Remembering Malcolm Young ( January 6, 1953 – November 18, 2017 )
If you follow my ramblings on Pencil Storm you already know I am a huge Kiss and Alice Cooper fan. I am also a big fan of the thunder from down under known as AC/DC. It is with great sadness that my first writing about the Aussie rockers comes with the passing of rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young.
Generally when people talk about AC/DC they are quick to mention the zany antics of lead guitarist Angus Young, younger brother of Malcolm. The praises thrown at Angus are very well placed but often overshadow the importance of his big brother. Even Angus himself often spoke of the important role Malcolm played in the band.
Check out this excerpt from a Guitar World Magazine where Angus gives some insight about his brother...
"ANGUS YOUNG: Malcolm's really underrated. He makes the band sound so full, and I couldn't ask for a better rhythm player. Sometimes I look at Malcolm while he's playing, and I'm completely awestruck by the sheer power of it. He's doing something much more unique than what I do—with that raw, natural sound of his.
People like Malcolm, Steve Cropper, Chuck Berry and Keith Richards—they're all doing something better than the rest of us. I can't deny that Eric Clapton's and Eddie Van Halen's lead stuff has influenced a stack of people, but for me it's the rhythm thing that's way more impressive and important to a band. 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".
AC/DC was/is Malcolm's band. It was his idea and he was the man with the plan. He started AC/DC with Angus because he felt like there was no real rock 'n roll out there. With that he set out to fix things and for the next 40+ years he continued on the path to bring rock 'n roll to the people. Singer Brian Johnson recently commented that Malcolm gave rock 'n roll "a fist".
I guess it's fitting that I attended my first AC/DC concert with my older brother. We saw them on the Powerage tour in 1978 with Cheap Trick opening. That concert still stands as one of my all time favorite concerts ever.....a game-changer. I was still in grade school and my brother was six years ahead of me but he always let his little brother tag along to all the cool concerts even though his peers would rag him pretty hard. My brother played guitar and was in a band, so he was an early inspiration on my future musical endeavors.
Nothing can really take the place of that brotherly connection, so reading what Angus said about Malcolm really hits home.
Hearing AC/DC in 1978 was a real eye-opener. I had never heard anything like it. The guitar riffs were so big and crunchy and every song was instantly catchy and stuck in my brain. After hearing Powerage for the first time I began seeking out the bands back catalog that included several albums that I had no idea existed. Along with the records the band had released in the US, there were other records that were only released in Australia. I had to have them all, which took some time.
The release of Highway To Hell in 1979 took the band to whole new level and the band really started breaking worldwide. I got to see them again on this tour and I would say they had become my second favorite band just behind Kiss but if I'm being totally honest I probably played Highway To Hell way more than I did Kiss' Dynasty in 1979 and I love Dynasty.
Sadly in the dawn of the new decade while working on their follow up to Highway To Hell singer Bon Scott unexpectedly passed away. I was devastated at this news. I was even more devastated when it was announced that the band planned to continue on with a new singer, because I figured no one could replace Bon.
Back In Black was released on July 25th, 1980 with new singer Brain Johnson at the helm and the next chapter for AC/DC had started. At first listen I did not like hearing a new voice in the band but those big crunchy guitar riffs from Malcolm and Angus seemed to make it work. I guess it was then that I realized how important those guitars were to the sound of AC/DC. I did miss Bon and my interest in the band would drift with each record but the sound that the Young brothers created was undeniable and uniquely their own.
Malcolm will be missed and there will never be another quite like him but he has left behind forty years of big crunchy guitar riffs that will continue to shake foundations worldwide.
Check out some of my favorite lesser known AC/DC songs below......
Scott Carr is a guitarist who plays in the Columbus, OH bands Radio Tramps and Returning April. Scott is also an avid collector of vinyl records and works at Lost Weekend Records. So...if you are looking for Scott....you'll either find him in a dimly lit bar playing his guitar or in a record store digging for the holy grail.