Groundbreakers: AC/DC – Let There Be Rock

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There’s always been two separate branches on the hard rock family tree. Guns N’ Roses, like Aerosmith before them, represent the sleeker, more melodic branch. There’s a lot of great albums in both categories, and I’ll concede that Appetite for Destruction is the perfect album for the former group. For the latter – where volume alone is king, where ideas like “talent” and “technical acumen” may or may not have any practical application, where all and sundry bow down to the power of the almighty Riff – nobody will ever top AC/DC’s 1977 album Let There Be Rock.

Let’s get the preliminaries out of the way before we dive in too deeply. LTBR is big, fun, loud, and thoroughly juvenile. Among the offerings here we have a song about blowjobs, no less than three songs about generally being tough, and possibly the greatest ode to having sex with a fat Tasmanian woman ever written.

Listening to Bon Scott sing, it’s clear he was having the time of his life. The man reveled in sleaze. Filth was his native language. It’s difficult to imagine him recording the vocals to any of these songs without an amused smirk plastered on his face. In other, less talented hands, these lyrics would be the pit of gross stupidity. In his, they’re the peak of glorious, wonderful, brilliant stupidity. Outside of the Ramones it’s difficult to find another band that managed to sell being dumb as a way of life and an artistic statement this successfully.

That same attitude permeates the whole recording, right down to the production. Everything sounds like it’s about ten seconds away from melting down, and that’s because it was. The guitars were recorded through Marshall stacks turned up as high as they would go. If the primary participants are to be believed, Angus Young’s amp actually started to catch fire while recording the outro solo to the title track, filling the studio with smoke. Rather than cut the recording, producer George Young frantically screamed at him to keep playing and get that shit on tape. Even if that awesome story doesn’t turn out to be true, Angus’ solos on the song and the rest of the album absolutely rip. He’d have more famous solos later in his career, but they’d never be this maniacal or tossed off this casually again.

Despite these stellar qualities, on first glance LTBR is a strange pick from the AC/DC catalogue for the honor of perfect hard rock album. Highway to Hell is funnier and a better distillation of the band’s Bon Scott era, while Back in Black features their biggest hits and is also the album the band’s been carbon-copying every few years in the decades since its release. No, LTBR reigns supreme because of one all-important reason: Malcolm Young’s rhythm guitar.

Malcolm has always been the foundation of AC/DC’s sound. His songwriting, rhythm work, and backing vocals were the band’s anchor from its founding in 1973 until dementia forced him to retire in 2014. But more than any other, LTBR is his album. Every song is based around his primal chording and incredibly heavy right hand attack. The album has almost no intros – damn near every song starts by leaping into the song’s main riff, anchored by Malcolm’s heavy tone.

Check out the lead-off track, “Go Down.” You hear that squeak in the guitar tone? There’s a few factors that go into producing that sound, but the most important one is Malcolm digging furiously into the strings with every down stroke. You can hear a similar effect on any given Anthrax song when you listen to Scott Ian’s rhythm tracks. Malcolm nailed that sound without apparently even trying to. Judging by his tone you’d think the guy was practicing for a bar fight rather than recording music. Sadly, that technique that would largely be gone within the span of two albums, disappearing into the band’s increasingly slick production values.

Even if it was only there for one album, that method of rhythm work proved to be massively influential. But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can ask Dave Mustaine who’s gone on record to state that LTBR is the album that most influenced his playing. He’s also repeatedly said that Malcolm Young is one of the best rhythm guitarists on the planet along with himself and James Hetfield, another LTBR disciple. If you or someone you know listened to Metallica or Megadeth and got inspired to pick up a guitar and wield it like a weapon, you can thank Malcolm Young. A genre as thoroughly guitar dependent as heavy metal wouldn’t exist in the form we know today without people like him who actively changed the very way the instrument is played – any idiot can play fast, but only a very special idiot can come up with an entire sound just by punishing an old Gretsch.

In terms of songwriting and presentation, you won’t see many bands that will openly emulate this record. In lesser hands, these songs could all have been awful. Even now they aren’t far removed. There isn’t much melody beyond the Young brothers’ power chords, drummer Phil Rudd sticks exclusively to keeping time, and if bassist Mark Evans actually plays on every song you’d be hard pressed to notice. But that’s half the appeal. AC/DC stripped their sound down to what they considered the bare essentials – vocal melody, riffs, solos. They would go on to write more popular albums with more concise songs, but never again would they find their inner rock and roll idiot savants like they did here.

Put simply, in sonic terms modern rock and metal simply wouldn’t be the same without LTBR. There’s strands of its DNA in every album that has two guitarists pounding away at a badass unison riff. It’s the voice inside you that tells you to say “fuck it,” crack a beer, turn the amps up to eleven, and just let the noise take over. Top that, Axl Rose.

Groundbreakers is the Toilet ov Hell’s Hall ov Fame where we induct some of the most important and influential metal albums of all time. Catch up on previous entries into this hallowed bowl.

Neurosis – Souls at Zero
Death – Symbolic
Fear Factory – Demanufacture
Voivod – Killing Technology
Today is the Day – Temple of the Morning Star
Avenged Sevenfold – City of Evil
The Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed
Acid Bath – When the Kite String Pops
Ministry – The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste
Vulcano – Bloody Vengeance
Sleep – Holy Mountain
Kreator – Pleasure to Kill
Kayo Dot – Choirs of the eye
Thin Lizzy – Thunder and Lightning
Type O Negative – Bloody Kisses
Bathory – Hammerheart
Blind Guardian – Imaginations from the Other Side
Black Flag – My War
Brujería – Matando Güeros
Guns & RosesAppetite for Destruction

  • I was never into AC/DC except for “TNT” and the , but these songs sound fun.

    Great writing, man. The review was very concise and made push play. You’re damn right about Malcom Young, those rhythmics are moving!

    • Use to listen to that one on vinyl with Dad. Great memories.

      GL

      • Ah! That’s fun, man! This is very blues and rock’n’roll influenced, so it must be super cool for you to jam this one with your old man! 😀

        Which one is your favorite solo on this record? The solo on the first song linked on the article was pretty fun!

        • Not sure I have a favorite, to be honest! They are all jamming!

  • *bobs head*
    *taps my foot with the rhythm*

  • sweetooth0

    ACDC fucking rules, period.

  • ME GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ

    AC&DC ROCKS!!!!!!!!

  • Señor Jefe El Rossover

    I wholeheartedly agree with every sentiment in this write up. Great work Lord Ov Bork!

    • Lord of Bork

      Thanks man!

      • Kyle Reese

        I’m listening to this at work tomorrow.

      • Ted Nü-Djent ™

        Probably my favourite AC/DC album. Well done.

  • JWG

    Making my case for Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, instead, in just two videos.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXXO9_3gb3o

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ3tqIukBKg

    • Señor Jefe El Rossover

      Dirt Deeds rules, but Let There Be Rock for the agressive attack! Gotta say Powerage too, that one gets looked over too often.

      • ME GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ

        LET THERE BE ROCK FOR COOLEST RIFF EVER!!!!!!!

        https://youtu.be/H2Gwr-VrNFM

      • Hans

        Hell yeah Powerage.

        • Brutalist_Receptacle

          POWER AGE IS THE BEST HARD ROCK RECORD EVER ON THIS THERE CAN BE NO DEBATE

      • Ted Nü-Djent ™

        LTBR, Powerage and HTH are the holy trinity of AC/DC albums for me. DDDDC is probably at # 4

    • Kyle Reese

      SQUEALER!!!

      • Ted Nü-Djent ™

        When I held her hand.

        • Kyle Reese

          I made her understand!

  • Mosh Hoff

    DAD
    NO

    • WHEN I SAY “DAD”, YOU SAY “ROCK”.
      “DAD!”, “ROCK!”,
      “DAD!”, “ROCK!”

      • Mosh Hoff

        DAD! STOP!

        • Señor Jefe El Rossover

          ROCK

          • The God Emperor of Mankind

            RAWK

    • Brutalist_Receptacle

      YOUR DAD WAS COOL AND YOU DIDNT EVEN KNOW IT

  • Janitor Jim Duggan

    My favorite album of theirs is either The Razors Edge or Blow Up Your Video.

    • Señor Jefe El Rossover

      What?

      • DAD

        • Señor Jefe El Rossover

          ROCK

          • My urge to put on some nut-huggers is so strong rn.

      • Janitor Jim Duggan

        I consider Blow Up Your Video one of the great underrated classics of rock.

    • Lord of Bork

      Delete this.

      • Janitor Jim Duggan

        Never. Thunderstruck is one of my favorite songs ever.

    • Ted Nü-Djent ™

      Of course they are.

  • Brutalist_Receptacle

    FUCK YEAH “RIFF RAFF ALWAYS GOOD FOR A LAFF” Saw these blokes on this tour! ALSO I AM OLD

  • (Nothing to do with ACDC) I found myself listening to Paradise City the other day and enjoying it.

    My transformation to Dad (although I am already a parent), is complete.

    GL

    • Janitor Jim Duggan

      I’m listening to It’s Too Late by Carole King and I’m realizing how depressing this song is.

      • Grandpa Metal.

        • Janitor Jim Duggan

          It’s so sad. It’s like watching a relationship with your perfect other dissolve and that there is nothing you can do about it.

          • That is why they make Photographs. Because sometimes… its Too Late for Love. Let It Go, JJD.

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            BRB, going to the corner of my room to curl up in fetal position and weep.

          • Lacertilian

            Can you do it quitely?

          • No, No, No.

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            I’ll try.

          • exactly. in fact, why don’t you just.. look at this photograph. every time i do it makes me laugh.

  • Hans

    Very cool. The title track made me first realize and appreciate what glorious noise AC/DC was capable of making. That riff was always one of my favourites.

  • This is astonishingly well written…for an article about AC/DC. 🙂

  • Holy shit…a post about Bon Scott-era AC/DC?! I should check back here more often haha.

    I hate how fashionable it’s become for modern headbangers to poop on AC/DC. Like Dee Snarl said: they were pretty great up until the mid-eighties…it started to get a bit too redundant after that IMO. AC/DC was a massive influence on everyone in metal from Accept (nice name, fuckers…the first English word you could think of that would get your records next to AC/DC’s in stores?) to Exodus.

    • i’m pretty indifferent to the band. but i can totally blame rock radio, commercials, Iron Man 2, and even dance clubs in college (who played “You Shook Me All Night Long” every night i was at one) for running the singles into the ground. overplaying the songs put an awfully sour taste in my mouth for AC/DC.
      i guess my point is, yes you should check back here more often! things are brighter with moar JAG!!

      • Ted Nü-Djent ™

        There’s some solid deep cuts within their discography

    • Ted Nü-Djent ™

      They were about 10 albums deep by the mid 80’s which is a pretty good run considering the limits of the style they had to work with.

  • Max

    I yearn for the day Australia ever again produces a metal band that has the same global impact as the mighty Acker-Dacker (as we call them down here.) Decades later, their success in cracking America (something which is hard even for British bands to do; ask Oasis) looks more and more like a complete historical anomaly. It’s astonishing to think that even the likes of Midnight Oil and INXS managed it too.

    There is a formula, of course. As Lord of Bork alluded to, AC/DC figured out what NOT to play – simple music with universal themes always goes over better in a stadium than more demanding fare (Def Leppard learnt this too).

    It’s telling that I can listen to the “Go Down” link above on my SUPREMELY shitty lap top speakers and it still sounds totally coherent, whereas most metal (and much else besides) simply doesn’t translate on them at all.

    • “I yearn for the day Australia ever again produces a metal band that has the same global impact as the mighty Acker-Dacker”

      but AIRBOURNE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Ted Nü-Djent ™

        But no.

        • You probably haven’t heard them before. Check out any song by them. It’ll be great

          • Ted Nü-Djent ™

            I have. Nothing spesh.

          • Ted Nü-Djent ™

            Also I think you skipped over the part where Max said “global impact”.

      • Max

        Ugh. Just goes to show lightning doesn’t strike twice. Although I’ll take them over fucking Jet.

        • Ted Nü-Djent ™

          Jet were bad and not good.

  • Kyle Reese

    *time for your punishment Gretsch: A-C-D-C!!!!

  • Kyle Reese

    When you criticize the cred of Hiway to Hell, then force me to look back on the AC/DC catalog…gooooooddd night. This is a great write up. But let’s not forget squealer and ride on off Dirty Deeds. There was some fun bagpipes on that, uh, first one. And while Hiway to Hell didn’t have that attack sound you like, bawgawhd, the riffs and the songs. They put this shit down for a dirt nap right before Bon Scott had his. “I’m your Night prowler (I sleep in the day!)”

    • Kyle Reese

      I’d just like to point out, Angus v. Van Halen on the guitar tapping – Night Prowler has tapping….does it measure up to Eruption in taste?

  • The God Emperor of Mankind

    Yassssssss. Fav Acca Dacca album right here. None more raw and riffs.

    Also this is in my opinion, one of the very first examples of pure, unadulterated Heavy Fuckin Metal. Disagree? Talk to my FUCKING MINDPOWERS ASSFUCKING YOU BACK INTO THE WARP.