AC/DC – The Legends
For those who have been living in caves for forty years, AC/DC are an Australian rock band formed in Sydney in 1973 by brothers Malcolm (RIP) and Angus Young. They are back in the news with rumours about a new album being recorded, which may or may not feature riffs by Malcolm before he sadly passed away.
AC/DC underwent several line-up changes before releasing their first album, High Voltage, in 1975. Membership subsequently stabilised until Cliff Williams replaced Mark Evans as bassist in 1977 for the album Powerage. In February 1980, a few months after recording the album Highway to Hell, lead singer and co-songwriter Bon Scott died of “acute alcohol poisoning“. The group considered disbanding but stayed together, bringing in Brian Johnson as replacement for Scott. Later that year, the band released their first album with Johnson, Back in Black, which they dedicated to Scott‘s memory. The album launched them to new heights of success and became their all-time best-seller.
This feature picks up tracks that I consider are essential listening for fans of the band. They do not necessary feature tunes that you all know and love, but ones that are a bit off the beaten path. I hope you enjoy as much as I do! Check them out at the link at the end of the article and let me know what your Top Ten are.
I have ordered these by release date and have picked out what I consider gems from each of the ten albums that I personally rate highly.
The first out of the gate, from 1976’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap is “Problem Child”.
AC/DC began recording what would become Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap in December 1975 at Albert Studios with Harry Vanda and George Young (older brother of guitarists Malcolm and Angus) producing. In April, the band went on their first tour of the U.K. where “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” was released as a single.
“Problem Child” is a hoodlum anthem with a message about how environments can cause problem behaviour. The music is straight ahead rock, with a vice-like 4/4 timing and a chugging riff, which is classic AC/DC. It also has some fine singing by Scott, giving a growling menace that explodes.
My second choice is from 1977’s blockbuster Let There Be Rock. The song “Overdose” has been covered by many bands (including Exodus) and is an amazing rifftastic choice.
By 1977, AC/DC had become huge in their native Australia and had also achieved a degree of popularity in the UK and Europe, largely on the strength of their live show. However, Atlantic Records in the United States had rejected Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, feeling the production was not up to par, and the band, which had yet to tour America, returned to Albert Studios in Sydney to record another album.
From the beginning, it appears they intended to make a statement, with guitarist Angus Young telling VH1’s Behind the Music in 2000, “Me and Malcolm said, ‘Well, we really want a lot of guitars,’ you know? Big guitars.“
“Overdose” was a clever metaphor, likening love/lust to a drug overdose. The song was largely ignored in favor of more popular tunes like “Whole Lotta Rosie“, but I believe it to be the highlight of the record. The whole song is one long blast of nervous energy.
1978 was a landmark year for AC/DC. They released the album of their career (yes, controversial, “but true – I overdosed on you“…hmmm). Anyway, Powerage ripped off the bandage and infected the grooves. I could have chosen any of the nine tracks, but “Down Payment Blues” is the finest piece of rock poetry ever.
“Living on a shoestring
A fifty cent millionaire
Open to charity
Rock ‘n’ roll welfare“
The chiming guitars and the rock solid drumming make this a greasy essential track for all us AC/DC geeks. On a side note, Scott Ian of Anthrax loves the song too!
Highway To Hell was released in 1979 and needs no introduction. Yeah, you have all the good stuff like the title track and “If You Want Blood“, but I always preferred “Love Hungry Man” and its cool melody. Somehow, it always reminds me a bit of Thin Lizzy but I know not why! The chorus is one of the best that the band ever wrote and it chugs along with a wicked swagger.
I skipped over Back In Black, as even the most casual of listener may have heard all the songs.
However, 1981 arrived and For Those About To Rock hit the record racks. For Those About to Rock has sold over four million copies in the US. It would be AC/DC‘s first and only No. 1 album in the U.S. until the release of Black Ice in October 2008. In their original 1981 review, Rolling Stone magazine declared it to be their best album. In Australia, the album peaked at No. 3.
Yeah, I didn’t want to pick any of the well known tracks, so I plumped for “Night Of The Long Knives“. This song always was a great dose of adrenaline for me. Brian Johnson‘s singing on this album was amazing and the whole record has aged well. The production by “Mutt” Lange is punchy and clear. The energy is buzzing and the song just spits out venom with its tale of deceit and back-stabbing. There are a number of fantastic tunes I could have picked, including “Let’s Get It Up“, “COD” and the brooding “Spellbound“. If you’ve not heard this album, give it a listen, as it is solid from start to finish.
AC/DC returned to Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas to record their ninth album, the same studio where they had recorded Back in Black with Robert John “Mutt” Lange in 1980. Lange had produced AC/DC‘s three previous releases but this time the band chose to produce themselves. On the recorded commentary on the album for the Live at Donington DVD, the band members state that the album was an attempt to make the band raw again, and were happy with the result. Often overlooked, the album is somewhat of a forgotten gem. From this record, I recommend listening to “This House Is On Fire“, the second song in and an absolute banger. It has a riff that remains with you forever and what other song kicks off with the line “yonder she walks“?
The songs on Flick of the Switch contain much of the outlaw fantasy (“Guns For Hire,” “Badlands“) and sexual innuendo (“Rising Power,” “Deep in the Hole“) that fans had come to expect from the Australian rockers. “Badlands” features guitarist Angus Young playing slide guitar, a rarity on record. The song “Bedlam in Belgium” was inspired by the band’s appearance at Kontich when a riot nearly broke out when police tried to close down the show after the band allegedly ignored a strict 11 p.m. curfew. On tour in support of the album, “Guns For Hire” was the set opener.
The next album Fly On The Wall is often dismissed as their worse, largely due to the muddy production. However, it does contain some decent songs, such as “Shake Your Foundations” and “Sink The Pink“. I feel that the production does rather detract from a decent set of rocking tunes, but you can’t argue when you’re hearing sludge rather than crystal clear guitars.
“Danger” is a real brooding banger and is my pick from Fly On The Wall. It is slower in pace and quieter in tone and is more sinister because of this. It is not often added to the band’s setlist, but has been played in the past.
A home video of AC/DC performing five songs from the album was released in the summer of 1985. Also titled Fly On The Wall, it features the band playing “Fly on the Wall“, “Danger“, “Sink the Pink“, “Stand Up” and “Shake Your Foundations” at a small bar in New York City. At the bar, a photographer attempts to sneak in to take pictures of the band. New characters are introduced during each song, including three suit-clad men and two women during “Stand Up“, and a lady dressed in pink during “Sink the Pink“. The cartoon fly depicted on the album cover is also seen.
1986 and the band released the “soundtrack” to Maximum Overdrive, in the form of the album Who Made Who. There were some old favorites on this record, but the one new song (there were two other instrumentals) “Who Made Who” is an absolute barnstormer. It thunds into life with the rock solid bassline and Angus call and repeat riffing and never lets go. Johnson‘s vocals are way back up in the mix and the sound is as fresh today as when it was released. This has to be one of my favorite songs ever from the band (or from any band).
Another forgotten favorite for me was the 1988 record Blow Up Your Video. Vanda and Young returned to produce an amazing piece of black plastic. It scorches from “Heatseeker” (my pick here) to “Nick Of Time” to “Two’s Up“. Never have I heard anyone rave about this album, but it is one of the band’s best. The album was recorded at the Miraval Studio in Le Val, France, in between August and September 1987 with all songs written by Young, Young & Johnson. This would be the last AC/DC album to officially contain lyrics penned by Johnson, which I think has been to the detriment of the band. Does anyone think the lyrics on any subsequent record were any good?
Skipping over the disappointing albums, Stiff Upper Lip was a return to form in 2000. George Young returned to steady the ship so blighted by Bruce Fairburn and Rick Rubin. Malcolm takes a rare guitar solo on “Can’t Stand Still” while Angus does the backing vocals on “Hold Me Back” (my pick). The album delves even deeper into the band’s blues roots than its predecessor Ballbreaker and features a great clean sound.
“Hold Me Back” has a huge groove and just makes me want to bounce around. May not be a good vision, but it does feel GOOD!
So there you have it, ten tracks of the greatest music you’ll ever hear. For those who disagree, let me know on Facebook and we can discuss!! AC/DC – simply the best!