Friday, January 6, 2012 at 8:50 a.m.
At age 58, Malcolm Young is rocking as hard as ever. Born January 6, 1953, the Scottish-born guitarist remains the key component behind one of the world's most indelible institutions, Australia's AC/DC. He may not have the swagger of the band's present vocalist, Brian Johnson, or the zany aging-schoolboy image parlayed by his younger brother, Angus, but he is the one who founded the band in 1973 and helped it earn induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 30 years later. Apart from a brief absence in 1988 (due to a drinking problem), he's the one who more or less plotted the band's direction and helped sustain its hard-rock mayhem in the process.
Not surprisingly, Young is the product of an enviable rock 'n' roll
lineage. His brother George was a prime mover in the Aussie outfit, the
Easybeats, whose tune "Friday On My Mind" established them as
international hit makers. Another brother, Alex -- the only member of the
family that wasn't an expatriate -- established his own bit of history
by founding the band Grapefruit, one of the earliest bands to ink a deal
with the Beatles' Apple organization in the late '60s. Nevertheless,
its Malcolm's relentless riffs and no-nonsense melodies that have helped
AC/DC establish their template for sheer rock 'n' roll frenzy.
As a result, it could be argued -- and successfully at that -- that no other outfit, before or since, has ever usurped AC/DC's crown as the world's most riveting rockers. In fact, it could be said that they even outrock the Rolling Stones, their closest competitor. Need proof? Try this for a side-by-side comparison:
• The Stones may have patented certain rock 'n' roll riffs -- those that drove "Satisfaction," "Start Me Up," "Honky Tonk Woman," and the like -- but AC/DC perfected the formula and has yet to deviate from it. Name any of its signature hits - "T.N.T.," "Dirty Deeds," You Shook Me All Night Long," or "Highway to Hell" -- and it becomes obvious that its those deceptively simple guitar chords that anchor them all.
• The Stones may have lost key personnel over the years -- guitarist Brian Jones; his replacement, Mick Taylor; and bassist Bill Wyman in particular -- but AC/DC lost its lead vocalist, Bon Scott, for chrissakes, and still managed to carry on without missing a beat. That takes real know-how!
• The Stones catalog has always included slower songs along with the rockers -- songs like "Angie," "As Tears Go By," "Dandelion," "Waiting on a Friend," "Wild Horses," and the like. In some cases, they even added strings. AC/DC wouldn't be caught dead doing a ballad, much less adding orchestration. Never. Ever.
• OK, so Angus Young's schoolboy getup is starting to look somewhat suspect, given that Angus is clearly several decades removed from schoolboy status. But you gotta give the guy credit for sticking to his schtick. Keith Richards wouldn't have the nerve to wade out onstage in shorts. And given the way Keef looks these days, you gotta be grateful he wouldn't.
• The Stones think they have balls? As long as AC/DC keeps dragging out that iconic cannon (first introduced as a stage prop to complement the song "For Those About to Rock We Salute You"), they'll always have the bigger balls... cannon balls, that is.
• The Stones' rowdy reputation is based in part on its infamous drug busts. AC/DC's bad habit of choice is drink. Whenever there's a confrontation between drinkers and druggies, the drinkers generally win. The druggies are generally too stoned, or they tend to pass out prior.
• Given their craggy crater faces and determination to echo their younger selves, the Stones really aren't aging all that gracefully. Whereas Mick, Keith, and company began looking like dandies once they hit prime, AC/DC have never veered from their grubby working-class roots. Consequently, they eschew any need for posturing or pretense.
• Mick Jagger was knighted. Think any member of AC/DC will ever get a similar honor, much less accept it? If so, think again.
• Jagger also had to make a point of telling the world he was a "Street Fighting Man." The members of AC/DC live the image to the hilt. Dirty deeds indeed.
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