Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



A hard rock band formed in Australia in 1974. The original lineup was Ronald Belford 'Bon' Scott (vocals; b 9 July 1946, Kirriemuir Scotland; d 19 February 1980, London), Angus Young (lead guitar; b 31 March 1959, Glasgow), Malcolm Young (guitar; b 6 January 1953, Glasgow; d 18 November 2017), Phil Rudd (drums; b 19 May 1954, Melbourne), Mark Evans (bass; b 1957, Melbourne). The Youngs emigrated in the 1960s with older brother George (who made his own career with the Easybeats); AC/DC was formed in Melbourne around them and Scott, another immigrant, but rhythm sections came and went before Rudd and Evans fitted in. George helped get a record deal; the first two albums were big Aussie hits and a compilation of these became the first UK/US release '76, supported by a long tour of small UK venues; fans were won by the general outrageousness of the act and by Angus's energy, dressed as a schoolboy in short trousers onstage, a get-up he still used over 30 years later.

The album Let There Be Rock reached the UK top 20 '77; Evans left, replaced by Cliff Williams (from the group Home; b 14 December 1949, Romford, London); Powerage charted '78; Highway To Hell was produced by 'Mutt' Lange and charted strongly in the USA as well '79; then Scott died from alcoholic indulgence, replaced by Brian Johnson (from group Geordie; b 5 October 1947, North Shields, near Newcastle). Next album Back In Black made no. 1 in UK charts; early Australian material issued in USA (album titled Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap) made no. 3 there '81; For Those About To Rock We Salute You '81 no. 3 UK, no. 1 USA. Simon Wright (b 1963) replaced Rudd. Fly On The Wall '85 was cited by Los Angeles mass murderer Richard Ramirez as an inspiration. The album Who Made Who '86 for the soundtrack of the Stephen King movie Maximum Overdrive had three new tracks including two instrumentals, and six oldies. Blow Up Your Video '88 was no. 12 USA; Wright joined Dio '89 replaced by Chris Slade of the Firm; The Razor's Edge '90 was no. 2 USA; Live '92 was released in single and two-disc editions; Rudd returned '95 and Ballbreaker was no. 4 USA that year.

The Youngs and Johnson were still going strong in 2008, and better than that. They had refused to go digital and refused to break up their albums to sell downloaded tracks one at a time; in fact they don't sell music online, have never allowed a greatest hits album, nor allowed anyone else to sample their music. Concentrating on selling CDs while the rest of the industry has been dying, they sold 26.4 million albums between 1991, when Nielsen SoundScan started tracking music sales, until the end of 2008. Back In Black had sold 49 million copies worldwide since 1980, 22 million in the USA alone, making it the fourth best-selling album in American history. They don't get much press and have never been critical favorites, but their riffs and choruses about sex, drink and rock'n'roll are discovered each decade by a new generation of kids. They were said to have lost their way in 1985, then recovered their focus in 1990, but their catalog had just kept selling; Steve Barnett, chairman of Columbia Records, who had managed them from 1982 to 1994, said that 'High school kids were discovering this band while they weren't even doing anything.' When ownership of their back catalog reverted to the band on 2003, Barnett acquired it for Columbia and cleverly repackaged it, including DVDs; AC/DC Live At Donnington is Columbia's best-selling music DVD, at more than 800,000 copies, and was the basis for the AC/DC edition of the video game Rock Band. He also got their music in movies like School of Rock and Iron Man.

In 2008 their last album, Stiff Upper Lip, had sold less than a million copies, but Black Ice, released in October, was set to be one of the year's biggest sellers, WalMart figuring to sell 2.5 million.They are so popular at Wal-Mart that the company accounts for half their sales, Columbia says, and Wal-Mart had an exclusive deal on this album; sure enough, in the first two weeks they sold over a million copies, to say nothing of T-shirts and the video game. 

Meanwhile, in December, Chinese Democracy by Guns N' Roses, finally delivered after 13 years, was sold exclusively at Best Buy, and moved only 318,000 copies, sales dropping 78% in the second week. See their entry.

AC/DC's album Rock or Bust 2014 was their first without Malcolm, who was suffering from dementia.