AC/DC’s Malcolm Young: Decades Of Rock By The Numbers

Co-founder of the legendary rock act AC/DC Malcolm Young passed away at the age of 64, representatives of the band confirmed Nov. 18. He was for decades an integral part of AC/DC’s explosive sound and Pollstar’s extensive reports gives us a glimpse into the live legacy of this elite touring band. 

Malcolm Young of AC/DC
Chris McKay /
– Malcolm Young of AC/DC
Philips Arena, Atlanta, Ga.

The group is known around the world for hits he co-wrote like “Back in Black” and “Highway To Hell,” but he also worked as the bandleader for decades, on multiple treks around the globe.

Looking at the numbers of a band that has been around as long as AC/DC shows how the industry shifted towards live shows as a primary source of income. It is commonly understood that the advent of digital-music sharing (and piracy) in the 1990s disrupted the music industry’s model of record-based income. The band – with Malcolm as the onstage leader and his brother Angus as the show-stealing lead guitarist – was always known as a high-energy, must-see live experience, but the numbers clearly show a huge attention toward touring later in its career.

AC/DC was formed by Malcolm and Angus in the early ’70s, when it toured Australian clubs and eventually started running internationally with frontman Bon Scott, peaking with a performance in London’s Wembley Stadium in 1979. After the singer’s unfortunate death by asphyxiation in 1980, he was replaced by Brian Johnson, who recorded vocals on the classic Back In Black album, and the group resumed playing theaters and arenas primarily in Australia, Europe and North America according to fan site Highway To AC/DC, though they also visited Japan a few times in the ’80s.

Pollstar started getting significant reports from the band in 1988 for its “Blow Up Your Video” world tour, though Malcolm reportedly had to miss a large portion of that tour due to deal with alcohol abuse. By that time the band was already an established headliner, playing 110 shows in 105 cities, moving 1,182,341 reported tickets and finishing at the number 7 spot on the Year-End Top 100 Tours chart. Tickets were still relatively cheap to live shows back then, so even a major draw like AC/DC was only charging $17 per ticket.

The next time AC/DC came onto Pollstar’s Top 100 Tours was in 1991, when the group finished at the number 11 spot, playing 60 shows in 57 cities. That tour was in promotion of The Razors Edge, which contained the hits “Thunderstruck,” and “Are You Ready”. Based on reports and research that tour grossed $26,992,875 in today’s dollars, moving 747,524 tickets at an average price of $20. 

A few years later the band came into its biggest tour of the ’90s in 1996, which saw the group play 81 shows in 74 cities grossing $32,822,507 on 843,970 tickets at an average price of $25. That tour again brought the band to the number 11 spot on the Year-End Top 100 Tours chart.

The band continued to chart with its global “Stiff Upper Lip” tour in 2000 and 2001 charting at the 27 and 21 positions respectively in each year. The tour ran from summer of 2000 to spring in 2001, so other bands that started their tours in the spring or winter of either year might have had an edge in terms of number of shows counted on one chart. The group hit 32 cities in 2000 and 33 in 2001, making the full trek a 65-city endeavor that saw the group’s average ticket price move to $42. The combined two years grossed $50,331,619 in today’s dollars.

By 2008-2009, the band was ready to take its place at the top though with its iconic “Black Ice World Tour”. The group again started 2008 late, playing only 28 shows in the calendar year, though those shows alone got the group to the 17 slot on the Year-End charts. The average ticket prices for those shows shot up to $99, bringing the average gross up to $1,562,500.

That tour rolled on into an epic 99-show stretch in 2009, that earned the group a staggering $260,424,105 in today’s dollars. That year saw the band extensively tour North America and Europe and run through South America, bringing it to the number 2 rank on that’s year’s chart.

The powerhouse that was AC/DC pushed on into 2010, hitting Australia and New Zealand, Japan, Europe, and North America again. The group earned another $200,216,946 in today’s dollars on that run of 40 shows in 32 cities. Despite the lower number of shows that tour still dominated the charts, finishing the year at the number 3 spot.

If one were to combine the “Black Ice” stretch of dates from 2008-2010, the band played 167 shows in 149 cities and grossed a mind-boggling $503,566,207, a feat few bands in history could or will likely be able to match.

Young was diagnosed with dementia in 2014, according the Associated Press, meaning he didn’t record or tour the band’s last album, Rock or Bust, though he did get writing credit for many of those songs

Malcolm was heavily involved in the songwriting process, with credits on virtually all of the band’s hits, meaning, even after his departure, he has left an extensive catalog to complement those unforgettable performances he gave millions of fans throughout the years.

While Johnson (and, while living, Bon Scott) and Angus were two very prominent faces of AC/DC, it was Malcolm who gave the band cues onstage for changes and cutoffs.

The “Rock or Bust” tour in 2015-2016 did not feature Malcolm and saw Axl Rose filling in for Brian Johnson on vocals because of health concerns associated with performing, meaning that several parts of the classic lineup will never tour in the same manner again.