“…AC/DC plays hard rock or just straight up, no bullshit rock ‘n’ roll. It doesn’t need to be complicated, it doesn’t need Dylanesque lyrics. The only thing it has to do is rock….” — Jesse Fink
Perhaps there is no other rock band that had to overcame as much adversity as AC/DC. At the height of their fame, fate threw them a seemingly insurmountable career threatening blow. The band would not only bounced back, but gain even greater international success.
The music industry is a finicky business. If a band makes a slight change in personnel, it can lose the chemistry and creativity that is responsible for the group’s success.
Now imagine what would happen if a rock band lost a flamboyant musically astute lead singer who was a great song writer and a talented performer. They’d most likely fade into obscurity or breakup, right? Not necessarily so, AC/DC faced that exact situation and went on to even greater achievements.
On Feb. 19, 1980, after a hugely successful album and a world-wide tour, AC/DC’s lead singer Bon Scott unexpectedly died while out parting with friends in London. Scott’s sudden death obviously threw the band’s future into jeopardy.
Scott was more than just the lead singer. He was a brilliant song writer who had an incredible flair for writing great lyrics; his live performances were legendary. Scott was also—being the oldest— an influence on the younger band members musical direction. The future of the band was in doubt.
It’s not unusual for bands to break up after loosing a key member. Led Zeppelin and The Doors are examples of successful bands that chose not to forge ahead after an unexpected death; however, AC/DC decided to replace Bon Scott.
After several tryouts, a replacement was found. An obscure singer named Brian Johnson was chosen to fill the huge shoes left by Bon Scott. The choice of Johnson proved to be incredible prescient. Although his voice and style was vastly different, he fit AC/DC to a “T.”
Looking back there really wasn’t another singer anywhere that could have fit the band’s style or overcame the shadow of Bon Scott better than Brian Johnson. His raspy voice was tailor made for AC/DC’s music style, and Johnson’s appearance and attire—the black cap and T-shirt with denim blue jeans— seamlessly fit the band’s hard rock image.
Bon Scott’s last album, “Highway To Hell,” was a breakout hit for AC/DC. Its immense world-wide popularity overshadowed all previous work and raised the band’s profile around the globe. Success of this magnitude is hard to recapture. Pressure to repeat that kind of success can destroy a band. Several bands have quickly faded after one hugely successful album. Quiet Riot and Twisted Sister are later examples of this type of failure. Add Scott’s death to the mix and a crash and burn recipe is ensured. Fortunately that didn’t happen.
Later in 1980 “Back In Black” was released. The album featured the debut of Brian Johnson. The new album was a mega hit. “Back In Black” went on to not only eclipse “Highway To Hell,” but to launch AC/DC into the stratosphere. The next several albums saw AC/DC continue unprecedented success.
Thirty plus years after the bleak start of 1980, AC/DC continued to beat the odds and remain one of the most relevant and consistent rock bands in the world.
Fans and music aficionados debate the Scott era verses the Johnson era. This argument gives a lot of fodder to experts and laymen, but the truth is without Bon Scott AC/DC may have never left the confines of Australia, and without Brian Johnson, the band would have burnt out in the 80s.
Scott built AC/DC into an early success. Johnson guided the band to superstardom, and the Malcolm brothers had the foresight to make Bon Scott their lead singer, not break-up the band following Scott’s death, and later hire Brian Johnson.
Now that Johnson has left the band and founding member Malcom Young has died, AC/DC may finally succumb to the forces of time. One thing is certain; AC/DC’s resilience is owed to four men: Bon Scott, Brian Johnson, Angus and Malcolm Young. Without those four personalities AC/DC would not be where they are at today in the annuals of Rock History.