Malcolm Mitchell Young
1953 – 2017
Today Hellbound mourns the tragic loss of Malcolm Young, founder, rhythm guitarist, chief songwriter of AC/DC – and truly a cornerstone of rock and roll.
Young passed away today at the too-young age of 64. He had been diagnosed with dementia in 2014, which tragically forced his early retirement from the guitar and touring.
He died peacefully on Saturday with his family by his bedside, a statement said. “Renowned for his musical prowess, Malcolm was a songwriter, guitarist, performer, producer and visionary who inspired many,” the statement read. “From the outset, he knew what he wanted to achieve and, along with his younger brother, took to the world stage giving their all at every show. Nothing less would do for their fans.”
Born in Glasgow in 1953, seventh of eight children born to the musical Young family, Malcolm would move with his family to Australia at the age of ten. When older brother George hit surprise instant success with his band the Easybeats in 1966, young Malcolm took keen note of the lineups of girls constantly coming by the house to visit “rock star” George, and took to guitar early. He would cut his teeth in bands named the Velvet Underground, Beelzebub Blues, and Markus Hook Roll Band, before forming AC/DC with little brother Angus in 1973. The band would really find their voice with the addition of singer Bon Scott in autumn 1974.
AC/DC were a revelation from the start: a return to stripped-down, raw, no-bullshit, bluesy rock and roll in the vein of early Chuck Berry, but nastied up enough to reflect a backstreet swagger and a street-punk attitude of 1970s Melbourne. Coming out of a strong hard-rock scene in their town, AC/DC would eventually catapult to megalithic worldwide success behind albums like Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and Highway To Hell. Even with the death of singer Scott in 1980, the band’s greatest success would come with comeback albums Back In Black and 1990’s The Razor’s Edge, achieving worldwide multiplatinum status.
Most people will recognize the onstage antics of lead guitarist Angus – dressed in schoolboy uniform, and Chuck-Berry-duck-walking across the stage – as the overarching oeuvre of AC/DC; but true fans know it was Malcolm who piloted the ship, and stoked the engines. Not least as the anchor-solid, sparse rhythm guitarist, his battered Gretsch Jet Firebird always at the ready, ever-present ciggy on his lip – but also as chief songwriter and leader. Make no mistake – AC/DC was Mal’s band, first and foremost, and his hard-driven leadership lasted well past his abrupt retirement in 2014. Stories of his brusque firings of band managers, producers, and occasionally even members, are the stuff of rock legend.
“It was Malcolm who had the vision of what the band should be,” Angus Young told the Chicago Tribune in 2003. “He said, ‘We’re going to play the only music worth playing: rock ’n’ roll. And we’re going to play it hard.’”
And play it hard they did. Malcolm Young stands as one of a rare handful of guitar players who likely threw away more great riffs than most other guitar players will ever write and keep.
For me, AC/DC became an integral part of a life of music-fandom at a very young age. I had a cool aunt and older cousins who would spin their albums on a regular basis from the time I was old enough to like rock music (“Big Balls” was a perennial childhood favorite). But I really discovered the band in 1986, at age eleven, when their compilation, Who Made Who soundtracked the Stephen King film Maximum Overdrive – and suddenly turned a whole new generation of kids on to the hard-driving blues of Australia’s favorite sons.
Growing up as I did in small-town, blue-collar BC, AC/DC were inescapable – they were the soundtrack to hard work weeks and harder-partying weekends. Every teenage party I went to, somebody eventually cranked up an AC/DC cassette (it helped that “Thunderstruck” was blowing up at that point). As I got to high school age, and started forming bands of my own, invariably AC/DC songs would creep into school-lunchtime jams – almost any fledgling guitar player worth half a shit could bash out the “Dirty Deeds” riff, and everybody – everybody – within earshot likes hearing those songs played loudly. Their songs were a constant part of our teenage lives.
There’s something about the band – Bon’s bawdy, boozy vocal, Phil’s four-on-the-floor wallop, but mostly those goddamn riffs – that grab you by the shirt collar, slap you around, and get your ass shaking.
When Lemmy left us in December 2015, I wrote, “Lemmy, along with his Holy-Trinity-of-Rock thronemates Joey Ramone, and Malcolm Young, lived their lives as embodiments of rock and roll, in its warts-and-all bombastic glory. And the rock and roll they birthed and lived will never die.”
And I stand by it more than ever now that Malcolm is gone.
Think about it. The Holy Trinity of Rock, all gone.
In an age when it seems like simple, gutsy rock and roll is an endangered species, it’s incumbent on those of us old enough to appreciate the earnest, teeth-kicking power of these songs, to pass along this knowledge, and teach the youth well that sometimes all you need is six strings and a whole lot of punch to get the job done well.
I’ll be drowning my tears with a glass raised to Mal, and cranking AC/DC for the foreseeable future; I’m sure you will be too.
Rest in peace Malcolm Young
We Salute You