You can analyse the technical side of music until the cows come home, but certain musicians just seem to capture something beyond what can be picked up on in a spec report. In a weird way, Angus Young always sounds nostalgic, whether that’s because of his simple guitar rig, his double stops or his rhythmic vibrato, it’s hard to tell. However, the simple fact is that he captures something about glossy-eyed youth in sonic form.
‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ first appeared on Back in Black in 1980 and became AC/DC’s first single with Brain Johnson as frontman. The track went on to be one of the biggest of the year, landing at 35 on the US Hot 100 chart end-of-year round-up.
Speaking to Absolute Radio, Brian Johnson explained the origins of the song, “The boys had a title,” he recalled. “Malcolm and Angus [Young] said, ‘Listen, we’ve got this song. It’s called ‘Shook Me All Night Long.’ That’s what we want the song to be called.’ And if you listen to the chords, [the chorus] just fell into place so I can’t claim any credit on that thing.”
Adding, “It was as quick as it had to be, which was that night. I guess I had to try and impress somebody. It was just a thing that came at the time, and I still think it’s one of the greatest rock and roll riffs I’ve ever heard in my life.”
The riff in question is raw, punchy and quintessentially rock ‘n’ roll. It opens with a few simple, instantly recognisable chords, then Malcolm and Angus meddle the mixture into a soaring nostalgic duel. The rip-roaring ride, culminated in Angus’ quickfire solo, drives home the message that sometimes less is more.
This track catapulted the band into the mainstream, and Back in Black raced its way into the rarefied air of ‘era-defining’. The album has now sold over 40 million copies worldwide, and there is no doubt that Angus Young’s scintillating guitar playing an unquestionable ear for a riff has been a key part of that.
You can listen to his isolated guitar work (with occasional verse assistance from Malcolm) below.