The AC/DC catalog can be split into two parts: The Bon Scott years and the Brian Johnson years. For the sake of our latest list, we’re going to focus on the Brian Johnson years.
Johnson joined AC/DC 40 years ago this year. Back then, he faced the daunting challenge of following Scott, who had died suddenly in February 1980 just as AC/DC was enjoying international success from their latest album, Highway to Hell.
Not only did Johnson rise to the occasion, but he also helped lead AC/DC with the release of their monster hit Back In Black, which is one of the highest-selling albums of all time moving over 50 million copies worldwide and 25 million copies in the United States alone.
Over the course of the past four decades, Johnson has become one of rock’s most iconic and easily recognizable voices ever. His official return to AC/DC in 2020 after a nearly four-year absence due to hearing loss issues is one of the bright spots in an unprecedentedly dark year.
In his honor, here’s our ranking of the top 25 Brian Johnson AC/DC songs.
‘Fly on the Wall’ gets a lot of flak in the AC/DC catalog, but there’s still some really fun tunes on that album, like “Shake Your Foundations.” Much like many other AC/DC tracks before it, its title is a euphemism for, well...you know. Lyrics like, “Told me not to touch, but she was coming back for more/You know what for” aren’t exactly subtle. This is AC/DC, after all, so none of this should be too shocking.
‘Rock or Bust’ didn’t quite measure up to its predecessor, 2008’s ‘Black Ice,’ but like all AC/DC albums, it had one hell of a lead single with “Play Ball” that dripped with swagger. The song was also appropriately used in all of the advertisements for TBS’ 2014 coverage of Major League Baseball’s post-season programming. If you had a team fighting for a World Series title that year, there was no escaping AC/DC.
Not quite sure just how many rock songs referencing Julius Caesar exist, but it would be hard to say AC/DC’s “Hail Caesar” wasn’t the coolest one. That chorus alone is worthy of that honor.
You know that whole thing about AC/DC not being subtle? Yeah, it’s almost as if they didn’t try with the lyrics to “Sink the Pink.” Is this song incredibly sleazy? Yes. Is it absurdly catchy? Absolutely! In the pantheon of dirty AC/DC songs (and there are a lot of them), this one is just a good time.
Women + Cars = One awesome tune! Add in the powerful group vocal on the sing-a-long chorus with Brian Johnson delivering some of his patented higher-pitched screeching vocals, and you have one killer tune that really doesn’t get enough attention.
An underrated cut from ‘Blow Up Your Video,’ “Ruff Stuff” is about...exactly what you think it’s about. However, it also features one of the band’s best opening lines with, “I like ‘em big, and I like ‘em small/And if I had to take the oath, I would take them all.”
Angus and Malcolm Young’s guitars were always on point, but they took a strange melodic turn on “Anything Goes.” There’s a lot of jokes about AC/DC’s songs all sounding the same, but “Anything Goes” truly doesn’t sound like any other song in the band’s catalog. It’s a track worth checking out and revisiting if you haven’t listened to it in a while.
One look at the title, and it would be safe to assume “Satellite Blues” would have a bluesy AF riff even before listening to the track. Your assumptions would not just be correct, but you’ll also be treated to the perfect minimalist drums of Phil Rudd as well on a pure meat-and-potatoes jam so good, it’s amazing it was released in the fourth decade of AC/DC’s existence.
Forty years on from joining the band, Brian Johnson’s gravelly voice is still a joyful sound, as heard on “Shot in the Dark,” the lead single from AC/DC’s 17th studio album ‘Power Up.’ The song is a triumphant return for the band, but especially for Johnson who famously had to step away from the band due to hearing loss issues. Thanks to some technological advances, everyone’s favorite newsboy hat-wearing singer is back, and fans couldn’t be more thrilled.
Could AC/DC still rock in the New Millenium? We knew that the answer was a resounding “Yes!” with the release of “Stiff Upper Lip,” the title track from the band’s 14th studio album. Johnson’s vocal range from growl to screeching wail was on full display, which seems rather appropriate with lyrics like, “Like a dog in a howl/I bite everything.”
“Rock ‘n’ Roll Train,” the first single from 2008’s ‘Black Ice’ was the first piece of new music from AC/DC following an eight-year hiatus after the release of 2000’s ‘Stiff Upper Lip.’ Even though that marked the largest gap of time between releases, the time off didn’t affect AC/DC one bit, and they once again found their groove and knocked out one hell of a lead single from an equally impressive album. On the lengthy tour in support of ‘Black Ice,’ “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train” was the usual set opener and it provided a killer kickoff to an extremely tight set.
The third and final single released from ‘The Razors Edge,’ “Are You Ready,” was a ready-made arena anthem 30 years ago, but it’s had a second life as of late since becoming the official theme for WWE’s ‘Friday Night SmackDown’ once it started airing on FOX. When you’re dealing with Murdoch money, it’s amazing the type of songs you can afford to license for use.
‘Blow Up Your Video’ saw the return of producers Harry Vanda and George Young, the older brother to Malcolm and Angus. Vanda and Young worked on AC/DC’s first four studio albums, and when you hear songs like “That’s the Way I Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll,” it definitely feels like a return to those early albums with Bon Scott, especially when you listen back to Angus Young’s blistering solo.
‘Ballbreaker’ marked AC/DC’s first new LP in five years following 1990’s ‘The Razors Edge.’ That considering, they had to come out the gate with a banger, and they certainly didn’t disappoint with “Hard as a Rock.” It was the first single heard from the Rick Rubin-produced album, who had previously worked with the band on the 1993 single “Big Gun” from the ‘Last Action Hero’ soundtrack. Rubin and Malcolm Young reportedly didn’t get on very well, which is likely why ‘Ballbreaker’ is the only album produced by Rubin, but at least the effort yielded some great tunes, regardless.
Who made “Who Made Who” possible? If you love this single, you have Stephen King to thank for it. King, an AC/DC superfan, convinced the band to contribute some hits and write some new music for his 1986 film ‘Maximum Overdrive.’ The film may have flopped, but at least the soundtrack (also titled ‘Who Made Who’) rocked, and it gave us a killer music video featuring a massive amount of Angus Young clones.
A song seemingly entrenched in the “Greed is good” philosophy of Gordon Gekko, you’d have thought it would be released in the ‘80s. Alas, “Moneytalks” was released as the second single from 1990’s ‘The Razors Edge.’ It, indeed, confirmed, “Money talks/B.S. walks.” The track also did some walking up the Billboard Hot 100 chart where it peaked at #23 making it AC/DC’s highest-charting single in the United States.
Say what you want about ladies of the night, but the subject of “What Do You Do For Money Honey” is clearly good at what she does if she has an “Apartment with a view/On the finest avenue.” We all have to make a living, right? It bears mentioning that while Brian Johnson sings his ass off on the entire album, there’s just something about the way he’s able to wail, “What do you do for money honey/How do you get your kicks/What do you do for money honey/How do you get your licks.”
Easily one of the best closing tracks of all time, “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” doubles-down on the meat-and-potatoes aspect of the rock genre and delivers one of its most enduring and endearing anthems ever. No need to overthink things here. After all, “Rock and roll is just rock and roll.” Even for those that think rock’s best days are behind us (or even dead, if you’re Gene Simmons), never forget, “It'll always be with us/It's never gonna die/Never gonna die.”
Those who have done their share of, “Tryin' to walk a straight line/On sour mash and cheap wine” perhaps did so while this song was playing in the background. Malcolm and Angus Young’s guitar work on this track is nothing short of inspired. “Have a Drink On Me,” notably, serves as a wink and a nod to the late Bon Scott, who undoubtedly would’ve gotten a kick out of this song.
How on Earth do you follow up a record like ‘Back in Black’? Frankly, that’s a nearly impossible task, but AC/DC was quick to try with 1981’s ‘For Those About to Rock We Salute You.’ The album’s biggest highlight came with the title track, an absolute giant anthem to rock and roll and its fans. The track has since gone on to become one of AC/DC’s setlist mainstays often closing out shows with the firing of multiple cannons. It’s hard not to salute this absolute gem whenever you hear it.
For a band known for having a lightning bolt in its logo, it’s rather funny that one of their biggest and best songs invokes thunder. AC/DC ushered in their ‘90s era with “Thunderstruck,” the lead single off of ‘The Razors Edge’ and one of the band’s strongest singles in their catalog. There are hooks galore in this song, from Angus Young’s opening riff to the repetitive group vocal of “ah-ah ah ah ah-ah ah ah.” The song also spawned a fun drinking game where participants take turns drinking with every utterance of “thunder.” If you were the unfortunate soul that got stuck drinking at the start of the second verse, well...perhaps the drinking game wasn’t so fun.
You know it, you love it and you’ve likely sung it in the shower. “You Shook Me All Night Long” is one of the most magical hard rock songs ever because of its ability to appeal to picky hard rock fans AND those with more mainstream sensibilities. Of course, its lyric-packed appeal was almost jeopardized when producer Mutt Lange told Brian Johnson to space out the lyric and slow down the delivery. Johnson would later say in an interview that he did record a version of the track per Lange’s suggestions, but as soon as Malcolm Young heard it, he was not having it. “I did it like that, and then Mal heard it and said, ‘What the f--- is this?!’” according to Johnson. We should all be grateful that Malcolm Young lost it in that moment.
Four songs from ‘Back in Black’ were released as singles, but “Shoot to Thrill” easily could’ve been the fifth or even could’ve been subbed in as the fourth instead of “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.” (All due respect to that killer track.) A fan favorite for decades, “Shoot to Thrill” follows “Hells Bells” as track two on ‘Back In Black’ and helps transition the album’s mood from somber to fun. Plus, it has that sweet breakdown before the song is brought to its epic close on the wings of a wild solo from Angus Young. Of course, it’s difficult to think of this track and not think of Tony Stark. If a song is good enough for Iron Man, it should be good enough for everyone.
As far as riffs go, they don’t get more iconic than the opening of “Back In Black.” Whether you’re playing an actual guitar or an air guitar, plenty of people have rocked out to that riff for 40 years, and there’s no sign of that stopping. “Black In Black” is another track that pays tribute to the late Bon Scott. Brian Johnson, who was already given the difficult task of replacing Scott, was then tasked with coming up with some lyrics for the track and came up with, “I got nine lives, cat's eyes/Abusing every one of them and running wild.” Needless to say, he nailed it.
No other AC/DC song sounds quite like “Hells Bells.” From the moment you hear the first clang of that big, ominous bell, the band has your attention. Steady and menacing, Brian Johnson, Angus and Malcolm Young, Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd are all dialed in perfectly, as is the presence of Bon Scott. No other AC/DC song is as poignant as “Hells Bells” and rightfully so. This is the sound of a band saying goodbye to their fallen friend, but in true AC/DC fashion, they managed to do all that while never losing their edge.