Malcolm Young, co-founder, rhythm guitarist, and soulful driving force behind the legendary rock group AC/DC, passed away on November 18, 2017. He died peacefully at the young age of 64 after an extended battle with dementia, surrounded by family members.
AC/DC is one of the greatest rock groups of all time, both culturally and financially. (They’ve sold over two hundred million albums worldwide!) The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees rank fifth on all-time sales charts behind acts like the Beatles and the Eagles. Their songs have been a mainstay on nationwide commercial radio basically unendingly since the 1970s. They’ve been in movies, on TV, and played and sung in sports arenas around the world, not to mention their songs have been memorized by every punky kid who ever thought to pick up a guitar. As far as familiarity is concerned, it’s basically impossible to live on this planet and avoid their music, so their timeless riffs will probably be pumping through our veins for countless years to come.
Fittingly, condolences, thoughts, and personal memories poured in from other legends this weekend — from the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Paul Stanley, Dave Mustaine, Slash, and Dave Grohl, among many others. Eddie Van Halen called it “a sad day for rock and roll,” and it certainly is.
The band was formed by brothers Malcolm and Angus Young in 1973. Their sister, Margaret, gave them the idea for the band name from reading her sewing machine. AC/DC, which means “Alternating Current / Direct Current,” was an apt metaphor for the band’s raw, electrically charged sound.
After a few early lineup changes (the Young brothers were always the mainstays), they recruited lead vocalist Bon Scott, drummer Phil Rudd, and bassist Mark Evans into the mix — the sum of which proved to create a formula for success. Soon after becoming famous in their native Australia, the band rocketed onto the American music scene with the re-release of their debut album, High Voltage, followed closely by the high-charting Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.
While younger brother Angus brought the lead riffs and explosive, spotlit stage presence (all while outfitted in those iconic tiny shorts), Malcolm was indubitably the heart and soul of the band and an anchor in their songwriting process. According to bassist Mark Evans, he was “the driven one, the planner, the schemer, the ‘behind-the-scenes guy.’” He not only came up with some of the classic riffs originally, but co-wrote every one of AC/DC’s songs, including mega-hits like “Highway to Hell,” “Thunderstruck,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” and “Back in Black.”
In his elder years, Young had been struggling with dementia for some time. He took a leave of absence from the band only in 2014 to get treatment. Shortly thereafter, it was announced he was leaving the band permanently due to the nature of his illness.
Despite struggling with concentration and having to relearn some of his own songs, Malcolm powered through in his signature fashion. He insisted on continuing until it became clear he couldn’t any longer. Onstage, Malcolm was replaced by his nephew, Stevie, with his blessing, but his influential, foundational role in the band will never fully disappear. Plans are still up in the air, but Angus has said he hopes that this band will continue on for a long time: “I feel obligated to keep it going. I was there in the beginning with him.”
Malcolm leaves behind a musical career that spanned 40 years, hundreds of thousands of fans, a loving family, and an inestimable impact on the evolution of rock music. Thanks for the music, Malcolm — we salute you.