AC/DC: Hard Year, Soft Debut

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AC/DC's first studio album in six years, Rock Or Bust, is on track to move just 140K units in its first week. That’s less than one-fifth of the first-week sales tally of the band’s previous studio album, Black Ice, which sold 784K copies when it was released in October 2008. Rock Or Bust will probably enter The Billboard 200 at #3, behind Taylor Swift's 1989 and Pentatonix's That’s Christmas To Me.

AC/DC has had such a dreadful year that a disappointing first-week sales tally is the least of its problems. Guitarist and founding member Malcolm Young was forced to retire from the band due to a diagnosis of dementia. He may never play again. On Nov. 6, drummer Phil Rudd was arrested for charges including attempting to procure a murder. The attempted procurement charge was dropped the following day, but charges of threatening to kill remain, along with charges of possession of methamphetamine and cannabis. Rudd’s future in the band is uncertain.

Young co-wrote all of the songs on the album with his brother, Angus Young. But Malcolm was too ill to perform on the album. It’s AC/DC’s first album without him. Stevie Young, Malcolm’s and Angus’s nephew, took his place in the studio and will take his place on the band’s planned 2015 world tour.

AC/DC has overcome tragedy before. The band first broke into the top 20 in October 1979 with Highway To Hell. But less than four months later, the group’s lead singer Bon Scott died of asphyxiation. The group didn’t let that break its momentum. Within six months, the band was back with a new studio album, Back In Black. The album reached the top five in December 1980 and remains one of the best-sellers in history.

It’s important to note that Black Ice, which was a Walmart exclusive, was an outlier in terms of AC/DC’s typical sales pattern. The band’s studio album before that, Stiff Upper Lip, sold 130K copies in its first week in March 2000.

The 140K projected tally for Rock or Bust includes 135K in actual sales. The remaining 5K is due to digital song sales and streaming. It’s the new chart math.

Brendan O’Brien produced the new album. O’Brien’s first top five album as a producer was Stone Temple Pilots's Core in in June 1993. His first top five album as an engineer was the Black Crowes's Shake Your Money Maker in March 1991. O’Brien won a Grammy as Producer of the Year five years ago.

Rock Or Bust is AC/DC’s 15th internationally-released studio album. It’s the band’s third album with the word “rock” in its title, following 1977’s Let There Be Rock and 1981’s For Those About To Rock We Salute You.

I’ll close with two more trivia notes. The new album clocks at a little less than 35 minutes. It’s the band’s shortest studio album. It’s two minutes shorter than its previous shortest album, 1983’s Flick Of The Switch.

Finally, in an alphabetical list of all acts with top 10 albums, only two acts precede AC/DC. They are Aaliyah and Paula Abdul.