Notably, like AC/DC Back in Black released in July 1980, several of the best-selling hard rock albums in history also have been made under the most dire of circumstances amidst tremendous tragedy and loss:
Deep Purple Machine Head – lost their recording studio to a massive fire the night before they were to begin. Result: one of the quintessential hard rock albums of all time.
Def Leppard Hysteria – lost their key man producer; lost their way in the studio; drummer lost his arm in a car crash. Result: 25 million copies sold worldwide.
Whitesnake (’87) – bandleader David Coverdale lost his voice; lost his band; lost $3 million making it. Result: estimated 9.5 million copies sold.
Metallica Metallica (Black Album) – band lost their bass player in a Swedish tour bus rollover crash. Result: 16.5 million copies sold in the US.The Back in Black AC/DC secret has now been revealed, but until the In the Studio series of exclusive classic rock interviews, you didn’t find it in the myriad of magazine articles, online biographies, books, and fansites dedicated to the band. Sure, you’d see tons of photos and references to lead guitarist Angus Young’s frenetic stage energy while performing in his schoolboy short pants. But understand this : AC/DC was always his big brother Malcolm Young ‘s band. My initial hunch that this was true came during my first classic rock interview with the band, as Angus, singer Brian Johnson, and I were discussing the breakthrough album Highway to Hell (the last with colorful ruffian singer Bon Scott, who died of alcohol poisoning shortly after) and the follow-up with Brian singing, Back in Black . Numerous times during the conversation, both Angus and Brian alluded to what Angus’s older brother, rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, thought, said, or did. It became increasingly apparent as the stories unfolded that, musically and spiritually, Malcolm Young was to whom the others looked. Angus Young may have been chosen early on to be the focal point of AC/DC, but big brother Malcolm was always the heart and soul of this band, becoming even more so after the death of Bon Scott in 1980. (That’s a young Young: Malcolm left, then Atlantic Records promo veteran Michael Prince center, and even younger brother Angus Young right)
So a few years later when another AC/DC interview opportunity arose, I insisted that Malcolm be included, and my hunch was quickly confirmed. Malcolm was plain-spoken, unpretentious, wise, and doggedly determined. And while the excellent biographers at AllMusic.com correctly note that AC/DC’s popularity and sales waned from the mid-1980s through the end of the decade, they fail to grasp why: Malcolm’s drinking had increased to a debilitating point whereby it was affecting not only his health but his creative leadership of the band, and Mal wisely took a leave of absence for over two years. So it was then no coincidence, when a clean and sober Malcolm Young rejoined AC/DC for 1990’s The Razor’s Edge , that it became the quintet’s biggest seller and best-reviewed album since Back in Black a decade earlier. We are saddened that AC/DC co-founder Malcolm Young has passed after a long bout with dementia. Nevertheless, it always was Malcolm’s band. –Redbeard