In autumn 1992, I interviewed Malcolm Young for a now long-extinct music magazine called Metal CD. AC/DC were always a formidable live act, but studio-wise, they’d been in the doldrums for most of the 1980s (Fly On The Wall, anyone?). Then came 1990’s platinum ‘comeback’ album, The Razors Edge. AC/DC were on the upswing again, but were as notoriously press-shy as ever…
It took several weeks and numerous phone calls to get the interview confirmed. Then, with 24 hours’ notice, I was summoned to AC/DC’s management office on London’s King’s Road. Here, I was ushered into a room where their rather debonair manager, Stewart Young (no relation), looked at me suspiciously, dialled Malcolm’s home number in Sydney, Australia, and then, almost reluctantly, handed me the phone.
AC/DC were promoting a new live album, imaginatively titled Live. Malcolm had agreed to discuss every AC/DC album so far, and share some thoughts on the band. Best-laid plans…
The first sound Malcolm made down the line was a deep, phlegmy cough. I knew we were in trouble when he answered my questions about the first two albums with the same response: a very long pause, followed by, “That was a good one… A few good songs on that one.”
By the time we reached their third UK album, Let There Be Rock, I felt like a dentist with his knee on a patient’s chest, trying to extract a particularly obdurate wisdom tooth. Malcolm eventually sensed my discomfort. “Listen, mate,” he sighed, in-between what sounded like puffs on a cigarette. “Can I be truthful? It was so long ago, I can’t always remember which songs are on which records. You remind me and we can take it from there.”
Great. Now we’re getting somewhere. Okay, Let There Be Rock, then. You’ve got Go Down, Dog Eat Dog, the title track…? There was another achingly long pause, finally followed by, “That was a good one… A few good songs on that one.”
In a desperate attempt to warm him up, I tried a different approach and asked Malcolm what bands he’d listened to while growing up. “The Stones and The Who,” he replied, warming up a bit – from stone cold to tepid. What about these days? Another long pause: “The Stones and The Who… and that’s about it.”
“The version that came out in Britain was a mix of songs from our first two Australian albums, High Voltage and T.N.T.. T.N.T. is a song that still goes over a storm every time we play it. It sounds like it could have come out today. D’you know there are bands out there still trying to write another T.N.T. today?
“Live Wire and It’s A Long Way To The Top came together almost immediately in the studio. When we played live in those days, we used to jam a lot on stage because we were so short of original material. We used to play Jumpin’ Jack Flash and put in 15 minutes of bullshit so we could fill up a 40-minute set. And the riffs for Live Wire and It’s A Long Way To The Top came out of those jams.
“Back then we never went into the studio with anything more than a riff. In fact, we thought a riff was a song. We really didn’t know any better.”
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap:
“We didn’t have much time to do that album. After High Voltage we seemed to be touring constantly. Then we signed the record deal to go over to England and just as we’d completed the tour, they told us we had to do another album. All we did was go straight into the studio after doing the night’s gig and knock up some new ideas.
“It was Angus that came up with the song title – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. It was based on a cartoon character that had the phrase as his calling card [Dishonest John in the TV cartoon Beany And Cecil_]. Then Bon stuck in the line _‘I’m dirty, mean, mighty unclean’ from an advert for mosquito spray that was running on Aussie TV at the time. Yes, we were always a very topical band. We looked at what was happening in the world [laughing].
“Big Balls was the other one from that record that sticks in the mind. It was just a bit of a joke, a bit of fun. We needed to fill up the album, someone came up with a rumba or a tango, and Bon started writing these hilarious words. Bon loved an innuendo and he was obsessed with his balls.”
Let There Be Rock:
“Now this was a steamer! I suppose we were getting a bit more serious and we wanted to get a rawer sound and cut out those commercial choruses like T.N.T.. We knew exactly what we wanted, which were three really strong live tracks to flesh out the set.
“Whole Lotta Rosie was on that album, wasn’t it? We knew it was going to be a sure‑fire winner, and Bad Boy Boogie and Let There Be Rock were the other two we felt would go the distance on stage. Those three overshadow most of the other songs on the album and ended up in the live set for years after.”