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 then there's the singers, both extraordinary: the lascivious, menacing, comical Bon Scott and his replacement, the jocular, razor-throated Brian Johnson.
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 greatest AC/DC songs, as voted by you.
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."