AC/DC are an Australian rock band, formed in Sydney in 1973 by brothers Malcolm and Angus Young. A hard rock/blues rock band, their music has also been called heavy metal, although they refer to themselves as “a rock and roll band, nothing more, nothing less”.
AC/DC underwent several line-up changes before releasing their first album, High Voltage, in 1975. Membership subsequently stabilized until bassist Mark Evans was replaced by Cliff Williams in 1977 for the album Powerage. Within months of recording the album Highway to Hell, lead singer and co-songwriter Bon Scott died on 19 February 1980 after a night of heavy alcohol consumption. The group considered disbanding but buoyed by support from Scott’s parents, decided to continue and set about finding a new vocalist. Ex-Geordie singer Brian Johnson was selected to replace Scott. Later that year, the band released the new album Back in Black, which was made as a tribute to Bon Scott. The album launched them to new heights of success and became their all-time best-seller.
The band’s next album, For Those About to Rock We Salute You, was their first album to reach number one in the United States. Drummer Phil Rudd was fired in 1983 and replaced by ex-A II Z drummer Simon Wright, who left to join Dio in 1989. The band experienced a resurgence in the early 1990s with the release of The Razors Edge. Phil Rudd returned in 1994 after Chris Slade, who was with the band from 1989 to 1994, was asked to leave in favor of him, and contributed to the band’s 1995 album Ballbreaker. Stiff Upper Lip, released in 2000, was well received by critics. The band’s studio album Black Ice, released in 2008, was the second highest-selling album of that year, and their biggest chart hit since For Those About to Rock, eventually reaching No.1 on all charts worldwide. The band’s line-up remained the same until 2014 with Malcolm Young’s retirement due to early-onset dementia and Rudd’s legal troubles. In 2016, Johnson was advised to stop touring on account of worsening hearing loss, and Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose stepped in as the band’s vocalist for the remainder of that year’s dates. Long-term bass player and background vocalist Cliff Williams retired from the band at the end of their 2016 Rock or Bust world tour.
AC/DC have sold more than 200 million records worldwide, including 71.5 million albums in the United States, adding them to the list of highest-certified music artists in the United States and the list of best-selling music artists. Back in Black has sold an estimated 50 million units worldwide, making it the second-highest-selling album by any artist – and the highest-selling album by any band. The album has sold 22 million units in the US, where it is the sixth-highest-selling album of all time. AC/DC ranked fourth on VH1’s list of the “100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock” and was named the seventh “Greatest Heavy Metal Band of All Time” by MTV. In 2004, AC/DC ranked No. 72 on the Rolling Stone list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”. Producer Rick Rubin, who wrote an essay on the band for the Rolling Stone list, referred to AC/DC as “the greatest rock and roll band of all time”. In 2010, AC/DC were ranked number 23 on the VH1 list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”.
Brothers Malcolm, Angus, and George Young were born in Glasgow, Scotland living at 6 Skerryvore Road in the Cranhill area. The Big Freeze of 1963 was the worst winter on record in Scotland with snow eight feet deep. A TV advertisement at the same time offered assisted travel for families for a different life in Australia. 15 members of the Young family left Scotland by airplane in late June 1963. Before moving into a house at 4 Burleigh Street in the suburb of Burwood they initially stayed at Villawood Migrant Hostel (a site later developed as Villawood Immigration Detention Centre) in Nissen huts, where George Young met and became friends with another migrant, Harry Vanda.
George was the first to learn to play the guitar. He became a member of the Easybeats, one of Australia’s most successful bands of the 1960s. In 1966, they became the first local rock act to have an international hit, with the song “Friday on My Mind”. Malcolm followed in George’s footsteps by playing with a Newcastle, New South Wales, band called the Velvet Underground (not to be confused with the New York-based Velvet Underground). Their older brother Alex Young chose to remain in Britain to pursue musical interests. In 1967, Alexander formed and played bass in the London-based band Grapefruit—initially called “The Grapefruit”—with three former members of Tony Rivers and the Castaways, John Perry, Geoff Swettenham, and Pete Swettenham.
Malcolm and Angus Young developed the idea for the band’s name after their sister, Margaret Young, saw the initials “AC/DC” on a sewing machine. “AC/DC” is an abbreviation meaning “alternating current/direct current” electricity. The brothers felt that this name symbolized the band’s raw energy, power-driven performances of their music. “AC/DC” is pronounced one letter at a time, though the band is colloquially known as “Acca Dacca” in Australia.The AC/DC band name is stylised with a high voltage sign separating the “AC” and “DC” and has been used on all studio albums, with the exception of the international version of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.
AC/DC were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 10 March 2003. During the ceremony the band performed “Highway to Hell” and “You Shook Me All Night Long”, with guest vocals provided by host Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. He described the band’s power chords as “the thunder from down under that gives you the second most powerful surge that can flow through your body.” During the acceptance speech, Brian Johnson quoted their 1977 song “Let There Be Rock”.
On 22 March 2000, the municipality of Leganés (near Madrid) named a street in honor of the band as “Calle de AC/DC” (“AC/DC Street”). Malcolm and Angus attended the inauguration with many fans. Later that day, the plaque with the name of the group was stolen, perhaps by an enthusiast or collector. The plaque was replaced two hours later and stolen once again a mere three days after the fact. The plaque had since been stolen numerous times, forcing the municipality of Leganés to begin selling replicas of the official street plaque.
In May 2003, the Young brothers accepted a Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Service to Australian Music at the 2003 Music Winners Awards, during which Malcolm paid special tribute to Bon Scott, who was also a recipient of the award.
On 1 October 2004, a central Melbourne thoroughfare, Corporation Lane, was renamed ACDC Lane in honor of the band. The City of Melbourne forbade the use of the slash character in street names, so the four letters were combined. The lane is near Swanston Street where, on the back of a truck, the band recorded their video for the 1975 hit “It’s a Long Way to the Top”.
They sold over 1.3 million CDs in the US during 2007 despite not having released a new album since 2000 at that point. Additionally, the group’s commercial success continues to flourish despite their choice to refrain from selling albums in digital online formats for many years. However, in November 2012, the entire catalog (excluding the TNT album and the Australian versions of the High Voltage, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and Let There Be Rock albums) became available on the iTunes Store.
In 2009 the Recording Industry Association of America upgraded the group’s US sales figures from 69 million to 71 million, making AC/DC the fifth-best-selling band in US history and the tenth-best-selling artist, selling more albums than Madonna and Mariah Carey. The RIAA also certified Back in Black as double Diamond (20 million) in US sales, and by 2007 the album had sold 22 million copies, which made it the fifth-best-selling album of all-time in the US.
- Angus Young – lead guitar (1973–present)
- Chris Slade – drums (1989–1994, 2015–present)
- Stevie Young – rhythm guitar, backing vocals (2014–present)
- Axl Rose – lead vocals (2016–present)
- Malcolm Young – rhythm guitar, backing vocals (1973–2014; died 2017)
- Dave Evans – lead vocals (1973–1974)
- Bon Scott – lead vocals (1974–1980; died 1980)
- Phil Rudd – drums (1975–1983, 1994–2015)
- Mark Evans – bass guitar(1975–1977)
- Cliff Williams – bass guitar, backing vocals (1977–2016)
- Brian Johnson – lead vocals (1980–2016)
- Simon Wright – drums (1983–1989)