Brian Johnson thought Malcolm Young was joking when he got asked to join AC/DC

AC/DC in 1980
(Image credit: Chris Walter / Getty Images)

Respect to AC/DC, since the news broke that the band were returning with a new studio album, Power Up, the Aussie hard rock veterans have been working tirelessly to promote the much-anticipated album, which is due on November 13.

In their latest promotional push, Brian Johnson and Angus Young have conducted their first ever podcast interview, speaking in depth to Let There Be Talk podcast host Dean Delray about the new album, the return of Johnson, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd, and much more besides. The trio also talked about Brian Johnson’s audition for the band in 1980, and it’s clear that Johnson was hearing some of the information for the very first time.

Johnson got the nod to come down to audition for AC/DC in March 1980, just a matter of weeks after the death of Bon Scott. Famously, at Vanilla Studios, Johnson kept Malcolm and Angus Young waiting for an hour, while he played pool with DC’s roadies, who had no idea that he was there to try out for the band. Once he met the band, Johnson received a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale from Malcolm Young, and then sang Ike and Tina Turner’s Nutbush City Limits and ’DC’s own Whole Lotta Rosie and Highway To Hell with the brothers.

Angus Young reveals what happened next:

“He had a beer or two with Mal, and Mal said, ‘If we get you down again at some point, we’ll see.’ About a week later, Brian came down again and we got the rest of the guys and did a couple of runs through. And me and Mal sat there and we were jamming on a couple of ideas and we taped it to see how it was, and we said, ‘Just scat away, do whatever comes into your head…’ and Mal said, ‘We’ll definitely let you know as soon as we know what we’re going to do.’ 

“After he left, me and Mal were playing away, and we had the idea, Mal’s idea, for the Back In Black song, and I had suggested to Mal an older piece that me and him had worked on, and I said, ‘What about if we took that piece, and we’d not used it before, and we try and hook it into that song, and I’ll give you a singing line? I said to Mal, ‘You know, Brian could hit those notes and he’s got that edge on his voice…’ [Producer] Mutt Lange had also heard what we had [with Brian], and Mutt liked that. Brian had ticked all those boxes. And Malcolm said, ‘Leave it with me…’

“I haven’t heard that side of the story,” admits Brian Johnson, “and it’s fascinating. I remember the phone call from Malcolm. It was me dad’s birthday, up in Newcastle, and I had bought me dad a bottle of whiskey, for his birthday present. I went home to me mum and dad’s, and there wasn’t anybody there. It was about 2 in the afternoon, or 2:30… And then the phone rang, because Malcolm had me mum and dad’s number. And that was the phone call. 

"I said to Mal, ‘Hang on, are you sure this is not a hoax?’ He said, ‘No’ and I said, ‘Well, could you ring us back in 10 minutes just to make sure that I’m not dreaming this?’ And he did, God bless him! And he said, ‘Do you fancy coming to the Bahamas, we’re making a record.’ I said, ‘Yes’. He said, ‘I’ll get my people to get in touch with you. Okay, I’m off to watch the Grand National on the telly.”

“I put the phone down, and I opened me father’s birthday present, and I had a glass of whiskey to celebrate, because there wasn’t anybody there to tell!”

And the rest, as they say, is history…

The full Let There Be Talk podcast interview is below:

Power Up will be released on November 13 and features 12 tracks, including current single Shot In The Dark. The album will be available in the usual formats including gatefold 180g vinyl – including a yellow vinyl version exclusive to the AC/DC webstore – plus a limited edition deluxe Power Up box, which is adorned by a button fans can press. Do so, and a flashing neon AC/DC logo lights up while the opening bars of Shot In The Dark blast out of a built-in speaker.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.