Today, The Hawk is going to present something that is, he thinks, UNIQUE on the internet. That’s right. We’re going to RANK all 20 of AC/DC’s songs wax so lyrical about the whole rock n roll lifestyle and music thing that they include the words ‘Rock’ or ‘Rock n Roll’ in the title. Hey, 20 is a nice round number, and it basically demands a ranking order. Let’s go.
AC/DC – just a bunch of dudes who always wanted to rock.
(Not a heavy metal band, to be sure, but as seen elsewhere, the Classic Heavy Metal bucket is nothing if not flexible when applied by Classic Metal Hawk, who is anyway the sole judge of what gets written about on here. And that means Acca Dacca are in. Not Heavy Metal, but certainly Classic Heavy Metal.)
One of the great things about AC/DC is that right from the start they all really love being in the band, being on that Rock ‘n’ Roll scene. The music, the lifestyle. That’s basically why they started the whole project up in the first place. If anyone has any doubt about that, the Hawk invites them to consider how much AC/DC content has the word ‘Rock’ in the title, and then in the content, go on to wax lyrical about how great Rock ‘n’ Roll is. By the Hawk’s count, it’s 20 songs, plus 4 album titles.
Probably the band have written more songs on the subject than anyone else, and nobody does that about a subject they ain’t that much into.
And for that reason, the Hawk is going to present something that is, he thinks, UNIQUE on the internet. That’s right. We’re going to RANK all 20 of AC/DC’s songs wax lyrical about the whole lifestyle and music thing that they include the words ‘Rock’ or ‘Rock n Roll’ in the title.
Don’t believe in the on-line uniqueness? Look for yourself – plenty of rankings of ALL their songs, but none as rock-focussed as this one.
So let’s get into it. The top 20 AC/DC literal ‘Rock’ and ‘Rock n Roll’ numbers.
#20 – There’s Gonna Be Some Rockin’
A plodder here from the album ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’. Angus Young’s trademark bluesy licks liven things up a bit, but overall it’s phoned in. Skip straight to the title track if you’ve got this album on.
Straight to the point with this one-word title. (Disappointingly, the band have never written a song merely entitled ‘Rock’, so ‘Rocker’ is the closest we’re going to get. This appeared on the ‘TNT’ album that only had an Australian release to begin with, not making the cut for the first international record. A good decision according to the Hawk – the song has a furious pace, and is performed with enthusiasm, but is cliched even by AC/DC standards – blue suede shoes, jiving and so on. All a bit Chuck Berry meets Elvis.
#18 R.I.P. (Rock in Peace)
The second rock-related offering from ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’, this is the stronger of the 2, though still some way down this list. Bon Scott gets in a mention to his idol Little Richard, though, which is nice. After Scott’s death in 1980, the band chose Brian Johnson as his replacement in large part because they thought his voice was in the Little Richard style, so definitely what Scott would have wanted to keep the AC/DC flame burning.
#17 – Rocking All The Way
2008’s ‘Black Ice’ album is a monster – 15 songs in total with an astonishing 4 featuring rocking of some description in the titles, making it the joint leader for AC/DC albums featuring rock themed tracks. Considering this was their 15th album, that’s no mean feat, and shows the band’s commitment to rocking was as strong as ever when they made it. In an interview with Guitar World magazine at the time, Angus Young said of rock ‘n roll that ‘Certain songs just seem to come to life when you add the phrase,’ as though he’d only just thought of it, even though, as we see here, it had been a constant theme for their whole careers. ‘Black Ice’ was a big commercial success, no doubt in large part because the band didn’t stray too far from the formula that made them successful over the years.
There was some agreement from fans and critics alike that many of the tracks could have featured on almost any AC/DC album over the years, which some thought good and normal (‘Why tinker with a perfect formula’). Others thought that made it a comfort zone record, and self-indulgent at that due to the length and number of songs. Even back with 1983’s ‘Flick of the Switch’, one critic was already complaining that the band had ‘made the same album 9 times.’ Nobody would present AC/DC as the world’s most innovative band, that’s for sure. But that wasn’t the reason they were put on this earth – it was just to rock.
Having said that, the ‘too formulaic’ critics of ‘Black Ice’ almost certainly had in mind ‘Rocking All the Way’, which has a promising title, but is the least effective of the 4 songs, and a real pot-boiler.
#16 – Got Some Rock n Roll Thunder
2014’s ‘Rock Or Bust Album also packs in no less than 4 rock-themed tracks. However, the whole album has 11 tracks, and clocks in at a brisk 35 minutes. So, you might say that this is the most rock-concentrated album AC/DC ever produced. They also did it without longtime rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, who sadly had retired due to dementia. A trooper to the end, on his last tour, Young had to re-learn the songs every day having forgotten them due to his mental health problems. He was replaced in the band by his own nephew, though, and continued to follow them up until his death in 2017.
The weakest of the rock tracks on the album, ‘Got Some Rock n Roll Thunder’ is somewhat of a misnomer since thunder is distinctly lacking throughout. It’s listenable, but underwhelming.
#15 – Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer
A trademark AC/DC bluesy lead guitar kicks off this number, from the ‘High Voltage’ album, and the band keep them coming all the way through. For the vocals, we get into the presumed autobiographical section from Bon Scott. Burning ambition to be a singer in a rock ‘n’ roll band? Check. Leave school, grow hair, join band? Check. Earn disapproval from parents? Check. ‘You can stick your 9 to 5’, sings Scott – sentiments that we can all agree are a perfect fit for the guys.
#14 – Rock the House
Another ‘Rock or Bust’ offering, this features a pleasingly heavy blues guitar opening riff, great solos, and the whole thing clocks in at only 2m 40s, so it delivers with a kick of intensity. The lyrics are somewhat of a throwback to the band’s second most popular song theme after rock – sex – ‘Rocking the house’ here referring not to the music but to making the whole place shake through energetic bedroom antics.
#13 – Rock n Roll Damnation
Moving onto the ‘Powerage’ album, with AC/DC bedding in new bass player Cliff Williams, following the firing of Mark Evans. Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation was released as a single, with a respectable high point of #24 in the UK. The song moves on lyrically from the over-cliched rock numbers on earlier albums, and the arpeggiated intro adds a nice touch musically.
#12 – Rock n Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution
This song has the slight misfortune to appear on the legendary ‘Back in Black’ album, where it struggles in comparison to AC/DC classics like ‘Hells Bells’ and ‘Back In Black itself. Apparently, the song was something of an afterthought – the band’s record company thought the new album should have 10 songs instead of the already prepared 9, so they threw this together in a matter of minutes.
Noise pollution had been in the news on a recent UK tour, thanks to the old Marquee Club being in a residential neighborhood. That quickly became a song, with the relaxed attitude to this final number perhaps best illustrated when you hear Brian Johnson lighting a cigarette and taking a drag during the introduction.
#11 – Rock or Bust
Now to the title track of the ‘Rock or Bust’ album, and a title which probably emphasizes the band’s feelings about their situation at the time. There’d been Malcolm Young’s ill health and retirement. Then, right around the time of the album’s release, drummer Phil Rudd was arrested and charged with attempting to procure a murder, threats to kill and drugs possession. The procurement charge was soon dropped, but the other charges stood – Rudd’s conviction and sentence to house arrest ruled him out of the tour.
On the road, problems continued – Brian Johnson had to quit the tour before its completion due to hearing difficulties, with Guns ‘n’ Roses frontman Axl Rose deputizing. So, Rock or Bust indeed. The lyrics don’t attempt to capture the above, it’s just another rocking out number. But a very zeitgeist-y title and feel all the same.
#10 – That’s the Way I Wanna Rock n Roll
The only rock titled offering on the ‘Blow up Your Video’ released in 1988, the album title also appearing as a line in this song. It’s a decent if middling offering – charmingly, the lyrics take a pop at the MTV generation, and people watching their music on TV or on video instead of going out to live show, hence the album name. God knows what they make of social media and the internet these days.
#9 – Can’t Stop Rock n Roll
From 2000s ‘Stiff Upper Lip’, this song stands well on what is a good album overall. The production on the album comes with a surprisingly clean sound for the guitars especially – this re-emphasizes the bands blues roots, but combines it with the improved songwriting abilities at this later career stage.
#8 – Rock n Roll Train
Next cab off the ‘Black Ice’ rank, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Train’ had the initial working title of ‘Runaway Train’ when it was first written, but then everyone presumably pinched themselves, got a grip and realized their mistake. A chance to add ‘Rock’n’ Roll’ to another song title? Too good to miss. The song might feel a little commercial for hardcore fans, and indeed it even entered the US dance chart for a time, the first AC/DC track ever to have that particular honour.
If that’s too soft for your liking, it also featured as a theme to World Wrestling Entertainment’s 2008 Survivor series, and even in the soundtrack of an episode of Knight Rider, where sanctimonious robo-car KITT always felt as though he could use a little rock ‘n’ roll in his life. See that Guitar world interview again for plenty more about the creation of this song – highly recommended.
#7 – She Likes Rock n Roll
‘Black Ice’ rock song #3. To be honest, Classic Metal Hawk had a hard time deciding which would come out on top between this and ‘Rock n Roll Train’, and plumped for ‘She Likes Rock n Roll’* because it has a better chorus, and generally a more rock-y vibe. It was never released as a single, but if it had of been, it’s highly unlikely it would have entered any dance charts.
*Other opinions are available.
#6 – Rock the Blues Away
How should we rock the blues away? With an Acca Dacca major key sing-along of course. This, the best offering from the ‘Rock or Bust’ album, is a classic in the ‘AC/DC Rock’ genre.
#5 – Let There Be Rock
The title track from the album, and indeed the only song on it exclusively about rock. A wise strategy in this case, keeping all the rock-related eggs in one basket, and produce one really strong offering. This one was a bit of a turning point for the band. Dropped by their US label after ‘Dirty Deeds’, AC/DC decided to move a little away from the more schmaltzy rock ‘n’ roll numbers that had characterized their previous success, beefing up the guitar riffs and the distortion.
This song is a great example, and also a great addition to the live set – the pauses are a frontman’s dream for getting a crowd going, plus the clanging crescendo at the end. With no end of irony, the video for the song sees rock ‘n’ roll wildman and party animal Bon Scott dressed as a priest.
#4 – It’s a Long Way to the Top (If you Wanna Rock n’ Roll)
Where it all started for AC/DC, on their first internationally released album, ‘High Voltage’. The song discusses the (cough cough!!) hardships for a rock ‘n’ roll band on their way to the top. And to be fair, some of these are genuine enough – things like being robbed / assaulted / conned. But the sex / drugs part of the story doesn’t sound all bad, and as the band make clear in the song, it’s anyway all par for the course ‘if you wanna rock’. Part of the rock ‘n’ roll religion if you like, so amen to that.
The song also features a somewhat unique call and response section between lead guitar and bagpipes, with the Young brothers reaching for their Scottish roots. Fortunately, an idea that did not catch on too widely.
#3 – Rock n Roll Dream
The best of the contenders from ‘Black Ice’, this does depart a little from the standard AC/DC songwriting template, and is all the better for it. There’s the lower-dynamic opening with clean guitars that helps emphasize the more melodic vocals that Brian Johnson was aiming for on the album – ‘soul crooning as opposed to screaming’ as the producer Brendan O’Brien put it. The distorted guitar sections and lead licks blend in nicely, and the lyrics show real imagination – more than the hair, partying and women of the past.
#2 – High Voltage (Rock and Roll)
I know, I know – we’re cheating a bit here. The official song title is ‘High Voltage’. But who can say the words without thinking about the full line in the chorus? So it’s in. Besides, it’s such a good song, so the Hawk anticipates few complaints. This is definitely the best song from the ‘High Voltage’ album musically. The lyrics are the standard fair about long hair, clothes and one-night stands, but the band showcase the sound that will define them. That and the anthemic chorus means it must be a high-ranking entry.
#1 – For those about to rock, We salute you
Was there ever any doubt? The best AC/DC song about rock. Probably the best ever song about rock. The band must have felt under some pressure to come up with a follow up to ‘Back in Black’ of the same quality, and this was the result. Anyone who has seen the moving Gladiator will remember the immortal line from the slaves about to go into battle, ‘We who are about to die salute you’, or as they would have said at the time, ‘Ave, Caesar, morituri te salutant.’
Gladiator hadn’t been release back in 1983, but fortunately Angus Young had read about it in a poetry book, and the idea grew from there. Did they write the line about the ’21 gun salute’ specifically so that they could have cannons on stage? Or just a happy coincidence? Who knows, but it sure works well. And to play out, let’s have a final listen of our #1 entry, in a live setting and with full backing cannon as God intended. Enjoy.
So there you have it – all the AC/DC songs named for Rock and / or Rock ‘n’ Roll ranked. Anyone get through all 20 videos in one go? Chapeau – you must love Rocking as much as AC/DC. Let us know about that, and what you think of The Hawk’s ranking.
Share your thoughts in the comments below, or send feedback direct to The Hawk.