If You Want Blood: The Deep Cuts of AC/DC

As an eight-year-old I swapped a handful of pocket money for Highway to Hell on cassette at a now defunct department store, FitzGerald’s, on Hobart’s eastern shore. If I’d even heard of AC/DC at the time it was only in passing. They weren’t on my mind when I walked in there. I have censorship to thank.

My neighbour’s older brother had several Guns ‘N’ Roses releases on CD. Among us kids, CDs were a sort of deluxe rarity. No one I knew’s parents had a CD player in their car. My parents had a CD player newly installed in their bedroom around this time, and that’s where the thing stayed. I didn’t have any CDs anyway and my parents had only one or two themselves. Cassettes were what we trafficked in—sometimes copies of copies. I had taped copies of several GNR albums and I was trying to buy one of my own. Accompanied by mum, I’d pointed over the counter to the G N’ R Lies cassette. The attendant obliged but, as was also her obligation, politely directed my mother’s attention to the sticker on the case. Mum wasn’t having it: “No, sorry,” she told me, “You can’t get that one.” The attendant sympathetically gestured to copies of Highway to Hell on the counter to her left, with its now discontinued Australian-release cover: the lads looming and leering out the inferno as a guitar fretboard-turned-highway vanishes into the flames: “You might like this one?” she suggested.  I took it, and from then on, with AC/DC, it was no stop signs, speed limits…

Highway to Hell, 1989 cassette re-release, Albert Productions. Originally released in 1979. Scan by Discogs.com

In fact, years later I bought Lies: hardly terrible but obviously at the inferior end of the GNR catalogue. Lady steered me right. Whoever she was—I remember a polite twenty-something, maybe even a teenager, just doing her job—she set me on a musical highway I’d still be cruising thirty-odd years later.

Having heard little of AC/DC on the radio at that age, and never watching music videos, I was left to explore the band alone. At the time I couldn’t have told you which songs from Highway to Hell were the singles. I gradually expanded my collection of tapes at a rate pocket- or birthday-money would permit. That wasn’t fast, so each album got played through over and over, really devoured and digested. This is still how I prefer to listen to the band today: album by album. Some may like Spotify to curate a dessert of hits but I still prefer the full-course meal.

And so I present, all of it according to me, the deep album cuts of AC/DC. The band might be a rock and roll phenomenon, but the fellas still have a horde of tearing tracks that are routinely ignored, underplayed or even unknown to the casual fan. What is a “deep cut” anyway? For my purposes it’ll mean a track from one of the studio albums that wasn’t released as a single. Additionally, it can’t have been part of the band’s live set for any real length of time. It also can’t be the title track: thumpers like “Fly on the Wall” or “Ballbreaker” might be underplayed, but they can’t count as deep album cuts. As we go I’ll highlight my favourites, then isolate only one “top pick”. Okay, enough Beating Around the Bush.

T.N.T. (1975, Australia only) and High Voltage (1976):

Singles: “Love Song” / “Baby, Please Don’t Go”, “High Voltage”, “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)”, “T.N.T.”

Deep cut cache: “Little Lover”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer”

Top pick: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer”

Comment: “Live Wire”, “Rocker” and “The Jack” are disqualified for getting a good run live. After “It’s a Long Way…” opens T.N.T. and the international edition of High Voltage, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer” maintains the momentum, with Bon barking a more anarchic account of yearning for the showbiz life. Rock and roll, stripped down and sweaty.

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976)

Singles: “Jailbreak”, “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”

Deep cut cache: “Ride On”, “Squealer”

Top pick: “Squealer”

Comment: “Rocker”, one of the album’s best, is disqualified for its live showings, most notably on the If You Want Blood live album. The melancholic cruiser “Ride On” has developed a reputation among fans but the amusingly tasteless “Squealer” takes number one spot for me for its classic AC/DC grunt and gutter-humour.

Let There Be Rock (1977)

Singles: “Dog Eat Dog”, “Let There Be Rock”, “Problem Child”, “Whole Lotta Rosie”

Deep cut cache: “Overdose”

Top pick: “Overdose”

Comment: “Bad Boy Boogie”, far and away my favourite of the album, is disqualified again for live popularity, as is “Hell Ain’t A Bad Place to Be”. That doesn’t leave a lot on this famously raw and raucous album. Nevertheless, the headbanging ode to obsession, “Overdose”, is just the right prescription.

Powerage (1978)

Singles: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation”

Deep cut cache: “Down Payment Blues”, “Gimme a Bullet”, “What’s Next to the Moon”, “Gone Shootin'”, “Up to My Neck in You”, “Kicked in the Teeth”

Top pick: “Gone Shootin'”

Comment: “Riff Raff” and “Sin City” disallowed for live popularity. Despite that there’s still plenty to pick from on the oft-overlooked Powerage (maybe it was that dreadful album cover?). For me it’s the easy-does-it, cruising momentum of “Gone Shootin'” that best hits the spot.

Highway to Hell (1979)

Singles: “Highway to Hell”, “Girls Got Rhythm”, “Touch Too Much”, “Beating Around the Bush”

Deep cut cache: “Walk All Over You”, “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)”, “Night Prowler”

Top pick: “Night Prowler”

Comment: Is there even a bad song on “Highway to Hell”? The pinnacle of the Bon Scott years seems to hit us at every turn with tracks filled with grunt, groove, humour and menace. And much of the menace comes from the closer, “Night Prowler”, an atmospheric and sinister sonic horror tale.

Back in Black (1980)

Singles: “You Shook Me All Night Long”, “Hells Bells”, “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, “Back in Black”

Deep cut cache: “Have a Drink on Me”, “Shake a Leg”

Top pick: “Have a Drink on Me”

Comment: Can anything on Back in Black, the second highest-selling album in music history, really be termed a “deep cut”? Well, I gave it a shot anyway. Their mischievious star Bon Scott having tragically burned out, AC/DC were reasonably expected to fade away. Instead, they released perhaps their most celebrated album, featuring the upbeat radio favourite “You Shook Me All Night Long”, the punch-crunch riffing of “Back in Black”, and the swaying menace of “Hells Bells”. It also contained some of the band’s most sexist songs: what was previously schoolboy (often self-effacing) humour attained a nastier tone in “Givin’ the Dog a Bone” and “What You Do for Money Honey” (also among the album’s weaker tracks). They’d get this horny-humor balance better into the future. Meanwhile, back on the deep cut question: it’s hardly unheard of, but “Have a Drink on Me” slams as good as the singles.

For Those About to Rock (1981)

Singles: “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)”, “Let’s Get It Up”

Deep cut cache: “Inject the Venom”, “Breaking the Rules”, “Spellbound”

Top pick: “Spellbound”

Comment: Opening with its epic, window-rattling title track, For Those About To Rock seems more than a match for its celebrated predecessor. Alas, the momentum slackens as we settle into a good if not outstanding album. I’m a big fan of “Inject the Venom”, a lumbering yet brutishly catchy tune about, apparently, administering lethal injections. However, for my number one pick it’s hard to overlook the album’s closer, “Spellbound”, a rough-edged and melancholic gem as entrancing as its title. Not too many AC/DC tracks like this one.

Flick of the Switch (1983)

Singles: “Flick of the Switch”, “Guns for Hire”, “Nervous Shakedown”

Deep cut cache: “Rising Power”, “This House is on Fire”,”Bedlam in Belgium”

Top pick: “This House is on Fire”

Comment: With the band on a downward slide commercially, the slapdash cover for Flick of the Switch probably didn’t help move any more units. Nevertheless, a raw and bruising album full of no-frills foot-stompers, including “This House is On Fire.”

Fly on the Wall (1985)

Singles: “Danger”, “Sink the Pink”, “Shake Your Foundations”

Deep cut cache: “Stand Up”, “Playing with Girls”, “Back in Business”

Top pick: “Stand Up”

Comment: With its rough-as-guts production, Fly on the Wall is often pegged as the band’s worst album. It isn’t. However, a medley of quirky videos that distracted and detracted from the Youngs’ crashing riffage did it no real favours. “Danger,” one of the album’s weaker tracks and an unfortunate choice for the first single, is cluttered by a weirdly shrill and ear-splitting solo from Angus and went over like a fart in church with the live crowd.

Here’s my two cents: don’t let Fly on the Wall‘s reputation deter you. Play it loud. Embrace the noise. It’s true that on a couple of tracks Brian sounds like he’s wailing from the bottom of a well somewhere in his native Durham. But the whole thing is characterised by a whiplashing, raucous charm. In songs such as “Sink the Pink” and “Shake Your Foundations” the lead guitar launches out in firey flourishes, supercharging an album already full of pounding, anthemic choruses. Fly on the Wall is a low-key favourite of mine, with several hidden gems, including the snarling gangster boast “Back in Business”; however, it’s “Stand Up” that sticks out most.

Blow Up Your Video (1988)

Singles: “Heatseeker”, “That’s the Way I Wanna Rock and Roll”

Deep cut cache: “Meanstreak”, “Go Zone”, “Sum Sin For Nuthin'”, “Ruff Stuff”, “Nick of Time”

Top pick: “Go Zone”

Comment: Look, I know a lot of people aren’t really fans of Blow Up Your Video, although I’m never really sure why that is. The production is a little staid, but I wouldn’t skip a single song on it. The singles are high-energy, but the album as a whole has a mix of moods and tempos, from the cocky strut of “Meanstreak” to the gloomier “Two’s Up”. I’ve selected “Go Zone” for top pick, but this is an album (ignored as it often is) that feels like it’s almost totally made up of decent deep cuts.

The Razors Edge (1990)

Singles: “Thunderstruck”, “Moneytalks”, “Are You Ready”, “Rock Your Heart Out” (Australia only)

Deep cut cache: “Mistress for Christmas”, “Shot of Love”, “Goodbye & Good Riddance to Bad Luck”

Top pick: “Mistress for Christmas”

Comment: The Razors Edge came out around the time I was getting into AC/DC, and what a time to get into them: the release of a blockbuster album that spawned their biggest hit in the States. I remember the thrill and fascination of seeing the music video for “Thunderstruck” come on TV—of seeing a band I’d heard plenty but never before seen. Razors‘ sound is polished yet powerful, and it’s another album with a range of hard rock moods, from the surging and high-spirited Moneytalks to the fearsome title track. I’ve picked “Mistress for Christmas”: it’s nothing but fun, but with a tremendous build-up and blistering lead work from Angus. Deck the halls, baby.

Ballbreaker (1995)

Singles: “Hard as a Rock”, “Cover You in Oil”, “Hail Caesar”

Deep cut cache: “The Furor”, “Burnin’ Alive”, “Whiskey on the Rocks”

Top pick: “The Furor”

One of the band’s most underrated albums, Ballbreaker features numerous songs that have that lean, crunchy and sinister sound that would all but disappear from the next album. Mysteriously cold-shouldered by critics, it nevetheless remains one of my favourites since its release. I’m really hard-pressed to pick a favourite deep cut here. But, balls in a vise, I’m going with “The Furor”.

Stiff Upper Lip (2001)

Singles: “Stuff Upper Lip”, “Safe in New York City”, “Satellite Blues”,

Deep cut cache: “Hold Me Back”, “Can’t Stand Still”, “Damned”

Top pick: “Damned”

Comment: Stiff Upper Lip really roars the engine with that title track—instant classic—but then largely settles down into a cruisier rhythm. With its steady-rolling bluesy swagger, this album has really grown on me over the years. Nevertheless, I’ll pick perhaps the slowest and heaviest song on there, “Damned”, as my choicest deep cut. Bon appetit.

Black Ice (2009)

Singles: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train”, “Big Jack”, “Anything Goes”

Deep cut cache: “Wheels”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Dream”

Top pick: “Wheels”

Comment: I’ll confess it here: I’ve tried hard to like Black Ice, but I found it largely disappointing then and find it disappointing today. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train” is enjoyable enough if a little too procedural, even calming, for the first single to a long-awaited album. “Big Jack” has some legs under it, but I don’t find it a standout. And if “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train” seems a little calming, “Anything Goes” is virtually cutesy: probably my least favourite single the band have released. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Dream”, with the band again in a mellow mood, is nevertheless a nicely dreamy distraction. But thank goodness for the nasty, muscular swing of that title track, right at the end of the album, Ballbreaker-style. Fantastic. Generally, though, on Black Ice there are too many songs and too few of them stand out. One that does, though, is “Wheels”: plenty of momentum on this polished, upbeat and unpretentious rocker.

Rock or Bust (2014)

Singles: “Rock or Bust”, “Play Ball”, “Rock the Blues Away”

Deep cut cache: “Miss Adventure”, Baptism by Fire”, “Rock the House”, “Sweet Candy”

Top pick: “Baptism by Fire”

Comment: Fifteen years after Black Ice, the band was back with Rock or Bust, although sadly with Malcolm’s health preventing his playing on either the album or the subsequent tour. A much shorter release than Black Ice, Rock or Bust (despite its generic title) features songs with more overall stand-out value than its predecessor. The gorgeously snappy guitar sound brings out the groove throughout on an album that, if not a classic, still holds its own in the band’s catalogue. For your deep immersion, I suggest “Baptism by Fire”. I know they gave this one a run on the album tour but it’s not (yet?) a setlist staple.

Power Up (2020)

Singles: “Realize”, “Shot in the Dark”, “Through the Mists of Time”, “Witch’s Spell”

Deep cut cache: “Kick You When You’re Down”, “Demon Fire”, “Money Shot,” “Systems Down”

Top pick: “Money Shot”

Comment: Along with Blue Öyster Cult, AC/DC came to the rescue during the pandemic’s lockdown era by releasing new material right when it was most needed. The latter gave us Power Up (styled as PWR/UP), charged and glowing in tribute to the departed Malcolm. In case you thought they’d lost their ribald sense of humour, though, we have here not only the cheeky single “Shot in the Dark” but also the dirty grandpa devilry of “Money Shot.” “Demon Fire” is a headlong scorcher, but having its own official video raised its profile enough. “Money Shot” can take the prize.

And that’s that. Did I miss any of your favourites? If so, I’d love to hear about them. Share your thoughts below.

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