When asked to name the best songs of any band, especially one as historic and foundational as AC/DC, many people default to the biggest hits. That doesn’t provide a well-rounded view of the musical group.
Naming the best songs requires full knowledge of the band, so you can show how the musicians developed and grew. The best songs also show their depth and emotions. When you hear AC/DC’s latest, “Shot in the Dark,” dedicated to their late rhythm guitarist and founding member Malcolm Young, you hear a group of five men who have grown as musicians and men together mourning the loss of one of their best friends and brother.
Known for their party anthems, AC/DC also records blues songs and logged at least one love song. Those items might surprise a casual fan who has only heard huge hits like “Thunderstruck” and “Highway to Hell.” Since its founding in 1973, the supergroup has written some of the most memorable rock’n’roll anthems. Here are the ten songs we feel represent the best picture of their growth as musicians and the breadth of their creativity.
One of their more recent hits, the 1990 track “Thunderstruck” from “The Razor’s Edge” album quickly became a favorite at sporting events around the world. The NFL and NBA feature it most often and this catchy, guitar-driven song became the theme song of the NBA team, Oklahoma City Thunder.
Who Made Who
The melodic “Who Made Who” appeared on the soundtrack of “Maximum Overdrive,” a film based on a Stephen King story and the 1986 AC/DC album “Who Made Who.” Oddly, you can dance to this AC/DC song that conveys the same story as the King plot — that human-made machines take over and kill humans. Fans might find the album notable because it features one track with original lead singer Ronald “Bon” Scott and tracks with current lead singer Brian Johnson. The album’s producer, Robert “Mutt” Lange, people readily recognize as the producer of many Def Leppard albums of the 1980s.
You Shook Me All Night Long
It may quickly seem as if AC/DC only sings about oral sex and gender parts, but they also have songs about having sex. That’s the topic of the 1980 rock classic “You Shook Me All Night Long.” The song conveys the story of a man’s lucky night with his girl in which they go for hours. It also features a trademark of all AC/DC songs, the Angus Young guitar riff.
Back in Black
All jokes aside, the band does occasionally write a serious song as they did with the 1980 hit, “Back in Black.” The song appears on the album of the same name and was written by the band members as a tribute to former lead singer Bon Scott who died that year. Written with new frontman Brian Johnson, the captured the verve with which Scott lived life.
Written just after they recorded “Back in Black,” the song “Hells Bells” was inspired by a massive thunderstorm that occurred while the band and producer Mutt Lange worked in the studio. A conversation about thunder between Brian Johnson and Lange produced the lyrics to this 1979 classic.
Highway to Hell
From 1979, the up-tempo, wild ride of this rock anthem features an Angus Young guitar solo and humorous lyrics. Written and sung with original lead singer, Bon Scott, it seems to predict where his life would go in mere months since he died in February of the following year.
Down Payment Blues
From the 1978 album, “Powerage” comes the bluesy “Down Payment Blues,” widely considered one of Bon Scott’s masterpieces. The “Powerage” album confused rock fans at the time of its release, but fellow musicians count it among their favorites. This cut guitarist Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones considers one of his favorites. Scott’s poetic lyrics coupled with the Young brothers’ guitar lines create a blues masterpiece that often goes underappreciated by metal and hard rock fans.
Let There Be Rock
In 1977, AC/DC had yet to become AC/DC. They were five young lads from Australia who wanted to play loud, brash, rock’n’roll. The original line-up performed this anthem, a hymn of love to the musical genre that they love. Written by Bon Scott, Angus Young, and the late Malcolm Young, it creates a happy riff of joy. The hilarious video for the song with Scott as a minister makes the song even better.
The band’s tribute to a man’s jewels as they’re called in the US, the crass song “Big Balls” quickly became a radio favorite when it came out in 1976. AOR radio stations still play it today since this rock anthem holds up well to the test of time.
Just as the title intimates, Bon Scott wrote a love song. Although married, her name wasn’t Jean. Scott dallied and had many lovers. He often wrote of his sexual escapades, but to everyone’s knowledge, his lover Jean became the only woman to ever inspire a love song from him. In 1975, the gentleman known for his goofy humor and wild lifestyle wrote, “If you leave me, you’ll make me cry/When I think of you saying goodbye/Oh, the sky turns to a deeper blue/That’s, that’s how I’d feel if I lost you.”
It’s tough to choose just a few tracks from an epic group like AC/DC, but if you only have time for a short playlist of ten cuts before you sit down to listen to their latest effort, “Power Up,” choose these. They will move you through a few decades and the loss of two band members to death. On the new album, they still keep it in the family. Angus and Malcolm Young had penned all the tracks before Malcolm’s death in 2017. In the studio, Malcolm’s nephew, Stevie, plays all of his parts. Some people hear the influences of “Dirty Deeds” in it, but remember when you hear it, it’s a culmination of effort of 48 years and loss.