My best friend Danny Alexander and I bought AC/DC‘s “Back in Black” at the Fisher’s Big Wheel in the summer of 1980. The sliver of vinyl in the jet-black cover cost $5.99. Over the nearly 40 years since, I’ve bought new copies of that record in every format. I’m streaming “Back in Black” as I write, and it still sounds like the first time.
It’s the riffs. Big, chunky slabs of magic that set fire to my adolescent mind and still hit me in the gut. That’s what Malcolm Young did, song after song, album after album, show after show for decades. While his legendary brother Angus pranced around out front playing flashy licks in a schoolboy uniform, Malcolm was in the back, making it all work. He stared straight ahead and put the thunder in “Thunderstruck” and countless other crunchy classics. Rhythm guitarists rarely get the glory, but Malcolm Young powered AC/DC. Without him and his quiet commitment to his craft, Australia‘s greatest export (sorry, Crocodile Dundee) would never have made it out of Sydney.
Malcolm Young died Saturday. He was 64. I was aware that he had been fighting dementia for a few years, which I found unutterably sad. The man wrote some of the most memorable music ever recorded. It was awful to think he would be slowly robbed of all those songs so many fans treasure all over the world. .
Malcolm Young was a rock god, but, like the rest of us, a mere mortal. His riffs will live forever.
I was back in my native Pittsburgh area recently for a cousin’s wedding. He and his bride weren’t even born when “Back in Black” was released. Yet there they were when the DJ played “You Shook Me All Night Long,” singing every word and playing air guitar with me and all the other geezers. It was a moment of pure joy made possible by middle-aged song that never sounds old.
Godspeed, Malcolm. We salute you.