shout out the lyrics whether in a teeming football stadium or alone in their car. They remain a primal influence among today’s elder statesmen of rock; from the sleazy crunch of Guns ‘N Roses to the thrashy abandon of Metallica, straight through to extreme metal standard bearers like Machine Head, their panoptic influence thunders within every note.

R is for Ruthless

A cursory examination of the dismissals of Mark Evans and drummers Phil Rudd and Chris Slade reveals a ruthless, put-up-or-get-the-fuck-out mentality, much of which has been attributed to Malcolm’s Machiavellian stewardship. And yet, with Mal now out of the picture, recent comments from Brian Johnson reveal just how little has changed in Malcolm’s absence. Though the band initially canceled the final dates of their current tour because Brian faced “total hearing loss,” the vocalist reportedly confided to comedian Jim Breuer that the situation was not as dire as the band had reported and that despite telling them he wanted to finish the tour, he had essentially been “kicked to the curb.” Though later backpedalling the tone of some of these comments, Breuer described Brian’s feelings as, depressed, saying “There’s been no calls. No, ‘How’s your hearing? How’s your health? What’s going on?’ Boom. Here’s your shit, nice to know you.‘”

S is for Sixth

Commercially, Acca Dacca stand as the sixth highest-grossing act of all time in the US, beating out The Rolling Stones, as well as Queen, ABBA and Aerosmith. With over 200 million albums sold worldwide over their 43-year career, AC/DC own the second highest-selling studio album of all time for a band (Back In Black, second only to Thriller). Since these figures have been compiled, the band have released Rock Or Bust and it is believed that even without Brian and Malcolm, Angus still plans on recording at least one more new album and one final tour.

T is for The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame

The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame surprised no one when it nominated and then inducted AC/DC into its hallowed roster in March, 2003, along with The Clash, The Police, Elvis Costello and The Righteous Brothers. The current lineup of Malcolm, Angus, Brian, Phil and Cliff, along with Bon were inducted, with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler delivering the induction speech and Brian accepting on behalf of the band with Bon’s two nephews standing in for him. They don’t make no-brainers much easier than that.

U is for Utah

On January 18, 1991, AC/DC joined the dubious list of bands with audience fatalities when three fans were crushed to death during a show in Salt Lake City. A throng of fans surged forward on a General Admission floor crammed with over 4000 fans and by the second song, unbeknownst to the band, the situation on the floor had badly spiralled out of control. Jimmie Boyd Jr., 14, Curtis White Child, 14, and Elizabeth Glausi, 19 all perished in the tragedy. The families brought suit against the band, the promoter, the venue and the security company. The band settled with the families out-of-court and avoided the spotlight for the next few years.

V is for Vocalists

Fate has a seriously fucked sense of humour sometimes. Like on April 23, 1973, when an Australian band called Fang opened for a glammy British outfit called Geordie at the Town Hall in Torquay, Australia. Fang’s frontman was fascinated by the exhilarating stage presence of his British counterpart, who hoisted Geordie’s guitar player on his shoulders during the set. As serendipitous as it now feels surreal, Fang’s vocalist was Bon Scott, while Geordie was fronted by Brian Johnson. AC/DC would draw the incomprehensible good fortune of claiming both men as lead singers. Bon shaped the band’s identity in the ‘70s and had only come into his own as a lyricist and rock star when he died in 1980. Though sometimes moody and often quick with his fists, Bon was a hippy at heart. Brian, a down-to-earth gearhead from Newcastle, was the ideal man to front the band’s second era. Humble and good-natured enough to let the Youngs steer the ship, Brian never seemed suffocated by Bon’s vibrant legacy. As easy to relate to as he was to root for, it’s all but impossible to imagine another man enjoying the longevity and success of Brian Johnson. His reign has lasted thirty-five years

W is for Whole Lotta Rosie

A song about Bon’s sloppy one-night stand with an obese Tasmanian woman would become one of AC/DC’s all-time biggest tunes, first appearing as the mighty coup de grace on Let There Be Rock and included on all subsequent live releases. With its playful lyrics, its merciless force and the lighter-hoisting fretwork of the Young brothers, Whole Lotta Rosie is one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll moments of the ‘70s. Certain compilations contain the original version, called Dirty Eyes.

X is for eXclusive

Always sussing promising financial opportunities, in 2008, the band hammered out an exclusive deal with the mega-retailer Wal-Mart for US distribution of Black Ice, leaving American fans only two options for getting the album – via Wal-Mart or shipped directly from the band via their website. While the band pointed to the retailers’ loyalty in selling the band’s full catalog for years (as opposed to one or two bestsellers) and its ability to offer the album at a lower price, it’s also likely that the campaign was aimed straight at its core audience – aging children of the ‘70s and ‘80s right where you’d expect to find them – shopping for toothpaste and nappies in Wal-Mart.

Y is for Youngs, Youngs and more Youngs

AC/DC has always been a family affair, beginning with George Young. Along with Harry Vanda, he co-produced the band’s earliest records through Powerage. For years, George has offered trusted counsel and quality control advice to his younger brothers and even played bass briefly in AC/DC. Although he was believed to have retired from music in the ‘90s, George returned to produce Stiff Upper Lip in 2000 and would later advise Angus during the writing of Rock Or Bust. Stevie Young, Angus and Malcolm’s nephew, a gifted guitarist and producer in his own right, first filled in for Malcolm on tour in 1988 as Malcolm sought treatment for alcoholism and later returned as Malcolm’s permanent replacement.

Z is for Zero interest in change

Through the decades, some critics have lambasted the band for a perceived resistance to change, and such observations are admittedly grounded in truth – AC/DC have steadfastly ignored trends throughout their entire career, grinding out the same crunchy, hook-powered blend of rock and classic blues that they first played in the early-‘70s. While bands like Kiss and the Stones caved to the temptations of disco, AC/DC only doubled down on the basics. Their refusal to tamper with their core sound only endeared them to a growing audience; AC/DC never explored new ways to relate to their fans, they simply continued to deliver songs that could make people forget everything else for as long as the show lasted or until the album stopped playing.

Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.