Top AC/DC Songs of the '80s

Bone-crunching Australian hard rock band AC/DC had just begun to hit its stride at the end of the '70s with charismatic frontman Bon Scott at the helm. The success of 1979's powerful Highway to Hell had widened the group's audience considerably, setting the stage for another round of exposure in the U.S. for the band's previously lesser-known classic '70s records. However, Scott's sudden death in early 1980 seemed to have put a halt (or at least a serious crimp) in that trend. Instead, with new singer Brian Johnson, AC/DC simply turned around and recorded its biggest album yet in Back in Black, setting itself up for the most commercially successful period of the group's career. Here's a look at the best AC/DC songs of the '80s, a period that featured a seamless transition from the Bon Scott era into the Brian Johnson age.

AC-DC-Highway-To-Hell
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Atlantic

Although Scott was dead by February 1980 and had not performed on any AC/DC music released that year, this track did make its modest mark as the final single from Highway to Hell. As such, it sneaks onto this list and stands as a tribute and swan song to one of hard rock's all-time great frontmen. The guitars from Angus and Malcolm Young are nasty and delightfully greasy, and Scott's sneering delivery smacks of charming lasciviousness if such a thing exists. This is one of the best tracks from an album full of standouts, and it makes the success of the Johnson era seem all the more remarkable in its forceful, penetrating wake. More »

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Atlantic

As the lead-off single from 1980's Back in Black, this song became the band's first to break into the U.S. Top 40, a feat that many would have thought impossible for a band as loud and raucous in both sound and image as AC/DC. Nevertheless, this carnal anthem's hooks are nothing if not huge and undeniably catchy. Yet another classic riff from the Young brother's fuels the proceedings, but Johnson's energetic vocal performance (which honors but doesn't attempt to imitate Scott) helps the song stand up still today as entirely worthy of its constant ongoing presence on rock radio. More »

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Atlantic

Composed as a somewhat ominous yet rollicking tribute to the recently departed Scott, this lead-off track from Back in Black sets the stage perfectly for one of rock's all-time greatest albums. Powered by yet another repetitive but undeniably powerful central guitar riff from the Young brothers, this tune allows Johnson's screech and growls plenty of room to thrive while still somehow honoring and acknowledging the different approach Scott may have taken to this material. The bell-laced opening announces that the band may be moving on without him, but Scott's legacy will remain strong in everything to follow. More »

Album/Single Cover Image Courtesy of Atlantic

Some of the songs from AC/DC's 22-times-plus-platinum, top-selling masterpiece have certainly become painfully overplayed over the years on classic rock and album rock radio. Nevertheless, the huge, unfailingly direct electric guitar riffs that fuel songs like this title track stand up pretty well to oversaturation. In terms of song integrity, the message of defiant survival comes through authentically in Johnson's impassioned howls. In addition, Angus lays down some of his finest, most soulful lead guitar parts throughout the song's running time, helping to earn continued reverence for a song everyone knows backward and forwards by now. More »

Album/Single Cover Image Courtesy of Atlantic

Unlike the above three released singles from Back in Black, which also happen to be the record's most revered album tracks, this sparkling deep track increases the tempo just a touch. Not that the other tunes lack a certain pulverizing energy, but this one may just be one of AC/DC's most potent rockers of its entire career. High-octane riffing and a persistent blues groove help create another singular moment for AC/DC as perhaps hard rock's purest band of all time. There are no mystical, intellectual trappings here - just plain, driving rock and roll. More »

For Those About to Rock
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Atlantic

AC/DC's 1981 full-length follow-up to Back in Black probably could have never hoped to equal its predecessor, but the record ultimately ended up performing quite respectably. This anthemic title track wisely takes on a different sonic tone, employing a uniquely chiming guitar riff that would go on to become something of a recurrent musical theme for the band's '80s period. Somewhat silly title and lyrical concept aside, the song rocks with martial authority and captures something crucial about AC/DC's singular arena rock essence. More »

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Atlantic

Grammatical missteps notwithstanding (and let's face it, also unnoticed for the most part by rock listeners), this 1986 original from the otherwise rehashed soundtrack of the same name to the highly imperfect Stephen King film adaptation packs quite a punch. Even better, it represents the band's most ontologically exploratory lyrics of its entire career, a nice change of pace indeed from AC/DC's usual party/sex fixation. The jittery central riff from Angus continues to show his ability to adjust his own guitar sound, and the results are refreshing indeed. More »

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Atlantic

Although by some accounts AC/DC had begun to sleepwalk somewhat by the time the band released 1983's and 1985's, the group's 1988 release, seemed to represent a long-awaited return to form. This track rocks harder and explores shinier hooks than Angus and company had generated in years. Overall, the vibe and intensity of this hard-charging rocker probably helped extend AC/DC's career at a time when many observers may have felt the band's days were numbered. More than a quarter-century later, that still doesn't seem to be the case - and this song sounds as good as ever. More »