Hard-rocking megastars AC/DC have been there, seen it, and drunk it all. For over 40 years they’ve been responsible for some of the most sleazy, downright ridiculous riffs, lyrics and outfits in rock ‘n’ roll history. Here’s an insight into their testosterone-fuelled world…
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AC/DC, ‘Highway To Hell’
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Despite their reputation as heavy drinkers and even harder partiers – not helped by singer Bon Scott’s wild ways and subsequent death from alcohol poising – lead guitarist Angus Young has always been teetotal, favouring instead chocolate milk and hot drinks. “With a good cup of tea you can run countries,” he once told an interviewer.
Before he joined AC/DC, Bon Scott was the singer in The Valentines, a teenybopper pop band that used to perform in fluffy yellow costumes. In an effort not to frighten their predominantly teenage audiences, Bon tried unsuccessfully to cover his arm tattoos in thick make-up, which would then run during gigs.
Angus first wore his famous school uniform costume in 1974 and has claimed it helped him to overcome shyness onstage. At one point he even wore his own old school uniform, although he had to borrow the blazer – only Year 11 students wore blazers, and Angus had dropped out aged 15 to pursue the band.
Bon Scott was AC/DC’s second singer, after founding frontman Dave Evans left in 1974. When he was first floated as a possible vocalist he voiced doubts that they could rock hard enough for him. The Young brothers, Angus and Malcolm, retorted that he was probably too old anyway. But once they heard Bon sing, the group jammed all night. By the time the sun came up, Bon had got the gig.
After Bon Scott’s death in 1980, AC/DC began looking for another frontman, tracking down Brian Johnson, who had impressed Bon a year before, performing in Newcastle with his then-band Geordie. However, Johnson nearly didn’t make the audition because he couldn’t afford the train fare to London and was supposed to be working for his brother, fixing a roof that day.
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AC/DC, ‘Back In Black’
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In 1976 the band played Reading Festival. Taking to the stage at 5.30pm, fifth on the bill, they played a disastrous set to a crowd of 50,000 – their biggest audience at the time. Then-bassist Mark Evans, who left in ’77, remembered: “We got stiffed. There was no reaction.” After leaving the stage to boos, DJ John Peel admitted he’d slept through the show.
AC/DC is not known for being a democracy – the Young brothers are famous for their dictator-like natures, short tempers and for a long list of sackings. Malcolm in particular is known for hiring and firing singers, guitarists and managers, left, right and centre. Evans remembers of Malcolm’s attitude: “If it was a bad gig, nothing would get said, it would be like a refrigerator in the room – oppressive, completely oppressive.”
The band had the dream opportunity to work with Rick Rubin for 1995’s misfiring ‘Ballbreaker’ album. Not all went as planned: Rubin was simultaneously producing Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘One Hot Minute’ and was frequently late to the studio, eventually uprooting the sessions from New York to LA in search of a good drum sound. Angus has since admitted he can’t stand ‘Ballbreaker’.
When AC/DC played Download Festival in 2010 it was a dream booking for organiser Andy Copping. The band hadn’t played a festival for 15 years and Copping had already pitched for them three times. He later admitted that the band were one of the hardest he’d ever had to work with, demanding their own stage and refusing to let their logo be used on any festival merchandise. He shrugged: “There were a lot of requests, but it’s AC/DC so what they want, they get.”
When he was hired, few people thought Johnson would be able to fill Scott’s shoes. However, the figures speak for themselves: 1980’s ‘Back In Black’, Johnson’s debut with the band, was the turning point in AC/DC’s career, and to this day the album has sold over 50 million copies worldwide. During recording Johnson blew 10 mics, such were the power of his shrieks.
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AC/DC, ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’
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Words: Dannii Leivers
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