If there's any band that personifies the pursuit of rock'n'roll in its purest sense, it's Aussie larrikins AC/DC. Since their earliest days in Sydney to their current incarnation as one of the world's biggest selling artists, their course has been unwavering.
For the best part of five decades they've ploughed a singularly individual furrow, ignoring whatever the mainstream had to offer, letting fads and fashions pass by untroubled.
Instead, they've concentrated on riff and rhythm, allying one of rock's most rock-solid musicians to one of its most live-wire performers. At the back, the late Malcolm Young built a backbone that could make a metronome sound erratic. And everywhere else you'd find his younger brother Angus Young, as capable of incendiary soloing as he is at churning out epoch-defining riffs.
And throughout their careers? Songs. Proper songs. Classic songs. Anthemic songs. The kind of songs you can play at weddings, where people who profess to hate rock music will bellow along with enormous, joyous gusto.
Here, then, are the 50 best AC/DC songs, as chosen by Louder.
50. Go Down
The swaggering opening track on Let There Be Rock starts with the sound of a whisky-guzzling Bon counting in the intro. It's a song about a real-life friend of his named Ruby (as in Ruby Lips, though her actual name was Wendy), known for her fondness for ‘lickin’ on that lickin’ stick’, and it sounds exactly like what it was.
Written and recorded fast, before the vibe had time to fade, full of blood and spittle and anger and put-a-fuck-into-you fun, fuelled by cheap speed and cold beer, topped up with expensive whisky and at least a million cigarettes, some of them smelling distinctly ‘funny’.
Dave Mustaine (Megadeth): "The first time I put on Let There Be Rock I was looking at the back cover and wondering ‘What the Hell’s up with that dude’s lip?’ But hearing the music, my life totally changed. To me it sounded like something was wrong, like it was too close to my face. Most records are all around you, but this one was right there [spreads his hand in front of his nose]. It was… unsettling.
"I remember everything, from that first millisecond, the little crackle before ‘ga-dun-GAR!’ in Go Down."
49. The Razors Edge
Producer Bruce Fairbairn, the man who had revitalised Aerosmith’s career three years before with Permanent Vacation, took Angus Young to one side before the band started recording the follow-up to Blow Up Your Video.
“I want you to sound like AC/DC when you were seventeen,” he said. And while the result was an album that was very much back-to-basics, the ominous-sounding title track was that rarest of AC/DC songs, a rumination on global politics (‘There’s fighting on the left and marching on the right…’).
Angus Young: “The world was at peace again and everyone thought: ‘Ah, the Berlin Wall’s come down and it’s gonna be a party every night’. And you can see now that it’s not that way. It’s our way of saying the world’s not perfect and never will be.”
48. Kicked in the Teeth
The brilliant Powerage's yo-yoing dynamic - rock monsters followed by seductively mid-paced strollers - was perhaps best exemplified by Up To My Neck In You and Kicked In The Teeth. Although both date back to sessions from six months previously, but only the latter sounds like it comes from an earlier era, with Bon literally screaming over the intro about a ‘two-faced woman’ telling ‘two-faced lies’.
Dave Mustaine: "I was in a band that did a bunch of AC/DC covers and doing those songs introduced me a totally different approach to playing, where you don’t have billions of layers. It’s all based on the riff.
“Prior to that, rock and roll was all strumming chords and not playing riffs. A riff is a cyclical melody, and if it isn’t good, you’ll know. A good riff you can play over and over again, and Malcolm wrote a lot of that music. Kicked In The Teeth and Walk All Over You are two of my favourite songs of theirs.”
47. Ain't No Fun (Waiting Round to Be a Millionaire)
On a key track from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, the band kept it simple, just plugging away, as Bon indulged himself in the classic poor boy’s fantasy – to make it rich in a rock’n’roll band. As he explained in an interview: “It takes a long time to make enough money to be able to fuck Britt Ekland.”
It’s sharply observant, and was written at a time when AC/DC were still trying to make their mark. Lines like ‘I got holes in my shoes/I got holes in my teeth’ sum up the forthright realism.
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap was once memorably described as AC/DC’s most “deviant” album, and it ends with their sleaziest song. Squealer is the sordid tale of Bon’s struggle to seduce a nervous virgin, played out over an insistent riff. There was only one way this was going to end, with Bon gloating: ‘I fixed her good.’
For all Bon's qualities, political correctness was not among them, and Dirty Deeds wasn’t released officially in the US until March ’81. Atlantic execs there had misgivings about Scott’s gritty vocal style, and that songs such as Squealer were somewhat crass and tasteless. Which they were. That was the whole goddamn point!
Dweezil Zappa: "Here’s what I love about AC/DC. They write and arrange songs so that they can deliver them to their audience with massive electric intensity. They have always focused on capturing the true raw sound of their instruments on all of their recordings. I really like a song from their first record.
"I’ve never heard it played on the radio or played live, it’s called Squealer. In the solo, Angus pulls off one of the best examples of pinched harmonics ever recorded. There is so much attitude in that solo and I love his vibrato. I think it’s his real sonic signature, it’s instantly recognisable."
45. Cold Hearted Man
Cold Hearted Man only made it to the initial vinyl pressings of Powerage when the album was released in Europe, but was removed from later additions as the band genuinely hated it.
They appeared to warm to the song over the years, however, and it subsequently also appeared on the compilation album Backtracks in 2009 and on the Iron Man 2 soundtrack album a year later.
The vocal is Bon at his best: it's a nasty, lascivious performance. And there's a little treat for eagle-eared listeners at the 2'16" mark, when Angus introduces a breakdown that sounds like it might have inspired Hells Bells a couple of years later.
44. Beating Around the Bush
Joel O'Keefe (Airbourne): "To me, this song sounds very Angus-y – I just made that word up. It’s got a lot of notes in it, and whenever I hear a lot of notes I think there’s a bit of an Angus vibe going on. But you never know with those two. There was talk early on about Malcolm being the lead guitarist in the band, but he said, ‘I don’t want to do that. Angus, you do that, and I’ll sit at the back and run the band.’
"There’s a lot of notes in this song anyway, and a lot of finger work, too. It’s the two brothers playing the way they both individually play. Angus is a bit more cruisey than Malcolm. He hangs on to stuff a bit longer and slides in and out, whereas Malcolm just fucking hits it. That seems to be their thing.
"And you put them together, and it’s just what they do better than anyone else. What a great double entendre for a song title, too. Especially back in the ‘70s when the ladies weren’t waxing yet. You couldn’t really have a song like that now."
Another beneficiary of Bruce Fairburn's advice to Angus Young (“I want you to sound like AC/DC when you were seventeen.”) as the recording of The Razors Edge got underway.
This simple premise was hammered home on a number of tracks including Moneytalks, which positioned Brian Johnson as a sleazy Wall Street lothario (‘Hey little girl, you want it all/The furs, the diamonds, the painting on the wall’) – instantly addictive, it remains AC/DC’s highest-charting US single, yet hasn't featured in the band's live set for over quarter of a century.
When it was played live as The Razors Edge tour , thousands of 'Angus Bucks' were dropped on the audience as the song climaxed, with Young replacing George Washington as the face of the currency.
Angus Young borrowed Chuck Berry’s duck-walk, while AC/DC beefed up his sound on 1975’s Australia-only T.N.T., doffing a cap with Rocker (and covering School Days). The tune was later on the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap – and the influence remained the spine and body of the Youngs’ sound.
As Angus Young has always maintained, AC/DC is a rock’n’roll band, nothing more, nothing less, and this is their purest manifestation of that. It channels Berry in 2.46 of blistering ramalama, with Bon creating his own mythology in the opening line: ‘I’m a rocker, roller, right-out-of-controller." It's AC/DC's fastest song.
41. Big Balls
It wasn’t so much double-entendre as single-entendre. Big Balls was one long, extended joke, on which Bon adopted a posh accent as he mused: ‘Some balls are held for charity and some for fancy dress/But when they’re held for pleasure, they’re the balls that I like best.’ With the band playing as if stumbling drunk, it ended with a chorus of ‘Bollocks! Knackers! Bollocks! Knackers!’ Like farting, it’s still funny after all these years.
Jim Bonfanti (The Raspberries): "I love the double-entendre lyrics, and the way Bon sings it with a touch of sleaze in his voice."
Hirsh Gardner (New England): "We were lucky enough to do some shows with them on Bon Scott’s last American tour before his death. I remember shaking when the band played this song in Fort Worth, Texas. Bon and Angus are the down and dirty Lennon and McCartney."
40. Have a Drink on Me
There is no small irony in the fact that AC/DC released perhaps the greatest drinking song of all time just five months after their former frontman Bon Scott managed to drink himself to death, the official cause of death being acute alcohol poisoning.
Far from acting as a deterrent, however, rumour has it that the Royal Marines have a drinking game based on the song, the rules of which are necessarily simple and begin, as you’d expect, with the consumption of whiskey, gin, and brandy. “Trying to walk a straight line” after playing the game is considerably more complicated.
Some might consider the lyrics to this one in bad taste, but you can’t help but be carried along by the song’s sense of alcohol-induced camaraderie. The Young brothers pump out riff after riff to keep things swinging and the tune works by answering only to its own internal logic.
39. Soul Stripper
On a standout track from the Australian version of debut album High Voltage, Bon cast himself in the unlikely role of victim – the mind games of a manipulative woman messing with his head – although the song itself was credited solely to Malcolm and Angus, instead of the soon-to-be-familiar Young/Young/Scott.
The song also featured as the b-side of the High Voltage single put out by Alberts in 1975, and later on the '74 Jailbreak EP. Why it was omitted from the international versions of the album is baffling, as the song has the kind of rhythmic tension that would define much of the band's best work, with a punchy groove and a great, simple solo.
38. Rock 'N Roll Train
A simple beat, a simple guitar riff and even simpler lyrics. Yup, AC/DC returned after a lengthy hiatus with a good time groove and a belter of a rock single, proving there’s only one way to rock.
Randy Bachman (Bachman Turner Overdrive): "Rather than pick an old fave like everyone else is doing, I would pick Rock’N’Roll Train from Black Ice. Again, it illustrates their uncanny ability to make the basic three chord essence of rock’n’roll into something new and fresh. You fall into the groove and can immediately sing along and play your dashboard drums and air guitar. Long live AC/DC."
37. Gimme A Bullet
On Powerage, the lines between old-school, go-get-’em AC/DC and new, more measured, see-what-we-can-do AC/DC are pleasingly blurred. Gimme A Bullet, with its low-slung guitars and chugging drums, sounds more like the Lynyrd Skynyrd number it almost steals its title from than anything AC/DC had put down on vinyl before.
Its lyrics are one part heartbreak to two-parts Western tough-guy: ‘Doctor, doctor/Ain't no cure/For the pain in my heart/Gimme a bullet to bite on’.
The inspiration for the song was Margaret ‘Silver’ Smith, one of Bon Scott's great loves, who was also the inspiration for Gone Shootin’. They lived together in Australia and England, and travelled together on the road in the United States. She died in a hospice in Jamestown, South Australia on December 12, 2016.
36. Girls Got Rhythm
An unashamed paean to the glory of the finer sex, all in delightfully lurid detail. When Bon Scott sang ‘I’ve been around the world, I’ve seen a million girls…’ you believed him. And were slightly jealous to boot.
Peter Frampton: "I love AC/DC so to chose one track is hard. I don’t drive without AC/DC loaded on the iPod. It’s the orchestral guitar parts that are so great for me. I’ve thought about wearing the shorts but I think I’ll leave those to Angus!"
35. What's Next To The Moon
An aggressive and somewhat ambiguous lyric from Bon Scott, telling the tale of a man taking retribution against his woman before getting nabbed. Only ever performed three times live, on the Stiff Upper Lip tour.
Anybody with a chord book and a thrift-store hollow body can bash out some simple acoustic AC/DC covers, but to give you an idea of what can be done with Bon-era material, and to show how genuinely versatile that band's songs are, check out the album Mark Kozelek (from indie folk act Sun Kil Moon) made under the tittle What's Next To The Moon. He rearranges ten Bon Scott-era AC/DC classics into something so haunting and intimate that it’s nearly impossible to hear the originals.
Brent Hinds (Mastodon): "What’s Next To The Moon from the Powerage album is one of those songs that bring back great memories, and because of that it’s my favourite."
34. Up To My Neck In You
While the Powerage album has long been overshadowed by what came before and after it – Let There Be Rock and Highway To Hell – it is home to some of the band’s most ass-kicking songs. One such song is Up To My Neck In You: rock’n’roll as an all-out assault on the senses.
It's an absolute monster of a song, with Malcolm's rhythm guitar propelling the song forward with unrelenting momentum, and performances from Bon and Angus that are both close to their very best. It's not rocket science, but it is rocket fuel.
33. High Voltage
With its no-brainer mission-statement chorus – ‘High voltage rock’n’roll’ – it’s one of the band’s defining early songs, the title track for their second Australian album and for their first international release. No frills, no bullshit, just heavy boogie, and a live favourite that's been a set and live album staple ever since.
High Voltage was released as the band's third single in July 1975, reaching number 10 on the Aussie singles chart. Five years later it was reissued in the UK, where it crept just inside the Top 50.
32. Problem Child
An anti-establishment hymn from 1976’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Bon would tell audiences it was actually about Angus. Inexplicably, the song also crops up on some versions of 1977’s Let There Be Rock.
Glenn Hughes: "The song is Problem Child. This was the first song that brought me to their attention. Ozzy was over at my house back in ’76, and we were watchin’ the BBC and on comes this ballsy band, with a little lad in his school uniform. We both knew that they would go all the way, and this song stood out for me."
Kim Thayil (Soundgarden): "We used to do Problem Child as part of our encore when we toured Europe in ‘89/’90. It has a cool riff, cool lyrics and a great groove, which pretty much describes all of AC/DC’s songs."
31. The Jack
It’s not only the band’s most celebrated blues track. It’s also the best song ever written about venereal disease. It came to them in a flash of inspiration after Malcolm Young caught a dose of the clap – in Aussie parlance, ‘the jack’ – from a girl in Melbourne.
Bon was well versed in this subject: he was on first-name terms with the staff in his local VD clinic. His filthy lyrics were an extended pun on playing poker. “If I’d know what she was dealin’ out,” he growled, “I’d have dealt it back.”
Performed live, The Jack would be enlivened by a striptease from Angus. Even funnier is the studio cut, which ends as if played to a hostile club audience. Over the sound of booing and catcalls, Bon exclaims: “Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the show!”
30. Walk All Over You
In Bon Scott’s eyes, one of the closest things AC/ DC got to a love song: ‘Take off your heels and let down your hair/ Paradise ain’t that far from here.’
It might be one of the lesser-known album tracks from Highway To Hell, but Walk All Over You is a monster. It starts at a crawl, with Phil Rudd ratcheting up the tension; then it all kicks off like a pub brawl.
And if the title of this song suggested a Neanderthal attitude towards the fairer sex, there was a clever twist in Bon’s sly payoff: ‘I’m gonna walk all over you/Do anything you want me to." Then there's the lairy gang vocals on the chorus. Close your eyes and tell me you can’t instantly see Malcolm Young shuffling forward towards his mic stand as you hear those words.
Tracii Guns (LA Guns): "Walk All Over You, from Highway To Hell, is the sexiest rock song ever, from the riff to the lyrics, it’s dirty."
29. Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution
Like Let There Be Rock, Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution is AC/DC’s homage to their own brand of rock. The lyrics were made up on the spot in the studio and this slow rocker was the band’s highest charting UK single (No.15) at the time.
Sometimes it feels like an anthemic call to arms. Sometimes it feels a wee bit hokey. But what we can all agree on, surely, is that it definitely isn’t one of Back In Black’s standout moments.
"We were in London at the time," said Malcolm Young. "There were all those problems with the old Marquee Club because it was in a built-up area and there was this whole thing about noise pollution in the news, the environmental health thing that you couldn’t have your stereo up loud after 11 at night, it all came from that.”
Rik Emmett (Triumph): "I used to help coach my son’s baseball team, and he loved to crank the classic rock tunes in the car on the way to games. Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution just had the best build of grinding rock guitars – such great, classic rock guitar sounds. Definitely to be enjoyed played loud!"
28. Bad Boy Boogie
With a title that spoke volumes about the band and their rough-arsed sensibilities, this was one of many killer tracks on the Let There Be Rock album. But it was on stage that Bad Boy Boogie really came alive: extended to more than ten minutes, with Angus hoisted on to Bon’s shoulders and soloing like a motherfucker.
There was a detectable edge, a nasty side to some of the material on Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and on Bad Boy Boogie (‘I said up/They said down/I do the bad boy boogie/All over town’), where Bon’s sneer is matched by Angus’s furious soloing, with the rest of the band pounding away, it sounds as if the band are speaking directly to the record company suits in New York.
27. Rock 'n' Roll Damnation
On the rollicking leadoff track from Powerage, Bon delivered a classic put-down: ‘You say that you want respect/Honey, for what?’ On every level, it was a song that kicked ass, even if it was recorded at Atlantic’s insistence to try to bait American radio. This caused real controversy, at least among the band, who genuinely hated it. For the rest of us it was simply one more catchy tune.
The song also pointed a way to the future: AC/DC’s production duo, Vanda & Young, pumped up the volume on the backing vocals in a way that Mutt Lange would on Highway To Hell, creating a backing vocal choir that transformed the choruses to Girl’s Got Rhythm and the bumping, grinding Walk All Over You into terrace chants.
26. Shot Down in Flames
For all his swinging-dick machismo, Bon could admit that even he got blown out sometimes. The title of Shot Down In Flames was self-explanatory, but the song had a groove that was undeniable.
Bon is at his most commanding, compelling and irresistible, cock o’ the walk in a rough ‘n’ tumble, spit ‘n’ sawdust world, rolling with the punches as Shot Down In Flames lays out a scenario in which the horn-dog singer’s ego takes a bruising.
Nick Harmer (Death Cab For Cutie): "Shot Down in Flames and Highway To Hell itself are both great jams. I don’t think that AC/DC have been an influence on Death Cab For Cutie, however. Not in any way directly, and probably not indirectly, either. The entire band has a love and respect for them, though. We did a tour of Australia a few years back, and we played in Perth. We did a pilgrimage to Bon Scott’s grave while we were there.
"The reason we love them, as well as bands like Metallica and a lot of metal, is because it’s so vastly different to the music that we make. It’s really nice and a great break to put something on and clean my palate a little bit."
25. Night Prowler
It was always sinister, this creepy blues song from Highway To Hell, on which Bon adopted the persona of a murderous stalker. But in 1985, six years after that album was released, Night Prowler came back to haunt AC/DC.
American serial killer Richard Ramirez – dubbed the ‘Night Stalker’ – claimed after his arrest that it was this song that had driven him to commit 16 murders. Only when separated from this context can the song be viewed for what it really is: a deeply flawed yet immensely powerful piece of music.
Angus never played a better blues solo than the one on Night Prowler. And for all the grisly imagery in the lyrics, this infamous song ended with a weird joke, as Bon quoted mock alien language from 70s sci-fi sitcom Mork & Mindy: “Shazbot! Nanu nanu!"
24. Live Wire
There’s a heavy vibe about Live Wire. Cut in 1975 for the band’s second album T.N.T., it has an air of menace about it. The mood is set in the intro: a throbbing one-note bass line, guitars easing in slow, the hiss of a hit-hat pushing it along, and then everything locking together in a riff that’s as mean as they come.
It’s the cue for Bon to play the hard man: “Cooler than a body on ice/Hotter than a rolling dice.” Apart from a brief moment of levity – Bon’s exclamation, “Stick this in your fuse box!” – it’s all bad vibes. For several years, AC/DC opened their set with Live Wire. What that said was very simple: these guys weren’t fucking around.
Originally released on the Australian version of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap but inexplicably left off of the international version. The tale of a man trying to escape from a life sentence was immortalised in a cheap and cheerful promo video featuring the whole band acting out the song’s tale.
Judas Priest (all of them): "Fave AC/DC song? Way too many, but Jailbreak works for us. When Judas Priest was first starting out on dates through Europe, we had an invite to open for AC/DC on their first extensive tour in the 1970s. Those shows we did tgether enabled us to make our mark in Europe.
"Funny story is that, after our set, we would bale overnight in a Ford Transit (band and crew together) to make it in time for the next gig. The AC/DC guys thought we were being a bit stuck up not hanging around with them. When they found out the reason for our runners they said, ‘Get on our bus and enjoy!’. That’s the sort of good lads they have always been."
This overlooked gem from 1977’s Let There Be Rock is a slow-building rocker that ends up driving on relentlessly and telling the tale of one man’s obsession with the lady in his life.
Guy Griffin (The Quireboys): "Overdose was the first AC/DC song I ever heard, when I was 11 years old. It changed everything there and then! Bon Scott had that rare blend of menace and humour in his lyrics and you could believe he actually lived that life.
"They came to London in the middle of the punk scene. They were more ‘punk’ than anything Malcolm McLaren could ever create – the real deal."
21. Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be
Always prefaced live by Angus presenting his devil’s horns, this staple from 1977’s Let There Be Rock may have got the band in trouble with the clergy, but in fact relates to the mundanities of life on the road.
Ginger (The Wildhearts): "My god how you pick one ’DC track?!? The riff of Riff Raff that feels so satisfying when you learn to play it. The memories of snogging in the youth club disco while You Shook Me All Night Long played in the background. Experiencing the cannons every night on tour with them on For Those About To Rock.
"The live version of The Jack with the rude lyrics… AC/DC have been the soundtrack to most of the great memories in my life. But I have to choose Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be because it’s just my favourite. No reason really, it just goes to all the places I want a rock song to go to. Band tight as fuck, Bon being awesome, huge riff… tick, tick, tick. They’re just fucking amazing in every way, aren’t they?"
20. Who Made Who
Who Made Who worked on many levels. On the surface it’s a just a classic AC/DC riff’n’roller, effortlessly tough and swaggering. But the lyrics reflect not only the man-versus-machine plot of the Stephen King movie it soundtracked, but also the band’s stature in rock’n’roll at that particular moment in time.
The song was a fairly big and surprising hit for the fellas. And once it clicked in folks’ heads that the soundtrack was also an AC/DC hits compilation it flew off the shelves and ultimately went platinum – five times over
"We were asked to provide the soundtrack music for the film Maximum Overdrive," said Malcolm Young. "There was some old stuff in there, like Hells Bells, as well as Who Made Who.
"We had the old [original producers] Vanda & Young back producing the title track, and I think that was what we needed. Who Made Who was a return to form for the band and it’s become one of our most popular live tracks. We even used it as the opening song on our tour that year."
19. Sin City
Bon Scott’s ode to the lure of Las Vegas, the song features that rarity for AC/DC, a bass solo.
Joe Perry (Aerosmith): I’d pick anything off Powerage but leaning towards Sin City. When our manager asked if we wanted to have AC/DC open for us I said, “No problem. No one could be that good live.” And they were. When Angus would drop to the floor, he’d do a couple of moves with his body flailing away. One we called “the frying bacon” where he laid down on his back and played. We’d often run from our dressing room and watch him do that from the side of the stage. The other one we called “the Curly dance”, which had him drop to his side and spin in a motion reminiscent of Curly from The Three Stooges.
Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins): When Bon sang about going down to Sin City to get into God knows what, you knew absolutely without a doubt he knew what he was talking about.
Michael Anthony (Van Halen): Sin City blazed on the VH tour bus all through Europe on our first tour. I think of that song every time I think of touring over there…
18. Gone Shootin'
Keith Richards said of AC/DC’s 1978 album Powerage: ‘The whole band means it, and you can hear it.’ Gone Shootin’ is that album’s best track and the funkiest song they ever did, with the band displaying a discipline, control and restrained power that only the most mature and confident of players can attain. It's little wonder Richards liked it so much.
And it wasn’t just the sound that Keef dug. He would also have related to the subject matter: Bon’s doomed relationship with a junkie girlfriend. The devil was in the detail, as he sang sadly: ‘I stirred my coffee with the same spoon…
17. If You Want Blood (You've Got It)
First used as the title of ’DC’s 1978 live album, before being immortalised in song on the following year’s Highway To Hell.
On If You Want Blood, the best song on Highway To Hell nobody usually mentions, Bon Scott sounds truly vitriolic, screaming about ‘the shit that they toss to you’ – who’s tossing this shit? We never find out – over a riff so spine‑tingling, AC/DC recycled it a year later on Shoot To Thrill.
When the band played this song at the 2003 Hammersmith show, Brian Johnson couldn’t muster the same venom or conviction. There are some AC/DC songs that are just Bon’s, and this is one of them.
Frank Bello (Anthrax): "Its got an amazing guitar riff matched up with great vocals from Bon Scott that makes you want to break something near you."
The pounding title track of the band’s second album was an early indication that the band’s name was derived from raw, electric power, rather than a hint at bisexuality, as some early Australia commentators suggested at the time.
Jean Paul Gaster (Clutch): "Malcolm Young’s rhythm guitar, along with the four-on-the-floor kick, makes for a real deep groove. When the snare drum finally comes in, it sounds so heavy. There are great lyrics here, too. Bon Scott could say anything and you would believe it. Nobody comes close to matching his tone or delivery.
"The same can be said for Angus’ leads. The best players are the one who can pay homage to the tradition without losing their own identity. Angus does with ease. Then there’s that weirdo free jazz ending. What’s that about? These records are timeless. Killer production too!"
15. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Riotous title track from the band’s third album, noted for being the only AC/DC song to feature a line (the title line towards the song’s end) sung by Malcolm Young and also to feature backing vocals from brother Angus.
Bon loved to play the bad guy, and did it best of all on this piece of skullduggery from 1976. The riff sounds like a gunslinger riding into town, and Bon revels in the role of contract killer, with various means of disposal: ‘Concrete shoes, cyanide, T.N.T…’
Biff Byford (Saxon): "As a fairly early convert to AC/DC, I discovered them in 1976. The simplicity of their guitar riffs was what really impressed me. They way they used those repetitive chords really changed my outlook on songwriting.
"That’s where Saxon songs like Wheels Of Steel, 747 (Strangers In The Night) and Strong Arm Of The Law came from. It made such an impact on me I took the band to see them play in Sheffield in 1977. There wasn’t a massive amount of people at the show, but those that did come were really pumped up."
Corky Laing (Mountain): "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap is one of my faves. It has a great title, a great feel, an undeniably great vocal and a relevant title. And you can dance to it."
14. Ride On
If there is one song on which Bon Scott bared his soul, it’s this melancholy blues from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. He loved to brag about all the women he’d had, but in Ride On he reflected upon the loneliness of a life on the road, one of the very few times when he opened up about how he dealt with the loneliness of touring.
“Got another empty bottle/And another empty bed.” It’s AC/DC's deepest song. More than that, it’s the most honest song ever recorded by a rock’n’roll band. And the end result is somewhat dark without ever getting maudlin.
Classic Rock’s Geoff Barton once claimed that “Dirty Deeds is a tremendous record, arguably Scott’s best with AC/DC. That claim hinges on a song that’s atypical for the band: Ride On, the best bluesy ballad you’re ever likely to hear."
13. Riff Raff
The ultimate AC/DC piledriver sounded great on Powerage and even better as the thunderous opening salvo on If You Want Blood You’ve Got It. Full-throttle, take-no-prisoners stuff, Riff Raff is AC/DC at their most electrifying
Joel O'Keefe (Airbourne): "Riff Raff is my all-time favourite AC/DC riff ever, specifically from the live album If You Want Blood. You can hear the guitar and bass amps humming at the start, and you can hear the crowd coming in as well, but the amps humming are even louder than the crowd.
"And once the fucker starts, it’s a real Angus-Malcolm showdown. It’s like Deliverance with the duelling banjos, except it’s fucking loud, electric guitar driven rock ‘n’ roll. It’s more energy and balls than anything you’ve ever heard, and once the fucker kicks in you can’t stop. It’s like a freight train that won’t stop, and it doesn’t even need tracks.
"And when Bon Scott comes out and starts fucking howling over the crowd, this raw capturing of this particular take of Riff Raff is just phenomenal. It’s classic, primitive AC/DC. It’s a simple riff with raw power, done extremely fucking loud and hard. You can’t beat it. And then there’s name itself.
"To me, Riff Raff just says, ‘This in the pinnacle riff.’ That’s the one. And the album is as raw, hard, vicious and boozy as it gets. The band sounds right on the razor’s edge. But simply put, it’s the band going, ’If you want fucking blood then you’ve fucking got it!’ I’m sure there was blood all over the strings the night they made that one."
David Ellefson (Megadeth): "I bought a lot of albums just because the cover artwork looked cool, and this was definitely one of those albums! Seeing Angus stabbing a guitar in his chest (and the back cover showing him lying dead on his face with the guitar neck sticking out of his back) was so over the top I knew the band must be amazing! I took the album home, and right from the opening of Riff Raff I was hooked."
12. Down Payment Blues
A wonderful driving blues number from Powerage, telling the tale of a man driven to debt trying to impress a lady. Simple, repetitive, but wholly effective.
Although he is remembered as a legendary rock star, Bon spent the majority of his thirty-three years living hand to mouth. As such, he gave a gritty authenticity to Down Payment Blues – in his lyrics, and in the way he sang them.
From Powerage, this was not a blues song in the conventional sense, but over a relentless, visceral riff, Bon laid out the harsh realities of a life on the breadline: ‘Can’t even feed my cat on social security.'
Slash (Guns N’ Roses): "Down Payment Blues is one of my all time favourite AC/DC tracks from a catalogue of many favourites. But, this particular track is one of the most gritty and at the same time, one of the most melodically articulate AC/DC songs of all time. Plus, the premise of the lyrics read like my life story."
11. For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)
The title track from the follow-up to Back In Black has ended up becoming the mother of all AC/DC anthems. With a title based on the warrior code of Roman gladiators – ‘For those about to die, we salute you’ – the song begins at a slow march before speeding up to a frenzied climax amid deafening cannon fire.
On stage, with prop cannons and eardrum-shaking pyrotechnics, this only a singer of Brian Johnson’s power could make himself heard. And for decades now, For Those About To Rock has remained immovable as the final song in every AC/DC performance.
Eddie Ojeda (Twisted Sister): "For Those About to Rock has a great message, a great groove and production sound. From the slow menacing beginning to the cannon fire. It rocks! To me its AC/DC’s 1812 Overture."
10. Shoot to Thrill
Bon may have been the Shakespeare of smut, but with lines like ‘I’ve got my gun at the ready, gonna fire at will’ new boy Brian Johnson proved he could leer with the best of them, as on this Back In Black classic.
AC/DC’s raw power is shown to its best effect when it’s subordinate to a groove – and Shoot To Thrill has groove by the bucketload. The song’s main staccato riff cleverly slots into a nailed-on mid-tempo rhythm provided by bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd, while Brian Johnson adds the icing on the cake with a simply irresistible vocal melody.
Angus Young’s solo – wild yet somehow perfectly controlled – drives things up a further notch before Johnson contributes an ear-splitting, almost scat-like climax to proceedings. Sublime.
Rachel Bolan (Skid Row): "Everything about Shoot To Thrill rocks! The energy. The lyrics. When Angus comes back in after the breakdown with the guitar line in the low register. Jeez! That lit me up the first time I heard it and it still lights me up now. Greatest air guitar line ever."
9. Hells Bells
Oh how they teased us for a good minute and a bit, mournful bell tolling and all, as we waited to hear what new singer Brian Johnson sounded like. Another one that outraged the God squad, but is in fact about a storm that hit Nassau as the band arrived to begin recording the new album.
Has there ever been a song that builds a greater sense of anticipation than Hells Bells? Starting the album with the toll of a 2000-pound cast bronze bell seemed like a deliberately sombre nod to Bon Scott’s premature death.
But when Angus fires up that slow and deliberate riff, then locks into a groove that the rest of the band follow seamlessly, the sheer power of the song can’t help but be entirely uplifting. A mighty, meaty vocal from Brian, meanwhile, banishes any thoughts that the new guy might not cut the mustard. Gigantic in every way.
Bernie Shaw (Uriah Heep): "Gotta be Hell’s Bells! Grinding riff, thumping bass line and a gargle with razor blades vocal! What more do you want (or need for that matter) from a great rock song? Nobody does it better than AC/DC. Fact."
8. Touch Too Much
An early indication of the production technique of Mutt Lange, who oversaw Highway To Hell, and proof that AC/DC have always been able to pen a damn catchy pop tune.
The hit single from Highway To Hell proved that AC/DC and producer Mutt Lange were made for each other. On previous albums, the production team of Harry Vanda and George Young – former starts of Aussie rock group The Easybeats, George the elder brother of Malcolm and Angus – did a great job in making AC/DC sound like the baddest rock’n’roll band in the world.
But what the band found in Lange was someone who could get their songs on the radio without cutting off their balls, and with Touch Too Much it all came together. It was a great song, with lyrics that were vintage Bon: “She had the face of an angel/Smiling with sin/The body of Venus with arms.” And what Mutt brought to it – in the way the chorus and backing vocals punched through – just took it to a whole new level.
Eric Singer (Kiss): "Touch Too Much is a classic with Bon Scott and reminds me of why I always have loved this band. Classic riff, four on the floor drum beats and always a chorus that you can sing along to."
7. Let There Be Rock
On the title track from their first classic album, AC/DC were on fire: literally, when Angus’ amp went up in flames during the recording of this riotous rock ‘n’ roll sermon, delivered by Bon with missionary zeal.
In a rudimentary promo video, he wore a priest’s dog collar. And in 1977 – famously recorded as the year of punk rock – this was a song that separated the men from the boys. The song lays bare the band’s philosophy about rock music and where it came from. The centrepiece of AC/DC’s stage show ever since.
Danny Bowes (Thunder): "I saw AC/DC at Wembley Stadium when I wasn’t very old. It was a lot of beers ago and I can’t remember the exact year, but I remember AC/DC very well. The Who were headlining, and there were a few bands on the bill. AC/DC were on in the afternoon.
"They completely stole the show, and I have a vivid memory of Bon Scott carrying Angus on his shoulders into the crowd while he played the guitar solo. The Who were as dull as dishwater by comparison, and I loved The Who. Let There Be Rock always reminds me of that show, every single time I hear it, and that’s how it should be, that’s the power of a great live band.
"It has great melody, huge drama, adrenaline-fuelled excitement, oh and a fuck-right-off guitar riff. Marvellous."
6. It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)
It was the song that introduced AC/DC to the world in 1976: the opening track on their international debut High Voltage, which culled the best material from their first two Australian albums. The crunching riff was the template for so much to follow, as did Bon’s straight-talking, streetwise lyric. And in a nod to his and the Young brother’s Scottish roots, he topped it off with a bagpipe solo. Somehow, it was a perfect fit.
A much covered tale of what life was going to be like for the fledgling band, the video, featuring the Rats Of Tobruk Pipe Band, was shot in what is now AC/DC Lane in Melbourne. Last performed live in 1979.
Alex Skolnick (Testament): "Musically, it features one of the best guitar riffs ever written, and a clever use of two guitars, something which was new to hard rock at that time. Malcolm Young is highly underrated as a rhythm player, and Angus Young, while one of the most visible figures in rock, is actually underrated as a soloist.
"He has a feel, tone and technique that should be studied by more guitar players. As if that’s not enough, these guys throw bagpipes into the mix. Bagpipes! Something that should be so uncool and unrock becomes totally metal. It’s one of those songs that will uplift you, no matter what mood you’re in."
5. Back in Black
As rock songs go, this is close to perfection. Starting with a scratchy little guitar count-in, things go large when the song’s gargantuan riff kicks in. There’s no need for speed when you’ve got this much power, and the band lock in and rock out throughout four minutes and 15 seconds of mid-pocket mayhem.
Back In Black has such a groove to it that it almost has some kind of deep spiritual relationship to hip hop. But there’s no need to worry. This is a rock song to end all rock songs. It's thunderous Zep-like riffage was immediately recognisable as AC/DC, and it was the perfect send-off for the late Bon Scott.
KK Downing (Judas Priest): For me, Back In Black has deep emotional components. It was our privilege to open for AC/DC in 1978-’79 on their tour in Europe. Sadly, this was the tour that was to be Bon’s last. He was a real gentleman and so were the rest of the band. They were very friendly and gracious to us, and even let us ride on their luxurious bus on long journeys. We were devastated at the tragic news and really felt for the guys knowing what a mountain they had to climb for them to be able to continue. So when the Back In Black album finally emerged and I heard the title song it was a moment of real emotion for me.
Steve Morse (Deep Purple): The rhythm part is heavy, of course, but it emphasises the exact muting of each chord (E, D, A) in order to give the guitar part more drive. Heavy, stark and insistent. The little blues riff at the end starts on the upbeat after each of the three chords before going on the downbeat, and gives a satisfying change. I also love the strong solo guitar lines.
Phil Collen (Def Leppard): I first got hooked on AC/DC when I heard Highway To Hell. But I think they perfected their game when they recorded Back in Black, which I reckon is the ultimate rock song. It has a sexy groove that hardly any rock band could get close to, amazingly restrained, confident guitars that are pure rock, outrageous drums and a vocal meter that is almost a rap but very rock and roll. And considering the song is based on a blues format it’s extremely original.
Gary Rossington (Lynyrd Skynyrd): Back In Black’s riff is so cool and simple. Whenever I heard that one it always stopped me, it was like a cool Keith Richards lick. They will always be the No.1 groove machine of all time.
4. You Shook Me All Night Long
The first single AC/DC released after Bon Scott’s death didn’t sound like the work of a grieving band. ‘She was a fast machine, She kept her motor clean’ leered Beano in a manner Bon Scott would have been proud of. Not the most politically correct song of all time, though a stone-cold classic.
Back In Black producer Mutt Lange had pulled off an impressive trick of the light on AC/DC’s previous album, Highway To Hell. He polished up the band’s sound and made the group commercially hotter, while losing none of their core identity. This song once again highlights Lange’s ability to bring entirely acceptable pop sensibility to a hard rock band as he helps the band deliver a singalong, ‘arms around your best mate’s shoulder’ winner of a tune.
Ronnie James Dio (speaking in 2007): "You Shook Me All Night Long is the ultimate kick ass anthem, showing how perfectly Brian Johnson made his presence known inside the band. It was a brilliant transition from the Bon Scott era to the AC/DC we know today."
3. Highway to Hell
Angus on the cover with devil’s horns and a Satanic tail? Highway To Hell? Devil worshipping metallers eh? Nope, a song about what life is like being in a band. “I sometimes wear black underpants,” retorted Angus when asked about the band’s supposed fondness for Old Nick.
It’s not just one of AC/DC’s greatest song. For the man who sang it, Highway To Hell would become an epitaph: a defining statement of devil-may-care rock’n’roll attitude from a legendary hellraiser. The genius of Highway To Hell is its simplicity: a staccato riff, a thumping beat, and a route-one chorus. When Angus Young came up with that riff, his brother Malcolm knew it was something special.
“There were hundreds of riffs going down every day,” Malcolm said. “But this one, we thought, that’s good. It just stuck out like a dog’s balls.” The song’s title also came from Angus. Asked to describe the band’s 1978 tour, he said: “It’s a fucking highway to hell.” ]
And Bon ran with it in a lyric that raised two fingers to the so-called moral majority: “Hey Satan/Payin’ my dues/Playin’ in a rockin’ band/Hey mama/Look at me/I’m on my way to the promised land.” Highway To Hell was the title track for the last album that Bon Scott ever made. In this song, more than any other, his spirit lives on.
Tom Araya (Slayer): "That song springs to mind because it reminds me of the first time I saw them on the American TV show The Midnight Special at the end of the 1970s. I couldn’t believe my eyes when their scrawny little guitarist [Angus Young] spun around on his back like a maniac, then got on the singer [Bon Scott]’s shoulders. I thought, ‘What the hell is that?’ and went out and bought the album. They went on to become one of my favourite bands. I believe that their first five or six albums are all-time classics."
Mick Box (Uriah Heep): "I first heard Highway To Hell on the tour bus on the radio in the USA. It blew me away. The opening riff is so powerful and being on a bus which felt like we were actually on a highway to hell after three months of touring it all fell into place. A fantastic arena song that the crowd delight in shouting, singing and screaming along too. Angus is in the groove on the lead breaks and at one point it was never off American radio and it summed up the whole rock’n’roll lifestyle."
Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top): "My favoirite AC/DC song would have to be Highway To Hell. Quite to my amazement, I heard my grandmother singing along with it, on key and with all the words! When asked how she came onto the song, she replied, “Oh my! Sounds like a fun highway to be traveling on!” How you gonna top that?"
2. Whole Lotta Rosie
When Classic Rock’s Geoff Barton launched a new heavy metal magazine in 1981 – named, of course, Kerrang! – it featured a poll of the 100 greatest HM tracks of all time, as voted by the public. At number one, ahead of Stairway To Heaven, Free Bird, Smoke On The Water and Stargazer, was Whole Lotta Rosie.
The original version of the song was on Let There Be Rock, but the definitive version is on the live album If You Want Blood You’ve Got It, where the first blasts of riffing are interspersed with chants of “Angus! Angus!” from a rowdy Glaswegian audience. And if the song is legendary, so is the story that inspired it: Bon’s grapple with a heavyweight groupie. As Angus recalled: “Rosie was from Tasmania, and she was no skinny puppy. She dragged Bon off to bed and he done his duty, so to speak.”
Alice Cooper: "It’s a love song to a fat girl, and fat girls need love too. It’s one of their catchiest riffs ever. They really are flawless in their approach to rock’n’roll. If they were any more sophisticated, they’d lose their edge."
Ted Nugent: "These rabble rousing sons-a-bitches could have been from Detroit with all their hi-energy piss and vinegar, plus the intense soulfulness in their authoritative, animalistic throttling tight delivery. The boys have got it all – magic, infectious guitar signature theme line, squalling screaming banshee, defiant and believable lead vocals, pummelling black rhythm section and enough attitude for any 100 rock ‘n roll bands. God bless AC/DC. They rock supreme. This song defines pure primal rock’n’roll."
Joel O'Keefe (Airbourne): "I love every single version of all these songs, but the reason so many of these Live at Donington ones are in my favourites list is because they’re harder and faster than the originals. You can take a live version from any time they’ve played this song, but at this particular concert everything just seemed bang on. The tempo was right up, and everything is super duper fast. That’s why a lot of meatheads in Australia, including myself, love the AC/DC Live at Donington album so much.
"You get it in your car and you drive around, or you go to someone’s house and you have a party, and you put the Live at Doningtondouble disc album on and the fucking joint just gets rocking because everything is so fast. You drink faster, you rock faster, you have sex faster… the lot!"
Introduced by an electrifying Angus Young riff - he said recently that he’ll retire when he can no longer play it - comprised of hammer-on and pull-off fingering on an open B string, the track builds dynamically using terrace chants and new drummer Chris Slade’s brutal but simplistic poundings to emerge as a state-of-the-art stadium leveller. Not for nothing do the band Thunder use it as their intro music.
The chant of “Thunder!” has an echo of Bon-era yob-rock bruiser T.N.T. Brian Johnson’s singing is so ball-tighteningly high, it’s no wonder than Angus once described him as sounding like a guy who’s just had a truck dropped on his foot. And when the main riff kicks in, at around three minutes, it’s a moment of pure exhilaration.
It's about a time when a plane carrying guitarist Angus Young was struck by lightning, this slow building rocker from The Razor’s Edge was a massive hit for the band.
Scott Gorham (Thin Lizzy/Black Star Riders): "Thunderstruck has gotta be the AC/DC song for me. Great guitar playing, cool groove, and tight production. What more can you ask from a classic rock song?"
Joe Satriani: "Thunderstruck is unique in the way the Young brothers arrange their guitars. The two main guitar riffs are syncopated, yet bone crunching. Their entire catalogue of recordings contain the most absolutely wonderful sounding electric guitars ever! How do they do that?”