AC/DC was formed in Sydney, Australia, by ex-patriot Scotsmen Malcolm and Angus Young (brothers of George Young – one of the mainstays of 60s Aussie supergroup, The Easybeats).
Their sister suggested Angus should wear his school uniform on stage, a gimmick that would still be in use more than twenty years into the band’s career.
The band made their debut at the Chequers club in Sydney along with Dave Evans (vocals), Larry Van Knedt (bass) and Colin Burgess (drums) and in July 1974 recorded a rather Glam number called Can I Sit Next To You Girl? which became their first single, in July 1974.
A move to Melbourne brought yet another change as Mark Evans (bass) and Phil Rudd (drums) were brought in. One night when Dave Evans refused to go on stage, the band’s van driver, Bon Scott (real name Ronald Belford Scott), was asked to take over.
Evans moved on to front Aussie glam-rockers, Rabbit, and in Scott AC/DC now had the perfect combination of rasping, sleazy vocals, a knack for smutty lyrics and a magnetic front man able to hold his own against Angus’ bad-schoolboy image.
Reflecting on Scott’s first AC/DC gig in Adelaide in 1974, Angus Young remembered; “Bon downed two bottles of bourbon with dope, coke, speed and says ‘I’m ready'”. The pace was set.
Bon Scott, school uniform-clad Angus and his brother Malcolm kept up the frenzy to establish AC/DC as one of the world’s top heavy rock bands.
Having signed to Albert Productions the next couple of years brought the release of High Voltage (1974) and TNT (1975). The pop-glam that had influenced their first single had been stripped away and instead their love of blues-based rock and roll gave them a raucous and raw studio sound.
Neither record was officially released outside Australia but upon signing to Atlantic and moving base to the UK a selection of the material was compiled from their two Australian albums and released as High Voltage (1975).
Their first UK headlining tour was dubbed ‘Lock Up Your Daughters’, whilst the summer of 1976 brought an appearance at the Reading Festival and the winter, the release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap – yet another collection of tracks from the Australian albums and not to be confused with the Antipodean version bearing the same name.
By now the band were alternating their touring and recording schedules at a hectic pace and with Let There Be Rock (1977) the band at last began to produce classic material.
The album made them a chart act in the UK – some feat considering much of the rock world was gripped by punk at the time – and the mighty Powerage (1978), featuring hit single Rock and Roll Damnation, proved the addictive power of simple rock and roll.
As a live attraction their appeal was simply staggering; widely acknowledged as one of the all-time great live rock albums If You Want Blood You’ve Got It (1978) remains a definitive statement to this day and peaked at No.13 in the UK charts. The album was recorded live in the Young brothers’ birthplace of Glasgow.
It was not until Highway To Hell (1979) that they became true international stars. The bad-boy image coupled with their risqué lyrics made them obvious targets for moral extremists and also ensured that the US finally took notice; it became their first million-seller and peaked in America at Number 17.
This first highly successful collaboration with producer Mutt Lange and his unerring production sensibilities also proved to be the last with Bon Scott.
Having been on a heavy drinking binge in Camden Town on 19 February 1980, Scott was found dead in a car in Dulwich, South London the following day, after choking on his own vomit. The coroner recorded a verdict of death by misadventure via “acute alcohol poisoning” – he had literally ‘drunk himself to death’.
A lifelong renegade who had spent his teenage years in and out of jail, Scott had been one of the main attractions and it seemed inconceivable that AC/DC could go on.
Incredibly the band found Brian Johnson (former lead singer with UK band Geordie), and were recording a new album within two months.
Back in Black (1980) was a storming return to form and went on to sell over 10 million copies over the next decade in the US alone. The perfect hard rock album, it turned AC/DC into superstars.
The subsequent years have seen the band sticking to an increasingly relaxed schedule with bouts of touring carefully planned to support each unchanging release; For Those About To Rock (1981), Flick Of The Switch (1983), Fly On The Wall (1985), Who Made Who (1986), Blow Up Your Video (1988), The Razors Edge (1990) and Ballbreaker (1995).
Christmas 1997 brought the band’s tribute to Bon Scott, Bonfire. it included some classic concert recordings as well as a disc of unreleased demos and live rarities. It also served as a useful stop gap exercise whilst the band started work on a new studio album, Stiff Upper Lip (2000).
The group were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2003 and released their 15th album, Black Ice, in 2008. They promoted it with a series of successful sell-out stadium shows around the world, showing that even though they were now bus-pass eligible they could still rock with the best of ’em.
The world may always call them “ey see dee see” but in Australia they will forever be known as “Acker Dacker”.
Larry Van Knedt