A Tribute to Malcolm Young: Rock Icons Name Their Favorite AC/DC Anthems

Ken SharpCategories:Latest News

Rock Cellar Magazine

The tragic recent passing of AC/DC founding member and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young left hard rock fans mourning the loss of a beloved hard rock giant.

A few years ago, Ken Sharp queried a wide range of musicians to share their favorite AC/DC stories and memories of what made this band rock like no other for so long. Enjoy it now as a tribute to Malcolm, may he rest in peace.

Joe Perry (Aerosmith): As for favorite AC/DC songs, I’d pick anything off Powerage but I’m leaning towards “Sin City.” When our manager asked if we wanted to have AC/DC open for us I said, “No problem. No one could be that good live.”

And they were. When Angus would drop to the floor, he’d do a couple of moves with his body flailing away. One we called “the frying bacon” where he laid down on his back and played. We’d often run from our dressing room and watch him do that from the side of the stage. The other one we called “the Curly dance”, which had him drop to his side and spin in a motion reminiscent of Curly from The Three Stooges. (laughs)

Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick): I can’t pick a favorite song. My favorite rock and roll band in the whole wide world since 1976 is AC/DC. They are world class players, with world class songs. No ballads. True, pure, rock and roll. They set the bar. The pinnacle. And they’ve even been to my house.

Slash: “Down Payment Blues” off of Powerage is one of my all time favorite AC/DC tracks from a catalog of many favorites! But this particular track is one of the most gritty and at the same time, one of the most melodically articulate AC/DC songs of all time. Plus, the premise of the lyrics read like my life story.

Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top): My favorite AC/DC song would have to be “Highway To Hell”.  Quite to my amazement, I heard my grandmother singing along with it, on key and with all the words!  When asked how she came onto the song, she replied, “Oh me!  Sounds like a fun highway to be traveling on!”…How you gonna top that…?!?!?

Ozzy Osbourne: I don’t have a favorite AC/DC song…….because I love them all.  AC/DC is one of the greatest rock bands ever, period.

Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins): I’ll go with “Sin City”, because when Bon sang about going down there to get into God knows what, you knew absolutely without a doubt he knew what he was talking about.

Scott Gorham (Thin Lizzy): “Thunderstruck” has gotta be the AC/DC song for me. Great guitar playing, cool groove, and tight production. What more can you ask from a classic “ROCK” song?

Photo: Steve Trager
Malcolm in 2008 on the ‘Black Ice’ tour. Photo: Steve Trager

Tom Hamilton (Aerosmith): I have a story about Bon. We were on tour sometime in the ’70s and AC/DC were opening for us on the tour that wound up breaking them in the States.  We had chartered a plane for the western leg.  It was a big old propeller job we called “The Lumbering Giant”.  We had a bunch of extra seats so we invited those guys to fly with us on one of the long trips.  As the plane took off, the party on board took off too.  About halfway there I found myself sitting next to Bon.

Everybody was pretty ripped, but Bon was way farther up the road than I was.  We were trying to have a conversation but the engines droned really loudly. Bon had kind of a quiet way of speaking, which along with his Scottish accent and the effects of the whiskey made it impossible to understand what he was saying.  I kept saying “What?” and asking for him to repeat what he said.  This went on for a few minutes. I thought, “This guy probably thinks I’m either a moron or completely deaf.”

Finally I just went along, nodding my head as he went on and on about who knows what.  He could have been saying I was ugly or the band sucked and I would have just nodded agreeably and kept trying to read my magazine. I like Brian’s singing but I have to say that a lot of my favorite AC/DC songs are ones that Bon sang.  “Dirty Deeds” is my lyrical favorite but overall my choice would be “Whole Lotta Rosie” for the way it cooks.

Zakk WyldeAC/DC Live from 1992.  I have to say I can’t choose just one song from those guys…So I pick this entire mother fucking live album, because it’s on my permanent play list. I work out to it everyday. Nothing like a heavy live album to motivate me to go heavier with the weight, every fucking time.

Peter Frampton: “Girls Got Rhythm” from “Highway to Hell”. I love AC/DC so to chose one track is hard and I don’t drive without AC/DC loaded on the iPod. It’s the orchestral guitar parts that are so great for me. I’ve thought about wearing the shorts but I think I’ll leave those to Angus!

Kim Thayil (Soundgarden): We used to do “Problem Child” as part of our encore when we toured Europe in ’89/’90. We also did “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream. But “Problem Child” had a cool riff, cool lyrics and a great groove, which pretty much describes all of AC/DC’s songs.

Todd Rundgren: “You Shook Me All Night Long”. Despite the dopey rhymes, this was the first AC/DC song to catch my ear. The structure of the arrangement is so archetypal at this point that it should be required listening for any aspirant who claims to “want to rock”.

How about “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”? I have a soft spot for the Bon Scott era band. Certainly they’re not yet at their peak, but Bon makes effortless what Brian Johnson sometimes strains to recreate. Another one I like is “Highway to Hell.”

I admit I am somewhat a dilettante fan, but you don’t have to be a fan at all to have retained enough of this tune to be singing it as the bus rolls off to to some godforsaken town in the middle of nowhere.

Steve Morse (Deep Purple): For me, “Back in Black” is my favorite. The rhythm part is heavy, of course, but it emphasizes the exact muting of each chord (E,D,A) in order to give the guitar part more drive. Heavy, stark, and insistent. The little blues riff at the end starts on the upbeat after each of the three chords before starts on the downbeat, and gives a satisfying change. I also love the strong solo guitar lines.

K.K. Downing (Judas Priest): I am sure that the song “Back in Black” has been chosen by many for the kick ass song that it is, but for me it has deep emotional components. It was our privilege to open for AC/DC in 1978-79 on their  tour in Europe. Sadly, this was the tour that was to be Bon`s last. He was a real gentleman and so were the rest of the band. They were very friendly and gracious to us, and even let us ride on their luxurious bus on long journeys. We were devastated at the tragic news and really felt for the guys knowing what a mountain they had to climb for them to be able to continue. So when the Back in Black album finally emerged and I heard the title song it was a moment of real emotion for me.

I know that the great Bon Scott would have been truly happy because of what he and his great friends and partners of the mighty AC/DC had started would continue into eternity and the words and voice of Bon Scott would live on forever.

Dweezil Zappa: Here’s what I love about AC/DC. They write and arrange songs so that they can deliver them to their audience with massive electric intensity. They have always focused on capturing the true raw sound of their instruments on all of their recordings. There’s an unmistakable honesty in their execution as a result. I’ve got plenty of favorite songs including the time honored genius riff of “Back In Black” but I really like a song from their first record. I’ve never heard it played on the radio or played live, it’s called “Squealer”.

In the solo, Angus pulls off one of the best examples of pinched harmonics ever recorded. There is so much attitude in that solo and I love his vibrato. I think it’s his real sonic signature, it’s instantly recognizable. There’s no doubt that they are one of the greatest bands of all time.

Wally Bryson (Raspberries): I really like “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Great guitar work by Malcolm and Angus and great solo by Angus. Great tone, great quiver, it has a (Paul) Kossoff kind of quiver to the solo. Love it.

Randy Bachman (BTO): Rather than pick an old fave like everyone else is doing, I would pick “Rock and Roll Train.” Again, it illustrates their uncanny ability to make the basic three chord essence of rock and roll into something new and fresh. You fall into the groove and can immediately sing along and play your dashboard drums and air guitar. Long live AC/DC.

Joe Satriani: That’s a two way tie between “Back in Black” and “Thunderstruck”. “Back in Black” because of the courage and heart that’s in that song. Then there’s “Thunderstruck” which is quite unique in the way the Young brothers arrange their guitars. The two main guitar riffs are syncopated, yet bone crunching. Their entire catalog of recordings contain the most absolutely wonderful sounding electric guitars ever! How do they do that?”

John Oates (Hall & Oates): I’d have to pick ” Back in Black” because the hook is so perfectly simple and elegant in a heavy sort of way…just the title four times!

Paul Dean (Loverboy): It was the summer of ’79, and I was looking for inspiration for a song, a style, a sound, anything to write about. It was one of those magic days, in fact maybe the most magic day a songwriter dreams about having even once. I already had a good start on “This Could Be The Night” and somehow I had some left over to try something from the opposite end of the spectrum. OK, where to start, where to look – right, ACDC. Enough of the ballad stuff, it’s time to rock.

“Highway To Hell”, about four songs in, that should do it. And sure enough, out of the ashes rises “Teenage Overdose”. I already had the lyrical theme from a close call on Kits Beach in Vancouver one moonlit light with my lady, an innocence turned dangerous with four punks looking to commit a teenage overdose on my face. AC/DC to the rescue, there’s the attitude I need. Heavy situation, heavy guitar. Malcolm, Angus – Thanks for the inspiration.

Ted Nugent: “Whole Lotta Rosie.” These rabble rousing sons-a-bitches could have been from Detroit with all their hi-energy piss and vinegar, plus the intense soulfulness in their authoritative, animalistic throttling tight delivery. The boys got it all; magic, infectious guitar signature theme line, squaloring screaming banshee, defiant and believable lead vocals, pummeling black rhythm section and enough attitude for any 100 rock ‘n roll bands. God bless AC/DC. They rock supreme.

This song defines pure primal rock ‘n roll.

Michael Anthony (Van Halen): My favorite AC/DC song would be “Sin City” off their Powerage album. That song blazed on the VH tour bus all through Europe on our first tour! I think of that song every time I think of touring over there…

Garry Rossington (Lynyrd Skynyrd): I love AC/DC. We played a few shows with them they first broke out. My favorite song is “Back in Black.” That riff is so cool and simple. Whenever I heard that one it always stopped me, it was like a cool Keith Richards lick.

Phil Collen (Def Leppard and Man-Raze): I first got hooked on AC/DC when I heard “Highway to Hell” But I think they perfected their game when they recorded “Back in Black”, which I think is the ultimate rock song. It has a sexy groove that hardly any rock band could get close to, amazingly restrained, confident guitars that are pure rock, outrageous drums and a vocal meter that is almost a rap but very rock and roll. And considering the song is based on a blues format it’s extremely original.

Brian “Head” Welch (KoRn): My favorite song by AC/DC was probably “Back in Black.” I remember I was 10 years old, in the middle of fifth grade when I got the “Back in Black” album for Christmas. After I opened all of my Christmas gifts, I rocked out to “Back in Black” a few times, then I jumped on my bike and rode around in the neighborhood telling everyone I could find that AC/DC was the best band in the world! My mind was made up–I wanted to bang my head like Angus Young when I grew up–and nobody can tell me that dreams don’t come true, because a little over a decade later, I was banging my head in KoRn!

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