AC/DC is one of those bands who has been accused (arguably the most) of writing songs that all sound the same. Contrary to popular belief, this is an unfair assessment of the band’s vast and entertaining catalog. Sure, they use the same chords a lot, the same basic drum beat, the same bassline, and Brian Johnson likes to yell “Fire!” as much as possible, but honestly, who the hell doesn’t? For the most part, the band sticks to their guns, and they do it better than anyone.
AC/DC isn’t just about sexy puns and shaking you all night long. Below are 10 standout tracks from the Aussies that the average listener probably isn’t aware of.
1. “Ride On”
“Ride On” from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap is AC/DC’s slowest song, so it sticks out like a hitchhiker’s thumb. But it’s not just great because it’s different. It truly is an amazing piece of music about loneliness and having the strength to move on. Bon Scott had such a motivating (and infectious) attitude toward life, especially when it came to striking out with women (See also: “Shot Down in Flames”). He made it clear that nothing was going to keep him down for an extended amount of time. The extra bluesy solo by Angus Young perfectly complements the reflective, subdued nature of Bon’s words.
2. “Big Gun”
It’s time to bust out with the “Big Gun.” No one ever talks about this smokin’ track from the Last Action Hero soundtrack. It’s one of the lads’ most massive tunes, centered around a powerhouse riff that wallops you in the gut the second you press play. I’m sure Arnold Schwarzenegger has pumped some severe iron to this song. The video is hysterical because you get to see Ahnuld run around in a schoolboy uniform, delivering his best Angus impersonation. It’s got some sweet lyrics about Terminators and Uzis, but I swear Johnson yells “refrigerators!” at the end, and you can’t convince me otherwise. It’s ridiculous that they’ve never played this live because it would ultimately turn any arena into rubble.
3. “Stormy May Day”
This track from Black Ice is fascinating because it features slide guitar work from Angus, the first and only time that’s happened on an AC/DC record. The riffage is reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” but louder and more potent because nobody brings the thunder like AC/DC. It also possesses some really clean, soulful vocals (particularly at the end) by Johnson, which surprised the hell out of me the first time I heard them. Brian is known for his raspiness, but the older he gets, the more he taps into his inner blues, and shines through all the noise.
It’s true what they say: “Money talks, B.S. walks.” I’ve loved this song since I was a wee little lad. It gets radio play but not nearly as much as other AC/DC songs. I’ve always found its status odd. It’s like some kind of half-hit (which I suppose is better than a half-wit). I should be thankful it’s not played more often because I’d grow to despise it. This feel-good jam needs to be dusted off and played live again. Once the tour for The Razor’s Edge was over, it stopped receiving the attention it deserved. It’s as good as anything on the overplayed juggernaut Back in Black.
Ballbreaker as a whole is criminally underrated, but the title track absolutely slays. It starts with a couple of slow notes, but that’s a bunch of evil trickery. After a few seconds, Malcolm and Angus begin spewing forth jagged riffs from the mouth of hell directly into your face, as if they’re trying to squeeze the air from your throat like the crazed dominatrix in the song. It feels like you’re about to be flattened by a steamroller, but it hurts so good that you just lay there like an idiot with a stupid smile on your face. That’s the power of AC/DC. “Ballbreaker” destroys so many other rock and metal songs from the ‘90s that it’s not even funny.
6. “Gone Shootin'”
Powerage from 1978 is one hell of an energetic album, but this tune reels things back in a refreshing way. Bon tells the story of a woman who’s gone away, and it seems she was too hot for even him to handle. The crisp, spaced-out guitar notes aren’t as crackling as other songs on the record, and they almost have a southern-fried tone to them, which makes for an excellent road song on a sunny day. “Gone Shootin’” also appeared on the Beavis and Butt-Head Do America soundtrack, a shocking but commendable choice. Whoever made that call should get free AC/DC records for life, and then give them to me.
7. “Night Prowler”
“Night Prowler” is the AC/DC song that should make your next Halloween playlist instead of “Highway to Hell.” It’s a scene plucked straight from every classic ‘70s and ‘80s slasher flick. This song (and the band) received a bad rap in 1985 because some bonehead named Ramirez went and killed and raped a bunch of women while wearing an AC/DC shirt. Screw that guy and anyone who tries to blame something heinous like that on rock n’ roll. That’s not how it works. This was an impressive way to end Highway to Hell. One thing I still can’t figure out is why Scott says “Shazbot” and “Nanu Nanu” (from Mork and Mindy) at the end, though it’s probably as simple as he was a Robin Williams fan.
8. “Who Made Who”
Who made who? That is the eternal question. AC/DC provided the entire soundtrack for Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive, a movie you need to go watch if you’ve never seen it. This was one of three new songs written for the film, including “D.T” and “Chase the Ace” (which are also unique as they are both instrumentals). The lyrics tie into the theme of the movie, which is machines turning on their makers. A simple but wisely effective bassline by Cliff Williams drives the song down a wonderfully paved road from beginning to end. It has a relaxed vibe that’s different from most AC/DC songs. Johnson doesn’t scream the chorus, and the guitars aren’t as crunchy. It’s a nice change of pace from what they are known for.
9. “Hail Caesar”
Who says AC/DC songs are only about sex and rock n’ roll? With this track from Ballbreaker, not only do you get to headbang like a nut, but you also receive an excellent history lesson in the process. I think the band is at their best when they show their humorous side, and the video for “Hail Caesar” is a prime example. They went to town with the green screen. Phil Rudd is a master at slowing things down and bringing them back to an explosive pace when the song calls for it, and that’s what this evil ditty needed. This should serve as a reminder to everyone to watch their back because that knife could get you at any time.
10. “Emission Control”
“Emission Control” is the last song off AC/DC’s last album (so far), Rock or Bust. Thankfully, they didn’t bust, but I almost did the first time this pounded through my subwoofer. The main riff is so damn good. It’s funky and dirty and nasty, and all the best clichéd words you can muster up to describe a series of gnarly guitar notes that vibrate and explode from your balls up to your eardrums until the wax spills onto the floor in a puddle of pure joy. Surprisingly (especially for the year 2014), the track fades out instead of tacking on a good stiff ending like most AC/DC songs. Brian Johnson sounds as good as ever on this tasty jam, leaving you hopeful that their story isn’t over yet. If you’re tired of all the classic AC/DC tunes that are played on the radio, and at bars and sports games nonstop as if there are no other songs or bands in the world, try these suckers on for size. They just might ignite (or reignite) your love for one of rock n’ roll’s most influential bands.