AC/DC have always been a source of controversy. Even in the 80s, AC/DC swore they were not Metal, and many agreed. When they first broke in the UK, they were called punk. Perhaps they were always high energy rock and roll, but they are definitely a band loved by Metal fans. Their golden age with Bon Scott came to an abrupt end when he died choking on his own vomit in a freezing car. The band recruited Geordie singer Brian Johnson and delivered arguably their most powerful album, Back in Black. It was certainly the album that pushed them into the big leagues, but Scott had done the heavy lifting. Follow on album For Those About to Rock was patchy, despite a strong title track, and their fortunes dwindled for some time until they catapulted back into the big leagues with The Razor’s Edge. Albums since then have been decent, and the gaps between them longer and longer. In recent times, Malcolm Young has had to retire due to dementia, singer Brian Johnson was forced to retire with hearing issues, and Axl Rose of Guns ‘n’ Roses fame has taken on his role to finish a tour. With the departure of Cliff Williams on bass and the ejection of drummer Phil Rudd due to issues with the law, Angus Young is the only man left standing of this once unstoppable rock institution.
The influences of AC/DC are straightforward. The Young brothers were related to George Young, who was in the Easybeats. They are best known for the song ‘Friday on my Mind.’ Growing up in suburban Melbourne, Angus and Malcolm saw their house mobbed by girls desperate to meet their brother and this, combined with a love of 60s rock and roll such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard, formed the bedrock of their style and approach. The Aussie pressing of TNT even boasts a Chuck Berry cover. Beyond that, the Young brothers have never been ashamed of the blues basis of their music, or their love of blues music. They’ve even recorded a straight up 12 bar blues song or two.
Classics (the albums even a casual fan owns)
Let There be Rock (1987)
This is the album where AC/DC found themselves. The three (in Australia) albums before this one were building to this point. This is the first album where people considered them ‘Heavy Metal.’ This was a streamlined AC/DC with heavy riffs, and big guitar solos. Songs like ‘Rosie’ and ‘Let There be Rock’ are part of every AC/DC show, and deeper tracks like ‘Go Down’ rock just as hard.
Highway to Hell (1992)
The last Bon Scott-era album was also their apex. With Mutt Lange at the helm, their sound got more focused, more commercial, but still hard rock. The title track was an instant classic, the menace of songs like ‘Night Prowler’ was unmistakable, and tracks like ‘Shot Down in Flames’ are fan favourites that have been greeted with rapture when added to the set in recent times.
Back in Black (2011)
The album that pushed AC/DC to the stratosphere. Speculation has always existed about how much of a hand Scott had in writing these songs, but either way, this is the album that appears most in the AC/DC set, from ‘Back in Black’ to ‘Hell’s Bells’ to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ to ‘Shoot to Thrill,’ this album is a classic from start to finish. At number six in the top ten best selling albums of all time, only Led Zeppelin hold a higher position for a rock album.
Fan Favourite (The album that didn’t make it big, but every fan loves)
This is Keith Richards’ favourite AC/DC album. He has taste. This album often gets forgotten, wedged as it is between Let There be Rock and Highway to Hell. It has high energy songs, like ‘Kicked in the Teeth,’ and songs that get a live airing, like ‘Sin City,’ but it’s the deep tracks, like ‘Gone Shootin’,’ and the epic six-minute ‘Down Payment Blues’ that are the heart of the album. More than any other, this album shows the blues heart of AC/DC.
Next Steps (One step below, but these albums still shine in the catalogue)
The Razor’s Edge (1985)
AC/DC were treading water for much of the 80s, then in 1990 they pulled a rabbit out of a hat with this album. The song ‘Thunderstruck’ was an instant hit, and immediately became THE song every guitarist played in guitar stores. From start to finish, this album was and is as strong as Back in Black. It did so well, it formed the backbone of their first live album since the 1970s.
On this, their third album, the AC/DC sound started to coalesce with songs like ‘TNT,’ ‘It’s A Long Way to the Top’ and ‘Live Wire.’ AC/DC released three albums in Australia, and mixed the track listings to create two releases overseas. The TNT album is the one that did not have an international release. This CD also contains their cover of ‘School Days.’
If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) (1988)
Although there was a live video which now exists as a DVD / CD box set, this was the album released live in Scott’s lifetime. Hearing the live energy of these songs, and the alternative lyrics for ‘The Jack’ make this a classic AC/DC moment and a worthwhile album for any fan.
Controversial (The one fans disagree on)
Fly on the Wall (1998)
As the 80s wore on, AC/DC seemed to be more and more yesterday’s men, a good live act but not one that produced good new music. This album was released with a video that provided video clips for the first half of the album. This was fitting as the album sounds a lot like a side of singles and a side of B-sides. Some count this as another bad release but others find much gold in these tracks, with songs like ‘Danger,’ ‘Shake Your Foundation’ and ‘Sink the Pink’ not exactly competing with Back in Black but certainly existing on a plane well above most of Flick of the Switch.
Buy this last (Not all bands have a ‘bad’ album, but this is their least good one)
Blow Up Your Video (2004)
This is the absolute nadir of AC/DC in the 1980s. After Fly on the Wall, they released Who Made Who, a best of with one new song track and two new instrumentals. That song was a hit, and then this arrived. The two singles, ‘Heatseeker’ and ‘That’s the Way I Want to Rock and Roll’ were AC/DC by the numbers and the rest of the album was pure dross. It’s perhaps the realisation that they were on a downhill path that led them to follow this up with the surprisingly excellent Razor’s Edge album.
Playlist (A killer playlist for your phone)
(Note, the current CD releases have been used to denote which albums the songs are on, not the Australian releases.)
‘It’s a Long Way to the Top’ (High Voltage)
‘Live Wire’ (High Voltage)
‘TNT’ (High Voltage)
‘Can I Sit Next to You, Girl’ (High Voltage)
‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ (Dirty Deeds)
‘Problem Child’ (Dirty Deeds)
‘Jailbreak’ (Dirty Deeds)
‘Dog Eat Dog’ (Let There be Rock)
‘Let There be Rock’ (Let There be Rock)
‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ (Let There be Rock)
‘Sin City’ (Powerage)
‘Down Payment Blues’ (Powerage)
‘Riff Raff’ (Powerage)
‘Highway to Hell’ (Highway to Hell)
‘Touch Too Much’ (Highway to Hell)
‘Shot Down in Flames’ (Highway to Hell)
‘Hell’s Bells’ (Back in Black)
‘Shoot to Thrill’ (Back in Black)
‘Back in Black’ (Back in Black)
‘Rock & Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’ (Back in Black)
‘For Those About to Rock’ (For Those About to Rock)
‘Flick of the Switch’ (Flick of the Switch)
‘Bedlam in Belgium’ (Flick of the Switch)
‘Fly on the Wall’ (Fly on the Wall)
‘Sink the Pink’ (Fly on the Wall)
‘Shake Your Foundations’ (Fly on the Wall)
‘Who Made Who’ (Who Made Who)
‘Razor’s Edge’ (The Razor’s Edge)
‘Money Talks’ (The Razor’s Edge)
‘Thunderstruck’ (The Razor’s Edge)
‘Hail Caesar’ (Ballbreaker)
‘Stiff Upper Lip’ (Stiff Upper Lip)
‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Train’ (Black Ice)