Beyond 'Back in Black': An AC/DC Playlist

“Back in Black,” “Highway to Hell” and other AC/DC anthems are known to most casual listeners. But the band’s catalog goes beyond concert and radio staples. In the spirit of the 21-gun salute on AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You),” here are 21 deeper-cut songs from the Bon Scott and Brian Johnson eras that deserve greater attention.

“She’s Got Balls” (1975):

The first original music to appear on AC/DC’s Australian-only debut — “High Voltage,” distinct from the album of the same name issued internationally in ‘76 — spunks akin to an ornery kid given a timeout for bad behavior.

“Live Wire” (1975):

Steered by a predatory bass line, a prolonged intro builds tension that increases when Bon Scott enters the fray. His cool vocals creep around corners, largely remaining in check until Angus Young drops an electrifying solo.

“School Days” (1975):

Chuck Berry has been covered by countless artists. Few manage to channel the excitement and enthusiasm AC/DC displays on its romping version of the innovator’s 1957 classic.

“Big Balls” (1976):

Scott at his wittiest. Reacting to the singer’s sexual humor and send-up of high society, the band answers with gang-vocal choruses and troublemaking bounce.

“Dog Eat Dog” (1977):

On its “Let There Be Rock” album, AC/DC enjoys higher-quality production that doesn’t sacrifice its musical grit. Both traits grace this savage cut that doubles as a strand of barbed wire.

“Riff Raff” (1978):

The scraping guitar chords and raw tones that launch this semi-controlled shot of mayhem evoke a race car throttling its engine at the starting line. Once the band joins the commotion, “Riff Raff” tries like mad to rip the skin off your face.

“Down Payment Blues” (1978):

AC/DC latches onto a magnetic arrangement and stretches out for six minutes, giving Scott space to vent about hard times with pathos and humor.

“Girls Got Rhythm” (1979):

The behind-the-scenes playing of Malcolm Young, Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd often takes a backseat to the front-line contributions of Scott and Angus Young. Not here. The rhythm section thunders on the first note and doesn’t let up until the finish.

“Touch Too Much” (1979):

“Highway to Hell” ranks as one of the 10 best guitar-driven rock albums on the planet. Part anticipatory strip tease, part punch to the solar plexus, “Touch Too Much” shows why.

“Have a Drink on Me” (1980):

This stampeding anthem remains in the shadows of its more famous brethren on “Black in Black.” Crank the volume and heed the 3:08 mark, where the quintet shifts into a higher gear and swings like a wrecking ball.

“Spellbound” (1981):

Most bands use the end of albums as a dumping ground for filler. AC/DC often took a different approach. Noteworthy for its fluid chorus and sinister feel, the clobbering closer to “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” functions as Exhibit A.

“Flick of the Switch” (1983):

Singer Brian Johnson meets Young, Young & Co.’s wallop head-on, pushing his strained voice to extremes on a loud, blustery title track that justifies its explosion-themed metaphors.

“Who Made Who” (1986):

AC/DC struggled to maintain its mojo for a majority of the ‘80s. Recorded for the film “Maximum Overdrive” and used as bait to sell a soundtrack album, “Who Made Who” knocks over a hornet’s nest and passes along the sting.

“That’s the Way I Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll” (1988):

The Youngs devised at least one centerpiece riff for every AC/DC album. One of the few highlights on “Blow up Your Video,” this bruiser boogies with greasy licks, top-down momentum and hummable hooks.

“Goodbye and Good Riddance to Bad Luck” (1990):

In addition to choice singles, “The Razor’s Edge” features several deep-cut gems. Johnson treats the lyrics here as an excuse for texture while his mates view the steamroller drive as reason to send their amplifier meters into the red.

“Ballbreaker” (1995):

The closest modern AC/DC comes to approaching the band’s Scott-era sound and cleverness. Young and Young’s undulating guitars shiver and ripple, practically undressing the minimalist groove as Johnson coughs up a series of double entendres.

“The Furor” (1995):

Another standout from the excellent “Ballbreaker” album, and a mercenary attack unafraid to play mean, get dirty and hit hard.

“Hold Me Back” (2000):

The bluesiest cut on AC/DC’s bluesiest album (“Stiff Upper Lip”) seemingly floats on air courtesy of Angus Young’s fingerpicked passages and the group’s steady, in-the-pocket discipline.

“War Machine” (2008):

AC/DC’s double album (“Black Ice”) would’ve been better served as a single. Underscored by back-up vocals that reveal the members’ Aussie accents, “War Machine” makes the cut.

“Rock the Blues Away” (2014):

A prime example of AC/DC’s no-frills architecture: Crunchy tones, blue-collar lyrics, a feel-good melody and a rhythm so comfortable and wide, it invites you to climb in and enjoy the ride.

“Through the Mists of Time” (2020):

A rare instance of AC/DC becoming nostalgic, and a pointed reflection on aging co-written by Malcolm Young before he passed away in November 2017.

Bob Gendron is the associate editorial director at The Coda Collection. He has been obsessing over music, albums and audio ever since he landed a job at an indie record store at age 13. A longtime contributor to the Chicago Tribune and former Director of Communications at Music Direct, he spent 11 years as the Music Editor at The Absolute Sound and performed the same role for eight years at TONEAudio. Gendron is the author of “Gentlemen” (Bloomsbury) and a coauthor of “Nirvana: The Complete Illustrated History” (Voyageur). His writing has also appeared in DownBeat, Rolling Stone, Revolver and other outlets.

Bob Gendron is the associate editorial director at The Coda Collection. He has been obsessing over music, albums and audio ever since he landed a job at an indie record store at age 13. A longtime contributor to the Chicago Tribune and former Director of Communications at Music Direct, he spent 11 years as the Music Editor at The Absolute Sound and performed the same role for eight years at TONEAudio. Gendron is the author of “Gentlemen” (Bloomsbury) and a coauthor of “Nirvana: The Complete Illustrated History” (Voyageur). His writing has also appeared in DownBeat, Rolling Stone, Revolver and other outlets.

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