Over 40 years since they launched themselves onto the international stage, AC/DC are still rocking and rolling with the best of them. They’ve lost members, gained members, weathered criticism, and gotten old. Somewhere along the line, they’ve also managed to sell over 200 million records, becoming the 16th best-selling music act in the world in the process. If you want to know what it takes to become one of the biggest rock and roll bands in the world, check out our pick of the 20 best AC/DC songs of all time.
Overdose might not get much attention, but this deep cut from 1977’s Let There Be Rock is an underrated classic. After starting slowly, it builds into a relentless, hard-driving rocker. AC/DC may never have been a punk band, but here, they’ve sure got the attitude of one.
The titular track of the band’s second Australian-only album is as hard-hitting as its title (which refers to the explosive chemical TNT) suggests. Scott’s lyrics are masterful, delivering equal parts humor and menace with every line. And then, of course, there’s that riff, on whose basis alone the song would deserve a place on our list. Since enjoying a second life on the band’s first interactional release, High Voltage, it’s become a permanent fixture at live concerts.
18. Riff Raff
Described by The Guardian as the “ultimate AC/DC piledriver,” Riff Raff got its first airing on the band’s fourth international studio album (and their first with bassist Cliff Williams), Powerage. It sounded good enough that time around, but check out the version on the live album If You Want Blood to hear it at its most electrifying.
17. Rock’n’Roll Singer
Before he made it big with AC/DC, Bon Scott spent years drifting from one band to the next trying to make it big. So if anyone knows what it’s like to be a struggling artist, he does. Why he chose that particular life for himself is something he reveals in Rock’n’Roll Singer. “You can stick your nine-to-five living / And your collar and your tie / And you can stick your moral standards / Cos they’re all a dirty lie,” he says before spelling out exactly what appealed about becoming a rock star: “I hear it pays well!” You can’t fault his honesty
16. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
If you’ve got a problem, just call 36-24-36. The man on the other side might not give you his name, but he’s prepared to do all kinds of dirty deeds to solve your problems. Better still, his services are dirt cheap. If anyone was in any doubt that AC/DC was a band that meant business (and could quite possibly do it to), the titular track from their third studio album set the record straight. Fun fact: in 1981, a $250,000 lawsuit against the band was filed by Norman and Marilyn White of Libertyville, Illinois who claimed that they’d been receiving hundreds of prank calls since the song was released. According to them, the band makes what’s sounds like an 8 at the end of 36-24-36 (which then made their telephone number), thus creating a lot of fun for pranksters and a lot of hassle for the couple.
15. Sin City
Some people have always lumped AC/DC in with heavy metal, which annoys the band (who describe themselves as a rock and roll band) and isn’t really accurate. On Sin City, though, they come as close to the description as they ever did. A heavy, full-throttle song with a killer punch and some inspired lyrics, it was more ferocious than almost anything else in the charts in 1978, covering every type of sin imaginable – corruption, gambling, prostitution, drugs, and so on – with a wit and a wisdom that only Scott could pull off. It was a highlight of Powerage, and is still one of their most popular songs at concerts to this day.
14. What’s Next To The Moon
On first listen, Powerage is a slightly underwhelming album. Give it a second chance though, and you’ll find it scattered with gems. What’s Next To The Moon is one of them. Featuring an inspired lyrical turn by Scott and an unusually restrained effort by the band, it invites the listener on a surreal, fantastical journey that’s as baffling as it is bewitching.
13. Ride On
Originally released on Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and later re-issued on Who Made Who, Ride On is unlike almost any other AC/DC song. Written about a man reflecting on the mistakes he’s made as a result of his battles with the bottle and resolving that “One of these days, I’m gonna / Change my evil ways / Til then I’ll just keep dragging on,” it’s a slow, bluesy number with very little happiness and a whole heap of heartbreak.
12. For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)
Anthems don’t get bigger than For Those About to Rock (We Salute You). The title is based on an ancient slogan used by Roman prisoners facing execution (“Hail Caesar, those who are about to die salute you”), the groove is irresistible, and the production is tight… everything you’d expect from a classic AC/DC rocker then. Recorded for the band’s eighth studio album in 1981 and released as a single the following year, it peaked at No. 4 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock and No. 15 on the UK Singles Chart.
11. Down Payment Blues
As SongFacts says, the Young brothers may have come from a solid family, but Bon Scott had seen some hard times in his life, experiencing poverty, relationship woes, and a car crash that nearly cost him his life. He may have kissed goodbye to the poverty after joining the band, but judging by Down Payment Blues, he still remembered what it was like to be down to the last few cents of his paycheck. The pain evident in the lyrics is perfectly reflected in Scott’s majestically desperate vocals.
10. Shoot to Thrill
From start to finish, Shoot to Thrill rocks. Newcomer Brian Johnson proves he’s a worthy successor to Bon Scott with his double entendre-laden lyrics about a neighborhood pusher making daily rounds around the suburbs to keep bored, lonely housewives well supplied with narcotics. Angus Young’s solo is stupendous, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd nail the rhythms, and Johnson layers on a stunning melody. Sleazy, leery, and utterly irresistible.
9. Touch Too Much
Anyone who’s got any doubts about how much producer Mutt Lunge bought to the party should listen to Touch Too Much. Sure, it’s an irresistibly catchy pop tune anyway, with some typically inspired lyrics from Scott (“She had the face of an angel/Smiling with sin/The body of Venus with arms”) and a tight performance. But it’s the way Lunge pushes the chorus and the backing vocals upfront that really make it what it is. Released as their last ever single with Bon Scott before his death the following year, it peaked at No. 29 in the UK singles chart.
8. Whole Lotta Rosie
As GQ says, Led Zeppelin might have called for a Whole Lotta Love, but AC/DC dropped the ambiguity and made it all about Rosie. According to Malcolm Scott, the song was inspired by a plus-sized woman who’d made it very plain that she was available to the band at a backstage party at a show in Australia. “Rosie was from Tasmania, and she was no skinny puppy. She dragged Bon off to bed and he done his duty, so to speak,” Angus later recalled. Either way, it’s a blindingly good tune, with a rabble-rousing chorus, screeching guitar riffs, and enough ear-piercing screams from Scott to raise the dead First released on Let There Be Rock, it found its ultimate expression on the outstanding Live at Donington.
7. Hells Bells
After Bon Scott passed away, the band faced a difficult question. Should they continue without him, or should they call it a day? Considering that Scott had been an integral player in six albums, the obvious and perhaps easiest answer would have been to wrap things up. Instead, they continued, remerging later that year with Back in Black, the strongest album of their career and a mighty tribute to Scott. Its opener, Hells Bells, is mindblowing. The 13 introductory bell tolls that accompany Malcolm Young’s pulsating guitar riff make it clear that Scott may have left the building but he hadn’t been forgotten. And then Brain Johnson kicks in with a vocal performance so fearless, you know everything’s going to be ok.
6. Let There Be Rock
As All Music says, AC/DC’s fourth album Let There Be Rock is as lean and mean as the original lineup ever got. Stripped to the bone and lethally efficient, it’s bold, brutal, and utterly compelling. Its titular track is as dirty and nasty as the rest of the album. A hymn to the healing power of rock, it’s got some of the most blistering guitar work the Young brothers have ever delivered, a manic, description-defying performance from Scott, and the immortal line “Let there be light, and there was light…Let there be sound, and there was sound…Let there be drums, and there was drums…Let there be guitar, and there was guitar…Let there be rock!” Amen to that.
5. It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)
After two Australia-only albums, AC/DC made their international debut with High Voltage. Its opening track was It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll), a straightforward, straight-talking piece of incendiary rock and roll. With bagpipes. It was new, it was exciting and it was as close to rock perfection as you could ask for – bagpipes or no bagpipes.
4. You Shook Me All Night Long
Described by cleveland.com as one of the best party rock anthems of all time, the leading single from 1980’s Back in Black is AC/DC in a nutshell. The lyrics ooze sleaze, the guitar playing is seductive, and the message is straightforward. Comparing women to cars might not have been the most PC move in the world, but there’s enough satire in the delivery to smooth away any offense.
3. Back in Black
Back in Black is, unequivocally, AC/DC’s best album. Not all of the credit for that rests with the titular track, but there’s no question that it’s as close to rock perfection as it’s possible to get. It’s might not be particularly fast, but it is furious, with a deep-seated grove and enough power in the riffage to floor an army. Bon Scott may have been gone, but he couldn’t have asked for a better tribute.
2. Highway to Hell
Highway to Hell is pure AC/DC. Actually, make that pure Bon Scott. The title track from his last album with the band is a two-fingered salute to the moral majority that, in lines like “Hey Satan/Payin’ my dues/Playin’ in a rockin’ band/Hey mama/Look at me/I’m on my way to the promised land,” sums up his wild lifestyle and devil-may-care attitude in a nutshell. Factor in a thumping beat, a majestic riff, and an earworm of a chorus, and it’s easily one of the most instantly recognizable and irresistible songs ever made.
Angus Young once said he’d retire the day he could no longer play the electrifying riff on Thunderstruck. Let’s hope that day never comes. A slow-building rocker with a cool groove, tight production, brutal rhythms, and bone-crunching guitars, it has all the ingredients of an epic rock song… which is exactly what it is. Released as the lead single from the 1990 album The Razors Edge, it peaked at No. 5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and broke into the Top 40 across half of Europe.