By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
AC/DC – DIRTY DEEDS DONE DIRT CHEAP (1976)
While this series generally covers albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s, on occasion I like to throw in an outlier album just to mix things up. This week, I’m doing that very thing by taking a look at the 1976 AC/DC album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.
There’s two reasons for this. The first is that I was able to pick up a remarkably well preserved copy of the album on that same recent shopping trip that yielded that Ratt EP I wrote about in the previous article I did for The Cassette Chronicles. The other reason is that as luck would have it, this is the 45th anniversary of the album’s original release. Since I’ve never heard the album in full, it seems like the perfect time to mark the occasion.
While I freely admit that my knowledge of the band’s earliest material is a lot more spotty than stuff that has come later in their career, I am slowly acquiring those early albums when I can find them cheap enough. What I discovered with this album is that it features not only some timeless hits for AC/DC but in its entirety, the album is quite remarkable.
Usually when I write about well known albums, I tend to skip over the “big hits” because everyone knows them and everyone has written endlessly about them. I don’t have much new to say about the songs.
But on Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, the three staple songs are ingrained with me on a personal level that I can’t simply say I like them and move on. All three songs are on Side One of the cassette and I’m going to start with the side closing “Problem Child” first. I’ve heard the song on the radio numerous times before and I’ve always liked hearing it. But as I sat listening to it for this article, I seemed to take to the song on a deeper level than when I’m hearing it on the radio. I came away newly impressed with just how killer the music sounds on the song. Given the expectations of an AC/DC song, the track is a hard-hitting rocker but there’s something just out and out cool about how the band just cuts loose throughout the track and then even ups the ante towards the song’s end. Oddly, this made me think that Bon Scott’s vocals for the song are actually the lesser light in a battle being the singer and the music. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying he did a bad job. I just mean, the music seemed to overwhelm me to point that I wasn’t paying quite the same attention to his singing as I normally would.
The album’s title track opens Side One and that instantly identifiable and ever so memorable guitar sound that kicks off the song resonates with me as strongly today as when I first heard the song (a few years after the album was released). I love the fantastic lyrical content contained in the song too. While listening, I realized that I still found myself banging my head and doing a really poor impression of Bon Scott’s vocals as I sang along. Seriously, I am terrible at singing but I did get the phrasing right at least.
As for “Big Balls”, what can I say? I just love the song. When I wrote about the Back In Black album for The Cassette Chronicles back in May of 2018, I felt I had to go back a bit further to explain how I came to know of AC/DC. In that article I wrote about “Big Balls” saying the following:
“Now before I talk about the album’s track list I should go back a little further. Despite not being a full-fledged rock and metal fan until about 1983-1984, I was at least a little bit aware of AC/DC, much to the chagrin of a few nuns and laypeople who worked at the Catholic school I was attending while in the fourth grade.
It was about that time that the boys in the school discovered the band’s song “Big Balls” and for totally immature males, this was THE GREATEST SONG OF ALL TIME! And you haven’t lived until you see the horrified faces of the teachers in the school as they hear a bunch of pre-adolescent boys running down the hallway singing the lyrics to the song. I managed to get in trouble for that despite the fact I wasn’t involved, having the misfortune of bad timing as I came out of the bathroom at the same time one of the teachers caught the other boys in the hallway. Still, it was freaking hilarious at the time.”
And that still rings true for me. In some ways, “Big Balls” might just be my favorite AC/DC song. I love the double entendre lyrics, though seriously, does anyone really believe they are more than single entendre? And the way Bon Scott delivers the vocal performance really gives the song such a memorable spin. He manages to make it seem like he’s delivering a serious set of lyrics while at the same time you can just feel that he’s got that “I aim to misbehave” mischievous grin on his face.
After those three songs, the other two tracks on Side One might be be in danger of being seen as a bit of a letdown, but they are actually incredibly impressive. “Love At First Feel” is another rocking stomp and Bon Scott delivers the last line in the song’s chorus in such a way that he’s practically cackling with glee.
Meanwhile, “Rocker” bursts out of the speakers with no break between it and the preceding “Big Balls” track. Angus and Malcolm Young are immense on this track which initially struck me as being very similar in tone to a 50’s or 60’s pop rock track. Obviously, the band injected a far harder rocking sheen over the material but that feeling of the bare bones of the song being inspired by old time rock and roll didn’t disappear for me. And the way Bon Scott tears into the vocal track with such vicious abandon really drove the song home for me.
And that’s just the first side of the album. For Side Two, things start off with “There’s Gonna Be Some Rockin'”. This song is pretty good all by itself but it made an even deeper impression on me when I found the swinging tempo of the music had me snapping my fingers to the rhythmic beat of the track. I like when I get moved to do something like that when you consider I probably wouldn’t do it if asked to do it by the band or fellow fans.
The lyrical content of “Ain’t No Fun (Waiting To Be A Millionaire)” could probably describe the life story of pretty much any musician ever. The pacing was just a slight downturn in tempo from the full on bluesy rock fireworks. It seemed like it would cut loose at any moment but it doesn’t really do that until the late going.
As I said, my familiarity with the earlier material from the AC/DC discography is mostly, if not totally, from the “hits”. So you’ll have to forgive me that I really had no way of realizing just how amazing the song “Ride On” was until now. First, I’d never heard it before and then the way the song was structured blew me away. It’s a very slow moving song, almost sedate in its pacing. But what really got to me was the thoroughly amazing way the understated vocal take from Bon Scott came across. There’s no gleeful ribald slant to the vocals, not ballsy rocking delivery. Instead, it is an emotional wallop that plays it straight from start to finish and it just killed me with its sincerity. And when you add in a rather impressive guitar solo from Angus Young, you can throw “Ride On” onto my list of favorite AC/DC songs right now.
The album closing “Squealer” starts off in much the same fashion as “Ride On”. The slow and steady delivery and the far more restrained vocals. But as the song progresses, the pace picks up and then a killer musical soundtrack kicks in. The guitar work from the Youngs as well as the rhythm section of Mark Evans and Phil Rudd from the solo through the final fadeout pushes the song towards greatness and brings the album to a fittingly superb conclusion.
While I knew of three songs on Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, I got to have a new appreciation for them as I listened to the album in its entirety for the first time ever. But more importantly, I got to discover that the full nine track album is a marvelous collection that spotlights the early part of the band’s career and provides the listener with a fantastic musical experience, bar none.
NOTES OF INTEREST: The original Australian release of the album contained the song “Jailbreak” but this was dropped from the international release. According to Wikipedia, the song didn’t get released worldwide until 1984.
The international versions of the title track, “Problem Child” and “Ain’t No Fun (Waiting Round To Be A Millionaire)” are shorter than how they appear on the Australian version of the album. Over the years both versions of these songs have made their way on to various reissues.
George Young, the brother of Angus and Malcolm Young, produced the album and is credit with playing bass on “Big Balls”.
The Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap album has sold over 6 million copies in the US making it the band’s best selling album behind Back In Black and Highway To Hell.