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Beyond The Hits

Bad Boy Boogies: AC/DC, Beyond The Hits
The Quietus , November 18th, 2017 09:50

Quietus writers pick 20 of the best AC/DC album tracks, B-sides and live cuts, proving the Aussie masters are much more than Back In Black and Highway To Hell.

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'She's Got Balls' - from High Voltage (Australian and international versions)
(1975)

The best AC/DC songs were always about simplicity. The greatest hits might combine several elements – three or four separate riffs, fills (always from Angus Young's guitar rather than Phil Rudd's drums) – but those elements were always simple. It took some years before they really honed that technique, though, and on the early AC/DC albums the simplicity was sometimes just brutish. Not here, though. 'She's Got Balls' was the second track on the first AC/DC album, the Australian edition of High Voltage, released early in 1975. The song is all about the riff, so basic that it goes back beyond primitive and somehow becomes refined. It's a piece of mathematical perfection, a puzzle that keeps bringing the listener back to the start: it sounds as if it should be the soundtrack to solving a Rubik's Cube.
Michael Hann

'Love Song (Oh Jene) - B-side to 'Baby Please Don't Go' 7” single release
(1975)

Many fans might call it a 'misfire', 'better left forgotten', or most likely 'utterly excruciating', yet 'Love Song (Oh Jene) is an integral milestone in AC/DC's history as well as a criminally unloved slice of unlikely balladry. The B-side to the first single the band released with Bon Scott on vocals is ironically entirely different from everything that came after it: tender, pulled back and glittering with flower power-style beat pop. Had it not been largely ignored by radio stations who preferred the lead single 'Baby, Please Don't Go', there is a slight chance that the term 'AC/DC ballad' wouldn't sound quite so oxymoronic these days. And although Bon was clearly more a master of the bluster and swagger than the gentle caress, the squeaky-clean riffing and soaring solo certainly proves that the Young brothers had a few extra bits knocking around in their toolboxes.
Valerie Siebert

'Baby Please Don't Go' - from High Voltage (Australian version only) and 7” single release
(1975)

Where 'Love Song…' failed, 'Baby, Please Don't Go' succeeded. Frantic, spitting and featuring the devilish performance vocal that Bon Scott fans adore, it's everything you could hope for from a band that really hadn't nailed down its sound yet. It rips, it roars and alludes to the beefy riffs of the band's future, but most of all it's just infectiously fun. Near the end, arpeggiated guitar solos build the tension and play call and response as Bon collapses into desperate wails of “PLEASE DON'T LEAVE ME! AAAAGGGHH!” with so much grit that it makes Van Morrison look silky smooth.
Valerie Siebert

'Rock 'n' Roll Singer' - from T.N.T. (Australia) and High Voltage (International)
(1975)

Bon Scott had already spent a decade in bands by the time AC/DC started making a reputation for themselves in Australia. That gave him a remarkably clear-eyed view of the compromises involved in being in a band (see 'It's a Long Way to the Top'), yet it didn't rob him of his belief that being a rock singer was a vital role: a necessary opposite pole to straight society. 'Rock'n'Roll Singer' is no more than a variation on one of rock's enduring themes – nothing will stop me fulfilling my dream! – yet there's a ferocity and anger you rarely get in most statements of the theme. It's not that he wants to be a rock star because it looks easy, but because it seems somehow more pure in its grubbiness than the hypocrisy of the straight world: “Well you can stick your nine to five livin' / And your collar and your tie / And stick your moral standards / 'Cause it's all a dirty lie / You can stick your golden handshake / And you can stick your silly rules / And all the other shit / That they teach to kids in school / 'Cause I ain't no fool.” And then, as a glorious ad lib, he offers his other reason for pursuing the titular job: “I hear it pays well!”
Michael Hann

'Live Wire' - from T.N.T. (Australia) and High Voltage (International)
(1975)

The second AC/DC album, T.N.T. (the first two Australian records were cherry picked for their European debut, also called High Voltage), was a leap forward from their first, containing several of the defining songs of the Bon Scott era. 'Live Wire' didn't have baubles of some of the other songs – the bagpipes of 'It's a Long Way to the Top', the “Oi!” chants of 'T.N.T.' – but it did have perhaps the best arrangement of any AC/DC song. Mark Evans' bass is the elemental throb Cliff Williams would later turn into an art form; it's layered with muted guitar picking out, quietly, the chords that will anchor the riff. Then, with a stutter, the Youngs turn on the engine with two chords that preface the main riff. When Bon Scott starts singing, he sounds almost despondent: “Well if you're looking for trouble, I'm the man to see.” The version that open the 1977 radio promo Live From the Atlantic Studios is peerless. They should always have opened their sets with this.
Michael Hann

'Big Balls' - from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
(1976)

In the curious roundabout way these things sometimes happen, the first time I heard 'Big Balls' was in a gentle, melodic - almost rhapsodic - live rendition by Will Oldham. My companion, corpsing beside me, subsequently explained this was an AC/DC cover. It was funny, but - as I discovered when belatedly acquainting myself with the band's early catalogue - not half as funny as the original, from their magnificent and scabrous third album, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976). There is no disdain so deliciously withering as that of the lower orders exacting the only revenge available to them upon the upper, this side of insurrection: that is, mockery. And it's seldom been done with quite the sneering, lascivious glee invoked by Bon Scott's curling lip on this 160-second Saturnalia. With its measured tread and paucity of energy or noise, 'Big Balls' is hardly an AC/DC track at all, sonically speaking. Yet in its puerile, crashing, damn-the-torpedoes bravado, it could hardly be more so. What little nudge-wink sleight-of-hand its core pun affords it (“It's my belief that my big balls/Should be held every night . . . I'm just itching to tell you about them”), it breezily chucks away at the end with a chant of “Bollocks knackers bollocks knackers bollocks knackers bollocks knackers”. Rude, silly, enlivening - AC/DC to a T.
David Bennun

'Ain't No Fun (Waiting 'Round To Be A Millionaire) - from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
(1976)

'Ain't No Fun' isn't much of a song. Musically, it's far from a highlight of AC/DC's third album, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: just a boogie that lasts seemingly for ever, leavened only by guitar arpeggios entering the chorus. But it's also another of the great statements of one of Bon Scott's favourite themes: life is shit when you've got no money. Scott wasn't always a great lyricist – he could be puerile (Crabsody in Blue) and offensive (Squealer) – but at his best he had a gift for capturing a life in a handful of words. On 'Ain't No Fun', for example, he captures being penniless with a description of his trousers: “I got patches on the patches of my old blue jeans / Well they used to be blue / When they used to be new / When they used to be clean.”
Michael Hann

'Ride On' - from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
(1976)

For a band that didn't do ballads, AC/DC sure knew how to wallow in the blues. 'Ride On' would be lugubrious and lachrymose stuff if it wasn't for the fact that this is basically lament about not getting your leg over and happily paying for it instead. But what saves 'Ride On' from out and out sleaze is the vulnerability in Scott's voice that's tempered by sympathetic and uncharacteristically restrained playing from the band. This is the soundtrack to closing time and making that long traipse home on your own. Again.
Julian Marszalek

'Dog Eat Dog' - from Let There Be Rock
(1977)

By the time Angus and Malcolm Young finally assembled what's regarded as AC/DC's first classic line-up, producer and older brother George and singer Bon Scott had already been burned by the music business on several separate occasions. Both had travelled to the UK with their respective bands only to return home penniless and both had vowed to never let that happen again. And while George sorted himself as one half of the crack production team with former Easybeats bandmate Harry Vanda, Bon Scott was still struggling to make ends meet by the time of the band's third album, Let There Be Rock.

Coupled with Scott's perceptive and pissed off lyrics is some of AC/DC's most direct and scuffed playing. Phil Rudd's emphasis is on the floor tom that gives the track an almost primitive feel while the Youngs swap staccato riffs and clipped chords. The net result is a track that truly champs at the bit and one that should be played to every band before they sign on the dotted line.
Julian Marszalek

'Kicked In The Teeth' - from Powerage
(1978)

There are only two things that really count when it comes to judging the comparative quality of an AC/DC track: Young's riff and Scott/Johnson's squeal (the rest, as they say, is just noise). 'Kicked In The Teeth' hits it for six on both scores.

The way Bon Scott rips out the opening line acapella, “Two face woman with your two faced liiiiiies”, makes it sound as though his cuckolded heart is about to explode and come splattering out of his throat. I imagine Brian Johnson stayed up more than a few nights in 1980 listening to this performance and sweating buckets.

Angus Young backs him up with his own beefed-up take on MC5's 'Kick Out The Jams' riff, seizing the wheel and steering it firmly within sight of heavy metal waters. Powerage remains AC/DC's finest forgotten record, 'Kicked In The Teeth' remains its crowning jewel.
Josh Gray

'What's Next To The Moon' - from Powerage
(1978)

AC/DC's greatest album is Powerage, their fifth. It's the only AC/DC album entirely devoid of sexual innuendo, it's the true debut of the classic AC/DC sound (there are no blues shuffles), and it's the driest, hardest mix they ever had. The songs, too, are perfect: insinuating rather than insistent (with the exception of the crash-bang-wallop numbers, 'Riff Raff', 'Rock'n'Roll Damnation' and “Sin City'). It was also Scott's peak as a lyricist. The best lyric, and perhaps the best band performance, came on 'What's Next to the Moon?' It's as downbeat as AC/DC ever get, the guitars only flaring into life for the chorus. The title only crops up as the final line of the song, a question that suggests everything is futile. 'What's Next to the Moon' is comic book noir, DC Comics rewritten by Jim Thompson, a succession of nightmare images written with cartoon clarity – the “wide-eyed woman lookin' a mile ahead / Thinkin' about broken bones”'; the Superman verse that concludes “It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a suicide”; the casual way in which Scott finally owns up by telling the detective “All right officer, I confess / Everything's comin' back / I didn't mean to hurt that woman of mine / It was a heart attack.” There aren't many AC/DC songs that reveal more with every play; this one does. It's the Coen brothers playing hard rock.
Michael Hann

'Gone Shootin'' - from Powerage
(1978)

Two crucial factors mark Powerage as the aficionados' album of choice. The first is the band's ability to genuinely roll as much as they rock here and consequently, this is AC/DC's most danceable album. As evidenced throughout, the band take a lot of pointers from the soul 7-inchers of the 60s as Phil Rudd's 4/4 drum beats lock in with new boy Cliff Williams' (or was it George Young holding down the low end?) economic yet effective bass playing and Malcolm Young's watertight rhythm playing, thus leaving Angus free to boogie to his heart's content. The groove here is utterly irresistible and aimed squarely below the neck.

Yet that said, the second vital component in Powerage's dominant status are Bon Scott's lyrics. Scott is at his most vulnerable throughout and this isn't so much a case of the toilet wall poet of yore but a writer of sensitivity and depth. 'Gone Shootin'' is a song of bizarre juxtaposition. As the band reach new heights as an eight-legged groove machine, Scott is found expounding a sordid yet sensitive tale of heroin addiction: “I stirred my coffee with the same spoon / Knew her favourite tune / Gone shootin'…”. It's heavy stuff, indeed, but it's never heavy handed.
Julian Marszalek

'Riff Raff (Live in Glasgow)' - from If You Want Blood, You've Got It
(1978)

Originally and somewhat bizarrely hidden away in the thankless track 4 or 5 (depending on whether you're looking at the US or European release) slot of Powerage, 'Riff Raff' only fully realised its potential when it took the opening slot on one of the most invigorating live records of all time.

If ever there was a song destined to open a gig, it's this. The confidence it conveys is wild, almost obscene, bordering on arrogant. A full third of its running time is taken up with intro, Angus teasing out the riff until his bandmates come slicing in around him with lethal precision. By the two-minute mark, the song has already vaulted over several of the kind of overexcited peaks other bands can only dream of – and that's before Bon Scott comes charging in to strut pugnaciously and spit sybaritically self-immolating verse.

It's also part of the song's enduring appeal that the lyrics are in the 'I'm a down-at-heel scumbag with an irrepressible zest for life' side of AC/DC's oeuvre, rather than the rather-uncomfortable-to-21st-century-ears 'big sexy mama oo my penis is so enorm' mode.
Matt Evans

'Love Hungry Man' - from Highway To Hell
(1979)

Reportedly loathed by the Young brothers after writing this on the insistence of producer Mutt Lange, ‘Love Hungry Man’ really is a nugget of buried treasure. Once again, AC/DC come perilously close to writing a ballad which is all a bit bizarre as it really isn’t that far off their usual tempo.

But what makes ‘Love Hungry Man’ such an anomaly in AC/DC’s long and distinguished catalogue is the drastic change in dynamics. The guitars don’t so much riff as linger and decay and the real drive is focussed on a bassline that’s verging on disco. Not that the Youngs should have worried. If the music proved too adventurous for them, Scott’s ode to cunnilingus put them back on familiar territory: “A man’s gotta eat, baby, bon appetite!”
Julian Marszalek

'Live Wire (Live in Paris)' - from the film/live album AC/DC: Let There Be Rock
(Recorded 1979, released in 1980)

If any one track sums up the AC/DC aesthetic then this is the one: the 4/4 beats, bass guitar played at the root note, guitars that separate to focus on rhythm and lead, and lyrics that sound like a manifesto: “I'm cooler than a body on ice / Hotter than a rollin' dice / Send you to heaven / Take you to hell / I ain't foolin' / Can't you tell? / I'm a live wire…”

This live version, filmed in Paris shortly before Bon Scott's untimely death, is an absolute humdinger. Not only are you reminded at how rubbish light shows where back in the late 70s and early 80s, you genuinely marvel at Angus Young's ability to jump off a Marshall stack in the dark and not break his legs on impact. But not as much as the sheer and infectious energy that emanates from the screen.

Yeah, stick this in your fuse box…
Julian Marszalek

'Have A Drink On Me' - from Back In Black
(1980)

You'd think, wouldn't you, that if your lead singer had effectively drunk himself to death then perhaps you'd get your new frontman to steer clear of the subject getting of getting totally and utterly arseholed, right? Right! But then again, this is AC/DC that we're talking about here.

Indeed, if good taste is the enemy of art, then judging by the lyrics contained herein (“Whiskey, gin and brandy / With a glass I'm pretty handy / I'm tryin' to walk a straight line / On sour mash and cheap wine”), then AC/DC are fucking Shakespeare. Make mine a large one.
Julian Marszalek

'Flick Of The Switch' - from Flick Of The Switch and released on 7” in limited territories
(1983)

A, C, D…and..? Ah. That's it. Dang! Nearly. You remember the first song you learned on guitar like it was yesterday - doubly so when the main riff's three chords come with handy in-built AC/DC-patented crib sheet. The band have all but disowned 1983's self-produced Flick Of The Switch - recorded amidst disruptive in-fighting and multiple sackings - but its title track typifies the album's often under-appreciated vagabond spirit: an ingredient missing from much of the stadium-inclined early Brian Johnson era. Received wisdom, predictably enough, teeters between 'terrible' and 'one of their best.' But when Johnson screams “She's gonna blow you all sky high!” (she's electric?), and the band lock down around Angus Young's breakneck solo, it's a potent reminder that for every song about 'bad women' and the comfort-fit, narrow lexicography, even at this point they were crafting an archetype. And doing it so, so well.
Gary Kaill

'House Of Jazz' - from Stiff Upper Lip
(2000)

For the 2000 album Stiff Upper Lip, circumstance forced AC/DC into working with George Young, Angus and Malcolm's older brother, who'd co-produced their early albums with Harry Vanda, before Mutt Lange buffed up their sound for the stadiums. It was, naturally, the best-sounding AC/DC album in decades. By this point in AC/DC's career, hoping for a good lyric set was pretty much akin to hoping the postman would deliver you a package containing nothing but gold ingots. The strength of any album was determined by the quality of Angus and Malcolm's riffs and the manner in which any given producer chose to present them. Stiff Upper Lip dispensed with baubles and stripped everything back; for the first time in a long time they sounded like a band playing together in a room again. One must be honest: 'House of Jazz' isn't going to find its way on to most fans' personal best-of, but there's something deliciously toxic about the gurgling guitar of the intro, about the way the verses reduce the instrumentation to something so basic, about the release of tension in the chorus.
Michael Hann

'Safe In New York City' - from Stiff Upper Lip
(2000)

Stiff Upper Lip lacks cast-iron classics, but it's still the most satisfying AC/DC album since Back in Black because of its clarity of purpose. 'Safe in New York City' might be the pick of its uptempo numbers because of the slyness of its two main riffs – the circular, snaking one from the opening, which recurs in the chorus, and the three descents underneath the verse. It sounds harder and more confrontational than anything they had done in years, despite never opening the throttle fully. There's that rare thing for an AC/DC album, too, the cognitive dissonance between the title and the sound. Brian Johnson might insist he feels safe in New York City, but the tension of the music, which refuses to unwind and resolve, sounds like a panic attack.
Michael Hann

'Stiff Upper Lip (Live In Munich) - from Stiff Upper Lip Live
(2001)

Brian Johnson cops an awful lot of flak from people who really should know better. Sure, he's no Bon Scott and will eschew a double entendre when just the one will do, but goddamn it, he's no Axl Rose, either, thank fuck. This is the man who helped AC/DC craft the biggest selling rock album of all time, after all.

And you can tell he loves being in AC/DC. This live version captures all that's best about the Johnson-fronted era. The band don't walk on stage staring at their shoes, they explode and as they do, a giant Angus Young statue comes crashing in from the back of the stage. It's utterly ludicrous and gut-bustingly funny but that's exactly what it's supposed to be. And in the middle of it all is Brian Johnson with a twinkle in his eye as he smirks, “I was born with a stiff… stiff upper lip!”
Julian Marszalek

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No Refugee
Oct 18, 2017 10:43am

"What's Next to the Moon" and "Gone Shootin'" FTW.

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steve57
Oct 18, 2017 12:31pm

Surprised not to see my personal favourites Soul Stripper and Problem Child on this list...

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Spike
Oct 18, 2017 4:24pm

Absolutely and I carried the 1st HIGH VOLTAGE in a brief case to parties!
Sold UDXLIIC 90 copies for $20.
SOUL STRIPPER all the way

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Wildone123
Oct 19, 2017 2:46am

ALL AC/DC Rocks

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