Let There Be Rock: AC/DC's Angus Young on the Rhythm Playing of Malcolm Young

by Nick Bowcott
Posted Apr 26, 2013 at 10:51am

This entry comes from Angus Young classic Guitar World column, "Let There Be Rock."

Last time, we ended the column by talking about your brother Malcolm's rhythm playing and what it adds to AC/DC's sound.

ANGUS YOUNG: Malcolm's really underrated. He makes the band sound so full, and I couldn't ask for a better rhythm player. Sometimes I look at Malcolm while he's playing, and I'm completely awestruck by the sheer power of it. He's doing something much more unique than what I do-with that raw, natural sound of his. People like Malcolm, Steve Cropper, Chuck Berry and Keith Richards-they're all doing something better than the rest of us. I can't deny that Eric Clapton's and Eddie Van Halen's lead stuff has influenced a stack of people, but for me it's the rhythm thing that's way more impressive and important to a band.

Malcolm is a big inspiration to me; he keeps me on my feet. Even when I'm tired from running around the stage for two hours, I'll look back at what he's doing and it gives me that boot up the backside I sometimes need. [laughs] Also, he can always tell me if I'm playing well or if I'm not. Mal's a very tough critic, and I know that if I can please him, I can please the world. A lot of people say, "AC/DC-that's the band with the little guy who runs around in school shorts!" But I wouldn't be able to do what I do without Malcolm and the other guys pumping out the rhythm. They make me look good.

Mal is really a great all-around guitarist. I know it says "rhythm guitar" on the album jacket, but if he sits down to play a solo, he can do it better than me. Not a lot of people have picked up on this, but in the early days he used to play lead. But then he said to me, "No, you take the solos. I'll just bang away back here." And what's more, he actually plays rhythms. He just doesn't make a noise; he works them out, and he knows when not to play.

What Malcolm plays behind your intro to "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)" is a great example of what you're talking about here. It's powerful, yet sparse, complements your part perfectly and is very well thought out.

YOUNG: Yeah, he's right on the money on that one. As soon as he comes in [see Figure 1], he kicks the song into a higher gear. He immediately lets you know what it's all about and who it is. I mean, as soon as you hear that first B chord, you know it's him. And, if you listen carefully to what he's doing, he's not just repeating the same four-bar riff over and over. It's different each time around, and that really helps build up the intensity of the intro until the whole band gets going. To do this kind of thing well isn't easy; you have to be a master of rhythm, and that's exactly what Mal is.

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My part in AC/DC is just adding the color on top. Mal's the band's foundation. He's rock solid and he pumps it along with the power of a machine. He doesn't play like a machine, though. Everything he does grooves and he always seems to know exactly what to play and when to play it. He's a very percussive player too, his right hand just doesn't stop sometimes. It's scary, it really is!

The first verse riff in "Dog Eat Dog" [Let There Be Rock] is a perfect example of Mal's percussive approach.

YOUNG: Yeah. I play short, sharp stabs [plays FIGURE 2, which is in the right channel of the stereo recording] while Mal does something a little more busy like this [plays FIGURE 3, which is in the left channel]. He's like a friggin' human metronome. It's all in his right wrist, y'know!

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