Listen To This Eddie is a weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.
The rock and roll world suffered a tremendous loss late last week when it was learned that Malcolm Young, AC/DC’s brutal, steady rhythm guitarist had died after a three-year-long battle with dementia. Tributes innumerable poured in from all corners of the globe from superstars and regular fans alike. Though he wasn’t much of a talker, Malcolm spoke with ferocity through his ever-faithful Gretsch Jet Firebird cranked, as always, to its absolute limits. As our own Steven Hyden so eloquently put it he, “lifted more asses than a Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon.”
While most guitarists are judged by their ability to break out in the middle of a song with a searing solo, Malcolm’s bread and butter was the riff; that captivating, repeating melody that remains the backbone of any solid rock track. It isn’t glamorous work, but a great riff is the necessary ingredient that can lift a song from merely fantastic to instantly legendary. It’s hard to think of another band who created more iconic riffs with less fuss than AC/DC. Usually using just three chords — sometimes two, and maybe even four if they were in the mood to get frisky — the Aussie rockers put together some of the most unforgettable, high-octane passages of music in the rock and roll canon.
The formula never really strayed, but that was kind of the point. When you throw on an AC/DC record, any AC/DC record, you already know what you’re in for. I personally love that monstrous E chord blast at the beginning of both “T.N.T.” and “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” when for about two-seconds you aren’t really sure whether it’s the one song or the other. The band’s very name is synonymous with a certain kind of egalitarian rock excellence, blissfully free of extemporaneous noise pollution. Even as the singers changed, the sound never wavered.
So, with that in mind, and with Malcolm at heart, I thought now would be as a good a time as any to revisit 10 of the band’s greatest guitar riffs. Note, this isn’t a ranking of the group’s best songs, but a survey of that essential ingredient that runs through the very heart of each of them.