Category Archives: AC/DC

AC/DC Discography

Music is a type of magic because it produces a waking dream, which is a shadow of creation, which is the essence of God. There exists in the world white and black magic. You can argue that Satan is the source of black magic, and I won’t disagree, but God is the author of everything. In peopling my pantheon of musical magicians, I’ve included bands like AC/DC who, on the surface, would seem antithetical to progressive rock. But it’s the word’s shortcomings and not the band’s that are problematic. AC/DC is a supernatural force of music, and there must have been some magic in that schoolboy’s cap to produce that phenomenon.

On the surface, AC/DC is just a good gimmick. The singer wore a dress, the lead guitarist wore his schoolboy uniform, and the band churned out unrepentantly crude, rude rock and roll full of sexual innuendo and guitar fury. As the band begins to catch fire, the references to Hell become more pronounced, but it’s all part of the show. Let There Be Rock, Dirty Deeds Done Cheap and Powerage expand the show to the international stage. It all comes together for the international smash, Highway To Hell. And it all begins to fall apart when lead singer Bon Scott is found dead in his car six months later.

But the story doesn’t end there, no. Hardly missing a beat, the band records a new album, Back In Black, and returns to the pinnacle of rock glory. Black magic, indeed. AC/DC became the stuff of legend, even when the albums that followed weren’t. I believe their music has earned its legendary status, but I would tell you that the story of AC/DC is still being written and will likely serve as a cautionary tale. (Sorry if this doesn’t make sense or is simply poorly written. I’ve had the flu for four days.)

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AC/DC: High Voltage (1976)

Kronomyth 2.5: T.N.2. Well, the satyr’s in seventh heaven with this one. This is NOT the band’s first Australian debut (also called High Voltage), but a re-release of their second album, T.N.T. (which featured the song “High Voltage”), distributed for international audiences. As such, this High Voltage served as AC/DC’s debut in most markets and eventually sold over two million copies here in the US. It’s an electrifying debut, the band’s signature sound already established: the power chords, the flashy guitar solos and Bon Scott’s salacious sneer. What separated AC/DC from the rest of the rock & rollers was an animal intensity colored by eccentricity. You could look back at bands like Mott The Hoople or Alice Cooper and find some precedent there, but they were really glam bands, touched by a certain feyness that’s totally absent in AC/DC’s music. (The band’s name and Scott’s cross-dressing stunt suggest they toyed with the idea originally.) On this album, all the hallmarks are there: the double entendres (“The Jack”), the anti-establishment attitude (“Rock ‘N’ Roll Singer”), the trenchant force of their music. If their music hasn’t changed much over the years, maybe it’s because AC/DC has steadfastly refused to grow up. The perspective would change, of course, as the band went from pursuing fame to living with it, but they’ve always forsaken more mature pastures for the kingdom of Id. The formula was refined on later albums like Dirty Deeds, though at the cost of some of their original intensity. On High Voltage, it’s all intense, balls-to-the-wall action from start to finish (only the early “Little Lover” lacks their patented punch). If you like Bon Scott-era AC/DC, you’ll definitely get a charge out of this.

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AC/DC: Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976)

“Bon loved an innuendo and was obsessed with his balls.” — Malcolm Young, discussing the origins of “Big Balls” in a 1992 interview.

Kronomyth 3.5: BON VIVANT, BON MORT. Maybe the rock & roll Fates knew what they were doing when AC/DC’s third album didn’t get a US distribution deal. The excellent High Voltage had, after all, barely scraped the Top 150 and the most that might be expected from Dirty Deeds was more (or less) of the same. Instead, the album lay unheard by most Americans until the AC/DC phenomenon was at gale force after Back In Black, when it was released to a now-adoring American audience and quickly rose to number 3 on the charts—at the time, though briefly, the band’s highest US chart position—eventually selling over 6 million copies here. We’ll need to wind the clock back a bit, however, to get a proper perspective of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. The album was originally released in 1976 in an Australian version (unique cover, unique tracks, unique track listing) and the more widely known International version [which featured “Rocker” and “Love At First Feel” instead of “R.I.P. (Rock In Peace)” and “Jailbreak”]. I’ve only heard the International version, and it is hands-down one of the band’s best albums in terms of songwriting. “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheep,” “Big Balls,” “Problem Child” and “Ride On” are some of the best Bon-era bits, bar none. You may not find as many Angus guitar solos on here, and there are times when Mark Evans just seems to be hitting the same note over and over, but pound for pound this stuff is still worth its weight in pure gold. Of course, if T.N.T. or Let There Be Rock had been the prodigal son resurrected instead of Dirty Deeds, the band’s mythology might be different. Instead, Americans have the memory of Bon come back to say goodbye, a million-dollar check he couldn’t cash in hand, loosed from this mortal coil before he could repent, rattling about in the heavy metal hall of heroes like Marley’s ghost and, just maybe, having more fun than we are right now.

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Let There Be Rock (1977)

Kronomyth 4.0: DEVILS AND ANGUS. It happens somewhere in the middle of Let There Be Rock: Angus, Bon and Malcolm step back for a moment, leaving Mark Evans and Phil Rudd to rattle together like hot breath in the heaving chest of an animal that’s been running at full bore for twenty minutes. And then you realize: it’s not them breathing, it’s you. Let There Be Rock is a relentless record that just absolutely beats you into beautiful submission with the same two fists (named Bon and Angus) all day and all night. If there is a more quintessential hard rock record than this, I haven’t heard it. AC/DC displays a raw understanding of rock and roll that few bands (maybe The Who) ever approached. The title track and “Problem Child” are the universally acknowledged classics, but in fairness there isn’t a track on here that doesn’t deserve at least five minutes of hero worship. I may regret these words some day, but listening to this album I believe that Angus Young really is the greatest rock guitarist in the world. He is an artist of the brutefull, and in his hands the guitar is an instrument of destruction, stripping away a world of false modesty and decency with every crushing blow, leaving only the animal essence, panting, wanting, a mass of sinew, bone and desire. At his side, the lecherous Scott, leering at the prospect of a “Whole Lotta Rosie” and wallowing in the profanity of “Let There Be Rock” and “Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be.” Behind them, the superlative drumming of Rudd, the steady support of Malcolm and Mark, the smoke-spewing tank chassis from which Bon and Angus fire their missiles. The simplicity and directness of Let There Be Rock is still stunning today, more than 30 years onward. If you haven’t heard this record, then you don’t know bumpkis about Angus.

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AC/DC: Powerage (1978)

Kronomyth 5.0: THE ENERGIZER BONNIE. Sandwiched in between the brilliant Let There Be Rock and Highway To Hell, you’ll find the merely average Powerage. There are AC/DC fans who will tell you this is every bit as powerful as their last or, for that matter, that Flick of the Switch is an underrated masterpiece (among the rank amateurs of Amazon, anyway). And if you believe that all it takes to make a great AC/DC record is to have Angus bang out some power chords and Bon scream his lungs out then, yes, Powerage is a great album. But I would tell you that their greatness was predicated on more than that. It was the salacious genius of “Big Balls” or the guitar riffs that you would give your soul to write that made AC/DC special, at least in my book. Powerage is a good rock and roll record, make no mistake. “Rock ‘N’ Roll Damnation,” “Sin City,” “Riff Raff,” “What’s Next To The Moon,” “Down Payment Blues,” they’re all classic AC/DC songs more or less. What’s missing is the knockout punch. Instead, Powerage is more of a TKO, wearing you down over nine rounds of rock and roll. Then again, I’m not your typical AC/DC fan. I like my music sweetened with fantasy and artistry, and barely tolerate the blues. So a song like “Kicked In The Teeth,” which bores me to death, may actually be your bag. It’s probably some kind of testament to AC/DC’s awesomeness that I like their music as much as I do, although I don’t think it’s possible to dislike their music so much as dislike the idea of liking their music. And if you were trying to annoy those people who do dislike the idea of AC/DC, then the unsweetened energy of Powerage might be the perfect AC/DC album after all.

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AC/DC: If You Want Blood You’ve Got It (1978)

Kronomyth 6.0: AC/DC CUMS ALIVE. Now this is more like it: an electrifying AC/DC on stage (mostly in Glasgow) and on fire. Never mind that the band’s live performances never sounded this good; hell, even Powerage wasn’t this polished. So is this one of the greatest rock and roll live albums of all time? Not really. Guitar solos have been edited, tracks have been changed, the whole thing has been cut and coiffed. But for a band that never released a greatest hits album, If You Want Blood You’ve Got It may be as good as it gets. This is Bon Scott-era AC/DC in top form getting lowdown and dirty with inspired performances of “The Jack,” “Whole Lotta Rosie,” “Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be” and the  best songs from their first five albums. In fact, these versions of “Bad Boy Boogie,” “High Voltage,” “Riff Raff,” “Problem Child” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Damnation” might actually outclass the originals. And who could argue that “Let There Be Rock” was made to be played live? Unlike a lot of live albums, the songs on If You Want Blood don’t run considerably longer on stage. The album has the same succinct punch that Vanda and Young had delivered to date in the studio; the band pummels you with a few chords, Bon shadow boxes with his inner demons and Angus knocks you out with a short, fast solo. More often than not, albums like If You Want Blood get “restored” to their original form with time; tracks are re-sequenced, added, unedited. That hasn’t happened yet. It remains today in much the same form: defiantly thin, unrepentantly perfect in places, with a veneer of sneer and a modicum of bonhomie. It may not be the perfect live album, but I wouldn’t change a thing after all these years.

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AC/DC: Highway To Hell (1979)

Kronomyth 7.0: THE END OF THE ROAD? Start with a guitar riff that cracks like thunder. Add an irresistible beat that hits on the two and fours like a hammer. Mix in a bottom end that’s as smooth as butter. Heat it up with the hellacious vocals of Bon Scott and top it all of with a brief, brilliant guitar solo that keeps you hungry for more. Highway To Hell is the perfect formula for how to make a great rock and roll album. AC/DC had released great albums before this, but Highway took it to a higher level. The first side of music is one of the most powerful plastic faces in rock and roll history, from the breathtaking beginning of “Highway To Hell” through Bon’s sexually charged “Beating Around The Bush.” The production team of Robert Lange and Tony Platt does a stellar job of cleaning up the band’s act, at least from a sonic perspective. The space between the instruments gives the music a clarity lacking on their last album, Powerage. The record labels had less success cleaning up the band’s message; Highway To Hell is as unrepentantly dirty and profane as anything the band had recorded. (As a Christian, this would seem to present a conflict. I reconcile it by remembering that God uses all things for his glory. For more on that matter, see Proverbs 18:7.) It’s hard nowadays to separate this music from the myth of Bon Scott, who died before the band’s next album. Is Highway To Hell the best album that Bon released with the band? In some ways, yes, although I could just as easily champion his performances on Let There Be Rock or Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. But it would be a mistake to think that Bon left on a high note. His final words on record are a dated (though typically topical) reference to Robin Williams’ Mork character, his final moments were spent passed out in a car. Highway To Hell is one record where myth and music don’t intersect neatly; it’s a great rock and roll album that deserved a great encore—and got one, but with a different singer on stage.

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AC/DC: Back In Black (1980)

Kronomyth 8.0: TO HELL AND BLACK. The title says it all: AC/DC was back and blacker than ever. Saw it off, stitch it up and back into battle. No apologies, no eulogies, the new guy’s name is Johnson. Anyone expecting a reflection on man’s mortality was in for a shock: “Hells Bells,” “Given The Dog A Bone,” “Let Me Put My Love Into You.” And then there was the brilliant title track, the greatest song never written about the death of a member. Recorded in the Bahamas with Mutt behind the boards again, AC/DC actually seemed to draw energy from adversity, fueling the band’s supernatural mythology. With his battery-acid voice, Brian Johnson has the band sounding like Aerosmith for anarchists (what is “Back In Black” if not a more menacing version of “Walk This Way?”), but only AC/DC could rock this intensely, this simply. The band may have built their brand with tongue-in-cheek humor and over-the-top rocking, but they earned their musical immortality with Hell and Black. (Now, where true immortality is concerned, I have to tell you that the album is utterly offensive and very likely the work of the devil from the first groove to the last.) Back in Black to date has sold an estimated 40+ million copies worldwide, making it one of the most popular albums of all time. It’s not a perfect record, but it’s close. Despite its unrepentantly atrocious spelling and sexual bravado without a hint of innuendo, the crispness of the production and energy of the performances have rarely (if ever) been equalled in the studio. Certainly, AC/DC themselves have never come close to matching it since. Of minor interest, the album was released with different track listings in various regions, some beginning with “Hells Bells” (the most ominous bells in rock since the arrival of Black Sabbath) and others with “Back In Black.” If you’re looking for a remastered copy, forego the 1994 Atlantic remaster and pick up the 2003 Elektra remaster instead.

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AC/DC: “Guns For Hire” (1983)

Kronomyth 10.1: GO FLICK YOURSELF. This is not the best song from what was not their best album, Flick of The Switch. It does have a great little guitar solo in it and all of the subtlety you’d expect from a band that put a penis on their last album cover, For Those About To Rock. Lyrically, the song mixes sexual innuendo with outlaw imagery; it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but no one listens to AC/DC for the lyrics. The flip side features “Landslide” in what appears to be an edited version at 3:17. I was going to confirm that this morning, but then I remembered that my phono cartridge is actually upstairs in my bedroom where my wife is sleeping, and I don’t want to wake her up just to listen to an AC/DC song, which I suppose is one of the fundamental differences between the sexes, since I’m pretty sure if you woke a guy up and said “Sorry, I need to listen to an AC/DC song” they would totally understand.

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Fly On The Wall (1985)

Kronomyth 12.0: SHOO TO THRILL. Fly On The Wall is the book report scribbled out in the early morning before first period. Disappointing, because the band is capable of great things. And yet AC/DC had laid the foundation for raw and simple heavy metal, so overthinking the music would be antithetical to their, um, idiom. The trouble with Fly, as it turns out, isn’t the hurried state of the songwriting but the harsh state of Brian Johnson’s voice; it’s so unintelligible in spots that a lyric sheet is actually necessary. Or maybe not, since if you know the song title then you’ve already got half the lyrics. There are a number of AC/DC fans who will tell you this is underrated, good dirty fun, and it is… if your idea of fun is hearing AC/DC live down to their potential. If you don’t like the band, this is just the sort of fuel you’re looking for—and in 1985, a lot of folks were gunning for AC/DC and youth-corrupting rock and roll in general. Although nothing on here belongs with their best work, you can salvage some of it: “Shake Your Foundations,” “Sink The Pink.” Both of those songs turned up on Who Made Who, however, so you can opt out of owning Fly if you want. At this stage, AC/DC’s music had become a predictable product: head-banging rhythms, lascivious lyrics, great guitar solos and lots of energy. Fly On The Wall delivers on these four cornerstones, but barely. The band who exemplified cartoonish rock excess in the ‘70s was becoming a caricature of rock in the ‘80s, even as they tried to take a stand against the greater evil, hair metal. Aerosmith kind of had the same problem for a little while before they just gave in to it. If you’re convinced that there’s no such thing as a bad AC/DC album, I won’t disavow you of the notion. I will agree that what separates a good AC/DC album from a bad one is probably a combination of timing and two or three great songs. If you’re determined to buy this record, get it on compact disc since the vinyl version is punchless.

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