As one of the longest-running (not to mention most influential) hard rock bands to form in the ’70s, AC/DC managed to stay relevant years after Angus Young first slipped into a pair of schoolboy shorts. While many of their contemporaries play county fairs, AC/DC still throw some weight on the charts.
But it wasn’t always that way, especially in America.
After releasing their first two albums in Australia — High Voltage and T.N.T., both in 1975 — AC/DC combined highlights from those efforts into their 1976 international debut, also titled High Voltage. It’s now regarded as a classic, but the album did very little in the U.S. upon its release (Rolling Stone referring to it as hard rock’s “all-time low” in a 1976 review probably didn’t help). In fact, it only entered the Billboard 200 in 1981 — following the runaway success of Back In Black, and after a 1981 U.S. release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (which came out in 1976 elsewhere) that peaked at No. 3.
But let’s rewind back to August 1977, when the band first entered the Billboard 200 with Let There Be Rock, which peaked at No. 154 in October. Powerage, which followed in 1978, fared slightly better, peaking at No. 133 that year.
It wasn’t until 1979 that AC/DC started to make real headway in the States. Buoyed by the moderate success of its title track as a single (and crisp production from Robert John “Mutt” Lange), Highway to Hell entered the Billboard 200 at No. 109, later becoming its first top 40 album, peaking at No. 17 that year.
Three months after AC/DC’s new album chart peak with Highway to Hell, on Feb. 19, 1980, the band’s lead singer Bon Scott was found dead of acute alcoholic poisoning. But AC/DC was far from over.
Released just five months after Scott’s death, Back In Black — with Brian Johnson and his piercing pipes taking over vocals from the late frontman — became AC/DC’s then-highest charting album, peaking at No. 4 and spending 23 weeks in the top 10. While Back in Black remains one of the best-selling albums of all time (22 million shipped, according to the Recording Industry Association of America), it might surprise fans to find out it never hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
AC/DC wouldn’t achieve that feat until the following year, when For Those About to Rock We Salute You topped the Billboard 200. Their next three albums saw the band’s fortunes dip ever so slightly. Flick of the Switch peaked at No. 15, Fly On the Wall didn’t rise higher than No. 32, and Blow Up Your Video peaked at No. 12.
But unlike many of their ’70s peers, AC/DC actually scaled back up the charts during the ’90s. The Razors Edge scored two top five hit singles on the Mainstream Rock Songs chart (“Moneytalks” and “Thunderstruck”), and bulleted from No. 55 to No. 2 on the Billboard 200 within the space of a month. The follow-up, 1995’s Ballbreaker, scored them their then-highest debut, arriving at No. 4 (its peak). Another studio set, 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip, debuted and peaked at No. 7.
With the release of Black Ice in 2008, AC/DC topped the Billboard 200 for the first time in 26 years (and the second time ever). The set was initially exclusively released — on CD only — through Walmart, Sam’s Club and the band’s website, and garnered a massive amount of promotion from Walmart. The huge promotional push from the retailer engineered the album’s whopping 784,000 debut sales week (according to Nielsen Music). No rock album has sold more in a single week since Black Ice bowed, and only seven albums overall have shifted a greater sum since then (most recently, Taylor Swift‘s 1989, when it launched with 1.29 million).
Fast forward to 2014. It’s been a rough year for AC/DC, with dementia forcing Malcolm Young to leave the band and Phil Rudd seemingly estranged from the band after being charged with threatening to kill someone and drug possession. Regardless, their fifteenth studio album — the aptly titled Rock Or Bust — notched an impressive debut, hitting No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on Top Rock Albums with 172,000 copies sold in its debut week.
If Rock Or Bust does prove to be the band’s last album, AC/DC are certainly going out on a note as high as Johnson’s wail.