Malcolm Young died at age 64 on November 18th. Back in 2008, Mal had trouble remembering the songs that he wrote, so he had to re-learn them constantly while on tour to support Black Ice. In 2014, the band announced Mal retired from the band for medical reasons. As it turns out, the medical reason was that Mal was suffering from dementia. Dementia is what ultimately took Malcolm Young from us. Though expected, news of Malcolm Young’s death isn’t any less sad. His death came a little less than a month after that of his brother George. George made his first musical mark in the group The Easybeats. Their big hit was Friday On My Mind. After the Easybeats dissolved in 1969, George and his guitar-playing partner Harry Vanda went into music production. When Mal and Angus formed AC/DC in 1973, George Young and Harry Vanda took them under their wing. Mal and Angus learned much from their older brother, which included a healthy mistrust of the music business. AC/DC was the Young family business.
When one thinks of AC/DC, the image of Angus Young in the schoolboy uniform immediately comes to mind. Angus may have been the star, but AC/DC was Malcolm Young’s band. Mal and his little brother Angus had a simple formula – rock in the traditions of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, and at high volume. Mal wrote most of the riffs. I think only Tony Iommi and Keith Richards are more prolific in creating enduring riffs. Mark Evans, who played bass for AC/DC before they made it big, once wrote that Malcolm was “the driven one . . . the planner, the schemer, the ‘behind the scenes guy,’ ruthless and astute.” The Youngs were stubborn. AC/DC’s music had no room for keyboards or classical instruments. The bagpipes would be as “exotic” as AC/DC would get [the Youngs and Bon Scott are Scots, after all…]. When you bought an AC/DC album, you knew what to expect – guitars, bass, and drums. Angus Young was once quoted as saying “I'm sick to death of people saying we've made 11 albums that sounds exactly the same, In fact, we've made 12 albums that sound exactly the same.“ Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We need some constants in our ever-changing universe, and happily AC/DC was one of them [Motörhead fits in the same category]. The Young brothers were small in stature, but their sound was huge. Mal was the rhythm guitar player. His guitar of choice was a Gretsch ’63 Jet Firebird, a three-pickup guitar with two of those pickups ripped out. He used heavy-gauge strings [Gibson pure nickel roundwound strings, .012 to .056]. He might as well have used bass guitar strings…
During Malcolm Young’s lifetime, AC/DC released 175 songs. I’m partial to those of the Bon Scott era. The songs from this time are AC/DC at their most raw, most visceral. Beginning with Highway to Hell [their last with Bon Scott], their recorded output became more polished [thanks to Mutt Lange]. The follow-up Back In Black was an homage to Bon Scott. You know the rest of the story – you can count on one hand the number of albums that have sold more copies than Back In Black. After that album, finding the nuggets on AC/DC albums became a harder task. You can find them, but you have to sit through some extremely ordinary music to get to them, but that’s just one pinhead’s point of view. That being said, each new AC/DC release gave the band a license to print money. The formula worked. Having Brendan O'Brien produce Black Ice [their last with Malcolm Young in 2008] and Rock or Bust  was an inspired one. The rough edges came back with these two records, but I think this may be the end for the band. Whatever follows won’t be AC/DC. Bassist Cliff Williams retired, drummer Phil Rudd is once again an outcast, and Brian Johnson is out [hearing problems]. With Mal having passed on, Angus is the last man standing [to steal a phrase from an upcoming biography]. With that, I give you ->
The Malcolm Young Memorial Playlist…
Highway to Hell [Highway to Hell, 1979] – when I hear this one, I must hear Hells Bells right after it.
Hells Bells [Back In Black, 1980]
Back In Black [Back In Black, 1980] – one of the best riffs ever.
Let’s Get It Up [For Those About to Rock, 1981] – the groove…
This House Is On Fire [Flick of the Switch, 1983] – more groove…
Thunderstruck [The Razor’s Edge, 1990]
Who Made Who [Who Made Who, 1986]
Sink the Pink [Fly on the Wall, 1985] – even more groove…
Jailbreak [’74 Jailbreak, 1984] – He made it out…with a bullet in his BACK!
Girls Got Rhythm [Highway to Hell, 1979]
Shot Down in Flames [Highway to Hell, 1979] – I said “baby, what’s the goin price? She told me to go to Hell…”
Sin City [Powerage, 1978]
Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation [Powerage, 1978]
Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be [Let There Be Rock, 1977]
Let There Be Rock [Let There Be Rock, 1977] – The white man had the schmaltz, the black man had the blues…
Down Payment Blues [Powerage, 1978]
Overdose [Let There Be Rock, 1977]
Riff Raff [Powerage, 1978]
It’s a Long Way to the Top [Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, 1976/1981] – bagpipes!
Kicked in the Teeth [Powerage, 1978]
Whole Lotta Rosie [Let There Be Rock, 1977] – 42-39-56
Have a Drink On Me [Back In Black, 1980] – Considering your last lead singer drank himself to death, a song like this might be in bad taste for other bands. Not so for AC/DC.
For Those About to Rock [For Those About to Rock, 1981] – Fire!
What Do You Do For Money Honey [Back In Black, 1980]
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap [Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, 1976/1981]
If You Want Blood (You've Got It) [Highway to Hell, 1979]
Dog Eat Dog [Let There Be Rock, 1977]
Ballbreaker [Ballbreaker, 1995]
Rock 'N Roll Train [Black Ice, 2008]
War Machine [Black Ice, 2008]
T.N.T. [High Voltage, 1976]
Big Balls [Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, 1976/1981] – Who’s got big balls?
Night Prowler [Highway to Hell, 1979]
Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution [Back In Black, 1980]
Sorry…I just can’t add You Shook Me All Night Long. It suffers the fate of being played on classic rock radio waaaaay too much. A good song, but I don’t need to hear it ever again.
“As his brother, it is hard to express in words what he has meant to me during my life; the bond we had was unique and very special. He leaves behind an enormous legacy that will live on forever. Malcolm, job well done.” – Angus Young