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AC/DC – A Baker’s Dozen Done Dirt Cheap

dirty deeds?

dirty deeds?

With the rumor mill buzzing this week about the future of AC/DC, the latest word being that they are taking a break for health reasons,  I thought it might be a good time to look at some of their best mud stomping contributions to popular music.  My choices are ridiculously obvious, but AC/DC’s stock in trade was never subtlety.  Let the countdown begin.

13.  “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock ‘N’ Roll).”  This 1976 number gives you all the basic AC/DC building blocks – simple riffs, a strong backbeat, and an anthemic chorus.  Bonus features are the best pop culture use of bagpipes this side of Roddy Piper and the knowledge that this tune was covered by alt-country mope queen Lucinda Williams.

12.  “Let There Be Rock.”  Former Easybeats George Vanda and George Young (who just happens to be an older brother to Malcolm and Angus) did the production work for AC/DC until Robert “Mutt/I Dumped Shania” Lange took over on Highway to Hell.  This 1977 crunch rocker is the second part of a vital triad – which starts with the third verse of the book of Genesis (“God said, ‘Let there be light’”) and ends with “Let There Be Rock” by the Drive-By Truckers.  Much better than the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

11.  “Moneytalks.”  Speaking of money, AC/DC’s Black Ice tour that started in 2008 and ended in 2010 grossed over $440 MILLION DOLLARS.  This is, of course, the same amount of money that the United States military recently spent on inflatable balloon antennas.  Peaking at #23 in 1990, this is the band’s highest charting single in America.

10.  “Ride On.”  It wasn’t all wild sex and alcohol binges for Bon Scott.  No, that was only 99.8% of the time.  This 1976 .2%-er is a slow, blooze rocker adds loneliness into the sex/hootch mix.

9.  “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You).”  The thud rock on this 1981 album title track is so deliberate that it makes Bachmann-Turner Overdrive sound like a disco outfit.  Rumor has it that Brian Johnson’s vocal chords have to be shipped directly to an emergency trauma unit after ever performance of this one.  FIRE!

8.  “Hell’s Bells.” After the bell tolled for Bon Scott in early 1980, the lead track to Back in Black established Johnson as a worthy successor.  Singing about Satan’s embrace right after Scott died gives this hard rock, wall of sound anthem both an ominous and defiant tone.

7.  “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.”  AC/DC were different from most hard rock/metal bands of their era in that they had a sense of humor.  Inspired by the cartoon Beany and Cecil, the Angus brothers and Bon volunteer their expertise in cyanide, TNT, concrete shoes, and contractual quid pro quo to balance out the karma in the universe.

6.  “You Shook Me All Night Long.”  Phil Rudd is the anti-Neil Peart when it comes to drumming – minimal rolls, no gimmicks, just pure, solid timekeeping.  His kit work is as important to this lust song as Johnson’s groin pumping vocals.  Veruca Salt referenced this tune’s lyrics, instead of Tyson’s Chicken, in naming their first album American Thighs. 

5.  “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It).”  This title was used for a 1978 AC/DC live album, but the song wasn’t released until the 1979 Highway to Hell album.  As rock ‘n’ roll bravado statements go, this beats the Limey socks off of “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It).”

4.  “Thunderstruck.”  After “For Those About to Rock,” most of the band’s 1980’s work was rather uninspired.   The buying public was ready for a return to form – their 1990 album The Razors Edge sold over five million copies.  For fans under 25, this is the band’s signature song, as it is used in a wide variety of sporting events throughout the country.

3.  “Shoot to Thrill.”  Speaking of album sales, estimates for Back in Black range from a low of 25.9 million (sales certifications) to claims of up to 50 million in worldwide units moved.  It has been certified for 22 million sales in the U.S. alone.  This rather unsubtle song about sexual domination probably didn’t win over many feminists, but it’s pretty progressive compared to “Given the Dog a Bone.”

2.  “Whole Lotta Rosie.”  A true life tale of Bon Scott’s one night adventure with a big, beautiful Aussie, who was named, wait for it, Rosie.  In 1978, this story about a big gal with a big appetite with Top 5 on the Netherlands pop charts.  Kind of gives the phrase “Dutch treat” a completely new meaning.

1.  “Highway to Hell.”  Back in the ‘70s, the big evil in the music industry was the concept of “backwards masking,” a practice your favorite heavy metal band would use to hide a message like, “Go eat fish and chips with the devil.  Don’t forget the tartar sauce.”  Obviously, every person under the age of twenty would magically decode a backwards message incorporated into a vinyl recording and before you know it, every teenager in America was booking a flight to hell and smuggling mayonnaise based fish condiments through customs.  Well, AC/DC didn’t have the time for such mischievous nonsense.  They were going straight to hell in a handbasket and they were going to make you sing along as you joined the excursion.  No stop signs.  No speed limits.

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