AC/DC came onto the scene in the early 1970s and quickly became one of the most influential players in the developing hard rock genre. Intense guitar riffs, sexually explicit lyrics, drug use, and plenty of outrage—they were the poster children for rock. After the death of frontman Bon Scott in 1980, the band restructured and returned stronger than ever.
1. Highway To Hell
Of all the songs AC/DC has ever recorded, Highway To Hell might be one of the most iconic. Even non-fans know the song, as it frequently featured on hard rock stations even decades after its release.
The song, released in 1979 on their album of the same name, became famous for its distinctive guitar riff. The last album to feature lead singer Bon Scott before his death in 1980, Highway To Hell’s title song is widely considered not just one of the best songs of AC/DC but also one of the best songs in the history of rock and roll.
2. Live Wire
AC/DC released their second album, T.N.T., in 1975. The track listing included the song Live Wire, an innuendo-heavy, chest-puffing rock song that was scandalous for the time.
The band jumped on this shock factor and used Live Wire as their show opener for many years. Even by today’s standards, there are a few eyebrow-raising lines in Live Wire, which just goes to show that AC/DC was ahead of their time—or maybe just that they knew that sex sells.
3. Sin City
AC/DC’s 1978 song Sin City is an ode to all the cities of the world that have a sinful and dangerous reputation.
The most notable one, of course, is Las Vegas, which has had the nickname “Sin City” for many years. But the song doesn’t specifically reference Las Vegas; instead, it describes the intoxicating and wild feeling of being in a place of indulgence—money, women, booze, gambling, and whatever else your heart desires.
Next: Top drinking songs for a boozing-up playlist
AC/DC was never exactly known for their soft side, but Overdose is an uncharacteristically gentle track in their discography. Released in 1977, the song is about the addictive qualities of a dangerous woman.
It draws parallels to the dangers of substance abuse, as the singer keeps coming back and ultimately meets his death from an “overdose” of the woman he loves. The song now seems eerily prophetic, as frontman Bon Scott would die three years later from acute alcohol poisoning.
5. You Shook Me All Night Long
You Shook Me All Night Long is another of AC/DC’s best-known songs, released in 1980. It was a swift success, climbing to No. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song has become essential to the band’s live performances and has almost never been left out of a concert.
True to form, the song is heavy on obvious sexual innuendos, but it is best remembered for its sometimes baffling lines, such as “Knocking me out with those American thighs.”
6. Ride On
1976’s album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap includes the song Ride On, an unusually sentimental ballad written by Bon Scott. The song is a blues-inspired story of a man whose alcohol addiction has affected his relationship; he reflects on his mistakes while intoxicated and wonders if he will lose the woman he loves.
Ride On has been widely praised for its artistic content and is often referred to as one of the band’s greatest songs, despite its departure from their usual style.
The 1988 song Heatseeker saw AC/DC gaining attention not just for their music, but also for their creative work in the age of MTV. The song was a huge hit in its own right, climbing to No. 20 on the US charts and becoming the band’s most popular single in the UK.
But it is also remembered for its music video, which, in typical ‘80s dramatic fashion, depicts guitarist Angus Young riding to earth in a missile head and erupting from it to perform a concert at the Sydney Opera House.
Jailbreak might not be as widely known by American fans of the band; initially released in 1976, the song was limited to UK and Australian audiences and wasn’t distributed in North America until nearly a decade later.
Nevertheless, it earns a shoutout as one of the best songs of the band’s early time; the music video also made waves as one of the first to use fake blood and explosives.
9. Evil Walks
Evil Walks was included in the 1981 album, For Those About To Rock. The lyrics were inspired by a jam session where guitarist Angus Young came up with a dark, spooky chord progression; it reminded him of the band’s reputation as “evildoers,” and he ran with it. The song was also partially inspired by a story of a black widow, a woman who enters relationships with men only to kill them for their money.
10. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
1976 saw the release of AC/DC’s album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. The title song, a metal-infused, sound effect-heavy hard rock track, is written from the perspective of a hitman advertising his services.
It was inspired by a cartoon character named Dishonest John, whose business card read the song title. Though the track is one of the band’s most famous, the lyrics have also been subject to widespread misinterpretation, with fans hearing “Dirty deeds done with sheep” or “Dirty deeds, thunder chief.”
T.N.T., released in 1976, might just be the most macho song of all time. Telling the story of a man who women want and men fear, it has become one of the staples of 1970s hard rock.
It is also essential to the band’s discography and is always featured at their live performances. It has been widely covered and parodied, appearing in the film Napoleon Dynamite, That 70s Show, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4.
12. What’s Next To The Moon
The 1978 track, What’s Next To the Moon, is pretty dark, telling the story of a man who murders his lover by tying her to a railroad track after she threatens to leave him. Having been deprived of her love, he decides that he’ll give her one final chance to take it back. Most interesting might be the lyrics that give the song its title. The meaning of What’s Next to the Moon has never been explained, though there are many fan theories.
13. Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer
The 1976 song, Rock ‘N’ Roll Singer, almost seems like an introduction for AC/DC, explaining their backstory of bucking society’s expectations to become stars.
However, the song also has some humor; the singer might wax poetic about big dreams, but he’s also in it for the money. As for his education, he says he won’t need it when he becomes famous (because he “ain’t no fool”).
14. Have a Drink On Me
It seems pretty cold-blooded for a band to release a song Have a Drink On Me just after their frontman dies of acute alcohol poisoning. But on the other hand, it seems eerie to know that the song was the final recording of Bon Scott’s career.
Regardless of the circumstances, the 1980s Have a Drink On Me has become a de facto tribute to Scott in a black-humored show of remembrance from his former bandmates.
AC/DC is most closely associated with the hard rock scene of the 70s and 80s, but they were still active—and wildly successful—as the millennium drew to a close.
1990 saw them release their album The Razors Edge, which featured the single Thunderstruck. This track was a massive hit, reaching No. 5 on the Mainstream Rock Airplay chart in the US. The song has become one of their best-known songs and is always played at concerts.
Next: Top ’90s rock songs playlist feature
16. Touch Too Much
Touch Too Much was released in 1979 on Highway To Hell, the final album recorded with frontman Bon Scott before his death.
Though it isn’t as well-remembered as some of their most iconic song, the track remains a highlight of their early years; it was an essential part of their performances throughout the 1980s.
Praised for Scott’s vocal performance, Touch Too Much has been frequently performed at memorials in honor of the late singer.
17. If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)
AC/DC released their first live album, If You Want Blood, in 1978. The following year saw them release Highway To Hell, which featured the song If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It).
The song, an obvious nod to their previous album, is a violent, tongue-in-cheek track about bloodlust. However, the inspiration behind it was less shocking; the title came into being after Angus Young saw another band getting booed during a poor performance, with the singer finally yelling, “What do you want, blood?”
18. Big Gun
AC/DC released Big Gun on the soundtrack of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1993 film, Last Action Hero. The music video also featured a memorable appearance by Schwarzenegger, performing as one of the band members while Angus Young rode on his shoulders. Call it the legacy of the movie, the music video, or the song itself, but Big Gun remains one of the band’s best songs of all time.
19. High Voltage
In 1976, AC/DC released its first international album, High Voltage. The lead single served as an introductory track for the band, playing with the theme of electricity exemplified by their name.
It was one of the first songs they would release about rock n’ roll and the life of a rockstar, a topic they would repeat many times over the years in other songs.
20. For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)
For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) was released as the title track of the band’s 8th album in 1981. History buffs will recognize the reference to ancient Rome, when prisoners sentenced to death in the Coliseum said the words, “Hail Caesar, those who are about to die salute you.” Meanwhile, the song’s famous cannon backtrack was inspired by the wedding of Diana Spencer and the Prince of Wales.
21. Hells Bells
Hells Bells has become one of AC/DC’s most recognizable songs, as well as one of their best. The song became famous for its opening track of ponderous, solemn bells (recorded on a 2,000-lb bronze bell).
Released in 1980, it was one of the most successful tracks on the band’s album Back In Black, the first to come out after Bon Scott’s death. Hells Bells has become widely associated with sporting events around the world.
Next: The greatest rock albums ever recorded and released
22. Riff Raff
Riff Raff was released on the 1978 album Powerage. The song, while popular, has baffled fans since its release due to its lyrics. It makes references to Mexico, problems with the law, drug addiction, and the end of the world.
But as loyal AC/DC fans have pointed out, the band’s songs didn’t always make sense or have a cohesive message. Riff Raff may well be one of the many tracks they recorded around an idea, guitar riff, or even a phrase that they liked. It didn’t seem to affect the popularity of the song.
23. Hard As a Rock
AC/DC ruled the rock scene throughout the 1980s, but they also saw success throughout the following decade. In 1995, Hard As a Rock became their second song of the decade to hit No. 1 on the Album Rock Tracks chart, following 1993’s Big Gun. It also climbed to the peak position on the Mainstream Rock Airplay chart and was a hit worldwide, becoming particularly popular in Scandinavia.
Like many of the band’s earlier songs, Hard As a Rock contains pointed innuendos cloaked in metaphor (and gives a nod to rocker Chuck Berry, who was known for doing the same).
24. Nervous Shakedown
Nervous Shakedown was released on the 1983 album Flick The Switch. It was a moderate success in the UK and Ireland but failed to chart in the US. Nevertheless, it remains an iconic track of AC/DC’s discography.
Fans have tried to interpret the meaning of Nervous Shakedown for decades, but ultimately, it seems that it’s just a play on words to fit the theme of being shaken down by the police.
25. Back In Black
After Bon Scott’s death in early 1980, AC/DC faced the choice to disband or continue on. They chose to continue, replacing Scott with frontman Brian Johnson. Their first album without Scott was Back In Black.
The title track was written in Scott’s honor and was intended to be a celebration of his life rather than a song of grief and tragedy. It is widely considered one of their best songs, most musically and lyrically, and placed at No. 1 on the US Rock charts.
26. It’s a Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll)
AC/DC released their second album in 1975, featuring It’s a Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll). Though it was marked for its unique and attention-grabbing instrumentals—most notably a backing track of bagpipes—fans won’t have heard it at a concert since 1980. The song was a favorite and signature of Bon Scott. After his death, his replacement Brian Johnson chose not to perform it as a gesture of respect for Scott.
27. Hell Ain’t a Bad Place To Be
AC/DC’s reputation as the quintessential “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” band caused a good amount of scandal during their early days, leading to moral outrage. However, the band members took their critics on the chin with salty responses like 1977’s Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be. The song is, more explicitly, about a man in a toxic relationship who finds himself tortured by a woman whom he knows is bad but is too tantalizing to resist.
28. Hail Caesar
Angus and Malcolm Young seem fascinated with ancient Rome; the 1996 song Hail Caesar isn’t the first to make a nod to the phrase “Hail Caesar, those who are about to die salute you,” used by prisoners sentenced to death in the Coliseum. Though it wasn’t an international charting success, Hail Caesar was a hit in Australia, placing on the ARIA Singles chart.
29. Bedlam In Belgium
Many of AC/DC’s songs are fairly literal retellings of real-life experiences. Bedlam In Belgium is one of these. The song was inspired by a concert the band played in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977. Issues with some equipment led to the concert not starting until 9:30. Kontich had a strictly-enforced noise curfew beginning at 11 p.m., at which point the police arrived and tried to stop the band from playing. The result was a riot from both the audience and the band members and an assault on at least one police officer.
30. Let There Be Rock
Let There Be Rock is one of AC/DC’s best-known songs and has been included on six of their albums. It was first released as the title track of their 1977 album. The song imagines a storyline of the birth of rock n’ roll, with Chuck Berry sending a message to Tchaikovsky, who tells the world about the new music. It parodies the opening of Genesis: “Then God said let there be light, and there was light.”
31. Whole Lotta Rosie
Whole Lotta Rosie is quite a shocking song, and as it turns out, it was inspired by an authentic experience. The song was written about a woman with whom frontman Bon Scott had a one-night stand while touring Tasmania in the mid-1970s. Whole Lotta Rosie notes both the woman’s size and sexual prowess. In 2021, it was revealed that the woman who inspired the song was Rosemaree Garcia, who passed away in 1979.
32. Down Payment Blues
For all their music about the indulgences of wealth, AC/DC also had songs that sympathized with the working class. One of these was Down Payment Blues, a 1978 blues-rock song that tells the story of a poor man living beyond his means. He wants to impress a woman, so he spends money that he doesn’t have and bankrupts himself in the process.
33. Gone Shootin’
Few bands have had AC/DC’s ability to tell a devastating or violent story as an upbeat, black-humored rock song. Gone Shootin’, released in 1978, is the story of a relationship that is deteriorating due to rampant drug use. The singer’s “woman” is so deeply addicted to heroin that it has taken over their home, even using their coffee spoons to shoot up. Gone Shootin’ employs heavy wordplay to contrast the ideas of shooting a gun and shooting heroin.
AC/DC stepped into the 1990s strong. Their single Moneytalks, was released in September 1990 and became a massive hit. In fact, it eventually became AC/DC’s highest-charting single, having broken the Top 40 for the first time since 1981’s Back In Black. The band often provides cynical, tongue-in-cheek lyrics about the material benefits of being rich and famous. Moneytalks describes how the right amount of cash can buy you anything, even love.
35. Soul Stripper
AC/DC’s early songs often told the story of being duped by a beautiful woman. Soul Stripper is one of these, released in 1974 on their album Jailbreak. The song compares the stripping of clothes to stripping the soul, which the woman uses to find the singer’s weakness and kill him. With references to nudity and being in a garden “under an apple tree,” Soul Stripper also resembles the story of the Garden of Eden.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.