Song 350: AC/DC, “You Shook Me All Night Long” (1980)


The making of AC/DC’s record Back in Black is pretty well-documented at this point, so I won’t go into it much. In brief, the story is this: Australian rock band releases six (!) records, lead singer dies from alcohol poisoning, band isn’t sure whether to continue. Band gets encouragement to continue (including from dead lead singer’s parents) and releases its most successful album yet (and, it turns out, ever) as a tribute. It is called Back in Black, and it is awesome.

“You Shook Me All Night Long” is the record’s centerpiece. AC/DC diehards probably feel differently, but I don’t care: this song is absolutely amazing, and despite it being on the radio seemingly every few minutes, I never get bored with it. I love the way the guitars start the song both ominously and prettily, like a tuneful calm before a kick-ass storm. When the storm touches down, everything quickly snaps into place, and the guitars shift from abstract and reverb-y to ferociously straightforward. In many ways, “You Shook Me All Night Long” is very simple; in others, it’s an ingenius force of nature: “She told me to come but I was already there” is, for one thing, both the dumbest and smartest lyric in rock. Just a big mess of insanity.

There’s obviously no debating what “You Shook Me All Night Long” is about – sex is great! – but I can’t help thinking it’s also about how great rock ‘n’ roll is. The song seems to revel in its rockness; from those giant chords to the giant vocals; this song is rock in its purest form. Its goal is to rock you, and you will feel rocked.

It’s amazing to think about how AC/DC and their ilk used to be thought of as “heavy metal.” Though this song is one of the band’s most accessible, the rest of their output isn’t much different. That’s not to say it’s bad—just that things sure have changed in 30 years.


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