Fans of AC/DC are likely to remember two lead singers from the band who made their impact as hard rockers. The first was Bon Scott, who first joined AC/DC in 1974 and rocked with his fellow Scottish-born, Australian-raised bandmates, Angus and Malcolm Young, until his untimely death in 1980. Instead of calling it quits, the Young brothers kept AC/DC going by finding a suitable replacement. Brian Johnson was the man who rose up to the challenge. Since becoming the new frontman, it’s been hit after hit. With so many classics to choose from which are the top ten AC/DC Brian Johnson songs that come to mind? Does my list match yours?
About Brian Johnson
Brian Johnson was born on October 5, 1957, in Dunston, a community located in western Gateshead, England. He grew up as a typical army brat to a father who once upon a time served in the British Army. Raised as the oldest of four children, Johnson’s father also worked in the coal mines. At one point, Johnson joined the military himself and was stationed in Germany for two years with the Territorial Army’s Parachute Regiment.
Johnson’s interest in music saw him perform in gigs as early as 1970. In 1972, Geordie was founded by Johnson and his bandmates at the time, Brian Gibson, Tom Hill, and Vic Malcolm. He was with them until they disbanded for the first time in 1978. Aside from his performances with Geordie and AC/DC, Brian Johnson also enjoyed a solo career that included “I Can’t Forget You Now” as a single. That was released in 1976 while he was still active with Geordie.
Since 1980, AC/DC with Brian Johnson as a lead vocalist has been electrifying the audience as one of the best-selling recording artists of all time. As AC/DC’s frontman, Johnson established a trademark of sporting a newsboy cap on stage. This was his way of paying homage to the working class of his home turf of northern England. From time to time, he was also known to sport baseball caps. The impact AC/DC and Brian Johnson made was enough to become inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. This included Bon Scott as an inductee. Of the eighteen studio albums AC/DC released, Johnson was the lead vocalist for eleven of them. Out of the three live albums to the band’s credit, two of them featured Johnson. There are also two soundtracks to AC/DC’s credit. The first was Who Made Who, which was released in 1986. This accompanied the movie, Maximum Overdrive, a Stephen King movie starring Emilio Estevez. The second was Iron Man 2, which was released as a soundtrack for that movie in 2010.
In 2009, Brian Johnson was diagnosed with Barrett Syndrome. This is a medical condition that threatens the esophagus with abnormalities. This discovery led to the cancellation of several concert dates as the band was set to embark on its Black Ice Tour. Fortunately for Johnson, the medical team was able to treat the condition before it could become cancerous. This, however, wasn’t the first, nor last time Johnson would encounter a medical emergency that threatened to put an end to the man’s musical career.
When Johnson announced he wasn’t able to continue the Rock or Bust World Tour AC/DC was doing in 2016, it was done so to protect his hearing. As it turned out, an old ear drum injury posed complications that had the band’s lead vocalist to make a tough decision. The final leg of the tour had Axl Rose from Guns N’ Roses take Johnson’s place. At the time, it was doubtful Johnson would return to the lineup. However, he did and in 2020 he, Angus Johnson, and the rest of the AC/DC lineup recorded and released their latest album, Power Up.
Aside from rocking as the lead singer to AC/DC, as well as Georgie, Brian Johnson is also an avid fan of classic sportscar racing. In fact, that old ear injury of his that threatened to end his career as a performer came from an incident while he was on the racetrack. Johnson’s enthusiasm for the sport included his participation as a driver himself. In 2012, he participated in the Daytona Rolex 24. He came in twelfth when he raced in the Daytona Prototype class.
In 2014, Johnson was awarded a Doctor of Music honorary degree by Northumbria University as the campus from Newcastle, England recognized him for his valuable contribution to the music industry. Aside from strutting around as a proud rocker, the man also has a fascination for musical theater. From time to time, he has embarked on projects that include classical music and stage musicals.
Top 10 AC/DC Brian Johnson Songs
#10 – For Those About to Rock
On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, “For Those About to Rock” became a number four hit. It also peaked as high as number fifteen on the UK Singles Chart. While there are at least ten other songs that could make it into the top ten list paying homage to Brian Johnson and AC/DC as a unit, what makes this one stand out is the anthemic message it delivered. This is a timeless classic that also pays homage to the late great Bon Scott. Released as one of the tracks from the album with the same name, it also became one of the tracks featured on 1986’s Who Made Who.
The inspiration behind this song came from a salute that was used by Roman prisoners who were about to be executed in the games held at the Colosseum. Angus Young’s vision for this song came after reading a book written by Robert Graves. The cannons used in the song added that extra dose of drama to make this an all-time favorite. Speaking as a fan, I also feel this is a great song to pay homage to fans of rock and roll music as, without them, the genre wouldn’t exist.
#9 – Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution
Released in 1980, “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” came from the album, Back in Black. On the UK Singles Chart and the Irish Singles Chart, it peaked at number fifteen. In Australia, it peaked as high as number seven. Although at the time it never appeared on any official music charts in North America, this became an all-time favorite among a fan base who have a genuine appreciation for rock and roll music. AC/DC’s performance of this song paid homage to Bon Scott beautifully. As the new lead vocalist replacing him, Brian Johnson did both Scott and the fans of rock and roll justice. It’s a great tune to slap in the face of critics who found the genre to be nothing more than a passing fad.
#8 – Let’s Get it Up
“Let’s Get it Up” was released for the first time in 1981 from the album, For Those About to Rock We Salute You. This was an unapologetic song that featured an incredible solo performance by Angus Young on lead guitar. Loaded with sexual and suggestive content, this was a hard-rocking song that deservedly earned its place as a fan favorite. On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, it became a number nine hit. This was also the case in Canada. It also appeared as high as number thirty-nine on the music chart belonging to Germany. On Australia’s Kent Music Report, “Let’s Get it Up” charted at number seventy-three.
#7 – Shot in the Dark
“Shot in the Dark” demonstrated that AC/DC’s days as hard-rockin’ gods are far from over. Even as it was released in 2020, Brian Johnson’s performance as the group’s lead singer proved he still had it in him to belt out a good tune. Angus Young, as well as Stevie Young, Phil Rudd, and Cliff Willams each showed off why their lineup remains one of the all-time favorites worldwide. “Shot in the Dark” peaked as high as number two in Canada and at number three in Australia and on the US Billboard Rock Airplay chart. It was at least a top forty hit among the nations of Belgium, El Salvador, New Zealand, Scotland, Switzerland, and the UK. “Shot in the Dark” proved AC/DC still has enough juice to pull off yet another hard-hitting rock classic. It was used as the official theme song for the 2020 WWE Survivor Series. It also earned two Grammy Award nominations, namely for Best Music Video and Best Rock Performance. Even though this song didn’t get the win it still hammered home the reality AC/DC can last just as well as the Energizer Bunny.
#6 – Big Gun
Recorded and released in 1993, “Big Gun” was a song featured on the soundtrack and movie Last Action Hero. On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, it became a number-one hit. Globally, it was at least a top twenty hit in Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. On the UK Singles Chart, it peaked as high as number twenty-three. At the 1995 APRA Music Awards, “Big Gun” won Most Performed Australian Work Overseas.
As a music video, “Big Gun” featured the star of Last Action Hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger, breaking into an AC/DC concert. While there, Angus Young kicks his trademark cap in his direction and the actor puts it on. As soon as he does, he also adopts the rest of the lead guitarist’s schoolboy attire, shorts and all. Not only does he look like the “Big Gun” version of Angus Young but even acts like him. At one point in the video, Young is riding around on Schwarzenegger’s shoulders.
#5 – Shoot to Thrill
The live concert performance of “Shoot to Thrill” was nothing short of spectacular. This was AC/DC at its best with Brian Johnson singing the lead. Released in 2011 as a single from the album, Live at River Plate, it became a number ninety-eight hit on the UK Singles chart. Prior to this, the original 1981 recording was one of the hit tracks featured on Back in Black. At the time, it peaked as high as number sixty on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. The popularity of this song turned it into a certified platinum seller with the RIAA, as well as in Mexico. It was certified gold in Italy and the UK.
The inspiration for this song got its start when Brian Johnson read an article about a neighborhood drug dealer that made his daily rounds in the suburbs of London, England. The bored housewives would later venture into local drinking establishments in search of sexual conquests. For Johnson, it was great material to use for “Shoot to Thrill.” This was the song that was used in Iron Man 2, a 2010 flick starring Morton Downey, Jr. Fans will remember the live performance footage, combined with clips from the movie in the music video that energized “Shoot to Thrill” for a second time.
#4 – Hells Bells
According to the Recording Industry Association of America, “Hells Bells” became a certified platinum hit after it was released as a single in 1980. With the British Phonographic Industry, it was certified silver. This song was one of the biggest hits from Back in Black, the first album Brian Johnson recorded as the new lead singer for AC/DC. This, like most of the music featured on the album, paid homage to the recently deceased Bon Scott. From 1974 until his death in February 1980, he was the group’s lead singer.
On the music charts, “Hells Bells” was a number seven hit in Australia, a number twenty-five hit in Germany, and peaked as high as number fifty on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Since then, “Hells Bells” has appeared on official music charts again in 2012, 2015, and 2022. The moment the funeral bell tolls at the start of the song, fans go into a frenzy over a song they regard as one of AC/DC’s best. Speaking as a fan of AC/DC and Bon Scott as its lead singer, what a great way to pay tribute to a man who died before his time.
#3 – Back in Black
Back in Black, as an album, was a tribute to AC/DC’s Bon Scott. Before his untimely death in 1980, he was the group’s lead singer whose chemistry with Angus and Malcolm Young was so great that his death was almost too much for the brothers to bear. They almost chose to end AC/DC until it was agreed if Scott had a say in the matter, they were to keep on rockin’. When it was decided to find a suitable replacement, Brian Johnson was the first person that came to mind. At the time, neither Angus nor Malcolm met the man. They only knew about him from Bon Scott as he was so impressed by him that he became a subject of conversation that stuck with the Youngs.
When Johnson wowed Angus and Malcolm Young with his vocal talent, it was a no-brainer. From that moment on, a new era of AC/DC was about to take the world by storm. Upon the realization all three men shared a mutual respect for Bon Scott, it seemed only fitting the first album they do together as AC/DC paid tribute to the man. “Back in Black,” as a single, was among many tracks featured on the album that did exactly that. The idea was to create a tribute song for Bon Scott as a proud rocker. From the opening guitar riff to Johnson’s vocal performance, this song played out the no holds barred lifestyle Bon Scott led. It was a perfect tribute that clearly had the fans in agreement.
As recently as 2012, the US Billboard Hard Rock Digital Songs chart and the UK Rock & Metal chart ranked “Back in Black” as a number-one hit. When it first charted in 1981, it was a number thirty-seven hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. In the number of copies sold, it was enough to certify “Back in Black” as triple platinum with the Recording Industry Association of America. Among the nations of Canada, Italy, Portugal, and the UK, it was certified platinum twice. In Mexico, it became a certified diamond.
#2 – Thunderstruck
On a personal note, “Thunderstruck” is my all-time favorite AC/DC classic. When I saw this for the first time as a music video I was blown away. Granted, it was a concert performance but it was so electric that I wound up watching like an addict as soon as I taped it on the VHS recorder I had at the time. Released in 1990, “Thunderstruck” began with Angus Young showing off why he’s considered a guitar god. As the song builds into an explosive number, a fan can’t help but get caught up in the moment. To this day, this is what I personally experience as it never seems to get old.
As for the official music charts, “Thunderstruck” became a number-one hit in Finland. On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, it peaked as high as number five. On the US Billboard Rock Digital Songs chart, it peaked even higher at number four. It was also at least a top ten hit among the nations of Australia, Belgium, Ireland, Hungary, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and Sweden. On the UK Singles Chart, it peaked as high as number thirteen. In sales, it was certified platinum ten times in Australia. In Mexico, “Thunderstruck” became triple platinum while it was double platinum in Italy and the UK. It was also certified platinum in Canada, Denmark, Portugal, and the United States. This was the song that instrumentally turned AC/DC’s twelfth studio album, The Razor’s Edge, into one of the best-selling as it also became a multi-platinum success.
#1 – You Shook Me All Night Long
The popularity of “You Shook Me All Night Long” didn’t stop with the album it was featured on, Back in Black. It also appeared on the soundtrack album, Who Made Who. This was a song that was first released in 1980. This came about right after AC/DC’s lead singer, Bon Scott shocked the world with his untimely death. As a song, “You Shook Me All Night Long” may have been considered a modest hit on the music charts when it was first released in 1980, then again in 1986. However, if you suggest to the fans this song is “mediocre,” odds are they’ll be shaking their fists at you, along with some choice words to go with it.
On the US Billboard Hot 100, “You Shook Me All Night Long” peaked as high as number thirty-five. In 1980, it was a number eighty-eight hit on the UK Singles Chart. In 1986 and 2012, this song appeared on the same chart again, this time at number forty-six and forty-two, respectively. While this song was a modest hit on that nation’s official music charts when it was first released, the Irish Singles Chart peaked as high as number nineteen. In AC/DC’s home nation of Australia, it was a number eighty-eight hit but this single also became certified platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association seven times. In Mexico and the United States, “You Shook Me All Night Long” was certified platinum three times while in Italy it was twice. Among the nations of Portugal and the United Kingdom, it became single platinum while in Denmark, gold.
This song is, without a doubt, one of AC/DC’s signature songs. The music critics absolutely love it as it’s consistently ranked as one of the all-time greats. The guitar solo, as usual, seems out of this world as Angus Young once again demonstrated why he’s among the greatest guitarists to ever rock the music industry.
Top 10 Brian Johnson AC/DC Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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