There have been tons of rumors over the last few days about the rock band AC/DC retiring due to 61-year-old rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young being very ill. AC/DC is probably the least public band that has ever existed so getting real answers is tough.
Today the band finally released a brief statement (I mean brief) confirming that Young is ill and is stepping away from AC/DC.
“After forty years of life dedicated to AC/DC, guitarist and founding member Malcolm Young is taking a break from the band due to ill health. Malcolm would like to thank the group’s diehard legions of fans worldwide for their never-ending love and support.
In light of this news, AC/DC asks that Malcolm and his family’s privacy be respected during this time. The band will continue to make music.”
So the band is continuing, but I don’t see how because in many ways Malcolm IS the band. Some people, especially bedroom guitarists, have actually said on that that it’s just three chords and they could do it. Well technically they never played just three chords and even if it were, there’s a lot more to making music than just chord choice. No one has ever matched Malcolm’s sound and writing and they never will. While lead guitarist Angus Young (and Malcolm’s younger brother) is really the face of AC/DC, brother Malcolm is the heart of it. He co-wrote the hard-driving aggressive rhythms that gave Angus the stage to knock out the iconic guitar solos he and the band in general are known for.
Part of what makes the band’s sound so powerful is literally just how hard they hit the chords. My own guitar instructor would always tell me as I learned many AC/DC songs that “you’re just not hitting the chords hard enough.” Thank you, Malcolm, even trying to get close to properly playing an AC/DC song is exhausting. When I was a teenager my guitar teacher summed it up best when he played a very technical classical riff for me. He said not just anyone could write the riff, but anyone who is a serious guitarist could memorize and replicate the performance of it. But, he said, playing a simpler riff from Eric Clapton, not everyone can take so few notes and impart so much emotion and unique-ness. That’s the blues influence. Jazz and classical musicians will have a different opinion, but that demonstration resonated with me at a young age and I still believe it to this day.
This is a band that has managed to stay relevant and vibrant for 40 years. There are very few bands from the 70s that have managed that. Their last album, Black Ice, was one of their best and was the second bestselling album in the United States for 2008. Without Malcolm or without Angus, you really don’t have a band. In 1979, after the untimely death of original singer Bon Scott, the band did push forward with a new singer. Critics didn’t think the band could survive that loss and the response was the addition of singer Brian Johnson leading the band’s most influential and successful album to date, 1980’s Back in Black.
It’s still unclear exactly what Malcolm’s illness is and how serious it is. Rumors have it all over the place from cancer to a stroke and some “media” outlets are reporting rumors as fact and are saying that his family are considering in-home care for him. The band’s official statement makes it seem like he could still return later, so it’s really just hard to say what the real situation is. The band and Malcolm have helped shape our musical landscape and we can only hope to see the guitarist hit stage again in the future. If that doesn’t happen, we can take some solace in the huge catalog of work he and his bandmates have gifted to us. As a young burgeoning lead guitarist, the three solos I learned first were the ones from Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Good, Cream’s (Eric Clapton) “Sunshine of Your Love,” and AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” I went on to learn most of AC/DC’s discography and my first real guitar was a Gibson SG, the guitar that Angus Young has always played. As I learned more of the band’s music, I realized just how essential Malcolm’s rhythms were to the overall sound that I was obsessed with. So for me, this is sad news and it should be sad for anyone who loves music. AC/DC has been called many things including hard rock, blues rock, and even the forefathers of heavy metal. If you ask them, they’ve always just said their music is simply rock n’ roll.