AC/DC Founder Malcolm Young Quietly Played A Huge, Behind The Scenes Part In AC/DC’s Long Success
When reading about the recent disclosure that AC/DC founder and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young was suffering from dementia and was retiring from the band, it occurred to me how many casual fans of AC/DC are not aware of how important Malcolm is to the band.
Malcolm did a lot more than stand in the background pounding out crunchy rhythm guitar riffs and come up to the microphone to sing things like “hoy” with his backing vocals.
AC/DC is (was) Malcolm’s band.
Malcolm controlled the touring, personnel, finances, important band decisions and most importantly the songwriting.
It was Malcolm Young, not his flashier, lead guitarist younger brother Angus Young, who came up with most of the riffs and leads for those brilliant AC/DC songs over the past 41 years.
In a recent Guitar World interview Angus Young said:
Malcolm is a big inspiration to me; he keeps me on my feet. Even when I’m tired from running around the stage for two hours, I’ll look back at what he’s doing and it gives me that boot up the backside I sometimes need. [laughs] Also, he can always tell me if I’m playing well or if I’m not. Mal’s a very tough critic, and I know that if I can please him, I can please the world. A lot of people say, “AC/DC-that’s the band with the little guy who runs around in school shorts!” But I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without Malcolm and the other guys pumping out the rhythm. They make me look good.
Mal is really a great all-around guitarist. I know it says “rhythm guitar” on the album jacket, but if he sits down to play a solo, he can do it better than me. Not a lot of people have picked up on this, but in the early days he used to play lead. But then he said to me, “No, you take the solos. I’ll just bang away back here.” And what’s more, he actually plays rhythms. He just doesn’t make a noise; he works them out, and he knows when not to play.
My part in AC/DC is just adding the color on top. Mal’s the band’s foundation. He’s rock solid and he pumps it along with the power of a machine. He doesn’t play like a machine, though. Everything he does grooves and he always seems to know exactly what to play and when to play it. He’s a very percussive player too, his right hand just doesn’t stop sometimes. It’s scary, it really is!
Fans on the official AC/DC web site commenting about the announcement that Malcolm has retired because of dementia are clueless. Most are writing things like, “Get well soon, Mal!”
Malcolm Young has a terrible, irreversible brain disorder which will not get better. As a family friend pointed out who knows Malcolm’s situation, “If you were in the room with Malcolm Young and walked out, then came back in one minute later, he wouldn’t remember who you are. He has a complete loss of short-term memory. His wife, Linda, has put him in full-time care.”
Malcolm Young cannot remember how to play the AC/DC songs that he wrote. Sadly, Malcolm Young will live out his days with this horrible condition.
AC/DC for now will soldier on. There will be a worldwide tour in 2015 in conjunction with the new album Rock or Bust which AC/DC are releasing in a few weeks. Maybe they will continue touring for several years like Scorpions have done, but to continue to put out new music without Malcolm, the engine of the band, does not seem feasible.
AC/DC bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd have never received a single songwriting credit. This leaves lead guitarist Angus Young, singer Brian Johnson and Malcolm replacement, nephew Stevie Young to shoulder the burden of continuing to write those classic AC/DC riffs.
Can it be done? Possibly, but I don’t think collectively they have the energy or desire to. With the exception of Angus and Stevie Young who are 59 and 58 respectively, the rest of the band members are all in their sixties. They forged on after the death of their seminal lead singer Bon Scott in 1980. But that was 34 years ago and the band members were a lot younger and on the verge of worldwide stardom. To pack it up would have been a mistake.
There is nothing left to prove now. Malcolm is gone and the remaining band members have to know when to stop the AC/DC juggernaut. I hope I’m wrong because I love AC/DC, but after this album, AC/DC will probably rest on their musical legacy.