Malcolm Young, who has died aged 64, was co-founder of one of the most unapologetic, unadulterated rock and roll machines of all time. AC/DC have long since established their place in the pantheon, delivering over 40 years of relentless, head-bashing, pile-driving electric guitar music at its biggest, heaviest, dumbest and, arguably, its purest.
Like Status Quo and The Ramones, AC/DC came up with a cartoonish rock formula so perfectly pared down that they never saw any need to mess with it. They played fast, hard, blues-based rock very loud and very heavy.
Their melodies were simplistic, their lyrics were inane (clichés of booze, women and hard living wrapped up in obvious puns) but their commitment was total and their riffs brooked no dissent. What they did, they did about as well as it could ever be done.
In some ways, Malcolm lived in the shadow of younger brother Angus, with whom he formed the band in Australia in 1973. Malcolm was the rhythm guitar player, and, in rock and roll, rhythm is rarely considered as sexy as lead.
With his trademark schoolboy’s uniform, cheeky persona and fierce guitar playing, Angus was the band’s totem. But it was Malcolm who was right behind him, pounding out those riffs. The two, in fact, were closely united, writing the material together, concocting those motifs of a few judiciously placed notes that are the bedrock of the form.
A twin guitar attack, is one of the potent forces of electric music if you can get it right. And the Young brothers always got it right.
Rock and roll is old now but, for some, it was already old when AC/DC were just getting started. The Young brothers were part of rock’s second or third generation, refining the music of the Fifties and Sixties that they had grown up listening to. Their older brother, George, had been a founding member of the Easybeats.
When Malcolm and Angus formed AC/DC, they wanted a band that got back to rock and roll basics just when progressive rock was taking it to new heights of complexity. Even amidst the storms of punk and through all the changing rock and pop fashions that followed, AC/DC were the heavy rockers that were OK to like, because they ditched all pretentiousness just to get to some primal essence of the thing itself.
They rocked on through the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, into a new century, but were not immune to the ravages of time. They survived the death of one singer (Bon Scott), and the recent retirement of his replacement (Brian Johnson).
In recent years the band have had to tour without their original drummer, who was tied up with legal problems involving drugs and violence that might have come straight out of an AC/DC song.
Malcolm himself retired in 2014 due to encroaching dementia, and was replaced onstage by his nephew. The band rocked on last year with Guns N' Roses vocalist Axl Rose deputising as lead vocalist.
I don’t know if the death of Malcolm, following the retirement of Johnson and departure of bassist Cliff Williams, will mean that the band have finally reached the end of the road. But I wouldn’t bet my house on it. As long as one Young brother remains standing, I suspect AC/DC will do whatever they can to keep the flame alive.
I don’t even know if we should say Rest in Peace for Malcolm Young, because he was clearly a man who liked things loud. So let’s just say, rock on Malcolm, you shook us all night long. We salute you.