Malcolm Young 1953-2017

AC/DC founder Malcolm Young dies, aged 64

Malcolm Young, guitarist and co-founder of rock legends AC/DC, has died in Sydney at the age of 64 after a long period of ill health. He is survived by his wife, Linda, and their children Ross and Cara.

With his younger brother Angus, Malcolm formed the band in 1973 after the Glasgow born brothers had emigrated to Australia with their family. In a statement, Angus said “As his brother it is hard to express in words what he has meant to me during my life, the bond we had was unique and very special. He leaves behind an enormous legacy that will live on forever.”

Malcolm’s death comes less than a month after the passing of older brother George who achieved success as a member of the Easybeats in the 1960s. When that band folded, George and former bandmate Harry Vanda helped found the Albert Productions label, signing Malcolm and Angus’s fledgling AC/DC and producing much of their early material. (They later formed Flash And The Pan who scored a worldwide hit in 1983 with Waiting For A Train.)

With vocalist Bon Scott – another ex-pat Scotsman – AC/DC quickly became major stars in Australia and by the end of the 1970s the band had made significant inroads worldwide, including the UK where 1979’s Highway To Hell became their first top ten album. The band was poised for huge international success in the 1980s but this seemed to have been derailed when, after a night of heavy drinking, Scott died of acute alcohol poisoning in February 1980. Scott’s relatives encouraged AC/DC to continue with a new vocalist; the band recruited Brian Johnson, whose performance with previous band Geordie had impressed Scott a few years earlier. The new line-up recorded Back in Black, released in a plain black sleeve as a sign of mourning for Scott, which went on to sell an estimated fifty million copies worldwide and is now one the top three biggest selling albums of all time.

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While Johnson’s rasping vocal delivery and Angus’s overgrown schoolboy persona came to define AC/DC over the next three decades, Malcolm was widely acknowledged as the driving force behind the band. Throughout the ’80s they were regular visitors to the UK charts with albums including For Those About To Rock We Salute You (1981, #3), Flick Of The Switch (1983, #4) and Blow Up Your Video (1988, #2). Their release rate began to slow in the ’90s but they maintained their success with The Razor’s Edge (1990, #4), Ballbreaker (1995, #6) and Stiff Upper Lip (2000, #12).

2008 saw the band top the UK album chart for the first time since 1980 when Black Ice entered at the number one position, but behind the scenes all was not well: Angus would later recall that Malcolm suffered from lapses in memory and concentration during the making of the album and subsequent world tour. At the conclusion of the tour, the severity of Malcolm’s health problems became apparent; he was treated for lung cancer and fitted with a pacemaker for a heart condition, and was subsequently diagnosed with dementia. Despite his best efforts to continue, Young was forced to retire from the band in 2014; his nephew Stevie Young took his place for that year’s Rock or Bust album and ensuing tour. Malcolm moved into a care facility in Sydney in 2015 where he passed away on 18 November 2017.

Reacting to Malcolm’s death, Paul Stanley of Kiss called it “A tragic end for a sometimes unsung icon.” Def Leppard’s Joe Elliot called Young “an incredible guitar player and the glue for that band onstage and off” while Eddie Van Halen remembered “I had some of the best times of my life with him on our 1984 European tour. He will be missed and my deepest condolences to his family, bandmates and friends.”

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AC/DC has continued to perform despite numerous setbacks in recent years, including Johnson’s withdrawal from live performance due to hearing problems and the well documented legal issues faced by former drummer Phil Rudd, but whether they will continue to do so following Malcolm’s death remains to be seen.