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AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’: Every Song Ranked from Great to Greatest
Once again, picking the order of these songs is ridiculously difficult, because they’re all great. But this list does start off with “Shake a Leg,” not because the song itself is “bad” but because the other nine tracks had more memorable moments. Any band today would kill to write a song as catchy as “Shake a Leg,” especially with lyrical passes like, “Big licks, skin flicks, tricky dicks are my chemistry.”
AC/DC were never masters of subtlety as is evident on “Givin’ the Dog a Bone.” It’s difficult to be subtle when you open a song with, “She take you down easy/Going down to her knees/Going down to the devil/Down, down to ninety degrees.” But that was always part of their Down Under charm! What they are masters of, however, is creating a killer groove and going to town on it like no one’s business. Oh, geez...apparently, double entendres are contagious.
So, about that subtlety...there’s really no going around it here. However, any big AC/DC fan knows you can tell when the band’s trying to express romance or seduction when the blues influence is turned WAY up. In other words: ‘Let Me Put My Love into You’ is to ‘Back in Black’ as “Night Prowler” was to ‘Highway to Hell.’
Again with the subtlety! Say what you want about ladies of the night, 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.”
Anyone that’s done their share of, “Tryin' to walk a straight line/On sour mash and cheap wine” has perhaps done so while this song was providing the soundtrack. 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.
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 softer 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 stopping. “Black In Black” is another track utilized to pay 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.
Why is “Hells Bells” the best song on ‘Back in Black’? Because before it, no other AC/DC song sounded quite like it, and if we’re being honest, no other song in the band’s catalog has sounded like it since. From the moment you hear the first clang of that big, ominous bell, AC/DC has your attention, and they keep your attention for the next 42 minutes of that album. Steady and menacing, Brian Johnson, Angus and Malcolm Young, Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd are all dialed in perfectly on “Hells Bells,” 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.