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Music

AC/DC guitarist Angus Young's seven best riffs

AC/DC axeman Angus Young is a positively significant guitarist. Fusing the musicianship of traditional blues with the high-octane guitar playing that Jimi Hendrix popularised, Young cultivated an unmistakable style and set the world on fire.

As soon as the needle drops on an AC/DC track, it becomes instantly recognisable, frequently because of one of Young’s riffs. Be it ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’, ‘T.N.T.’ or ‘Thunderstruck’, the number of legendary guitar moves that Young has penned remains genuinely mind-blowing. 

A hard-rock icon, there’s no surprise that many budding guitarists hail Young as a God-like figure today. The ease with which he plays the instrument is something to aspire to, as is the ferocious tone he gets from his classic Gibson SG, and in terms of guitarists synonymous with a model, you don’t get much more inextricably linked than Young and his SG.

Aside from Hendrix, Young was also enormously inspired by Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters, and throughout his extensive back catalogue, you can hear their influence permeating his sound. At other points, there is the sludgy swagger of roots rock, and at others, the visceral style of soloing that was ubiquitous at the start of the 1970s thanks to the powerful works of other legendary axemen such as Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Rainbow fame. 

In short, Young’s style is a mesh of all the best parts of rock guitar playing, and augmenting this is the excitement that he conveys with his playing. AC/DC are perhaps the most no-nonsense rock band in history. They don’t mess around, and their ultimate goal is to have a good time. There’s no pretence with their work, and much of this can be attributed to the guitar playing of Angus Young.

Duly, we’ve decided to list his seven best riffs of all time that clearly display just how unique his playing is, and just how effective they are at getting you to shake off your personal blues and think positively. Whilst you may criticise AC/DC and Angus Young for being rather rudimentary, therein lies their power. Things don’t have to be so overblown all the time. Music can be simple and still be captivating, and AC/DC know this, and they do it with zest.

So, without further ado, join us as we discuss Angus Young’s seven best riffs.

Angus Young’s seven best riffs:

‘Thunderstruck’ – The Razors Edge (1990)

Where else to start than with this titanic piece of guitar work? Starting off with the iconic lead part from Young, it’s one of the most atmospheric opening riffs in rock history. Building slowly, as Young dovetails with his brother Malcolm, the song drags you in before Angus’ guitar delivers the meaty chord progression, as frontman Brian Johnson screams, “You’ve been Thunderstruck”.

Featuring one of Young’s most iconic solos, there’s so much to love about this cut. It’s a masterful guitar moment and one of Angus Young’s most important.

‘T.N.T.’ –  T.N.T. (1975)

An early classic of AC/DC’s and Angus Young’s, this is one of the most unapologetic pieces of rock ‘n’ roll in their back catalogue. On ‘T.N.T.’, Young plays like the bluesmen of old, and the rebellious playing of Chuck Berry colours the track, giving it its raucous spirit.

Simple, punchy and a real earworm, the piece is carried by Young’s playing and is a must-learn for any beginner guitarist.

‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ – Let There Be Rock (1977)

A meteoric piece of guitar playing, one would argue that ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ is Young’s best moment on the six-string. Steeped in the blues, the track espouses the defiant attitude of rock ‘n’ roll and is to be played loud.

It is another excellent example of the power that the simplicity of Young’s playing manages to convey. It’s also an advert for not overthinking your own guitar lines when writing. Added to this excitement is the solo, and it rips.

‘Back In Black’ – Back in Black (1980)

‘Back in Black’ is undoubtedly Angus Young’s most iconic piece of guitar work. In terms of riffs, you don’t get much more eminent than this. Understandably, ‘Back in Black’ has been the gateway for many people into the hard-partying world of AC/DC, and the wider world of all things rock ‘n’ roll.

This is rock music at its finest, and it makes you want to grab a beer, let your hair down and tear it up. As for the solo, it speaks for itself.

‘Shoot to Thrill’ – Back in Black (1980)

‘Shoot to Thrill’ has long been a fan favourite for AC/DC fans, but in 2010, the song found a new home in the mainstream when it was included in Marvel classic Iron Man 2. If ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ isn’t Angus Young’s best piece of work, this is. The energy here is unmatched in the world of rock, and as soon as it finishes, you’ll have it on repeat. 

It gets you going, and that is what rock is all about. Furthermore, Young confirmed that the song’s “breakdown” was inspired by the legendary gun-battle climax in Sergio Leone’s classic western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The sequence was designed to mirror the soundtrack segment ‘Il Triello’ by Ennio Morricone, a stroke of genius from Young.

‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ – Back in Black (1980)

1980 was clearly a monumental year for Young and the band. This is undoubtedly the most anthemic moment in their career, and it’s driven by the bluesy yet melodic work of the school uniform wearing guitarist.

The chorus progression is perfect, and it shows just how greatly Young understands the craft of penning a song, an effective foil to the muscle of the main chord progression. In terms of rock nostalgia, you don’t get better than this.

‘Highway To Hell’ – Highway to Hell (1979)

Another incredible piece of guitar work, no list of Angus Young’s best riffs would be complete without ‘Highway to Hell’. Something of a sister track to ‘Back in Black’ in terms of musicality, this is ’70s rock at its finest. Defiant, anthemic and groovy, you’d be mistaken for thinking this song was released at the start of the decade and not the end of it when punk was in full swing. 

It’s indicative of the band’s timeless essence and iconoclasm. Nothing can stop the good ship AC/DC from having a good time, not even the cultural zeitgeist, and nothing can stop Angus Young from shredding.