Behind the Band Name: AC/DC

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

AC/DC’s signature berets and schoolboy uniforms are only part of the reason the band is so popular across the globe. The Scottish band, formed in Australia, has had countless songs in many, many films. From the beloved Iron Man to Jack Black’s rock ‘n’ roll comedy School of Rock, AC/DC has never failed to portray a character’s inner badass (just look at Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids or their innumerable songs featured in the TV series Supernatural).

But their rebel culture hasn’t only rubbed off on fashion and film, from the ’90s onward the band has received multiple Grammy, MTV, and ARIA Awards and nominations. So, while their music and fashion have embraced our inner rebel school child, their unconventional hard rock bagpipes have roped in an unusually massive fanbase. Beyond their influence though, is their band name, and we are here to discover just how the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band got their name.

Behind the Name AC/DC

Electricians are probably thrilled to have a world-renowned rock band named after them. That’s right, the name AC/DC comes from an electrical term, “alternating current/direct current.” The term “alternating current” refers to an electric charge that changes direction while “direct current” is an electric charge that flows in one direction.

While none of the band members were electricians themselves, they found that the name was a good representation of their electrifying performance energy. Founding members and lead guitarists of the band, Angus and Malcolm Young, as well as their sister Margaret Young, discovered the name on a sewing machine in their home. And you can imagine what this then led to—Angus Young’s trademark schoolboy uniform. Margaret Young had been in the process of making the band’s costumes when the school uniform stuck out to Angus Young. So, if you think that the Scottish musician simply put on an act in the uniform, think again. The guitarist dropped out of school at age 15 and has since amplified the slick, cool rebel reputation in every aspect of his band.

From a simple sewing machine birthed one of the greatest rock bands in history, transforming the rock ‘n’ roll genre into the ultimate rebel-represented music. Their 1975 debut album, High Voltage, adds to their high-energy, electric band name as well.

Photo by GettyImages

A Double Entendre

AC/DC’s band name may have come from a sewing machine, but the public has long had two thoughts: the band is bisexual, and they are Satanists. Yet, how does that uncommon combination tie together? Based on their song lyrics and album names (i.e. Highway to Hell), many people misunderstood their rock ‘n’ roll rebellion for, well, devil worshiping.

And that’s not all. As it turns out, the term “AC/DC” is also slang for bisexuality, which left people wondering if the band was, in fact, bisexual. AC/DC, however, was thunderstruck to discover the second meaning of the acronym. And while neither assumptions are true, it is a bit humorous that one of the most iconic rock bands of all time had to clarify that they were neither Satanists nor bisexual. 

A Long Way to the Top for the Young Brothers

Yes, their hit song “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock ‘N’ Roll)” (1975) has been covered infinitely by different musicians from Lucinda Williams to Jack Black. But the band didn’t get their claim to fame that easily. As Scottish musicians brought up in Australia, it was at first difficult for guitarists Malcolm and Angus Young to find their place in the music industry. Between American music and the British invasion in the ’60s, the brothers felt both like they were cut off from the music business and like they didn’t fit in with their genres—and rightfully so. It was uncommon at the time for a band to cross genres with blues, heavy metal, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Then, the blues made way post-Beatles, and the Youngs felt like it was their time to enter the public’s eye. Since the band’s debut album, High Voltage, in 1976, AC/DC has sold over 71 million albums in the U.S. Their seventh studio album, Back in Black (1980), is the second highest-selling album in history with 45 million copies worldwide. AC/DC was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 by Aerosmith’s frontman Steven Tyler.

Photo by Michael Ochs

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