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?”