The debate rages on. It always has and always will. Which AC/DC singer is the best, Bon Scott or Brian Johnson? There are all sorts of opinions with even more opinions to support whatever side you take. I like to meet somewhere in the middle. I recognize the value both singers brought to the band. Before we jump into it, though, there is a third singer (the original, a guy named Dave Evans), who I’m not going to talk about (not because he was bad, but because he was only in the band a short time, before they were big). There’s also the whole Axl Rose thing, which turned out much better than I thought it would. The point is, the focus here is on the two main singers.
There are great AC/DC albums featuring Bon Scott and great AC/DC albums featuring Brian Johnson. The live album If You Want Blood You’ve Got It with Bon Scott is a killer live album. It’s one of my favorites. Some of their best early stuff is on the album. Riff Raff, Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, Bad Boy Boogie, Problem Child, Whole Lotta Rosie, Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation, and High Voltage are just some of the awesome Bon Scott-era songs on the album. The energy and raw quality of the album is off the charts.
As far as Bon Scott-era studio albums, you can’t argue with High Voltage, Let There Be Rock, Powerage (my personal favorite), or the classic Highway to Hell. Those albums are legendary. They set the pace for what would continue in a more polished form on the AC/DC albums that would follow after Bon Scott’s death.
Lyrically, Bon Scott was a genius. He knew how to use metaphor, wordplay, and double entendres to make his point. His lyrics were the song equivalent of the limerick. Brian wrote a lot of great lyrics, but Bon Scott just had a way with words that couldn’t be beat.
Besides Powerage, which I can’t get enough of, there’s Let There Be Rock. Bad Boy Boogie, Overdose, Whole Lotta Rosie, Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, Go Down, Problem Child, and the title track are just some of the killer songs on that album. Powerage only had Rock ‘n’ Roll Damantion and Riff Raff as hits, but tracks like Sin City, Gone Shootin’, and Down Payment Blues showcase Bon Scott’s lyrical genius as well as anything on Let There Be Rock. For me, choosing my favorite between the two is impossible. Both are great albums.
Of course, you can’y argue that the biggest album the band had was with Brian Johnson. Back in Black is beyond legendary. It’s a beast unto itself. You Shook Me all Night Long, Hells Bells, Shoot to Thrill, and Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution are just a couple of the gems on the album. The follow-up album, For Those About to Rock, was another killer effort from the AC/DC camp. A couple of standout tracks on that one, besides the super cool title track, are Put the Finger on You, Let’s Get It Up, Evil Walks, C.O.D. are all great AC/DC songs. I like For Those About to Rock slightly better than Back in Black. Maybe it’s blasphemy to say that, I don’t know, but it’s true.
It’s hard to really call an AC/DC album bad, regardless of whether it comes from the Bon Scott era or the Brian Johnson era. AC/DC is just one of those bands that delivers one great album after another. Even albums like Flick of the Switch and Fly on the Wall offer a few little gems, and then there’s Blow up Your Video, one of my favorites for sure. There are some great overlooked classics on here. Heatseeker, of course, which was a hit, and then some awesome stuff like Ruff Stuff, Kissin’ Dynamite, Some Sin for Nuthin’, and Nick of Time. It’s really a classic album that never became classic.
More great albums followed with Brian Johnson, who has obviously logged much more time with the band than Bon Scott. In fact, there’s a couple of generations of fans who don’t even remember AC/DC had another singer, believe it or not, and that’s a shame. Even if you grew up on the Brian Johnson-fronted AC/DC, you should be aware of the contributions made by Bon Scott. AC/DC would not be AC/DC as they are today without the contributions to its history from Bon Scott. Instead of debating which era is better, I’d rather acknowledge what each of these great frontmen brought to the band.