AC/DC: The Band Malcolm Young Built

When I opened the Facebook app on my phone the morning of Nov. 18, I was devastated by what I saw.

There at the top of my feed was a statement from the AC/DC family announcing the passing of rhythm guitarist and co-founder Malcolm Young.

As I laid in bed rubbing sleep from my eyes, I now had to cope with the loss of probably my favorite musician. Not a good start to the day to say the least.

What is worse is many fans seemed too engulfed in the high energy duck-walking Angus to pay any mind to the quiet older brother. I mean, there are multiple gig recordings where the videographer never really pans over to Malcolm at all.

As someone who has always gravitated towards the rhythm player of the monolithic rock group, I feel he deserves much more credit than he has been given.

So, in an effort to right wrongs, here are all the reasons Malcolm Young was the coolest, most influential member of AC/DC.

His rhythm-smithing is legendary

Malcolm very rarely participated in interviews. His whole family seems to be very private people, but on top of that Malcolm just seemed disinterested in sitting for interviews. Instead he let brother Angus or frontman Bon Scott (later Brian Johnson), even drummer Phil Rudd, fulfill interview obligations before himself.

In one of the rare occasions that he did agree to answering some questions, he showcased a mind for rhythm like no other.

The interviewer seemed genuinely perplexed when Malcolm confidently stated there were only two rock n’ roll bands, the Rolling Stones and themselves, and that the rest were rock bands.

When asked what the difference was between rock’n’roll bands and just rock bands, Malcolm was poised with an answer only someone highly tuned into the intricacies of musical rhythm could formulate.: “Well, rock bands don’t really swing. Rock n’ Roll has a swing you know, you’ve got your hi-hats going (demonstrates). Rock bands don’t have that. They are more (demonstrates) becomes stiff. They don’t understand the feel. You know, the jungle of it all. It’s a feeling.”  

Complete with demonstrations involving the rhythm-smith, tisking an imaginary cymbal and hitting one thigh to the beat, the answer was one only Malcolm could come up with.

AC/DC’s music is all about successful rhythm. Steamrolling, hard-hitting steady rhythm that the band never changed through their decades-long career. Malcolm was the conductor of the rock n’ roll train that is AC/DC, quietly driving the song with subtle complexity while allowing Angus to embellish with explosive solos and on-stage antics.    

WIKIMEDIA | PHOTO COURTESY
Anthrax’s Scott Ian is right to hail the late Malcolm Young the ‘greatest rhythm guitarist of all time’ after his death on Nov. 18.

He wasn’t in it for the fame

The spotlight of fame can be intoxicating for anyone finding themselves under its beams, let alone the members of a rock n’ roll group the caliber of AC/DC.

Both Young brothers seemed largely unbothered by their worldwide acclaim. The fact that Malcolm rarely agreed to partake in interviews despite being a founding member of the group shows a glimpse into his character. He didn’t think he owed the world a deeper, closer look into his life nor did he go out of his way to make public appearances. He just quietly went about his passion.

I grew up watching AC/DC’s “Family Jewels” DVD set very regularly, especially on long road trips. My sister and I would sit in the backseat with our little portable DVD player, rocking out to concert recordings of famous AC/DC songs.

Even at a young age, I was drawn to Malcolm. I thought the fact that his bangs hung down past his eyes was cool, and it became a game between my sister and I to try and catch a glimpse of his eyes while his head bobbed along to the beat of the music. What made it harder was the fact that he stayed in the background of the shots, enshrouded in dim lighting close by his Marshall amp with his gorgeous Gretsch guitar. 

The only time he willingly stepped into the stage lights was when he sang backup vocals.

He was just effortlessly cool and effortlessly rock n’ roll.

He was obviously in the business of crafting music because of a love for music itself, not the fame. That is a quality I appreciate in all musicians, and Malcolm Young was my first introduction to the attitude.

He was the founder and chief lyricist of AC/DC

AC/DC has always been considered a musical endeavor of brothers, with not only Malcolm and Angus in the band, but older brother George as manager and producer for part of their career.

The idea of starting a rock band, however, was originally Malcolm and he was less than pleased by young Angus’s curious prying.

In an interview, Angus once chuckled and told the interviewer how pleased he was to even be a part of the band in the first place. Apparently, whenever he’d walk into Malcolm’s room while he was practicing, Malcolm was less than receptive or willing to share.

Thankfully, Malcolm came around to the idea of Angus being part of his musical aspirations and the rest is history.

Malcolm was also one the major lyrical contributor of the band, including a decidedly tongue-in-cheek “Big Balls” (spoiler alert they aren’t talking about dances).

Further proof to Malcolm’s role of lyricist can be found on the band’s first album, “High Voltage.”

On the back of the album cover is several letters, each addressed to a member of the band or their family. For Angus and Malcolm, it was a letter from their school to their mother about their misconduct. The letter starts out addressing issues the boy shared such as abusive language and obscene gestures.

In reference to Malcolm, the exasperated teacher writes, “Malcolm is certainly old enough to know that his constant humming is neither amusing nor impressive. The few times a day he puts pen to paper it turns out he is writing what appears to be poetry of some vile sort.”

In honor of the late musician, fans are planning on taking over the Christmas charts, by getting “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” to number one. In order to participate, you must either purchase the song between Dec. 15 and 21 or stream the song at least 150 times during the same dates.

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