Go ahead. Try to name the five best-selling rock bands in U.S. history. The top four are the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Eagles. But the fifth might come as a surprise.
It's AC/DC, a group that has sold a staggering 70 million albums in the United States and 140 million worldwide. The band's top seller, Back in Black, sold 19 million copies in the United States (42 million worldwide) and has been played in every frat house worth its beer, as well as in every rock rebel's car stereo across the land.
Those are heady numbers, and it's no wonder that AC/DC was inducted last night into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with British punk icons the Clash, musical renaissance man Elvis Costello and smooth crooners the Righteous Brothers.
"The wrinkles are coming, but the energy is still there," says guitarist Malcolm Young, who, with his brother Angus, forms one of the most dominant one-two guitar punches in the business, even though each measures only 5-foot-2 and weighs 110 pounds. In this case, size doesn't count. It's all about heart. And about writing classic riffs that have stoked such hits as "You Shook Me All Night Long," "Back in Black" and "Moneytalks," influencing young groups from Buckcherry to the Donnas, the Datsuns and Hayseed Dixie in the process.
Not bad for a band that has never written a ballad, but has steadily delved into the bad-boy boogie of such albums as Highway to Hell and Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, both of which sold 6 million copies.
"When a friend told me we were being inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame," says Angus, "I asked him, 'Are we being inducted or indicted?' When you pick up a guitar, your lifelong ambition is never to be stuck inside of some kind of institution. ... We have some fans who would probably be more happy if we were put in the Bastille."
"Oh, but it's nice. Plus, it will get us a trip to New York," Malcolm said of last night's ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, which will be followed by AC/DC's only U.S. show of the year, at the Roseland Ballroom tonight.
Both brothers spoke on the phone from Australia, where the group started 30 years ago. The longevity is all the more remarkable in a world where brother acts tend to be fraught with upheaval (think of Oasis and the Black Crowes; fraternal mudslinging fractured both bands).
Malcolm is now 50, and Angus (a seventh son, for those who pay attention to biblical references) is 47. The group is rounded out by British singer Brian Johnson (hired to replace the legendary Bon Scott, who choked to death after a night of hardcore drinking in 1980), British bassist Cliff Williams, and New Zealand drummer Phil Rudd. But it is the brothers Young who write the music and power the band. And though they had their personal differences growing up, they resolved them professionally. "When we first got the band together, our mom and dad said we wouldn't last three weeks," says Malcolm."But it's been 30 years. We both respect each other, and the best part is when we play guitar together and look over and see a big smile on each other's face."
"We did fight like cats and dogs when we were kids," Angus acknowledges."At the end of the day, the two of us know what we want. We just want a good rock 'n' roll tune. He knows what I can do, and he knows when I'm being lazy. We've learned how to feed off each other."
The latest label to feed off AC/DC is Epic Records, which has just remastered the AC/DC catalog and is releasing it in a series of Digipaks featuring booklets with each album's original artwork (each CD has Sony's new "ConnecteD" technology, which lets listeners access extra content through the Internet, including videos, photos, and information associated with each record).
The first six reissues just came out, including Back in Black, Highway to Hell, High Voltage, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and two live albums. Five more come out on April 8, then another five on May 20 (with some vinyl reissues due later this year at the request of the Youngs, who are vinyl junkies).
The Youngs say the best AC/DC album is 1978's Powerage, which had such fuel-injected anthems as "Down Payment Blues," "Kicked in the Teeth" and "Sin City." Says Malcolm, "That album was what we were going for when we first started. ... That's when Bon really hit his prime."
AC/DC has one more studio album to deliver to its outgoing label, Elektra Records (don't look for that until later this year, at the earliest), then they'll be on Epic. But the motivation, as ever, is the same.
"We're always being compared to Back in Black," says Malcolm. "It would be nice to equal that again. That's what we're shooting for.'"