Playlist: Angus Young

April 19th, 2011

by Tom Beaujour
Sure the schoolboy outfit, kinetic stage persona and Mick Jagger-meets-Mephistopheles snarl are all the stuff of legend, but it’s Angus Young’s ability to transform even the most staid blues lick into a stinging, hard rock warning shot that makes his work with AC/DC so universally acclaimed and appealing. If you’ve been living under a rock, in a convent, or perhaps, on the moon, and aren’t familiar with the Australian-born axeman’s body of work, here are a few particularly excellent tracks to get you started down the Highway to Hell.

“Riff Raff”
(Powerage, 1978)
This up-tempo number from the oft-overlooked Powerage exemplifies AC/DC at the peak of their unpolished early period. Young’s guitar sound literally sizzles and crackles with electricity as it delivers the song’s intro riff, and the extended solo contains the guitarist’s fastest, cleanest, and meanest fretwork to date.

“If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)”
(Highway to Hell, 1979)

Highway marks the beginning of AC/DC’s fruitful three-album collaboration with Robert John “Mutt” Lange, and the producer’s influence is immediately clear on Young’s lead work. The solos on this disc and its two successors benefit from (or suffer from, depending on your view of things) a much more disciplined sense of melody and structure. Young’s licks are still deadly, but the carpet-bombing of yore has evolved into a strategy of well-planned surgical strikes.

“Beating Around the Bush”
(Highway to Hell, 1979)

…In which the greatest hard-rock boogie riff of all time is almost eclipsed by not one, but two unhinged leads. Young makes this stuff look easy, but there are few guitarists on earth who could hold their own against a backing track this frenzied and furious.

“Back in Black”
(Back In Black, 1980)

If you’ve heard this title track from the AC/DC’s blockbuster 1980 classic, then you can also sing along with the solo. Yes, it’s that well crafted and memorable.

(The Razors Edge, 1990)

For a period in the Nineties, it was almost impossible to walk into a guitar store without hearing someone butcher the opening b-string pedal lick to this MTV hit. Shop owners and employees cursed Young repeatedly for devising such a catchy and ubiquitous riff, but they were also begrudgingly admiring of the guitarist’s ability to capture the imagination of players everywhere.