10 Best AC/DC Songs
There are some people who say that all AC/DC songs sound the same. Well, not exactly. Consistency makes any song from the band's catalog sound instantly familiar, but the subtle nuances of their unshakable framework make each track unique. Guitarist brothers Malcolm and Angus Young took their inherent love of blues, amped up the voltage of its shimmy and shake, and made something sinister and a little more naughty.
AC/DC are one of just a few bands to succeed with two singers. Bon Scott was already becoming an icon before his premature death in 1980. The band quickly recruited Brian Johnson and recorded Back in Black, reaching an even greater level of commercial success. Both Scott's tongue-in-cheek playfulness and Johnson's working class charm have served the music well for years. The songs are powerful, mischievous, and indelibly timeless.
Since forming in 1974, AC/DC have released a wealth of studio albums, plus several live and soundtrack albums, totaling an estimated worldwide sales of over 200 million copies. Determining the 10 Best AC/DC Songs from that much great music is daunting, but we've tried our best with the following list:
Powerage was the first AC/DC album released simultaneously across all territories with identical track listing and cover art. “What's Next to the Moon” is tough 'n' rumble attitude, with slashing bridge-come-chorus chords and Bon Scott's lyrical nod to Superman and Casey Jones. The opening riff is said to have come from Angus Young trying out a few notes after changing a broken guitar string. The audio below is a live version of the track with Brian Johnson on vocals.
After eight years of relative inactivity, Black Ice was arguably the best AC/DC album since Back in Black. Producer Brendan O'Brien insisted that the Young brothers incorporate dynamics to give the music breathing room, allowing singer Brian Johnson space to properly shift gears and maneuver his voice up to its distinctive high register shriek. “Rock 'n' Roll Train,” the first single, has a lively guitar that playfully weaves through the verses over the groove of drummer Phil Rudd's solid pocket.
Syncopated guitar chords and crashing cymbals opening “Sin City” is trademark AC/DC. That technique validated music critics of the time likening the band to punk. An ominous bass-anchored bridge creates perfect tension for the track to exploded back to full force after the guitar solo. Bon Scott is at his poetic best with non-sensical lyrics about ladders and snakes that somehow make all the sense in the world. Twisted Sister covering the song 23 years later clearly shows the impact AC/DC had on their style.
After its initial release in 1976, AC/DC's fourth album was finally released in the U.S. five years later, capitalizing on the success of Back in Black. “Problem Child” is a thumbed-nose middle finger toward conformity and authority. Bon Scott relishes parental disapproval and threatens confrontation with violence. Musically, it's simple chords supporting Angus Young's frantic soloing into an outgoing reprise. “Problem Child” also appeared on the international version of Let There Be Rock in 1977, minus the extended coda.
An anthem that remains the final encore of the AC/DC live set list. The slower tempo of the verses ultimately gives way to the sound of fist-pumping cannon fire, lighting the fuse to a full-throttle faster pace that drives the track to its final blast. The opening cut of the album that followed the benchmark Back in Black, it's a perfect statement of continuation, picking up right where they left off. In concert, the blasts are a beloved effect provided by an arsenal of cannons.
The familiar jangling guitar leading to the drum beat is so familiar, by now, “You Shook Me All Night Long” can be easily recognized by just the first few notes. Bon Scott may have steeped his lyrics in clever innuendo, but successor Brian Johnson gleefully lays everything on the table with a joyful celebration of carnal pleasure that's not coy at all. It's catchy, singable, and Phil Rudd's strategic cymbal crashes throughout the guitar solo are a masterful syncopated hook.
The Razors Edge was a return to greater commercial success after several lesser selling albums, driven by the popularity of “Thunderstruck”. The descending progression of notes is similar to the guitar pattern previously heard on “Who Made Who.” Fists in the air while shouting the “thunder” chorus fully completed the transition from sweaty drinking songs to stadium anthems. “Thunderstruck” has commemorated every touchdown celebration by the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in recent years.
Bon Scott's paean to plus-sized women is an AC/DC concert staple. Recorded in Glasgow, Scotland, the If You Want Blood live version is definitive, establishing the tradition of a call and response between Angus Young's riffing and the audience chanting his name. The song ultimately lent its name to an inflatable likeness of the provocative seductress (as seen in the video below), which is now an integral part of the band's live production along with cannons and the church bell during “Hells Bells.”
One of several songs that inaccurately provided fodder for moralists to label AC/DC a satanic band. The sing-along lyrics actually tell the rigors of touring, more literally the exhaustion of traveling the Canning Highway in Australia. Mutt Lange's production techniques bolstered the AC/DC sound from bar band to something much more powerful. The tempo and cadence is fundamentally a blues foundation, especially the structured back-and-forth tradeoff between drums and guitars throughout the verses.
The title track of the second best selling album of all time is a eulogy to the band's late frontman, Bon Scott. Successor Brian Johnson tells of feeling an otherworldly presence that guided him while writing the lyrics. Musically, like “Highway to Hell,” the track relies on the cadence and groove created by the interplay between guitars and drums. Johnson jokes that friends commented they never heard him sing so high, to which he retorts that neither had he.