Some people call AC/DC’s music hard rock. Others call it blues-rock. Still others claim it’s heavy metal. The band themselves call it rock and roll. Whatever it is, it sells records. Over the past 5 decades, AC/DC have sold more than 200 million albums worldwide, including a staggering 75 million in the US alone. Their biggest hit, Back in Black, has sold over 50 million units globally, becoming the second biggest selling album of all time in the process. The reason for their success is simple: they make awesome music. What label you apply to it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that you play it loud, play it often, and tell everyone else to do the same. To find out which AC/DC albums warrant your attention the most, we’ve rifled through their discography and ranked them from worst to best.
19. Fly On The Wall
Some people like Fly on the Wall. Why is a question only they can answer. Released just five years after the phenomenal, career-defining highs of Back in Black, it’s rambling, shambolic, and lacking in almost any redeeming features (Shake your Foundations isn’t bad, but one decent song does not a good album make). As Louder Sound says, having decided to go the DIY route and produce the album themselves, Malcolm Young and Angus Young manage to make AC/DC sound like a bad tribute act. Avoid.
18. Stiff Upper Lip
Ultimate Classic Rock describes Stiff Upper Lip as the least inspired album in AC/DC’s back catalog. They might be right. It’s not completely without merit (the title track is halfway decent, and the dirty blues of Satellite Blues and Chuck Betty-inspired riffs on Can’t Stand Still are nuanced enough to be credible) but overall, it falls flat.
17. Blow Up Your Video
There’s always a small but vocal contingent that will argue that a bad album is actually great, but that contingent generally keeps its mouth shut when it comes to Blow Up Your Video. On paper, it should have been a classic. Harry Vanda and George Young, the producers who’d helped fine-tune AC/DC’s signature sound during their early days, had been bought back into the fold and the band were ready and raring to go. Unfortunately, none of that promise makes it onto the record. There’s a couple of good songs (Heatseeker and That’s The Way I Wanna Rock’n’Roll ) but asides from those, it’s a deeply mediocre effort with a great deal of filler and very little killer.
16. Flick Of The Switch
By 1983, AC/DC had broken ties with producer “Mutt” Lange and were determined to recapture their glory days. They headed to Compass Point Studios in Nassau, the Bahamas where they’re recorded Back in Black, and attempted to recreate its success with a pared-back, back-to-basics approach. Suffice to say, they didn’t succeed. It’s not an outright failure (the title track, Badlands, and Guns For Hire are all acceptable enough) but ultimately, it’s boring. There’s precious little refinement, the songwriting is lackluster, and the stripped-back approach simply doesn’t work. The absence of Lange isn’t the problem; the failure to get anyone as good to take his place is.
15. Black Ice
2008’s Black Ice was heralded as AC/DC’s big comeback. It wasn’t. If it was a comeback, it was a weak one. It sold well, but after an 8 year hiatus, fans were clearly just pleased to be getting anything at all. Save for the very impressive opener (the rousing Rock ’N’ Roll Train), there’s very little to love. Whatever magic producer Brendan O’Brien had weaved with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in the preceding few years was noticeably absent here.
AC/DC didn’t have a great time recording Ballbreaker. It should have been a joy. Drummer Phil Rudd was back on board and Rick Rubin, a longtime fan of the band, had been roped in to produce. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. They ended up having to scrap 50 hours of recordings, change studios, and eventually share Rubin with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers (whose album One Hot Minute he’d been due to start at the end of the original recording time with AC/DC) when they overran. For all that, it’s not a bad album. The songs aren’t extraordinary, and in some places, Angus and Malcolm’s lyrics seem to have lost the plot, but Rubin adds enough warmth to save the day.
13. High Voltage
After releasing two albums in their native Australia, AC/DC finally broke onto the international stage with their ‘debut,’ High Voltage. Containing a selection of tracks from their Australia-only releases together with some new recordings, it got panned by the critics. Rolling Stone even went so far as to call it a new low for rock. In retrospect, it’s really not as bad as all that… as its three million sales attest. There are a few lemons (the forgettable Love Song as an example), but there’s plenty to like too, with the rough and ready blues of The Jack and the deliciously immature T.N.T warranting as much respect as any songs in their catalog.
12. For Those About To Rock We Salute You
You can’t follow an album like Back in Black and not expect comparisons to be made. Fortunately, For Those About To Rock We Salute You stands up to those companions very well (and certainly from a chart perspective – according to Billboard. Obviously, it’s not as good as its predecessor, but ultimately, what album could be? Over the last few years, it’s drawn a lot of unnecessary slack, with some critics suggesting the only good thing about it is the title track. But while the title track is a very fine thing indeed, so are songs like Inject the Venom, Put the Finger on You, and Evil Walks. Regardless of what haters say, it’s sold four million copies in the US for a reason.
11. Rock or Bust
By 2014, founding member Malcolm Young had retired from the band after being diagnosed with dementia. Everyone thought AC/DC’s number was up. Expect for the band itself, who decided to do the unthinkable and carry on without their leader. Given how integral Malcolm had been to the band’s success, Rock or Bust should, indeed, have been a bust. It wasn’t. With Young’s nephew Stevie Young filling in on rhythm and with Brendan O’Brien back on production, it rocked. At just 35 minutes long, it’s exceptionally lean, but the brevity simply adds to its explosive power. From the opener to the closer, it doesn’t let up for a single second. Defiant, elemental, and as lewd and belligerent as ever, it’s a blast.
10. Live at River Plate
20 years after their last live album, AC/DC released 2012’s Live at River Plate. The DVD version had already been out for a year and was phenomenal enough to set expectations at an all-time high. Unfortunately, not all of the magic of their performance (which was filmed as part of the Black Ice tour in Buenos Aires in Argentina) managed to work its way onto the album. But enough did to prove that when it comes to performing live, there’s no band like AC/DC.
Recorded over a series of concerts on 1991’s The Razor’s Edge Tour, AC/DC’s second live album is an entertaining compilation of new tracks and classics that manages to breathe new life into both. The 14-minute Jailbreak is mindblowing… although you’ll need to make sure you get the double-disc collector’s edition rather than the single edition if you want to hear it.
8. The Razors Edge
Three years after producer Bruce Fairbairn had transformed Aerosmith from burnt-out relics to MTV’s latest darlings, he did the same for AC/DC. Listening to The Razors Edge now, there’s just a little too much spit and polish on the production, but even that can’t detract from what’s essentially a very fine album. Thunderstruck, its explosive opener, is arguably its highlight, but memorable tracks like Fire Your Guns, Are you Ready and Moneytalks put up some stiff competition.
7. Power Up
The Rock or Bust tour was so disastrous, no one, not least the band, held any hope of another album. But then the tragic death of Malcolm Young in 2017 made them put their differences aside and get back to doing what they did best. Three years later, they emerged with Power Up, their strongest, most enjoyable, and certainly most consistent album in years. The songwriting is on point (Malcolm Young is credited on each one as the co-writer as he was responsible for creating most of the riffs prior to his retirement), the energy is almost tangible, and the entire thing bursts with life. If they never come back with another album, at least they’ll have gone out on a high.
6. If You Want Blood You’ve Got It
The band’s first live album is If You Want Blood You’ve Got It, an album that perfectly captures why AC/DC is considered one of the finest live acts in the world. Recorded on 1978’s Powerage tour, it sparkles with gems like the epic Let There Be Rock and the crowd-pleasing Whole Lotta Rosie and The Jack. It was their first entry on the UK Top 20, scaling all the way to No.13.
5. Let There Be Rock
Let There Be Rock is quintessential AC/DC. It’s loud, unapologetic, rambunctious, and utterly glorious. Released in 1977, it drips with rock and roll attitude. There’s a new intensity and a new edge to their sound on tracks like Overdose and Go Down that suited the times perfectly. It’s not punk, but it’s gritty and no-nonsense enough to have appealed to them. The star of the show is the title track, a fast and furious ode to rock and roll that could happily compete alongside their greatest works.
4. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Very few albums live up to their titles quite so well as Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. Too rough and ready for radio, too raunchy for parents, and too menacing for the mainstream, it’s a great big slice of smut that proved way too much to handle back in 1976. Atlantic refused to release it in the US, and you can understand why. It was always going to be too lewd, too crude, and too salacious to dent the charts. It’s still tremendous though, with a hefty sprinkling of gems that rock just as hard now as they did then.
Bon Scott always had a way with words, and nowhere does that shine brighter than on 1978’s Powerage. The whole album is a triumph, with some superb guitar work, stunning licks, and a raw energy that, on tracks like Down Payment Blues and Riff Raf, practically crackles. But it’s Bon Scott’s transcendent lyrics that hold the whole thing together, and Bon Scott’s lyrics that make it one of the very best albums in the band’s back catalog.
2. Highway To Hell
In 1979, AC/DC finally broke through in the US with Highway to Hell. Their first million seller, this, as Tonedeaf says, is where all the elements fell together. New producer “Mutt” Lange’s insistence on 15-hour recording sessions might not have gone down well with the band, but it smoothed up their edges and added enough radio-friendly appeal to make them accessible to the masses. Sadly, it was the last album the band ever made with Bon Scott, but he couldn’t have picked a better way to say goodbye
1. Back In Black
Bon Scott’s death may have shaken the band to their core, but they were far from over. They regrouped, found a new singer, and emerged with an album so timeless that, over 40 years later, it’s still being played just as much as ever. Originally conceived as a tribute to Scott, it ended up becoming the comeback album to end all comeback albums. To date, it’s sold over 50 million copies worldwide to become the second biggest selling album of all time. Simply put, it’s epic, ranking not only as AC/DCs best album, but as one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time.