AC/DC’s Greatest Riffs

Rock ’n’ roll is all about relentless forward propulsion, and its success hinges on how well a musician can balance his or her violent adrenaline rushes and animalistic urges with the self-discipline and focus that comes with heady groove research. This is something at which AC/DC’s Malcolm Young—who recently left us after succumbing to the dementia that had plagued him for nearly a decade—excelled. If his brother, Angus, is Chuck Berry (all about dazzling flashes of lightning and speeding, razor-wire licks) then Malcolm was Bo Diddley, a brilliant groove engineer (as well as songwriter—let’s not forget that) who could ceaselessly combine and recombine the essential, fundamental components of boogie (rock, as well as the blues).

He was not unlike a minimalist architect, only Malcolm’s geometry unfolds across time, which certainly adds a whole new level of intelligence to it. In fact, a friend of mine recently said something quite relevant to this point: There should be a chapter on AC/DC in any quality book chronicling the rise of minimalism in 20th-century music and art. Amen. Such a proclamation is a testament to Malcolm’s belief in the effectiveness of simplicity and archetypal forms and how this belief shaped AC/DC’s mission statement. To really bask in his understated genius, check out berga570’s fantastic YouTube clip, which isolates and loops his riff for “Thunderstruck.” It’s insane—a sublime blending of off-kilter, intuitive swing with a kind of mechanized symmetry. It’s maniacally stuttering and repetitive, falling somewhere between John Lee Hooker and avant-garde oddity Henry Flynt.

But Malcolm took things another couple steps further; blast the extended live version of “Bad Boy Boogie” or the locked-tight “Overdose” (both representative of the deeper-style cuts you’ll hear on our playlist) and what you have is the grease of vintage rock and blues fed through the grinding gears of the modern industrial world. We’re talking savage robotics here. Hell, you could even argue that AC/DC were proto-techno rockers before such a concept even existed! So yeah, thanks to Malcolm, these dudes weren’t just debauched rock ’n’ rollers; they were (along with ZZ Top and Motörhead) real-deal innovators of what I like to call rough-neck, working-class minimalism. R.I.P. to the greatest rhythm guitarist in the history of hard rock.