AC/DC 's rowdy image, giant riffs and macho lyrics about sex, drinking and damnation have helped make them one of the top hard-rock bands in history. When they first emerged from Australia in the Seventies, the primal simplicity of their songs and riffs fell on deaf ears of more prog-attuned American rock fans; in fact, they were initially marketed as a punk band. But that started to change by decade's end. And thanks in large part to duck-walking, knickers-clad guitar showman Angus Young, who became as famous for mooning audiences as for his gritty blues-based lead guitar, the group has remained one of the world's most dependable concert draws. AC/DC's albums consistently go platinum, despite never having produced a Top Twenty single in the U.S.
The guitar-playing brothers Angus and Malcolm Young moved with their family from Scotland to Sydney in 1963. After forming the first version of AC/DC in 1973, they added bawdy growler Bon Scott a year later, followed by the boogiefied rhythm section of drummer Philip Rudd and bassist Mark Evans. Their first four albums were produced by ex-Easybeats Harry Vanda and George Young, Malcolm and Angus' older brother. The group had gained a solid reputation among raucous hordes in their homeland early on, but not until 1979, with the platinum Highway to Hell (Number 17, 1979), did they become a presence on the American charts.
In February 1980, not long after AC/DC's American breakthrough, Bon Scott died from choking on his own vomit after an all-night drinking binge. Two months later he was replaced by comparably gruff ex-Geordie vocalist Brian Johnson, and less than four months after that, Back in Black began a yearlong run on the U.S. chart, peaking at Number Four (1980). Spurred by the never-say-die title track and the hard-swinging double-entendre "You Shook Me All Night Long," both of which ultimately proved standard source material for acts ranging from country to hip-hip, the album has sold more than 22 million copies to date, making it the fifth best-selling album in U.S. history.
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, a 1981 reissue of a 1976 Australian LP, went to Number Three in the U.S., followed by For Those About to Rock, We Salute You, the group's first U.S. Number One LP, in late 1981. The less spectacular showings of the gold albums Flick of the Switch (Number 15, 1983) and Fly on the Wall (Number 32, 1985) gave way to the multiplatinum Who Made Who (the soundtrack to Maximum Overdrive) and The Razors Edge (Number Two, 1990). The latter contains the group's closest thing to a hit chart single, "Moneytalks" (Number 23, 1991). (The ubiquity of a number of AC/DC songs, especially those from Back in Black, is merely history catching up; this may well be rock's ultimate long-tail band.)
In January 1991, three fans were crushed to death at an AC/DC show in Salt Lake City, Utah. In late 1992, the group paid the families of the three deceased teenagers an undisclosed sum, following an out-of-court settlement. Other parties to the settlement included the convention center, the concert's promoter and the company in charge of security.
AC/DC laid low until 1995, when the Rick Rubin-produced Ballbreaker (which also marked the return of drummer Phil Rudd) entered the charts at Number Four. The bulk of the five-CD box set Bonfire, released in 1997, was made up of live tracks recorded in 1977 and 1979, as well as of a remastered version of Back in Black. It marked the first time AC/DC had released material featuring Bon Scott since the singer's death.
With older brother George Young back on board as producer, Stiff Upper Lip (Number Seven, 2000) confirmed AC/DC's status as one of the most enduringly popular hard-rock bands on the planet. Wisely sticking to its time-tested formula of no-frills riffing, the band followed the record's release with extensive touring, during which Angus Young wore, as always, a schoolboy uniform. (That outfit has become such a part of rock legend that it was included in Rock Style, an exhibit at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, which opened in 1999.)
In 2008, AC/DC returned with Black Ice, on which their signature stomp was stubbornly unaltered. It was their first album since 1981 to hit Number One in the United States; it debuted at the top of the charts in 28 other counties as well. In its first week in the U.S., sold exclusively through Wal-Mart, it moved 784,000 units. It was followed in late 2009 by the retrospective box set Backtracks, the deluxe edition of which comprised three CDs, two DVDs, and one LP of studio and live rarities. That year, the Recording Industry Association of America declared AC/DC the ninth-best selling artist in the U.S. ever. Boxscores, meanwhile, ranked the band's 2009 live tour behind only U2, Madonna, and Bruce Spingsteen in terms of gross and attendance. More than three and a half decades into the band's career, AC/DC showed no sign of letting up.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Chuck Eddy contributed to this article.
"Malcolm would have been absolutely stunned at the outpouring of tributes and grief," Johnson says of late guitarist in first interview in two years
"The guys were so little, but the volume was so loud," Megadeth leader says of AC/DC co-founder. "Pure Marshall amplification. It was mind-blowingly loud"