Welcome home at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport, November 27, 1976. (courtesy the Herald & Weekly Times)
The story ran on the wire around Australia on November 26:
A small crowd of screaming girls today welcomed home the controversial rock band AC/DC. The screams, the hugs and the odd tears assured the five member group that it had not been forgotten during an eight month absence in England and Europe. And the members said they ensured that the English public and police force would not forget their act too quickly. At almost every performance the local police vice squad turned up. Guitarist Angus Young provoked the attendance of the law by stripping off his clothes on stage. In two cities, Glasgow and Liverpool, he was threatened with arrest.
The media was intent on getting something out of AC/DC. Another story went out that teenage female fans were getting tattoos in emulation of the band, which led to an uproar (as the papers put it) among health officials, who feared the risks of backyard tattooing. But if this was a storm in a teacup, it was only the beginning.
AC/DC themselves were happy to be home, although on a professional level, they weren’t so sure. They were in line to cop more shit than they ever had before. The matter of AC/DC even got so far as parliament, where one particularly crusty old member expressed fear at the threat the band posed to the nation’s morals.
The controversy only confirmed AC/DC’s suspicion that Australia was a backwater, and even though the band would make a tradition of coming home every year for Christmas, after this tour they would never play an Australian show again (at least not an official one) while Bon was alive.
AC/DC would ride out the so-named “Giant Dose of Rock’n’roll” tour—or what was left of it after bannings and protests—and then go back into Alberts to cut a new album in January.
Bon and Silver had not traveled out together. Bon flew in with the band; Silver went overland from London to Adelaide, where she spent Christmas with friends. She then joined Bon in Sydney in January as the band worked on the album.
Michael Browning went via New York, where he was going to have to pull some rabbits out of a hat if Atlantic was to continue its relationship with AC/DC. Support was building for the band in Britain and Europe, but they weren’t selling truckloads of records. And in America, they’d sold next to none. Then they’d failed to get into the country to make personal appearances, and the album they’d presented as a follow-up to the first, Dirty Deeds stunk—at least as far as Atlantic was concerned.
MICHAEL BROWNING: “The band really didn’t want to do that tour [of Australia]. I can remember arguing about it. But we needed money, because that was the time when the Atlantic contract was in question, so it was one of those things we had to do just to keep the machine running. I think the band thought Australia was all just a bit rinky-dink, after doing things on a reasonably professional level in England.”
Alberts was determined to distance the band from punk rock. They issued a press release in which the closing question “Were they a punk rock band?” was answered decisively by Bon. “No,” he said, “we are a straight ROCK’N’ROLL band.” But it was the specter of punk that was constantly evoked as the band was broadly decried as obscene and disgusting.
With all the hype—plus the fact that Dirty Deeds was still sitting in the top 10—AC/DC might quite reasonably have expected the tour to sell out. But the other major disappointment of the summer was that attendances were down. This was probably largely due to the fact that at that stage AC/DC were caught between audiences. The teenyboppers had lost much of their interest in the band in its absence. Yet the image of AC/DC as a teen phenomenon still persisted, so the emerging headbangers were still very wary of them. What made all this especially galling for the band was the fact that they were in such fine form, playing like demons.
Some muck-raking wowser had actually bothered to listen to an AC/ DC record, and found that the songs’ subject matter was quite frequently less than squeaky clean. At the same time, as Truth gleefully reported under the banner “POP HIT MAKES WIDOW’S PHONE RUN HOT”: “A wealthy widow was shocked and upset when she began to receive obscene telephone calls.” Kids had taken to dialing the number 36-24-36, which Bon suggests calling in “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” Chris Gilbey issued a profuse public apology.
But it was the sight of Angus’s spotty behind at every turn that really upset the media. Bon gasped in mock shock. “You see his backside in the papers more than you see his face—which is preferential as far as I’m concerned,” he told RAM.
The tour kicked off in grand fashion at the Myer Music Bowl. The full complement of tickets, at $5.50 and $4.50, was sold out. The show was the triumphant return everybody had hoped for. But things only went downhill from there.
Molly Meldrum reported in TV Week that AC/DC was the “cause of yet another hysterical riot,” bringing “a 5,000 fan crowd to fever pitch” (other reports had a further couple of thousand outside the cyclone-wire fencing).
“With scenes like this,” Molly went on, “there is no doubt that AC/ DC have become a huge threat to the top positions held by Sherbet and Skyhooks.”
The scene in Australia hadn’t changed much. The most successful new talent was a cabaret nostalgia act called Ol’ ’55, whose debut album Take It Greasy won out over even Sherbet’s Howzat as the year’s biggest local seller. Split Enz were still too weird forCountdown, although sophisticatedRolling Stone readers voted them “Best Band.” Hush had already faded away. Punk was still just grumblings in the underground, not taken seriously at all.
Debbie Sharpe said of the Bowl show in the Herald: “Lead singer Bon Scott played with the audience, singing to them, acting to them . . . and oh, that glint in his eye.” Bon was, in fact, doing everything short of what Jim Morrison got arrested for in Florida in 1970 (when he exposed himself) in an attempt to incite the crowd.
Sharpe went on later that night to see the Bay City Rollers, on tour in Australia for the second time in 12 months, and whilst she conceded that the scenes at Festival Hall were not as hysterical, “for both bands Sunday night was successful.”
AC/DC and company repaired to the Tiger Lounge, a pub in Richmond, where the band took over the stage. An unsuspecting punter who happened to be there remembers the occasion: “I’d never seen AC/DC, I mean, I wasn’t a fan. But they came down to the Tiger Lounge, and they just got up and had a blow. They played some blues songs and some rock’n’roll songs . . . Elvis songs. The room was really small and really packed, and it was great. I realized how good they were, even as pissed as I was. But the amazing thing was Bon. He was just this scrawny, ugly little guy standing up there, but he had every woman in the place eating out of his hand. He had this incredible sexual energy, magnetism, and the whole room was electrified by it. No one, men included, was unaware of it.”
AC/DC turned a few heads that night. The Tiger Lounge was a musicians’ watering hole, and when the cognoscenti (who had only ever condescended to AC/DC as a teenybopper band) saw them that night—just jamming, away from the usual pressure to put on a show, ripping up old blues tunes—they were impressed. Underneath the set moves, it was clear that they had the chops as well.
Malcolm and Angus didn’t care whether they were respected or not. They just wanted to make the money and run. Or at least, that was what they claimed. Certainly though, they knew themselves how good they were. And though Bon too had developed a thick skin—England had inured him to criticism—he was delighted that his peers at last saw the worth of what AC/DC was doing.
The band hit the road on Tuesday, December 7. They had barely made it to the Victoria/New South Wales border town of Albury on Wednesday, for the second gig of the tour, when the shit started rolling in. Sale of their tour program was stopped after the first gig as some other wowser had found a stray four-letter word in it. Bon was quoted explaining the theme of “Ain’t No Fun Waiting Around to Be a Millionaire” as follows: “It means it takes a long time to make enough money to be able to fuck Britt Ekland.” Albury’s town clerk claimed to have subsequently received complaints from parents. “If AC/DC want to come here again, they’ll have to change their act,” he said. “I’m a professional artist myself, and their act isn’t entertainment. I’m broadminded, but when you get children going along . . .”
All over the country, AC/DC would face such self-appointed moral guardians and petty bureaucrats who were determined to place every obstacle in their path. Gigs in Canberra and Wollongong over the next two nights were tempered by warnings from police: they would pull the plug if Angus pulled down his pants. He withheld his brown-eye.
Support acts for most of the tour were Stars and Punkz. Stars were the Adelaide band Michael Gudinski signed to Mushroom instead of Cold Chisel, because they seemed more manageable. They were that, but they were also less enduring, the appeal of their cowboy boogie sound wearing thin after “The Mighty Rock,” their biggest hit. Punkz later became known as Cheek, Punkz being something of a misnomer from the first. Managed by Glenn A. Baker and also signed to Mushroom, Punkz were a Sydneyside sixties-style act with which Baker perhaps hoped to repeat the success he’d enjoyed with his other retro proteges, Ol’ ’55—but he failed to do so.
“As a young player, in my first serious band, the thing that made a real impression on me was AC/DC’s utter professionalism,” says Mal Eastick, then lead guitarist in Stars. “And I’ve never seen anything quite like it since. They just knew exactly where they were going.”
After playing Newcastle on Saturday December 11, on the Sunday the tour played the rather more urbane Hordern Pavilion, in the center of Sydney. AC/DC put on a full-scale show—and no one was known to have gone off into the night speaking in tongues and raping babies. The 4,500-capacity Hordern was barely half full, however. As RAM’s review of the show reported, with the teenyboppers dropping off “AC/DC, like Skyhooks, must start the whole slow progress of winning over and earning the trust of a more musical audience.” But their prospects looked good, since “the bulk of the audience resembled the Status Quo crowd who raged and boogied to their heroes just a week before.”
The band’s appeal was irresistible either way. “Loud seems too tame a description for the volume they inflict on an audience,” RAM continued, “it’s more a ‘living sound’ that actually penetrates the flesh and bones until movement and rhythm come involuntarily and the audience is swept into the same current . . . behind the insistency lies an excellent rock/blues outfit with an amazing singer out front in Bon Scott . . .”
Heading out of Sydney, the band played Orange and Dubbo before the Mayor of Tamworth, Australia’s country music capital, stepped in and refused the band permission to play in his fair burgh. Channel Nine’s A Current Affair had a crew following the band around like the Keystone Cops, waiting for the something sensational to happen—which it didn’t, even then. The gig was blown out, the band just had to hole up in their motel, and then move on, according to schedule, to the next town. No savage retribution, no trail of rape and pillage.
MAL EASTICK: “We actually had to pinch ourselves to believe it, you know, This is really true, they’re not going to let us play. And then the next thing, Mike Willesee arrives in a helicopter, and Willesee was a very big deal on television at that time, and so it was, Hey, this is getting serious! Up to that point, I don’t think they were at all perturbed by the controversy, I think they were probably quite amused. But when it was actually loudly expressed that AC/DC were not welcome to play in Australia, in certain parts, they just couldn’t believe the pettiness, the small-townness of it. I think they were then inclined to adopt the attitude, Well, fuck Australia, we’ll go back to Europe, seeya later.”
The juggernaut pressed on, from Tamworth to Toowoomba. AC/DC made use of any spare time they had to prepare for recording.
EASTICK: “We traveled together in a small bus. They were always working on songs, all the time. It wasn’t like, Hey, I’ll wait until I’ve got some privacy, or until I’ve had a couple of drinks, gotten loose—none of that. I can remember Angus playing guitar on the bus, and Bon used to stomp up and down the aisle, he would stand behind the driver and he always had a pad and would work on titles first.”
After Toowoomba, which a police spokesman said was “quiet and without incident”—if quiet is the right word—the band played Brisbane Festival Hall on Saturday, December 18. Strangely, Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s blue-shirted stormtroopers failed to exert their presence.
The papers in Sydney still wouldn’t let go of the story. “‘Members of Australian punk rock group AC/DC must decide if they are strippers or musicians,’ the General Manager of radio station 2SM said today,” read one report. “‘Until they do, the station will not associate with them in any way,’ Mr. Garvis Rutherford said. Mr. Rutherford said 2SM would not advertise the group’s concerts or play their recordings.” 2SM may have been one of AC/DC’s original champions, but the station also happened to be owned by the Catholic Church.
The band headed north out of Brisbane to tropical Bundaberg and Rockhampton, before doing a U-turn and heading back down the coast again. At Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast, the band checked into the Pink Poodle for a well-earned day off. Bon made a beeline for the surf, where the diversions were many besides just swimming. He watched the guy with a spray gun full of suntan oil anointing barely bikini-clad beach bunnies.
But as occupied as Bon was, he still desperately missed Silver.
SILVER: “Where I was staying at the beach in Adelaide, this girl didn’t have a telephone, so I was just bombarded with telegrams. Bon was a prolific letter writer, when he was on the road, he wrote almost every day. All those letters I lost. It was sad, because some of his song lyrics were born in those letters, too.”
EASTICK: “Bon was probably one of my strongest early impressions of a rock star living that rock star life, a hard life, you know, where he wasn’t really sleeping much, nursing a lot of hangovers—there must have been something inside him that was lonely, or unhappy, for him to have acted the way he did. But at the same time, he was a totally dedicated professional. With that strong obsession, like, We’re gonna be better than everybody else.”
On Thursday, December 22, the band played in Murwillumbah, just an hour or so’s drive south of the Gold Coast, in the lush Northern Rivers of New South Wales, next door to the Aquarian Age commune town of Nimbin. AC/DC made as much sense to the hippies as they did to banana farmers. At least Bon scored a bag of killer home-grown.
The following night, the band played on the Gold Coast itself, at the Miami High School Great Hall, with the Saints. As if from out of nowhere—or at least from the wilds of the western Brisbane suburb of Oxley—the Saints had set faraway England on its ear with “(I’m) Stranded,” the blazing, pioneering single they’d recorded and released themselves, which went on to become a punk classic. Chris Gilbey had got wind of this and located the band to offer them a gig. They arrived at the gig in a couple of beaten-up old station wagons, a few of the Oxley boys lugging their gear just so they could hang around.
Even at the height of school holidays, the hall held only a smattering of suntanned teenagers. Michael Browning was manifestly unimpressed by the Saints, although Chris Gilbey would go on to manage the band briefly. AC/DC themselves were equally unimpressed, the Oxley boys narrowly avoiding a confrontation with their crew since all they were doing was getting in the way.
At eight the next morning, the band climbed in the bus to do the thirteen hour drive back to Sydney. “THEN,” as the worksheets put it, “EVERYBODY FUCKS OFF! BUT MAKE SURE THAT YOU MAKE ARRANGEMENTS TO BE BACK IN MELBOURNE BY THURSDAY 6TH JANUARY.”
It was almost as if Michael Browning had only just sat down to Christmas dinner with his family in Melbourne when the phone rang. Phil Carson was calling from London. A problem. Atlantic in New York had decided not to release Dirty Deeds, and were quite possibly not going to pick up their option on AC/DC.
MICHAEL BROWNING: “There’s no doubt that Atlantic Records in America were really lukewarm on the group at first, in point of fact, would have preferred to have dropped the group. They had a guy called Jim Delahant, who was head of A&R at the time, who quite clearly wished to have them dropped. Jerry Greenberg, the president of the company, was kind of half into it. It was only because Phil Carson in London talked them into dropping the advance commitment that they held onto the group. Which was the difference between having to pay twenty thousand dollars instead of thirty; nothing by today’s standards, but then, it was the only way we could keep the deal.”
Carson was confident that AC/DC could do good business in Britain to start with, and then in America. He shared with Browning and the band members the belief that the forthcoming album would take AC/DC up to the next level.
The band, as usual, was unaware of these goings on. Bon checked into the Hyatt Kingsgate in Sydney’s seamy Kings Cross, and spent Christmas with the Youngs at Burwood. But with the news coming through that the city fathers of the Victorian coal-mining town of Warrnambool had barred the band from appearing there on January 12, something was going to have to give.
“ROCK BAND THREATENS TO LEAVE COUNTRY” read the headline on New Year’s Eve. “AC/DC—Australia’s raunchiest rock group—have threatened to quit the country and settle in England because of alleged ‘hounding’ from local authorities,” the story opened.
“It’s no good if we drive half way across the country to stage a concert to find that someone has cancelled it because they consider us obscene,” Angus was quoted as saying. “It will only take a couple more hassles from the authorities and we will leave Australia.”
The point was academic. Leaving Australia, so to speak, was what the band was doing anyway; they were never in one place long enough to call anywhere home. But from this point on, AC/DC almost disowned Australia, even if they all continued to return there every year for Christmas. They would go so far as to play down being an Australian band, proclaiming instead their Scottish roots.
On New Year’s Eve, Bon went out to see the debut performance by Rose Tattoo. They were guys he knew: singer Angry Anderson had fronted Buster Brown, Phil Rudd’s old band; slide guitarist Peter Wells was previously in Buffalo, and bassist Ian Rilen in Band Of Light; the line-up was completed by rhythm guitarist Mick Cocks and drummer “Digger” Royal. Overnight, the Tatts became notorious, a self-styled gang of rock’n’roll outlaws intent on mayhem and destruction. Bon loved them; it was his tip, in fact, that led to their signing with Alberts.
MICK COCKS: “In the early days, when we first started, we could only work two places, the Lifesaver and Chequers, everybody hated us. But Bon was a big fan. And that’s basically how we met. If Bon was in town, he’d pop up somewhere, and we’d go and have a drink.
“In those days, Angus and Bon used to get up for a blow. ’Cos Bon would be out drinking with his girlfriend, just having a good time, and we got on really well. I suppose we were one of the few bands he could get up and have a sing with and feel comfortable. We’d just do standards—Little Richard, “Johnny B Goode,” “Goin’ Down,” old blues songs. We were a rock’n’roll band, in a period when everything was a bit glam, or whatever.”
AC/DC got out on the road again on January 5. They played out the rest of their tour, six gigs, without undue incident. Bonds were paid in Portland and Bendigo, $500 and $2,000 respectively, and they were not forfeited. After the last gig on January 14 in Ballarat, the band was simply relieved it was all over. Now they could get in the studio. They hightailed it immediately to Sydney, where they all checked into the Hyatt Kingsgate. Silver joined Bon there.
The band was back in the familiar—indeed, familial—confines of Alberts’ Studio One. Bon added Silver’s name, in silver spray-paint, to the graffiti wall at one end of the studio, such was his devotion to her. Such was everyone else’s suspicion of her, it was promptly erased.
MARK EVANS: “The band sounded different in the studio. We were all playing well, we were all happy to be back in Sydney, we were enjoying that, and so recording that album the confidence was right up. We were recharged because we knew we had to go back over to England again and really do it. And I think that album was one of the better ones of the whole lot, it was a real turning point for the band.”
RAM asked Bon whether there would be any change in AC/DC after three straight rock’n’roll albums. “But that’s all there is,” he replied, “there’s no more than that. You play what you were brought up on, what you believe in. I can listen to other bands that play really intricate stuff and I can appreciate it, and I even like some of it, but I’d never attempt to play it. Like Alex Harvey took the rock’n’roll thing and told stories but that’s going too far for me. I wouldn’t try to tell anything more intricate than “Jailbreak” ’cos that’s still basically rock’n’roll.”
George and Harry were just as fired up as the band. If George accepted that Dirty Deeds had been rejected by Atlantic in America because his production of it was poor (rather than blaming Michael Browning), then he was going to make amends with Let There Be Rock, as the next album would be called.
Alberts had continued on its winning streak in Australia during 1976. The Ted Mulry Gang trailed only Sherbet and Skyhooks as the biggest band in the land. John Paul Young was the leading male solo artist. George and Harry themselves won a TV Week King of Pop Special Award for Best Australian Songwriters. Late in the year, when they released their own first single under the Flash and the Pan aegis, “Hey, St Peter!” it went to number three.
By now ensconced at Kangaroo House, George and Harry were raring to go with AC/DC. Sessions progressed smoothly, in typical AC/ DC fashion—George, Malcolm and Angus honing riffs and ideas, with the addition of Bon’s lyrics, into structured songs, and then putting it all down in rapid-fire sequence. One of the most repeated stories concerning AC/DC’s studio method emanates from these sessions. At one time, as Angus was overdubbing a guitar solo (and guitars and vocals were about all that was overdubbed), his amplifier started smoking, fusing out. George gestured wildly from behind the desk, Keep going! Keep going! “There was no way,” he later explained, “we were going to stop a shit-hot performance for a technical reason like amps blowing up!”
Let There Be Rock was the first fully rounded AC/DC album. The band had finally found itself. George and Harry gave the band plenty of room, and the band rose to the occasion and brought it all home. George and Harry got AC/DC sounding better than they ever had on vinyl before, capturing with clearer definition and crisper dynamics all the savage attack of the band’s live sound. Bon’s writing too was more assured, more coherent. The band stretched themselves to wring the most out of every bar of every song—and still they never overdid it.
Let There Be Rock saw AC/DC abandon the last vestiges of the pop band they had once been. “That album sort of put us on the road,” Angus agreed, “and I think it also set the style of the band.”
Its feature track, “Whole Lotta Rosie,” was, of course, a play by Bon on Led Zeppelin, and his tribute to the self-same Rosie, an ode to making fat ladies sing as fine as Jimmy Castor’s like-minded funk classic “Troglodyte.” If Bon had returned to Melbourne in 1975 for that song’s inspiration, others betrayed the same source: “Go Down” was inspired by supergroupie Ruby Lips, and “Overdose,” which appropriately borders on the turgid, harks back to Judy King.
On previous albums, simple stomps like “Dog Eat Dog,” “Bad Boy Boogie” and “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place To Be’ might have been filler tracks, but on Let There Be Rock, they more than justify their presence. Only the requisite slow blues, “Crabsody in Blue” (a creaky play on the title of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”), falls short lyrically, like “The Jack.” The title track, however, is a masterpiece; its extended instrumental passage enters a realm of pure white noise equaled at the time (ironically enough) only by the Saints’s anarchic opus “Nights in Venice,” from their first album.
AC/DC had almost finished the album—and a new, previously recorded single, “Love at First Feel” had been released—when they went out to play a special show for the Festival of Sydney on January 30. Five thousand people turned up at the old Haymarket warehouse to see them headline over Taste and Chariot, and blow away any echoes of the “rock” stars of the festival—the Little River Band—who had earlier played the same venue.
MARK EVANS: “When we finished the album, we had to go back to England. We did a couple of gigs in Sydney, then we went back to Melbourne to do some gigs; we did a gig in Melbourne on Thursday night, then we did Friday and Saturday in Adelaide, then we did Sunday night in Perth, then we did the following Wednesday night in Edinburgh.”
“Can’t wait to get back [overseas],” Mark said at the time in RAM. “They treat you properly, food and booze provided, none of this hassling with hall managers shit.”
The band had had enough of Australia. Australia had failed to show the required amount of respect, so Australia could go fuck itself. AC/DC just wanted to be where the action was—in America. “Love at First Feel” performed even less well than “Dirty Deeds”; it would be the last AC/DC single to chart in Australia until “Highway to Hell” over two years later.
After playing to a mixed reception in Melbourne and Adelaide, AC/DC played its last Australian date in Perth, which at least enabled Bon to see his folks. His mother didn’t quite know what to make of this mysterious, dark lady by the strange name of Silver. But Bon seemed to cherish her—that was the right word—so like always, she just had to go along with him. Silver was extended every hospitality, and she could see just how devoted to Bon his parents were.
Like the other four members of AC/DC, Bon had received a missive from Ted Albert just prior to leaving Sydney which he was still clutching proudly. It contained a royalty check for the second half of 1976, and a letter, which read:
As you will see from the enclosed statement, the total record earnings for the whole group for the period total $24,733.06. After deducting the manager’s one-fifth, the total of $19,786.45 remains and your one-fifth of this is $3,957.29. A check for this amount is enclosed.
My personal thanks to you for all the many hours of hard work that you have spent in the studio during the last few weeks. Also on behalf of the whole company our thanks for your efforts overseas and our best wishes for the coming year.
Four thousand dollars in six months was a paltry sum when expressed as barely three cents for every $7 album sold—but to Bon, it was a fine old going-away present.
Isa saw Bon and Silver off at the airport. Chick couldn’t be there as he had to work. The band was glad just to get on the plane, putting Australia and all its petty aggravations behind them. They would not return to play again until after Bon was dead.
Now, not only Britain and Europe but also America beckoned. And they had a new album in their pocket that was so hot it was burning a hole.
Bon’s feet had barely touched the ground in London before he was back in the bus on the way to Edinburgh, where the band commenced a 26-date British tour on February 18. “Dirty Deeds” had been released as a single in January.
AC/DC was playing like a band possessed. The evident quality of Let There Be Rock had given them another injection of confidence, although none of its material had yet been introduced to the set. The ecstatic response back in Britain was encouraged by kids who had bought the Dirty Deedsalbum over Christmas and were now getting a chance to catch up with the band.
The majority of critics still failed to appreciate AC/DC, but Bon hit the nail on the head when he told the NME, “The music press is totally out of touch with what the kids actually want to listen to.
“These kids might be working in a shitty factory all week, or they might be on the dole—come the weekend, they just want to go out and have a good time, get drunk and go wild. We give them the opportunity to do that.”
Critic Lester Bangs once celebrated a “no-jive, take-care-of-business band . . . churning out rock’n’roll that thundered right back to the very first grungy chords and straight ahead to the fuzztone subways of the future.” Because their music was “so true to its evolutionary antecedents,” he went on to say, “it was usually about sex, and not just Sally-go-to-movieshow-and-hold-my-hand stuff . . ., but the most challengingly blatant flat-out proposition and prurient fantasy.” Bangs also praised the band’s “consistent sense of structure and economy,” noting: “I don’t think any of their songs ran over four minutes, the solos were short but always slashingly pertinent, and the vocals were . . . raspy and cocky and loose and lewd.”1
Bangs was extolling the drooling, banal raw glory of sixties punk prototypes the Troggs (creators of “Wild Thing” and “I Can’t Control Myself”)—but he could just as well have been describing AC/DC. Devoid of artifice and stripped down to the essentials, the rhythm and the blues, AC/DC got to the point with an elemental force, allowing Bon, with a glint in his eye and tongue in his cheek, to tell his tall tales.
“You get on that stage,” said Bon, “and the more crass, gross and rowdy you sound, the more they love it. So I just go up there and scream away, sometimes to a point where I can’t talk the next day.
“We’re on the crowd’s side,” he said, “because we give ’em what they want, and everybody gets into our show—because it’s a band/audience show. We’re not like performing seals, we’re all in it together.”
Back in London by the end of March, the band had a moment’s peace prior to taking off for Europe to tour with Black Sabbath at the end of April. Malcolm and Angus moved into a flat together in Ladbroke Grove; Mark and Phil moved into one just around the corner. Bon was snugly shacked up with Silver, who was still living by somewhat dubious means and dabbling with increasing enthusiasm in heroin.
Heroin was in plentiful supply in London in the late seventies, and of a consistently high quality and low price. It was enough to tempt anyone. Bon resisted it, maybe because he knew how dangerous it was, maybe because it just wasn’t his style of drug—he preferred anything more social—or maybe because he knew that as far as the Youngs were concerned, it was just not on. Silver, however, had no such reservations. And Bon was happy if she was happy.
SILVER: “As far as my life goes, I don’t think anyone has loved me as unconditionally as Bon. He had no complaints—they were all on my side. It gave me the guilts for quite a long time. Because Bon was really good to me. He accepted me exactly as I was. He was really attentive too, you know, two or three letters a day bombarding you when he was on the road, and he was always bringing flowers and little presents. I mean, it was full on, right up until we split up.
“No one gave Bon drugs. He could have used any time he wanted, but the thing was, we just wouldn’t let him. Partly because he wouldn’t metabolize them well, and also, if he was in that devil may care frame of mind, he wouldn’t stop to think that the person he was using with may have had a tolerance, and he had none at all, and so he would have ended up blue on the floor.
“Bon wanted to get married and have kids and all that sort of stuff. At the time, I just couldn’t get my head around that, it seemed like the world we were living in was so mad, it didn’t make any sense.
“Bon was very pipe and slippers. He liked peace and quiet. He had this public image, but he was probably the most domesticated male I’ve ever known. He liked everything to be clean and tidy. When he was home he liked to just see people, you know, sit around, entertain—at home, not going out. He liked having roast dinners on Sunday and all that. But he could go very quiet and somber if he was hurt. He was a typical Cancer.”
Silver’s recollection of the kind of records they used to listen to together throws a different light on Bon as well. He had a special fondness for female soul singers—Millie Jackson, Gladys Knight, Lorraine Ellison, even Joan Armatrading—and he also liked Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry, Steely Dan, the J Geils Band.
SILVER: “He knew the lyrics to an enormous number of songs. Everything from Oklahoma through to . . . all that Broadway musical sort of stuff. He had a great memory for lyrics . . . well, his short-term memory was stuffed, he couldn’t remember which plane he was supposed to catch! But yeah, his taste in music was very different.”
He still felt an obligation to live up to his image though, as a profile he filled out at the time suggests:
Favorite Drink: Whisky
Favorite Bike (Don’t Like Cars): Harley Sportster
Favorite Color: Silver (Preferably Metal), Black
Guitarist: Don’t mind the Young brothers
Singer: Don’t mind Jess Roden
Record: Don’t mind Tres Hombres
AC/DC Record: “Carry Me Home” (as yet unreleased)
Before the band left London for Europe, they shot a video for their new Australian single “Dog Eat Dog,” the first to come off Let There Be Rock, for the special fifth anniversary episode of Countdown. With “Carry Me Home” on the B-side, it went nowhere. WhenLet There Be Rock itself was released in May, it went in and out of the charts without getting higher than number 20. Ironically though, as Mark Evans put it, “That was the point at which things started to look really strong, that was when America started.”
With the British release of Let There Be Rock in the offing, Atlantic in New York was finally starting to come around. New A&R manager John Kalodner was much more sympathetic to AC/DC than his predecessor; plus there were two other new executives, Michael Klenfner and Perry Cooper, who were prepared to pin their own careers to the band’s. At the same time, AC/DC signed up with a new booking agent, Doug Thaler of American Talent International.
MARK EVANS: “The reason the band always had a level head was because there was always something to do, a new objective. We always seemed to be starting at the bottom and working our way up.”
The tour with Black Sabbath would prove ill-fated, and precipitated Mark Evans’ sacking. Sabbath, by 1976, were well past their prime, and AC/DC were all but blowing them off stage. Only the showmanship of Ozzy Osborne kept Sabbath alive. Substance abuse within the band was rampant. It was in this atmosphere, then, that relations between the two bands came to an ugly head, when Sabbath bassist “Geezer” Butler apparently pulled a flick knife on Malcolm. Fistic retaliation was swift, with the end result that AC/DC were simply shown the door.
EVANS: “I don’t think the band took too kindly to being on the road in Europe for some reason. Every time we went to Europe, things seemed to get strained. When we were in England, Scotland, no problems. And yeah, things did get very tense between Angus and me, basically, I suppose, because we just didn’t get on. And so what happens, if you’ve got your brother in the band, and somebody doesn’t like your brother . . .
“Europe could be a lonely time for Bon too. He never socialized with the band. It would not be unusual for us to be out, and not return with Bon. He would just wander off in some other direction. Do whatever it was he did.
“The last six months I was in the band, his drinking did escalate pretty quickly, to the point where he started showing up at gigs with a bottle of Johnnie Walker.
“In hindsight, after we had a problem with the Americans, going, What the fuck is this? knocking back Dirty Deeds, I think with the negativity of that, and then getting thrown off the Black Sabbath tour, I think I was made a bit of a scapegoat. It was, What’s going wrong, we’d better make a change. And it was gonna be both me and Bon!
“I didn’t know, and I’m sure Phil didn’t know either, that Dirty Deeds was knocked back in the States. We just weren’t told. We were in Helsinki after the Black Sabbath tour, ready to fly to America, right, we’re going, but then it was like, Guys, sorry, we’re not going, you’re going back to England. Things aren’t ready yet.”
Next thing, as RAM reported on June 3, “Mark Evans, the quiet, well-behaved member of AC/DC has left the group.”
All Mark said at the time was, “Both me and the band are better for it.” He was sent packing, given a $2,000 golden handshake in lieu of all future royalties. He returned to Melbourne, where he continued a career in music, initially as bassist with a band called Finch. And though it would take him ten years, he eventually won a settlement over the subsequent royalties which had been denied him.
MICHAEL BROWNING: “I got a phone call from Malcolm and Angus, and they said, Could you come over, we’ve got something important we want to talk about. At that stage I had a sense the Americans were a little bit negative towards Bon, I had a sense it might have been something to do with that. So I got there and I was actually surprised they wanted to get rid of Mark.”
MARK EVANS: “When I got the bullet, Michael Browning rang me and said, Listen, the guys are going to call a meeting, what do you know about it? I said, Michael, you’ve called the wrong guy, I don’t know anything about a meeting. He said, Well, it’s at Malcolm and Angus’s place tonight, I think they’re finally going to give Bon the arse. I said, I don’t know about any meeting, so I said to Phil, Do you know about a meeting, and he said, Yeah, I do. And I said, Michael, it’s me. And Michael’s words on the phone were, Oh fuck. He said, I thought it was going to be Bon.”