AC/DC believes in the redeeming power of rock n’ roll. But it has to be pure rock n’ roll, not soapy power ballads or some synth-driven tunes. No, when it comes to the essence of rock music, few bands have made greater, better-ranked albums than AC/DC.
No matter how much Angus Young may try to disguise it, this has not all come easy. Tragic deaths, line-up changes, and shifting trends have all tried to work against the mighty Aussie group. But, it turns out, “rock or bust” isn’t just a catchphrase.
That’s why I’m returning to basics today, learning to appreciate rock’s greatest, dirtiest-sounding band and ranking AC/DC’s albums from worst to best. It’s quite a discography.
AC/DC Albums Ranked
17. “Flick of the Switch” (1983)
AC/DC are always known to return to their rock n’ roll roots. They do so for “Flick of the Switch,” but this is hardly a calculated PR move.
No, Angus Young truly believes in the power of the rock riff. Unfortunately, most of the ones used on “Flick of the Switch” sound like they’ve been used before. This makes some tracks a bit dull. However, “Nervous Shakedown” is a highlight.
16. “Blow Up Your Video” (1988)
“Blow Up Your Video” was an attempt to turn AC/DC into a radio-friendly band. They certainly had the image and Angus Young’s trademark riffs. But what the album didn’t really have as many quality songs.
Still, “Heatseeker” and “That’s the Way I Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll” are some of the best that the band recorded during the 1980s. “Blow Up Your Video” may not be the worst AC/DC album, but it’s pretty close to earning that unwanted title.
15. “Black Ice” (2008)
AC/DC use “Black Ice” to prove that they can beat any new band at sounding like AC/DC. After all, none of the band’s imitators have played for arenas as large as the Aussies. And this experience translates into the tracks on “Black Ice.”
“Rock ‘n’ Roll Train” and “Big Jack” benefit from a tremendously large sound, one that much of the world has learned to love.
Sadly, this would be the last album to feature the songwriting or excellent rhythm guitar playing of Malcolm Young.
14. “The Razors Edge” (1990)
AC/DC never really fell out of fashion because, song-wise, the band rarely chased trends. This is how “The Razors Edge” introduced the group to a new generation of fans.
It also helped that the album contained some of the band’s most memorable songs in years. “Thunderstruck” and “Moneytalks” were tracks that earned massive airplay and cemented AC/DC’s status as one of rock’s biggest arena rock groups.
13. “Fly on the Wall” (1985)
Like Ramones, Motorhead, or Chuck Berry, AC/DC never stopped, and the world is better off for it. “Fly on the Wall” delivered more of the same sounds but with something of a theme.
The storyline centred around the scene of the band playing in a dingy club. The lyrics told of the characters that inhabited this world.
“Shake Your Foundations” and “Sink the Pink” were nothing revolutionary, strong classic rock, but proved nice additions to the AC/DC discography.
12. “Stiff Upper Lip” (2000)
AC/DC was taking longer breaks between albums than ever before. That’s how “Stiff Upper Lip” was received as a major event for the rock world.
The band had won by not giving up, not changing, and staying in the game. “Stiff Upper Lip” and “Meltdown” benefit from great Angus Young riffs. And, the feelgood atmosphere of the band’s return makes it so that few can complain about the sameyness of some of the songs.
11. “Rock or Bust” (2014)
AC/DC proves unrelenting in the group’s mission to play pure rock n roll until the very end. “Rock or Bust” is the first album not to feature guitarist Malcolm Young. But, somehow, the new line-up finds the energy to create the group’s trademark, gigantic blues-rock sound.
It’s a short, direct album with “Rock or Bust” and “Play Ball” acting as the record’s highlights.
10. “Ballbreaker” (1995)
“Ballbreaker” was designed, with the help of Rick Rubin, as a return to the blues rock that had made AC/DC a sensation in Australia during the mid-1970s.
However, without a great degree of memorable material and with distrust in Rubin’s direction, the effort largely falls flat.
This doesn’t mean that “Hard as a Rock” and “Hail Caesar” aren’t excellent or that all guitar beginners ought to learn them.
There aren’t many underrated classic albums in AC/DC’s repertoire. Most of them are either very highly ranked or ignored on purpose. “Ballbreaker” deserves more recognition.
9. “Power Up” (2020)
Angus Young reunites AC/DC in order to deliver a tribute to Malcolm Young. In spite of all of the personal tribulations, the group is able to deliver the goods on Power Up.”
It’s a familiar sound, great energy, and catchy riffs that make up the winning formula. But, it’s one that everyone familiar with AC/DC’s story knows that the band could have easily lost.
Not long ago Axl Rose had replaced Brin Johnson as (the live) singer of the band. Drummer Phill Rudd had dealt with legal issues. Bassist Cliff Williams had briefly departed. And Malcolm Young had been replaced by nephew Stevie Young.
With all this in mind, songs like “Shot in the Dark,” “Realize,” or the cheeky “Money Shot” should make fans of AC/DC feel particularly lucky.
8. “For Those About to Rock We Salute You” (1981)
Brian Johnson had a voice that wonderfully complemented AC/DC’s hard-rock sound. However, after the success of “Back in Black,” finding new artistic avenues was never a priority for this line-up of the group.
Sure, “For Those About to Rock We Salute You” is anthemic. “Let’s Get It Up” and “Evil Walks” are fine tunes. But none will change anyone’s opinion of the band for better or for worse.
7. “High Voltage” (1975)
Initially reserved only for Australian audiences, AC/DC delivered its knockout debut in which they profess their love of Chuck Berry and the thrills of a big, rockin’ sound.
All the essential elements are here. But, like most new bands, they balanced their desired direction with what was trendy at the time. That’s why some of the songs carry an uncharacteristic glam-rock sheen.
“Show Business” and the band’s cover of “Baby, Please Don’t Go” capture the zany energy of early AC/DC, with Bon Scott already a pro of drawing attention to himself.
Meanwhile, the international version was, essentially, a compilation of the band’s best early songs.
6. “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” (1976)
In many ways, AC/DC was a perfect band to stand up to the punk-rock revolution. They were equally loud and rambunctious. But their playing and stagecraft are already undeniable by the time of “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.”
The title track and “Problem Child,” especially, present Bon Scott and Angus Young as fun troublemakers who just can’t help themselves. And, in doing so, they make rock n’ roll seem irresistible.
AC/DC was now touring the world, a live tradition that has remained true until recently. And, according to bassist Mark Evans, overseas fans were immediately welcoming of the Aussie bad boys. The band could play to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath‘s audience. But they would soon entertain Sex Pistols and The Clash fans.
5. “T.N.T.” (1975)
By the time of their second national release, AC/DC had already honed their sound and presentation. “T.N.T” is nasty and funny and brings Angus Young’s guitar riffs front and centre. Bon Scott is already a highly charismatic performer.
This is not just big, dumb rock n’ roll. Like Chuck Berry’s best songs, there’s an air of pleasant mischief about everything AC/DC does.
“The Jack” is hilarious, “T.N.T.” is undeniably fun, and “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock n’ Roll)” gives the audience a taste of the pressure of trying to develop a career.
4. “Powerage” (1978)
“Powerage” is something of a hidden gem in AC/DC’s discography. It’s equal parts thrilling rock n’ roll and bloated excess.
Blame the latter of this on the band’s touring and on the lifestyle that Bon Scott is quick to document on songs like “Rock n’ Roll Damnation.”
However, when the band’s at its best, like on “Riff Raff,” they can go toe-to-toe with Led Zeppelin, Queen, or any of the big rock bands of the time.
3. “Let There Be Rock” (1977)
AC/DC has always believed in one gospel, and they’ve never strayed far from it. “Let There Be Rock” focuses on the one thing that’s holiest to Angus Young and his bandmates.
The band’s extensive touring has taught them a thing or two. “Let There Be Rock” sounds like a live set produced by a band forced to win the crowd over in 3-minutes or less.
The riffs and the dynamism of “Whole Lotta Rosie” or “Bad Boy Boogie” are undeniable.
From New York City to Sydney, few bands could even dream of keeping up with the tireless quintet.
2. “Back in Black” (1980)
Comeback records don’t come bigger than “Back in Black.” Faced with tragedy, AC/DC goes back to its rock n’ roll roots but delivers the songs with a renewed sense of purpose.
I assume that much of this is the result of astonishment. Few, band members included, would’ve believed that replacing Bon Scott was ever an option. The all-black album cover is the only indication of the group’s shared grief.
Still, the bluesy howl of new lead vocalist Brian Johnson fits into each of the songs here.
The album contains no filler, a rare feat for AC/DC records. “Hells Bells,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” and the title track, “Back in Black,” are iconic and overplayed for good reason. Matt Lange’s clean, warm production sets a new standard for hard-rock records. No classic rock guitar tone is as powerful.
For pure, modern rock n’ roll, it’s hard to find records more thrilling than “Back in Black.”
1. “Highway to Hell” (1979)
With “Highway to Hell” made an attempt to channel to capture the essence of their grimy sound and subject matter. The result is the hard-rock band’s first international hit. And, listening back, it’s easy to understand its appeal.
On the one hand, Bon Scott’s stories have never been more sordid. On the other hand, riff-based rock has never been better arranged and produced.
The title track, “Girls Got Rhythm” and “Touch Too Much,” are as immediately appealing as any of Chuck Berry’s Great 28.
Sadly, this would also turn out to be Scott’s final album. As it turns out, the stories he told were very much based on truth. It was a sad ending to one of rock’s great originals.