At one time or another, I have used the phrase, “Death, taxes and AC/DC.” I am certain that I did NOT make it up. I had to have read it somewhere back in my college days because I am not creative enough to come up with a succinct phrase that exactly paints AC/DC’s musical approach. From the moment I first heard the opening chords to “T.N.T.” back when I was in eighth grade in the year 1977, I was a fan. What was so cool back then was that AC/DC was an underground band, much like the CBGB punk bands, Tom Petty and Rush were. They were something that separated those who listened to rock music and those who were a bit crazier about the genre, like me.
In the evolution of hard rock and heavy metal, AC/DC stands at the crossroads that connects the two. But, what has been lost over time is that they were also standing along the punk bands of the era. And, although their sound was based in the blues, their energy was perfect for the punks. In reality, they were the flipside of the Ramones on the same coin. The two bands adhered to the same basic sounds throughout their careers. The two bands both had sloppy-sounding, crunching guitars that belied the fact that both bands were tight and well-rehearsed. But, where the Ramones’ songs shot for the brain through the heart, AC/DC shot for the groin via the same heart. And, that is why both bands were so acceptable to both punk and metal fans.
So, AC/DC road this formula all the way from the bars of their native Australia to their well-deserved induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Malcolm Young’s crunching rhythm guitar power chords, a stripped-down yet powerful rhythm section and the pyrotechnics of lead guitarist Angus Young. It’s the same formula throughout each album, but what separates a truly great AC/DC song from the others in their catalog is those songs have anthemic choruses. And, their best albums have more songs that follow that seemingly simple formula. But, if the formula were so simple, then way isn’t everyone doing this? Because, only AC/DC could, that’s why.
Today, I would like to attempt to rank all of the albums that AC/DC has released here in the States. And, even though they have recorded all of their albums with two lead singers, those singers were similar enough in that throaty “sounds like he gargled Drano” screech-slash-yell-slash-sing sound that fans were not ever second guessing the band’s choice like what happened with Van Halen.
From the looks of things, we will NEVER again have another band like AC/DC. Yet, I hope that the band remains on the playlists of all future generations of music lovers. Let’s countdown their live and studio albums.
19. Flick of the Switch (1983). AC/DC had reached the top of the rock & roll mountain and were fried by 1983. And, this album sounds like it.
18. Blow Up Your Video (1988). Sure, the band was losing out to those silly hair metal bands and their misogynist videos at the time. So, instead of going back to the basics, they tried to compete. WRONG!
17. Fly on the Wall (1985). This album has the goofiest cover in the band’s catalog. That alone warned me to stay away from it. Then, I put it on the turntable and YUCK! Still, it wasn’t Flick.
16. Live at River Plate (2012). Why does such a great live band release such crappy live albums?
15. Live (1992). This live album is a bit better than the last one, but not much.
14. For Those About to Rock We Salute You (1981). I remember a bunch of people in college trekking through an early snow to go purchase this album, only to be disappointed in how tired the band sounded. Maybe, in hindsight, they should have rested, then went back in the studio before releasing this album, the first disappointing album in their catalog.
13. Powerage (1978). I used to love this album. But, now, I am too old for it. It’s a young man’s album. And, that’s a good thing!
12. The Razor’s Edge (1990). Any album that boasts “Moneytalks” and “Thunderstruck” should be a great album. Unfortunately, the band was still floundering a bit.
11. Ballbreaker (1995). Producer Rick Rubin helped the band rediscover their magic. The album isn’t perfect, but it was a great way to kick off the band’s creative renaissance.
10. Stiff Upper Lip (2000). This was AC/DC’s first great album in two decades. This album is the real follow-up to their commercial breakthrough, Back in Black.
9. Black Ice (2008). This album kept the momentum flowing started by Stiff Upper Lip, even though it was a long eight years coming. A sad note: this album represents Malcolm Young’s final album due to dementia.
8. Rock or Bust (2014). Due to Malcolm’s illness, the songwriting fell on brother Angus Young’s shoulders and he admirably rose to the occasion with this great set of songs. The hero of the day was Angus’s nephew, Stevie Young, filling in for Uncle Malcolm on rhythm guitar.
7. If You Want Blood You’ve Got It (1978). This single album remains the band’s definitive live recording. If it just had contained a version of “T.N.T.”, then it would have been perfect.
6. T.N.T. (1975). Technically, this was not an American release, but I saw it in the bins here in the States that I had to include it. Most of the songs were re-released on the High Voltage album the following year.
5. High Voltage (1976). This is the proper North American debut album for the band, and what a debut it is! This is the blueprint for the band’s entire career. The album is full of songs that remain in their live set to this date, 40 years on.
4. Let There Be Rock (1977). AC/DC officially avoided the sophomore slump on this album because the album really wasn’t their second album. But, for us in the States, it was, and the band turned the volume up to 11 on this album.
3. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976). Throughout the rest of the world, this album had been released. But, not in the States, where it was finally released in the aftermath of Back in Black changing the world. This album really was a perfect follow-up to that classic album.
2. Highway to Hell (1979). I was so happy when this album broke the band in the States because I was FINALLY given the green light to write about AC/DC in our high school newspaper. At the time, I honestly never thought the band would ever top it. Boy, was I wrong!
1. Back in Black (1980). When a hard rock album sells over 20-million copies, you know something went right in the studio. At the time, the band was grieving the loss of their lead singer Bon Scott and looking for a new one. In walks former-Geordie lead singer Brian Johnson, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As AC/DC closes in on their 50th anniversary, the band again is at a crossroads. Brian Johnson is having health issues, so he is out now. And, it appears that the mercurial Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses and lead guitarist Angus Young are going to take hold of the reigns of the band. I just hope that Angus can keep Axl in check so AC/DC will not go the direction of Guns N’ Roses. Rose is a very talented singer and songwriter, but he did NOT make AC/DC famous. Still, he could be Angus’ third perfect voice for the band. And, here’s to hoping that they will keep Stevie in Malcolm’s spot, since there seems to be some unspoken genetic thing going on in that position. The rhythm section is also in transition as drummer Phil Rudd has left the band again, replaced by his original replacement Chris Slade. Finally, Cliff Williams has also decided that the time was right to retire. I have not heard a thing about any permanent replacements for these positions as Slade was used only for the 2016 tour that included Axl.
Like I said, I hope Axl’s prog rock tendencies will not throw the rock & roll train of AC/DC off the tracks. But, this injection of new blood in the band could keep them viable for years to come. Then again, as Son #1 has always said, “Time will tell.”