‘Meanstreak’ – Blow Up Your Video, 1988
Most of us wouldn’t immediately associate the word ‘funk’ with AC/DC, but when you hear the groove on this deep cut from the band’s 1988 album Blow Up Your Video, there’s simply nothing else that comes to mind. On ‘Meanstreak’, Malcolm embraces his inner groove thing and lays down one of the band’s most danceable riffs to date, with his playing taking influence from the wave of funk-rock that swept the world in the ’70s. Angus also delivers a mean solo in this track, making for what might be one of AC/DC’s most underrated songs of the ’80s – and maybe even all time.
‘Riff Raff’ – Powerage, 1978
This one is explosive! ‘Riff Raff’ delivers a stop-start groove somewhat reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Rock and Roll’ or ‘Black Dog’, with Malcolm chugging out a classic 12 bar blues inspired progression drenched in distortion for his bandmates to soar atop of. The energy on this track is second-to-none, and Malcolm’s guitar tone – courtesy of a mangled Gretsch and cranked Marshall stack – is classic AC/DC. Malcolm even once said that ‘Riff Raff’ was the ultimate AC/DC track, and when you strip everything back to its fundamentals, it’s pretty hard to disagree with that.
‘Thunderstruck’ – The Razor’s Edge, 1990
Of course, ‘Thunderstruck’ is all about Angus’s jagged 16th note lead riff that powers through the song, which I’m sure all of us have butchered playing at least once in our lives while trying to impress someone. However, I’m going to throw a spanner in the works here and say that it’s Malcolm’s playing that makes ‘Thunderstruck’ such an iconic tune. The right-hand picking in this song is outrageously clean – it almost sounds like a bluegrass rhythm pattern on crack – and when you take into account that Malcolm used to use 0.12 gauge guitar strings, you can only imagine how tricky this riff would have been to play for as long as it goes on in the song. Syncopation at its very best.
‘Let There Be Rock’ – Let There Be Rock, 1977
If there was ever a song that made Malcolm the legend he is today, it’d have to be this banger. ‘Let There Be Rock’ sees Malcolm at his rhythmic best, smashing through the open chord changes in immaculate fashion throughout the song before cranking things up a notch for the face-melting finale of the track. Possibly the most fascinating aspect about ‘Let There Be Rock’ is hearing Malcolm Young’s isolated guitar track, which reveals the nuances of his playing and demonstrates how rock solid his rhythm really was. Plus, that guitar tone is about as ballsy and raw as it gets.
‘Back In Black’ – Back In Black, 1980
Undeniably one of the best guitar riffs of all time, ‘Back In Black’ was actually written by Malcolm while AC/DC were touring behind Highway To Hell in 1979, with the rhythm guitarist using the iconic stop-start riff as a warm-up before taking the stage. When the band finally came around to recording the follow-up to that record (and their first album since the death of Bon Scott), Angus urged Malcolm to bring the idea forward to the other members, feeling it would be the appropriately energetic way to introduce Brian Jones while simultaneously upholding Scott’s inimitable legacy. Suffice to say, Malcolm turned in the goods for this one – what a legendary riff.
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