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AC/DC's New Single 'Play Ball': A First Listen

Play Ball, the first single from AC/DC's eagerly awaited new album Rock Or Bust, received its first radio plays earlier today, and is available now to anyone pre-ordering the digital edition of the album. Here's four things we learned while listening to it.

You’d never know that Malcolm Young isn’t present

The revelation, earlier this year, that AC/DC’s redoubtable leader Malcolm Young had been forced to sit out the recording of ‘DC’s fifteenth studio album (sixteenth if you count the Australia-only releases High Voltage and TNT separately) due to ill-health, was never really likely to derail the sessions with Brendan O’Brien or force AC/DC into any radical re-drawing of their signature sound. With Malcolm and Angus’s nephew Stevie deputising on rhythm guitar at Warehouse Studio in Vancouver, the band ploughed on as usual, and in truth, while Malcolm’s exit from the band is terribly sad, you won’t see the joins on Play Ball, which retains ‘DC’s trademark pumping heartbeat in Stevie Young’s driving riffs.

If Rock or Bust is AC/DC’s final album, they’re going out swinging

The first lyrics you’ll hear Brian Johnson deliver on Play Ball are ‘Pick me up, fill my cup, pour me another round…’, an early indication that DC aren’t about to enter their 40th year together in anything but bullish spirits. On initial listens, Play Ball has something of the vibe of 1995’s excellent Ballbreaker album, built upon a swaggering rhythm and with an instantly addictive chorus tailor-made for fist-pumping stadium singalongs. Business as usual then.

Play Ball isn’t a song about baseball

In the US, Play Ball was first premiered as the soundtrack to Major League Baseball’s post-season TV coverage, but longtime fans will not be entirely surprised to hear that the track isn’t about sporting prowess. In the past AC/DC have celebrated Big Balls, hailed the spirit of one of Bon Scott’s ex-girlfriends with She’s Got Balls, detailed a passionate encounter with an enthusiastic young lady on Ballbreaker, promised to “have a ball” on Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and relayed the tale of a young lady’s first sexual encounter in Squealer with the memorably unpleasant lyric: ‘She said she’d never been, never been balled before / and I don’t think she’ll ever ball no more / fixed her good.’ It’s easy to imagine Brian Johnson having a good wheezy chuckle then every time Play Ball gets aired on prime time TV.

Nobody, but nobody, plays rock ‘n’ roll like AC/DC

In a brilliant essay about Malcolm Young on The Guardian’s website last week, writer Michael Hann paid tribute to the discipline and economy of AC/DC’s songwriting, noting “on the great AC/DC albums, you hear not just the chords of the riffs, but their very texture, their burnished, rounded sound. It’s why AC/DC are immediately recognisable, whether or not you know the song.” It will take you literally one second to identify Play Ball as an AC/DC song, and only marginally longer before that chorus is embedded deep inside your head. For all the bands that have attempted to ape AC/DC’s elemental power over the past four decades, no-one else shifts the air quite like this. There are eleven songs on Rock Or Bust: if they all sound this forceful, this ebullient and this alive, we’re in for a treat.

Paul Brannigan
Paul Brannigan

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.