“We used to cover Problem Child in the early days. We did it two or three times in front of an audience”: we got Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott to pick his ultimate AC/DC setlist

Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott and AC/DC’s Brian Johnson and Angus Young
(Image credit: Press/Pete Still/Redferns)

The first time Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott saw AC/DC live, it took him three days to get his hearing back. “It was at the Sheffield Top Rank in 1978,” he says. “On a Sunday night, they put on gigs instead of the bingo. It was just nuts.”

It got even crazier. Within a year, Leppard themselves were opening for AC/DC on the latter’s Highway To Hell tour – a baptism of fire for these Sheffield teenagers. “I’d seen them three times, then suddenly we’re supporting them,” says Elliott now. “It was an incredible experience.”

Unsurprisingly for an ardent fan of music in general and AC/DC in particular, Elliott knows the Australian band’s music like the back of his hand. With AC/DC currently out on the road on what may or may not be their last tour – and Leppard themselves spending their summer playing stadiums in America – it made sense to ask Joe to pick his fantasy AC/DC setlist.

“It’s hard, cos there’s so many great songs to choose from,” he says. “But here goes.”

Live Wire

“It’s got to be the set opener. It’s just that bass at the beginning… They started with this when Def Leppard opened for them in 1979. Me and Rick [Allen, drummer] snuck up and stood on the balcony at the Apollo in Glasgow to watch them. That balcony was not built in the 1800s with the thought of hundreds of AC/DC fans jumping up and down on it a century later. When Live Wire started, we thought it was going to collapse, so we went back inside and watched through the potholes in the wooden doors.”

Shot Down In Flames

“I always loved the way Bon Scott sings. He had such a great ‘rip’ in his voice. There’s people like Bryan Adams, Bonnie Tyler, Rod Stewart, Kelly Jones from Stereophonics – Bon had it but he had that rock edge to it.”

Rock’N’Roll Damnation

Powerage is their best album, for me. I’d heard AC/DC before, but that was through other people – you’d hear songs at the disco, or someone would lend you the album. But Powerage was the first one I bought myself, and I thought it was just brilliant. Rock’N’Roll Dalmatian, as we used to call it, is a great opening tune – the opening riff is a bit like Rosalie, but other than that, it’s totally AC/DC.”

AC/DC - Rock 'N' Roll Damnation (Official Video) - YouTube AC/DC - Rock 'N' Roll Damnation (Official Video) - YouTube
Watch On

It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock’N’Roll)

“I had to pick this. It’s the only song I can think of with bagpipes on it apart from the Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s Anthem and The Voice by John Farnham. It just makes you smile. If you’re in the mood for serious music, yeah, I get it, but AC/DC are having a laugh. And what he’s singing about, anyone who has travelled up and down the motorway in a rusty old Ford Transit van is going to relate to it.”

Dog Eat Dog

“It’s got a straight three-chord intro, but when the vocals come in, they’re not playing a straightforward rhythm - it’s almost a samba part. Phil Rudd was so underrated as a drummer. When we played with them, he always used to bite his tongue. I don’t know if that was his way of keeping time, but he was steady as a rock.”

Sin City

“It’s quite musical for AC/DC. It‘s four chords this time. Bon marries perfect lyrics to the perfect backing song – it’s got a great story. Bon was a poet. When people say someone’s a poet, you think, ‘Oh, you’ve got to be posh and dressed up like somebody out of Blackadder III.’ Bon was seen as this lairy, beer-drinking Australian ex-pat Scot. He couldn’t possibly be a poet cos he didn’t wear a shirt and was a bit of a lad. But he was very poetic. Plus Sin City has got a great build going up into the chorus. We’ve stolen that a thousand times.”

Hells Bells

“We had the same management as AC/DC at the time, so we heard Back In Black well before it was released. Like everybody else, we were thinking. ‘How the hell do you replace Bon Scott?’ And we were blown away by it. When the album kicks in with the bell at the start of Hells Bells, it was like they’d brought theatrics into it, which was unthinkable for a band like AC/DC. It was almost like bringing pianos and strings into it.”

AC/DC - Hells Bells (Live at Donington, 8/17/91) - YouTube AC/DC - Hells Bells (Live at Donington, 8/17/91) - YouTube
Watch On

Problem Child

“We used to cover it when we played [Sheffield rock bar] The Wapentake in the early days. We did it at least two or three times in front of an audience. It’s one of those great three-chord songs. They never used anything minor, in the sense of dirgey stuff. It was all about getting to the point.”

Rock’N’Roll Train

“Most of their 80s and 90s output didn’t really catch my attention - it wasn’t necessarily their fault, I was too busy doing my own thing. There are honourable mentions to things like Moneytalks and Stiff Upper Lip, but I think they got their mojo back when they started working with [producer] Brendan O’Brien on Black Ice. He brought their sound backand with Rock’N’Roll Train they completely got it back”

Riff Raff

Powerage is a great album for the treadmill, except for Riff Raff, which will give you a cardiac arrest.”

You Shook Me All Night Long

“I love the way they managed to steal a Led Zeppelin song title and a Rainbow song title without anybody really noticing. It’s just a great vocal from Jonna [Brian Johnson], and it’s got a fantastic chorus. And the video they made which came out a few years later, with Jonna in the flat cap and holding the bottle of beer – the grin on his face when he walks in and sees the girl on the mechanical horse just sums up the entire song. He just interpreted Bon’s sense of humour in his own Geordie way.”

Down Payment Blues

“It’s got the greatest intro. You can almost see the volume knob being turned up for when the drums come in. It’s just a fantastic dynamic intro.”

AC/DC Down Payment Blues LIVE 1996 HD - YouTube AC/DC Down Payment Blues LIVE 1996 HD - YouTube
Watch On

Evil Walks

“A bit of a deep cut. It’s not as musical as some of their other songs, because Jonna’s pretty much singing what the guitar’s playing in the chorus. But it’s got this menacing feel – it’s feels like he’s following you down some dark street. Except he’s carrying a beer bottle and trying to cadge a fag off you.”

Walk All Over You

“I would have picked Highway To Hell itself, but I try not to pick the obvious all the time. Walk All Over You has such a great intro.”

Shoot To Thrill

“When Back In Black kicks on and you’ve got all these things like Shoot To Thrill, you realise how different Briam Johnson sounds to Bon, but also how good he sounds. Funnily enough, I’ve only ever seen AC/DC with Jonna twice. The first time was his first ever US gig with them at the New York Palladium. It was actually my 21st birthday. I met up with him a few years ago when he was out of the band, and he said, ‘Do you remember what happened when before that show? I took you outside the hotel and asked you for advice on what to do.’ It was because he’d never sung in front of an American audience before. Me giving Brian Johnson advice was just backwards.”

Let's Get It Up

“One of their strengths is their mid-tempo songs. Let’s Get It Up, it’s not breakneck speed but it’s great. It’s got another great intro. They must sit around on their beds in hotel rooms thinking, ‘How many songs can we write in the same key?’ They write riffs that sound a little bit like ones they’ve written before, but not enough to be a rip off. But that’s what AC/DC do.”

Touch Too Much

“Apparently the band hate it because it’s too poppy, but it’s right up my street. God forgive me, it’s something David Essex could have done. I can hear Mutt’s [Lange, AC/DC and Leppard producer] backing vocals all over that album. On Touch Too Much, the answer backing vocals is mostly Mutt with the guys mixed in. He’s trying to mimic them, but he added a bit of tune to it.”

Whole Lotta Rosie

“It’s got to be in here. It’s just great fun. In those days, you were allowed to sing about people who weren’t as thin as Bon Scott. It’s a true story, and Bon sold it so brilliantly.”

AC/DC - Whole Lotta Rosie ( BBC Sight And Sound In Concert 1977 Stereo Edition ) - YouTube AC/DC - Whole Lotta Rosie ( BBC Sight And Sound In Concert 1977 Stereo Edition ) - YouTube
Watch On

Let There Be Rock

‘It’s a biblical anthem, a biblical story in rock’n’roll form - we stole that [for 1987’s Women]. It was nuts seeing them doing that back in the day, Angus was maybe 20 or 21 at the time - he was only a few years older than us. He had this boundless energy. He took the Chuck Berry duck walk to the next level, but somehow he managed to play incredible guitar whilst doing that, which is not easy to do. It takes a special person, physically, to be able to throw themselves around like that. I can never understand how he didn’t wake up every morning with his neck in plaster.”

For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)

“It’s just an anthem, end of. The dynamics within that song are incredible. The two-string, hammer-on thing in the intro, the way the drums come in like a battalion, the way it builds up towards the end… when it does a Free Bird and doubles in time, it’s just glorious. And then there’s the cannons. That’s total theatrics – they brought in the cannons because they knew it was going to work well when they finally got into stadiums they eventually did. When those cannons come out, that’s it. It never gets old.”

AC/DC are on tour now. Def Leppard’s own US tour begins on July 6.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.