With the tragic passing of AC/DC’s founding member and rhythm guitarist Malcom Young, it’s a good time to reflect on an important book about the band’s importance. For an obituary style overview of Young, check out Rolling Stone’s recap of the musician’s life.
For our purposes here, we’ll spend some time with Why AC/DC Matters by bestselling journalist and celebrity co-author Anthony Bozza. Published in 2009 by William Morrow as the band was mounting a bit of a comeback with their Black Ice record. Bozza (who in the interest of full disclosure has been a friend and supportive mentor to me) told me the book was his “passion project.”
Throughout the text, he weaves insightful music criticism with biographical overview. You don’t have to be a hardcore fan to enjoy this book. Bozza will pull you along.
He first establishes the band’s dominance, for readers who might not be fully informed. “Since 1991, when SoundScan began tracking CD sales in the States, AC/DC has sold more than 26 million albums, outselling the Rolling Stones, the Who, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Led Zeppelin,” Bozza writes. “Today, they’re second only to the Beatles.”
Bozza ascribes the band’s stature with getting a simple style right the first time. They didn’t have to evolve, because they were basically perfect from the get go.
Considering that the band’s entire catalog is built on four or five basic, frequently used rock and blues chords, it is impressive that they’ve managed to pen a catalog of riffs that never sound like anyone else while remaining less repetitive than logic would predict. Do the math: the brothers Young have written roughly 140 songs with a handful of basic power chords. Now take into account how many of those songs and chord progressions have become pillars of hard rock. ‘Highway to Hell,’ ‘Back in Black,’ ‘You Shook Me All Night Long,’ ‘T.N.T.,’ ‘Long Way to Top,’ ‘Thunderstruck,’ ‘High Voltage,’ ‘If You Want Blood (You’ve Got it),’ ‘Dirty Deeds,’ ‘For Those About to Rock (We Salute You),’ ‘Hell’s Bells,’ and many more. AC/DC contribution to rock is gracefully zen: the Youngs and the band have made, and remade, iconic anthems from the most fundamental ingredients of the genre. They have not reinvented the wheel — they’ve spun it like a motherfucker.
Of the deceased Malcom Young, Bozza stresses his value to the group. “The unmistakable chordal element in AC/DC’s music is positively Malcom Youg. Unlike other rhythm guitar players, his contributions are truly the should of the band, rooting the songs as fundamentally as only a bass player usual can.
The rest of the book is well-argued and detailed, as you would expect of someone who formerly worked at Rolling Stone. In these days as we mourn the passing of Malcom Young, we could do worse than reading Anthony Booze’s book Why AC/DC Matters.