In light of the hard rock kick I’ve been on lately, I felt it high time to delve back through the back catalogue of perhaps the genre’s most defining band. AC/DC have released sixteen albums internationally; each bristling with sexual bravado and electrifying solos. But while the band boast a great many singles, which headbanging tracks have – inevitably – slipped under the radar?
Give It Up (Stiff Upper Lip, 2000) – Stiff Upper Lip is arguably the bluesiest the boys ever got, and a great example of this era appears in the album’s closing number, ‘Give It Up’. It’s a fast-paced, southern riff overdubbed with Johnson’s best Brian Johnson impression. ‘Well there’s a big storm howlin’ around here,’ promises an unrelenting sonic battery, even in the album’s final moments. Plain and simple, it’s a catchy track.
Two’s Up (Blow Up Your Video, 1988) – Blow Up Your Video is hardly the high point of AC/DC. The band had already released two mediocre records when compared to the likes of Back in Black, For Those About to Rock… or anything that came before. Blow Up Your Video sounds messy at the best of times; and by 1988, the world wanted glam rock; big hair, big riffs and bad attitude. AC/DC had two of those, but not the complete formula. Still, Blow Up Your Video has an arsenal of decent tunes, however; ‘Two’s Up’ being one of them. It’s one of AC/DC’s most apocalyptic songs, somehow fusing the concept of a threesome to a track out of a science-fiction war movie. It’s a great track, all things considered – but on side two of Blow Up Your Video, it never gets so much as a look in.
Love at First Feel (Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, 1976) – God, we miss Bon Scott. If anyone was going to be an apt successor, it’s Brian Johnson. But nevertheless, the adolescent squeals and predatory grunts of Scott made AC/DC what they were. An unstoppable Aussie force. 1976’s studio effort showcases some of the band’s best pre-Johnson material; and doubles down on the dodgy lyrics. ‘Love at First Feel’ proves particularly hormonal, but has all the band chime in for the willfully stripped-back chorus. It’s quintessential Bon Scott humour. And quintessential hard rock. ‘It was love at first feel – lightnin’ bolts in my fingertips!’
Mistress for Christmas (The Razor’s Edge, 1990) – The band’s only festive jingle, it’s not even about Christmas. Sure, the song mentions reindeer and jingling bells (you see where this is going), but it’s just about making out with a lady of the night come Christmas time. Which is a fair aspiration, but an even better song. It nails the surrounding sound of 1990’s The Razor’s Edge; with explosive chorus, and Johnson at his raunchiest. ‘I wanna ride your reindeer, honey, and ring the bells, yes!’ is quite a line, even for the Australian schoolboys. Then again, The Razor’s Edge is home to a great many underrated treasures in general; from avaricious ‘Moneytalks’ to lascivious ‘Shot of Love’.
Spoilin’ For A Fight (Black Ice, 2008) – Black Ice spoils for choices. At a whopping fifteen tracks long, it boasts the longest running time of any AC/DC album. And while there’s some filler, most of it slays. ‘Spoilin’ For A Fight’ is a fairly standard Acca Dacca track – content-wise, it’s the standoffish behavior you’d expect – but packs one of the band’s best ever riffs. The track was picked by WWE in 2008 for a theme song, and no wonder.
C.O.D. (For Those About to Rock (We Salute You), 1981) – Few bands could follow up Back in Black with something near-equal in quality and ferocity. But the cover of 1981’s For Those About to Rock (We Salute You) tells you all you need to know. This thing goes. And whilst the album is best embodied in the explosive title track, or ever subtle ‘Let’s Get It Up’, ‘C.O.D.’ is a bluesy rocker that kicks like a mule, too. Throughout, Johnson provides different meanings for the acronym, finally settling on ‘Call of the devil!’ during the song’s choruses. It’s as Satanic as the band get; and it’s a killer track. Mean riffs, mean lyrics, mean judgment from the outside world.
Fly on the Wall (Fly on the Wall, 1985) – Far more so than Flick of the Switch, 1985’s follow-up, Fly on the Wall, is a haze of background noise. Once again, the boys produced their own record, and the result is a well-meant feast of hard rock. The problem is that many of the tracks sound half-arsed, or just painful to sit through. The title track itself suffers a poor mix, but is a damn fine rocker for the lads. Through the miasma of sweat and crude mastering, Brian Johnson delivers a beastly performance. ‘I was trapped, like a fly on the wall! I was caged, like a zoo animal! Enraged!’ – you can hear the man’s emotion pounding through. It’s criminally underrated.
Dogs of War (Rock or Bust, 2014) – AC/DC have some pretty badass tunes under their belt. They’re basically the swaggering bad boys of rock ‘n roll, laying waste to who they want and picking up a dozen STI’s in the process. But perhaps their most kicking song as a band appears on their 2014 release, Rock or Bust. ‘Dogs of War’ has a chorus which shatters all known belief; infiltrating your eardrums with images of covert operations, and a team of Independence Day-style troops in the midst of it. You really see Johnson, Young et. al as these soldiers of fortune, on the bad side of good, and the wrong side of right. It’s a track that mounts and mounts, and remains a largely forgotten highlight of an already incredible record.
Gone Shootin’ (Powerage, 1978) – This album is consistently praised as among the band’s best, and with good reason. It’s home to ‘Rock ‘n Roll Damnation’, ‘Sin City’ and the skin-flaying riff of ‘Riff Raff’. But Powerage’s crowning moment? ‘Gone Shootin’’. Those bluesy power chords are downright infectious; like a bottle of the cheapest whiskey one can get hold of during the prohibition. Everything about this track screams AC/DC, from the tale of heartbreak and woe to Bon Scott’s piercing cries and repetitive riff; refusing to let up through the five-minute runtime. Incredibly underrated, and incredibly groovy.
Bedlam in Belgium (Flick of the Switch, 1983) – 1983’s Flick of the Switch is commonly regarded, by critics and fans alike, as one of AC/DC’s weakest albums. Personal problems in the band reached near breaking point, Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange – legendary producer who helped pave the way for the band’s outstanding previous releases – was let go, and the band decided to manage themselves in the studio. The result? Raw, bluesy tracks swamped in fuzzy sound, with Johnson’s vocals like something out of a twenty-year old bootleg. For what it’s worth, I think there’s some really good stuff on Flick of the Switch, especially the track ‘Bedlam in Belgium’. Telling the story of a real-life gig in which the band played on past the curfew, and law enforcement intervened, it’s non-stop, pumping rock, all set to the words of, ‘He gave me a crack in the back with his gun. I disobeyed, I could feel the blood run,’ promising one of AC/DC’s most thrilling tracks yet. An underrated song on a surprisingly underrated album. It’s hard rock at its finest. And as lawless as anything.
Givin’ The Dog A Bone (Back in Black, 1980) – It’s hard to believe AC/DC’s biggest album – the second best-selling LP of all time – could hold an ‘underrated’ track. Surely each and every cranny of this album has been put under floodlights and dissected to death by the likes of Rolling Stone? Well, maybe not. Whilst the album has always been universally acclaimed, the attention focuses on ‘Back in Back’, ‘Hells Bells’, ‘Shoot to Thrill’ ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ or ‘Rock ‘n Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’. Enter my pick for the record’s underrated gem; ‘Givin’ the Dog A Bone’. Even for AC/DC, it’s an utterly tasteless ode to the joys of oral copulation. Incorrectly labelled on early pressings as ‘Given the Dog A Bone’, the lyrics are… not cryptic, to say the least. ‘She’ll take you down easy, goin’ down to her knees. Goin’ down to the devil! Down, down, at ninety degrees.’. They’re clever, for sure, and whether you like it or not, follow one of the band’s most raucous rhythms. Plus, Brian Johnson shines in this one. It’s a grade A hard rocker – there’s nothing more I can say than that.
Burnin’ Alive (Ballbreaker, 1995) – Ballbreaker is a really great album, with tracks like ‘Hard as a Rock’, ‘Hail Caesar’, and ‘Ballbreaker’ itself. So, a lot of the album’s meat gets forgotten from time to time. ‘Burnin’ Alive’ is AC/DC’s epic western stand-off, with cowboy bravado and a spine-chilling chorus. ‘No fire water, or Novocain. No thunderstorm and no John Wayne,’ sets the tone, and it only gets hotter from there. I always thought ‘Burnin’ Alive’ would sound awesome against the backdrop of night, with the band playing to a baying crowd of ten thousand. Angus’ riff throughout is hardly the stuff of legend, but enough to set you on edge with each listen. It directs the track masterfully.