"I knew exactly what Malcolm wanted": Angus Young on the vision behind AC/DC's blockbuster return

A few weeks ago, Music Week welcomed AC/DC to our cover to celebrate their incredible new album Power Up

The record marks the triumphant return of the rock giants after a troubled period, which included the tragic loss of founding member Malcolm Young, as well as singer Brian Johnson stepping down from his role due to hearing loss. 

Power Up was crushing all competition and on course for a huge No.1 debut, notching up 53,361 sales in the latest midweeks. On Wednesday (November 18), it was less than 1,000 sales short of taking Kylie Mingoue’s recent record for the fastest-selling album of 2020 so far.

Speaking to Music Week in our cover interview, lead singer Brian Johnson told us about the hearing technology that enabled him to work with the band again and his hope that Power Up can inspire a new generation of rock fans.

“I hope this whole album generates a new bunch of kids that want to pick up a guitar and make rock‘n’roll so it becomes, not mainstream, but at least played more on radio than it is, let’s put it that way," Brian Johnson told Music Week. "That would be great.”

Above all else, Power Up is a tribute to AC/DC’s late rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, who retired from the group in mid-2014 as he continued to suffer from dementia. He passed away in 2017. The record, however, features a host of unused riffs and song ideas he and his brother, AC/DC’s lead guitarist Angus Young, worked on around the time of their blockbuster 2008 album Black Ice.

“There was so, so much stuff that we had at that time,” Angus Young told Music Week. “What went on Black Ice was just really the beginning of what we had. Malcolm kept saying to me all the time, ‘Ang, we have to get this material [out]’. He put so much effort into them, but we never got to put them down at the time, and it stuck with me. That’s really what got me to this point.”

Though Malcolm Young is not referenced on any of the songs explicitly, his spirit is present throughout the record, no more so than on key track The Mists Of Time.

“It was my favourite right from the start, and I love all the songs on this album so I hate saying ‘favourite’,” said Johnson. “But it’s the most memorable one for me. When I first heard it, I just thought of Malcolm and I don’t know why, it doesn’t mention his name, but it was such a special song. I still get goosebumps when I listen to it.”

Here, in an unread extract of our cover interview, Angus Young takes us further inside the making of Power Up…

In 2016, Brian had to step down from his role in the band, with Axl Rose joining to help you finish the tour. How do you reflect on that challenging period?

Angus Young: “Well, at the time, Axl Rose gave us a good help out. He said at the time, he could help us finish the dates that we were doing if it didn't get in the way with his own commitments. He did a great job, and everyone was very thankful that he helped us get through. It got us through to the end, we got to finish. At the end of it all, I took a little bit of space and then I just thought, ‘Well, I'll do what Malcolm and my other brother, who passed away, George, used to always say, ‘Sometimes the best therapy is doing something’. Malcolm was always that way, he would always say, ‘OK, Ang, let's me and you go sit and make some music.’ And that's what I did. I just got my guitar out and started strumming away. Then I thought, ‘Well, maybe I'll just go through a lot of those tracks that Mal and myself had worked on’.”

You clearly wanted to get these songs out into the world, but obviously there were so many puzzle pieces at the time to solve, such as Brian not being in a position to rejoin. Was AC/DC ever at risk of powering down rather than powering up?

“Well, we got updates with Brian that he'd been doing a lot of work with hearing specialists. I knew that he'd been testing out new things and that he was having a lot of positive results with it. Even with Cliff [Williams, AC/DC bassist, who announced his retirement at the end of the Rock Or Bust tour], I had said, ‘Listen, if I'm going to do something, do you want me to ask you if you wish to be involved?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, let me know, Ang.’ With Phil [Rudd, AC/DC drummer], last time I’d seen him he’d been in great condition. It was really a case of contacting the guys again, getting a hold of Brian, Cliff and Phil and my nephew Stevie because he would be doing the role of Malcolm’s part. It was a great feeling to know that everyone wanted to be part of it.” 

What was the first song you worked on for Power Up?

“Malcolm spent a lot of time with them all and so I knew those tracks was special to him. The first one we put down was Realize, that one was definitely [a case of] ‘I've got to get that in there!’” 

You’ve described your late brother Malcolm as the driving force of the band, how have you adjusted to life without that driving force?

“When we went to do the album, I would always think, ‘Well, Mal would like it this way’. Because of all the years I was working with him, I knew exactly what he wanted. Even if I did something on my own, I would always gear it to how Mal would want it. If I was writing a tune, I was really trying to impress Mal, going, ‘I know he’ll like this!’” 

Subscribers can read the full AC/DC Music Week cover feature here.

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