The Scottish/Australian giants of rock have been one of the most consistent bands in all of music since the release of their debut single in 1974. It’s fair to say you know what you’re getting anytime they see fit to release new music. Still capable of putting out really strong records (check out last year’s Power Up (2020) album for proof of that), they have created so many incredible tracks across almost half a century. Here are my 10 favourites –
10. Riff Raff (from Powerage (1978))
An absolute stormer of a track to begin our countdown, when that sped up boogie riff hits and is accompanied by the super tight but funky rhythm, this one really lets rip. It’s one of their most powerful and aggressive sounding tracks, with Angus spitting lead fireworks all over the place. It’s not hard to see why this was picked as the opening track on their ‘78 tour, as evidenced by the awesome live album, If You Want Blood You’ve Got It (1978). Be sure to check out the whole of Powerage (1978), it’s one of their best albums without a single skippable track on it.
9. Big Gun (from Last Action Hero – Soundtrack (1993))
Taken from the soundtrack to the Arnold Schwarzenegger flop (but actually not too bad) movie and released as the first single from what is a decent compilation, this song flies under the radar when discussing the best AC/DC tracks. I’ve always loved this since first seeing the accompanying promo video on MTV as a teenager. It was the first time they used Rick Rubin as a producer and is the best he managed to capture the band, giving their sound a fresh sheen without losing any of their power. Not one of their big hits or ever likely to be included on any of their setlists, it never the less is a track I always return to and has become a favourite of anyone I’ve played it to.
8. Live Wire (from T.N.T. (1975))
Brilliant track that perfectly encapsulates the sound of Bon Scott-era AC/DC. The slow building atmospheric intro allows the guitars to hit crisp and hard when they arrive and let Bon’s vocal slide over the top with an air of danger and sleaze. It also contains an excellent solo from Angus and superb dual guitar break from the Young brothers. The T.N.T. (1975) album was their second, Australia only, release and was amalgamated, alongside tracks from their debut, into the High Voltage (1976) compilation for their first US/Europe album. If you can find it, the Australian release is well worth tracking down as it’s a fantastic record.
7. You Shook Me All Night Long (from Back In Black (1980))
Bringing Mutt Lange on board as producer really allowed the band’s pop sensibilities to shine through on top of their already solid hard rock base, never more so than on this massive track. One of the groups most instantly recognisable and irresistible hits, it’s so slick but still retains enough crunch and lyrical innuendos to give it the requisite edge. The chorus is an instant earworm, probably the hookiest of their whole career and there’s another great guitar solo from Angus. This was the first single the band released after the death of Bon Scott and gave the fans the first taste of his replacement, Brian Johnson, who fits the band’s sound perfectly and helped take them to the highest of commercial heights.
6. Jailbreak (from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (Australian version) (1976))
Included as the final track on the Australian version of the Dirty Deeds album but only released as a single for the rest of the world, it’s another of their tracks that doesn’t get enough recognition as the classic that it is. It absolutely rocks and has the classic AC/DC sound and feel, a brilliant vocal performance from Bon Scott, trademark gang vocals on the chorus and the really cool moment where the music stops and Bon Scott announces that the prisoner made it out… with a bullet in his back and the band kick back in riffing and grooving to the track’s end. Check out the promo video for this song too, a low budget classic if ever there was one!!
5. For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) (from For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) (1981))
The title track from their second album to feature Brian Johnson on vocals, this is one of the band’s most popular and enduring songs. It’s absolutely huge and builds from it’s crushing, heavy groove to a balls to the wall finale that is one of their most exciting moments in the whole of their back catalogue. Since it’s release it’s often used as the closing song to almost every gig they play, the furious thrash of the songs latter half and the deafening 21 gun salute being something that needs to be experienced in the live setting to fully appreciate it’s power. It’s parent album is actually one of my least favourite of theirs, this being the only standout track on an otherwise mediocre effort. But what a track it is!!
4. Let There Be Rock (from Let There Be Rock (1977))
From what just might be my favourite album of theirs comes this absolutely barnstorming beast of a title track. This is AC/DC at their most vicious, most rugged and raw sounding and totally rips!! Across what could be described as a souped up Chuck Berry boogie, every member of the band plays like their life depends on it, hitting the ground running at a pace and never letting up. The guitars are the filthiest sound the Young brothers ever got from their instruments and Angus spews out solo after solo that assault the ears in the best way possible. In the year punk broke this is possibly the most punk sounding record to be released, showing they weren’t going to be lumbered in with the rock’n’roll dinosaurs that the punk bands were (supposedly) trying to kill.
3. Highway To Hell (from Highway To Hell (1979))
The song I am going to have played at my funeral (it no doubt describes where I’ll be heading if there is such a place as the afterlife!!), this was the first AC/DC song I ever heard as a kid and instantly loved it and still do to this day. The sound on this, produced for the first time by Mutt Lange, encapsulates their sound perfectly and is so crystal clear, crisp and powerful, it outshines much of the modern day production across any genre. It’s the title track of their final album with Bon Scott on vocals who would tragically be found dead just over 6 months after this album was released and at the point where their popularity was just about to reach unprecedented levels. They recorded six albums with Bon as frontman and excluding High Voltage (Australian version) (1975), all are absolutely essential.
2. Back In Black (from Back In Black (1980))
One of the most iconic and greatest rock songs of all time, from one of the most iconic and biggest selling albums of all time, this title track does it all. Huge riff, massive drums, Brian Johnson’s sneering screech, the blood pumping double time break, the so simple yet so memorable chorus, this is probably the perfect starting point for any newcomers to the world of AC/DC. Once fans got to hear what Bon Scott’s replacement would sound like and with a song this strong, even the most ardent Bon fan must have been more than assured that the band’s future was in safe hands. This is one of those songs that the smallest child to oldest adult can find some enjoyment from and should be on everyone’s playlist of top tracks.
1. Thunderstruck (from The Razors Edge (1990))
I have loved this song since the day it came out and for many years it would have probably placed behind ‘Back In Black’ on my list. Since having children though and seeing the pure excitement and joy they get when this song comes on, it has increased my love for it ten fold. It just has that magic that makes you want to sing, shout, dance, jump and shake your shit along to it!! It works equally as well blasting from a stage in front of 80,000 fans as it does on your car stereo, ripping your throat to shreds whilst trying to imitate that iconic Brian Johnson screech (just me?!?). As soon as Angus starts his brain worming, spidery riff, the chanting vocals saunter in and the massive drums start to hit like the cannons used for the 21 gun salute at the end of ‘For Those About To Rock’, you are hooked and are not let off said hook until nearly five, glorious minutes later. They’ve never managed to create another anthem in the proceeding years anywhere near as brilliant as this and to be fair I don’t know how they could. It’s absolutely perfect and is completely deserving of it’s place at the top of my list. These 10 tracks are just a mere snapshot of AC/DC’s long and illustrious career and anyone who delves deeper into their back catalogue will find plenty more gems that could fill a list a lot longer than this one. Have fun listening!!