First released in 1980, Back In Black might not be AC/DC’s all-time greatest work (it’s Powerage), but it remains one of the most important albums of the modern era; a brilliant benchmark of howling, bullshit-free rock and roll that has both stood the test of time and extended far beyond the spheres of hard rock and heavy metal. For Those About To Rock, the 1981 follow-up, delivered a timeless juggernaut in the title track, in addition to a clutch of rousing hard rock staples. Though it failed to reach the heights of its predecessor, it still became the band’s first Billboard number one. The ensuing years found AC/DC struggling to release an album with the quality and consistency of the Bon Scott years or their first two outings with Brian Johnson, and while the ratio of great tracks to filler remains fairly high, here are ten of the best tracks AC/DC have released since For Those About To Rock.
10. Back In Business, Fly On The Wall (1985)
While Fly On The Wall would receive gold certification in the summer of its release, its commercial success owed more to a dog-loyal fanbase than to the quality of the songwriting. The syrupy title track, along with Sink The Pink and Shake Your Foundations had some undeniably catchy moments but ultimately felt like AC/DC were trying to cover themselves. But with its snarling lead riff and lean, swaggering tempo, Back In Business is a vastly underrated example of Malcolm Young’s primacy at writing jams that make people feel like they can walk through walls.
9. Hail Caesar, Ballbreaker (1995)
One of fifteen albums on Rick Rubin’s CV between 1994 and 1995, Ballbreaker saw the band taking a rare crack at social commentary on tracks like The Furor and the vastly-underrated Hail Caesar, a cautionary commentary of the perils of dictators and mob mentality. The track opens with the classic AC/DC motif of riff/groove/verse, climbing a staircase of key changes until hitting the fist-pumping chorus. It takes a turn back into the Bon area with a drum and bass breakdown while Brian snarls the lyrics. When the riff kicks back in, you know the ginormous, fuck-off solo is close at hand and of course, they deliver in spades.
8. Flick Of The Switch, Flick Of The Switch (1983)
While the band were chuffed to the gills with Mutt Lange’s production on Back In Black, they felt that For Those About To Rock had actually gone one step too far. Consequently, Malcolm stepped into the role of main producer and Flick… became their first real dud. The echoey din that plagues these tracks is all the more frustrating when one considers that Malcolm reportedly rejected the first mixes because they sounded too much like Back In Black. Notwithstanding, the title track on Flick Of The Switch taps into the surly, swaggering ethos of its predecessor, with winding leads and a massive, shout-out chorus. Better production might have turned this into another Hells Bells.
7. Heatseeker, Blow Up Your Video (1988)
By 1988, AC/DC were on life support. Between the relatively dismal reception to Flick Of The Switch and Fly On The Wall and the firestorm of bad press following news that Richard Ramirez, the infamous serial killer known as the “Night Stalker,” had been arrested in an AC/DC shirt, they needed a jolt, stat. Wisely, Malcolm handed production duties back over to his brother George and Harry Vanda, who helped the band conjure exactly what they needed — a bona fide, stadium rocking anthem called Heatseeker. With its surging riff and full-throttle tempos, Heatseeker is an absolute beast of a track with a ripping solo and iconic bridge that dares you not to bust out your meatiest air drums.
6. Rock N Roll Train , Black Ice (2008)
Though claiming AC/DC’s only other appearance in the number 1 Billboard spot to date, Black Ice showcased everything that was simultaneously great and horrible about AC/DC, boasting two absolute belters and the rest of the album being a load of turgid, mid-tempo shite. Rock N Roll Train celebrates all that we love about the Aussies — punchy riffs, hip-shaking boogie grooves and lyrics about…what else – rock and roll! Blast this at a party and see how long it takes a punter to leap into the middle of the room and channel his inner Brian.
5. Caught With your Pants Down, Ballbreaker (1995)
If there’s one song from the Brian era that could possibly have been written and performed by Bon Scott, this is it. You can practically hear Bon’s mischievous sneer in the verses before the rhythm section revs up the tempo, Powerage-style. This should be blasted through the PA of every sports stadium in the world whenever an attacker fakes out a defender. The dovetailing of Angus’ smokestack leads into Malcolm’s ultra-tight rhythms drives the track to its magnificent, headbanging finale.
4. Baptism By Fire, Rock Or Bust (2014)
Coming in at just under 35 minutes, Rock Or Bust was AC/DC’s fifteenth and shortest outing yet. With Malcolm forced to step away due to the onset of dementia, nephew Stevie Young stepped into the rhythm guitar role and this track establishes that under Angus’ leadership, AC/DC could still find that old spark. A noodly riff erupts into a propulsive jam and that iconic Young brothers riffage. A stupidly-catchy melody, ultra funked-up tempo and driving, 4/4 tempo storms into the track’s joyous, lighter-raising chorus. A modern day Shoot To Thrill.
3. War Machine, Black Ice (2008)
Black Ice served up an impossibly bloated fifteen tracks and War Machine was one of two that lived up to AC/DC’s well-established potential. The thud of the bass and slap of the kick build up to a groove that shakes, rattles and rolls all over hell. A masterful sequence of verses erupts into the pre-chorus before plunging into a chest-thumping chorus that demands to be shouted to the top of your lungs, arms around a mate and jumping up and down until the last sweaty note. Absolute rager.
2. Stiff Upper Lip, Stiff Upper Lip (2000)
An instant classic, Stiff Upper Lip stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of the Brian era. A nod back to the classic AC/DC sound and while their brother George would produce the album, this track in particular sounds more like Mutt Lange than anything that George had previously done with the band. Like its predecessors, Stiff Upper Lip showcased a heroic anthem in its title track, plus a handful of above-average bangers, which was enough to draw effusive praise from critics. The track has it all — bluesy grooves, singalong lyrics and a chorus big enough swallow a black hole.
1. Thunderstruck, The Razor’s Edge, (1990)
Come on…was there ever a doubt? Thunderstruck remains their biggest hit of the past thirty years. At the tap of the high hat and the murmur of those first few notes, the tension is already seeping in. This is the vintage AC/DC build-up, with one guitar unveiling the main riff, followed by the bass and second guitar and Brian’s clenched, sneering vocals. The chorus is as massive as anything they’ve written, augmented by a simple four bar riff that you’re still humming three days after you’ve heard it. Released in that cultural no-man’s land between the death of hair metal and the rise of grunge and extreme metal, Thunderstruck was a powerful reminder that AC/DC had no plans of exiting gracefully.