This Day in Music, August 9: It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)

By , Contributor

If you said to me, I’m going to form a heavy rock band, name it after the letters on a vacuum cleaner, get the guitarist to dress up as a schoolboy, and write songs about - drinking, sex, and being a lad, I’d tell you to shut up and stop wasting my time.

Just as well this lot didn’t.

On this day in 1980, AC/DC scored their first UK No.1 album with Back In Black. It was the first AC/DC album recorded without former lead singer Bon Scott (who had died on 19 February 1980 at the age of 33), and was dedicated to him.

The album has sold an estimated 49 million copies worldwide to date, making it the second highest selling album of all time - and the best selling hard rock or heavy metal album, as well as the best selling album ever released by a band. AC/DC have sold more than 200 million albums worldwide. Now that’s a lot of records!

Unless you’re a fan or you know about these things, you might not appreciate just how big AC/DC are. They’ve had roads named after them, sold almost as many records as Michael Jackson, and do you know what? I bet anyone from the group could stand next to you in the supermarket and you wouldn’t know who they were.

Brothers Malcolm, Angus, and George Young were born in Glasgow, Scotland, and moved to Sydney, Australia in 1963. George, who was the first to learn to play the guitar, 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."

The two younger brothers, Malcolm and Angus, developed the idea for their band's name after their older sister, Margaret, saw the initials "AC/DC" on a vacuum cleaner. "AC/DC" is an abbreviation meaning alternating current/direct current electricity. The brothers felt that this name symbolised the band's raw energy and power-driven performances. (In Australia they are known as "Acca Dacca").

AC/DC made their live debut on New Year's Eve at Chequers Bar in Sydney, Australia. And that was the start. Over the next three years they played anywhere and everywhere, developing their act into a full-on rock and roll experience - Australian style.

Guitarist Angus Young (who dresses as a schoolboy) had tried other costumes, such as Spider-Man, Zorro, a gorilla, and a parody of Superman, named Super-Ang. Luckily he stuck with the schoolboy idea.

Tragedy struck in 1980 when their singer Bon Scott died after a heavy night's drinking. Scott was found in the passenger seat of a friend's parked car. The official coroner's report stated that he had "drunk himself to death" after suffocating on his own vomit.

After the passing of Scott, AC/DC had a very difficult decision to make. Could they carry on without their charismatic lead singer? Did they want to carry on? They decided Scott would’ve wanted them to - plus Scott's parents urged them to continue and hire a new vocalist.

Enter 32-year-old English singer Brian Johnson who had previously been troubling the UK charts with his group Geordie. With his rough voice and looks to match, Johnson was made for AC/DC.

I always feel that AC/DC have a tongue placed firmly in one cheek. They never take the piss, but I get the feeling (although utterly professional at all times) they don’t take themselves that seriously. I think they just love what they do.

Look at the evidence: they all have so much money, they need never work again. But they do. The group’s 2008 album Black Ice (their 15th studio album) made history by debuting at No.1 in 29 different countries. They are one of Australia’s biggest exports; in 2009 Business Review Weekly named AC/DC as the top Australian earner in entertainment with earnings of $105 million.

Angus Young stated in an interview in May this year that the band was beginning to plan another world tour; also, AC/DC's 40th anniversary will be marked for 2013.

For Those About to Rock (We Salute You).


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A former musician, Neil was in the 80's group The Cheaters who were once signed to EMI's Parlophone label, and released three albums. He was also a radio presenter and is still a regular music pundit on various BBC stations. Neil is the founder of the award winning web site This Day in Music which is…

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