High Voltage (Atco, 1976)
Let There Be Rock (Atco, 1977)
Powerage (Atco, 1978)
If You Want Blood, You've Got It (Atco, 1978)
Highway to Hell (Atco, 1979)
Back in Black (Atco, 1980)
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (Atco, 1981)
For Those About to Rock, We Salute You (Atco, 1981)
Flick of the Switch (Atco, 1983)
Fly on the Wall (Atco, 1985)
Who Made Who (Atco, 1986)
Blow Up Your Video (Atco, 1988)
The Razor's Edge (Atco, 1990)
AC/DC Live (Epic, 1992)
Ballbreaker (EastWest, 1995)
Stiff Upper Lip (EastWest, 2000)
Black Ice (Columbia, 2008)
Backtracks (Sony Legacy, 2009)
AC/DC rose to fame during the second half of the Seventies, but this Australian band's biggest and baddest album will always be 1980's Back in Black, which forged the archetype for Eighties metal. Perhaps AC/DC's most crucial innovation is the way their lyrics make plain the boys' locker-room conception of sexuality that had previously bubbled just under the surface of most heavy-duty rock. Shamelessly sexist panderers or refreshingly frank entertainers? AC/DC fits both descriptions, but none of it would matter if guitarist Angus Young wasn't such a gargantuan riffmonger, backed by a Godzilla-like rhythm section to boot. Learn to laugh with or at lead singer Brian Johnson's shrieking depictions of those hormonal surges, and AC/DC's thundering musical charge will sweep you up like a riptide.
Original lead singer Bon Scott pioneered the raunchy, high-pitched style that Johnson later perfected; he died shortly after AC/DC's belated American breakthrough, Highway to Hell. Produced by pop-metal maven Robert "Mutt" Lange, Hell sharpens the band's impact by refining some of its rougher edges. "You Shook Me All Night Long," from Back in Black, the Lange-produced platinum followup, epitomizes AC/DC's streamlined attack: a ringing, near-melodic chorus is welded to a granite-shattering beat. "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution," insists the climactic final cut, but overall Back in Black proves that noise pollution, when properly deployed, can qualify as great rock & roll.
Predictably, AC/DC hasn't changed a whit since then. Angus Young still stalks the stage in a schoolboy's uniform, tossing off riffs and abbreviated solos while his brother Malcolm strokes a propulsive rhythm guitar and Brian Johnson shakes the roof. For Those About to Rock almost measures up to the heft of Back in Black, but successive albums quickly become rote. AC/DC's macho posturing is unspeakably dull when it's not supported by killer hooks. (Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap compiles the best of Bon Scott–era AC/DC; the title cut is a trashy, irresistible revenge fantasy.) A quickie soundtrack album, Who Made Who works as an effective introduction to the group: Previous triumphs ("You Shook Me All Night Long") contrast with reclaimed later efforts ("Sink the Pink," from Fly on the Wall) and a completely out-of-character Seventies blooze number called "Ride On." Of course, AC/DC returns to business as usual with Blow Up Your Video, where even the hottest riffs ("Heatseeker") don't seem to detonate with the same gratifying crunch. But after girding its loins for a few years, AC/DC confidently stalked back into the metal arena with The Razor's Edge—loud and proud.
The rest of the Nineties was a victory lap for the band, rereleasing much of its back catalogue and touring behind albums that were just a shadow of their powerful predecessors. A serviceable 1992 live album, AC/DC Live, culled from the tour following The Razor's Edge, acted as a reminder of their onstage fury. After a three-year break the band returned to the studio for the Rick Rubin–helmed Ballbreaker. Perhaps using Rubin, whose work with bands such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers had made him the de facto hard-rock producer of the day, was a stab at relevance. Motivations aside, Ballbreaker has a spark that the band had been missing on most of its late-era work, with tracks such as "Hard as a Rock" sitting comfortably next to any other behemoth in its arsenal. The band returned in 2000 with Stiff Upper Lip, a somewhat tired collection, lacking the energy of Ballbreaker and smelling suspiciously like an excuse to rake in more arena ticket money. Guess what? None of the tens of thousands of fans who packed those concert halls cared one whit.
AC/DC were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, and in 2008 the band released Black Ice, on which their signature stomp was stubbornly unaltered. Though it was overlong, Ice was still the band's most consistent album since The Razor's Edge. In October of 2008, AC/DC scored their first ever Rolling Stone cover, and the following year they released the two-CD, one-DVD box set Backtracks, which included live cuts, rarities, and music videos and came housed in a working amplifier – a clue that this was for serious fans. Because the band has staunchly resisted best-of compilations, there is no AC/DC greatest hits collection – unless you count Back in Back, which is all the AC/DC a casual fan needs.
Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies