AC/DC: Gettin' Stiff
AC/DC returns to hard rockin form on "Stiff Upper Lip," while lead guitarist Angus Young shows off some of his coolest, most bluesy licks ever. A diehard pentatonic craftsman and self-described roots-rock fan as in Chuck Berry and the Stones Young drives the song with meaty, relentless double stops. Heres the riff raff.
The Chord Progression
No challenges here. Angus and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young (yes, brothers) lay down a slinky groove that features all of four chords -- and not very much of three of them. In fact three minutes, 15 seconds of this three minute, 34 second opus take place over the A chord.
Angus covers the four-measure intro by himself before Brian Johnson croaks out his first vocal line at :08. Play a continuous eighth note open A string to emulate the bass line Angus lays down under his own signature double stop riff (which well explore later in the section titled "The Solo"). Angus and Brian continue over a quarter-note hi-hat until stopping at :21, on the first beat of the 7th measure of the first verse, resting until the first beat of the ninth measure at :24, at which point the band kicks in.
At :52, after 14 more measures of this pulsing A chord, broken only by a repeating D to C accent, the rhythm section teases us with a D chord for two measures, returning to A at :56 for another 18 measures of root note reverie.
At 1:31 we get more of a break -- four measures of D to carry us into the solo. Angus spices up this section by playing a first finger barre at the 7th fret across strings two, three, and four, then playing B at the 9th fret on the fourth string, D at the 7th fret on the third string, and G at the 8th fret on the second string. Mess with that a bit and listen to how he phrases it.
Then at 1:39 its back for eight more measures of A. The solo moves to E for two measures at 1:54, then to D for another two at 1:58. After that its just A with the repeating D to C accent all the way out. At 2:36 the band stops and punches a couple of A chords. Use a 12th fret A barre chord to accent here. At 2:40 the rhythm section drops out to let Angus re-create his intro, then comes A-crashing back in at 2:50, finally regaining the groove at 2:56 and riding it A-A-All the way to the finish line.
The intro riff to "Stiff Upper Lip" is classic double stop rock and, primarily because of its Chuck Berry-ish structure not to mention its overall importance as the main hook of the song -- deserves to be analyzed under the heading of solo. There's an easy and a hard way to play the lick. Well take a look at both.
Angus found this one in his favorite hiding spot: the A minor pentatonic pattern at the 5th fret. Play D at the 7th fret on the third string with your third finger and G at the 8th fret on the second string with your fourth finger simultaneously, bending them both ever so slightly. Then barre the first two strings at the 5th fret with your first finger and hit that E (second string) and A (first string) together. Then play the D and G together again, then play a 5th fret barre across the second and third strings (C on the third string and E on the second string).
Now play the 5th fret barre on the first and second strings again (with your first finger), then a 7th fret barre on the second and third strings (with your third finger), then the first finger barre at the 5th fret on the second and third strings. Hold that barre, hammer on your second finger at the 6th fret on the third string, then play A at the 7th fret on the fourth string twice, fretting with your third finger. Then play the 7th fret barre across the second and third strings, followed by the 5th fret barre across the same strings. That's the intro, and the main riff of the song. Easy, aint it?
Now for the hard way. Instead of using your pick to play all of the above, pluck everything with the middle and ring finger of your right hand, while simultaneously using your thumb or pick to drive the song with that eighth note, open A string bass line I mentioned in the section titled "The Chord Progression." Angus wouldnt want it any other way. AC/DC gets slagged a lot for their brazen simplicity, but this is one tricky lick. A really cool, tricky lick, very much borrowed from classic Delta Blues pickers such as Robert Johnson, Son House, and John Lee Hooker. Angus knows his blues.
The actual guitar solo starts at 1:39 in 17th position. Angus reaches for another double stop, this time C at the 17th fret on the third string and E at the 17th fret on the second string. He barres these two notes together with his first finger, gives them a slight bend, hits them twice, then plays A at the 19th fret on the fourth string. Then he drops down an octave to 5th position and plays around with first finger and third finger barres at the 5th and 7th frets on the second and third strings.
At 1:46 he hits a rake a really discordant, but truly essential part of all rock, blues, and country guitar players vocabularies. Play F# at the 7th fret on the second string with your third finger while simultaneously playing C at the 8th fret on the first string. Give these two notes a bit of a bend, and use up strokes with your pick to get the most raucous sound possible out of them. Angus pops back and forth between this rake and a first finger, 5th fret barre across the top two strings a couple of times. Pure Chuck Berry.
When the rhythm section reaches for the songs lone E chord at 1:54, Angus executes a searing riff that reads like this: Play A at the 10th fret on the second string with your second finger, then do a quick chromatic climb on the first string from C# at the 9th fret with your first finger to E at the 12th fret with your fourth (chromatic means hit every note between C# and E). Then drop down to 5th position and play C at the 8th fret with your fourth finger, then A at the 5th fret twice with your first.
Then descend down the pentatonic, playing G at the 8th fret on the second string, then E at the 5th fret. Then play a double stop using E at the 9th fret on the third string and G at the 8th fret on the second. At 1:58 Angus tears into another rake, first in 5th position, then jumping up an octave to 17th position for emphasis.
At 2:02 the rhythm section returns to A, and Angus falls back to 5th position, still raking, then to a first finger, 5th fret barre across the top two strings, then the E and G double stop he pulled just a few seconds earlier. It's almost all double stops from here. He flails away at a third finger, 7th fret barre across the second and third strings for a few beats, then plays B at the 4th fret on the third string and D at the 3rd fret on the second string together, sliding into a first finger, 5th fret barre on the second and third strings. Then he hits the 7th fret, fourth string A a couple of times, and wraps the solo up at 2:08 by barring the 5th fret, then 7th fret, then 5th fret of the second and third strings. With a little distortion Angus gets a pretty chunky stew brewing.
Beyond "Stiff Upper Lip"
This raunchy rocker is all about double stops, and a pretty good indication of what Chuck Berry might be doing today if he plugged into a high-gain amp and let it rip. Use this lesson as a springboard to explore double stops all over the neck. Start by harmonizing your basic pentatonic scales into these rich-sounding, two-note patterns. After you've got a good grasp of all the thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, and rakes you can concoct out of a basic minor pentatonic, try doing the same with other scale positions. Each offers a couple of different double stop riffs, and an endlessly creative method of soloing. Get stiff.