Some of you old-timers may have noticed that a little band known as AC/DC released a new album called Black Ice earlier this week. This has, naturally, sent me into a binge of Acca Dacca listening for the past few days. With the planet’s greatest hard rock group on the brain, I figured it would be an appropriate time for me to compile a quick list of my ten favorite AC/DC tunes. Most of these won’t be a surprise to anyone if you’ve listened to your classic rock radio stations carefully, but I suppose one or two may come as a curve ball.
Honorable mentions: “Live Wire”, “Shoot to Thrill”, “T.N.T.”
- The song comes to life with a positively filthy, crunchy guitar lick coupled with the sleazy vocal delivery of Bon Scott. Lyrics are actually a little bit darker than we’re used to hearing on an AC/DC song, but there’s still hints of a tongue-in-cheek element in there. Sadly, this tune is a bit of a forgotten classic. I don’t think it reached the States until 1984 with the ’74 Jailbreak EP (which… wasn’t the song recorded in ’76? Huh?), and it’s never exactly been a staple of the live shows (although to compensate there is a near fifteen minute version of the song on the collector’s edition of AC/DC LIve).
09. “The Furor”
- Driven by some exceptionally tight bluesy guitar playing from the Young brothers, “The Furor” is one of the standout tracks on the otherwise slightly disappointing Ballbreaker album (although I still think it’s a better record overall than Stiff Upper Lip was). I have no flipping clue what Brian Johnson is singing about here, but he sounds pretty intense doing it, so who really cares what the song is supposed to mean?
- Okay, so you’ve heard this in virtually every sports arena and stadium around the globe almost as much as you’ve heard “We Will Rock You”, but there’s a reason for that. Adrenaline. Few songs can get the blood pumping the way “Thunderstruck” does, which is all the more amazing considering the tune never really breaks out into the fourth gear. Then-drummer Chris Slade pounds on his kit as if he really has captured the sound of thunder somewhere in his tom-toms, and if there was ever any doubt that Angus must’ve sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his guitar playing skill, just listen to the ridiculous main riff to this song – every note carefully picked in such a way that mere mortals would weep at the thought of playing it live in concert.
07. “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)”
- Highway to Hell is arguably the best album AC/DC ever did, so I would be remiss without including at least one song from that record on my list. There’s just something about the raucous atmosphere this song generates – the hoarse vocals, the off-the-wall guitar work, all of it comes together to make it seem as if this is the anthem for the last party in the bowels of Hell. It’s about the time when Bon Scott sings “I want you to bleed for me” that, if you have the volume up loud enough, you might think you really are about to start bleeding. From your ears.
06. “The Jack”
- Hard-edged rhythm & blues mixed with a lethal dose of humorous allegory. One may feel slightly guilty about actually enjoying a song which is essentially about the Clap, but that’s AC/DC for you. They could write really good music and then throw a silly set of lyrics at the song simply to make themselves laugh. Brilliant, if you ask me. I especially like all the jeering and booing at the end of this song, which the band may well have expected at the time they recorded the T.N.T. album. Perhaps to the band’s chagrin, their audience was bright enough to get in on the joke too.
05. “Let There Be Rock”
- In the Book of Genesis it is God who says “Let there be light”. Given their deity-like status these days, it feels wholly appropriate for AC/DC to be the ones to say “Let there be rock”. Although the rhythm section are often the unsung, unmentioned heroes of the band, in this song you can hear the presence of drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Mark Evans as more pronounced than usual, especially during the clever vocal couplets. The song is even better when played in concert (such as the Stiff Upper Lip Live DVD), as Angus extends the solo by playing adroit arpeggios, boldly unaccompanied by the rest of the band.
04. “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”
- When you’re young and you’re listening to a song like this, it makes you feel as if you’re doing something you ought not to. Here we have an unnamed, unsavory character willing to do all manner of lewd and illegal acts to help you out for a modest fee. I don’t know who he is, but he’s my hero. The main riff is just teeth-gnashingly good, and even though neither Angus nor Malcolm can really sing, their backing vocals actually do fit in well with the tone of the song. And that scream at the end… good God, it sounds like a real life execution.
03. “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)”
- In stark contrast to something like “The Jack”, AC/DC could also have its more serious moments, songs that could be taken at face value. “It’s a Long Way to the Top” is one of those moments – it’s the anthem for aspiring rock musicians the world over, even more poignant as the brutal cycle of rehearse-record-tour-repeat that Bon Scott is singing about here is something that undoubtedly helped fuel the alcoholism that would kill him only a few years later. The song is anything but stereotypical, despite the stereotypical rock ‘n roll subject matter – instead of a guitar solo we have a bagpipe solo, and then some clever interplay between said bagpipe and lead guitar. Proof that despite forming their band in Australia, the Young brothers and Bon Scott never forgot their Scottish heritage.
02. “Hells Bells”
- Gets me every time, that damn church bell. It makes you sit up and pay attention, because it’s probably the last thing anyone expects to hear on a rock album (and if you’re a baseball player, it’s the last damn thing you want to hear, because it usually means Trevor Hoffman is coming out of the bullpen to K your ass). “Hells Bells” is easily the most ominous tune AC/DC has ever recorded. Although it’s not a bleak song, it does conjure up some very stormy images with the lyrics, featuring harsh rains, rumbling thunderclaps, and violent hurricanes.
01. “Whole Lotta Rosie”
- There’s always been this argument between fans about whether or not AC/DC is merely a hard rock group or if they actually cross over into heavy metal. There’s plenty of metal fans out there who get offended if a critic describes some of the originators, the proto-metal bands if you like, as traditional heavy metal music (I’m talking Deep Purple, Budgie, Thin Lizzy, et al). To these detractors I say “Get over it”. Maybe they’re not tr00 or kvlt, but AC/DC is metal goddammit, and “Whole Lotta Rosie” is the one song that can be used to put this stupid argument to bed permanently.
“Whole Lotta Rosie” finds Bon Scott telling the tale of his tryst with ‘Rosie’, a woman who “Ain’t exactly pretty/Ain’t exactly small.” yet knows how to compensate by being the best lover he’s ever had. The song extolls the virtues of full bodied women in a way that I can’t help but agree with. Sir Mix-a-Lot would be proud. But it’s not simply the libidinous, amoral vocals that make this song my favorite of Acca Dacca’s discography… the music absolutely slays. You could play this track to a rock fan from another country who doesn’t even speak or understand the English language and you would still find them headbanging, such is the raw power of the song. The driving, frenetic power chords are just out of this world, and the batshit, barmy solo from Angus is undoubtedly the best he’s ever done. Brute force mixed with a liberal dose of insanity. AC/DC at its finest.