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The Humble Beginnings of AC/DC

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I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.

Top: "Can I Sit Next To You Girl" single and Aussie "High Voltage" LP; bottom: Aussie "TNT" LP and European "High Voltage" LP

Top: "Can I Sit Next To You Girl" single and Aussie "High Voltage" LP; bottom: Aussie "TNT" LP and European "High Voltage" LP

Origins of the Thunder From Down Under

AC/DC have spent so many years at the top of the hard rock heap that it's hard to imagine them as a struggling young group. Like any band, of course, AC/DC went through numerous lineups and experimented with various sounds during their embryonic period. Investigating AC/DC's early recordings can be an interesting and rewarding listen for casual listeners, and even those who consider themselves "hardcore" fans might learn a few things about the band's long history!

I imagine that every AC/DC fan is at least familiar with the Cliff's Notes version of their story: The band was formed in 1973 by guitar slinging brothers Malcolm and Angus Young, whose family had emigrated to Australia from their native Scotland a decade earlier. Angus and Malcolm were two of eight children in a musical family, where nearly everyone played an instrument of some sort. When "Ang" and "Mal's" mutual love of American blues and hard-edged rock 'n roll like Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones inspired them to form their own band, they didn't have to look very far for guidance—their older brother George was already a music-biz veteran. As a member of Australia's Beatle-esque combo the Easybeats, George had scored an international hit in 1966 with "Friday On My Mind." George and his songwriting partner, Harry Vanda, took the brothers under their wing, helping AC/DC secure their first record contract with Australia's Albert Productions label and serving as producers on their earliest studio efforts.

Easybeats (feat. George Young) - "Friday on My Mind" (1966)

Finally on Vinyl...

Angus and Malcolm dubbed their new combo "AC/DC" thanks to a suggestion from their sister Margaret, who'd seen the electrical designation on her sewing machine. After making a name for themselves on the Aussie pub scene and going through a number of bassists and drummers, the first "official" lineup of AC/DC, consisting of Malcolm, Angus, vocalist Dave Evans, and drummer Colin Burgess (with George Young sitting in on bass), recorded their first single - "Can I Sit Next To You, Girl" b/w "Rockin' in the Parlour," released by Albert Productions in 1974.

"Can I Sit Next To You Girl" w/Dave Evans (1974)

"Rockin' in the Parlour" (1974)

Exit Evans, Welcome Bon

Listeners familiar with AC/DC's classic mega-decibel, blood-and-thunder attack may be surprised at how lightweight their first foray onto wax feels.

The Evans-fronted AC/DC seemed to be trying to approximate the poppy, "glam rock" sound that was hot at the time, thanks to British groups like Slade and The Sweet. It's hard to imagine what AC/DC would sound like today if they'd stayed on this path or if they'd even still be around today!

However, Dave's tenure with the band was destined to be brief. "Can I Sit Next To You, Girl" was Dave's only recording with AC/DC before he was replaced in late '74 by Ronald Belford Scott, aka "Bon," a fellow Scotland-to-Australia emigre' whose prior resume included stints with Aussie bubble gum popsters The Valentines and the prog-rock band Fraternity. Bon's raspy voice and streetwise, tough-guy image was the final piece of the AC/DC puzzle. With Scott's gritty snarl out front, AC/DC had finally found "their" sound.

AC/DC re-recorded "Can I Sit Next To You Girl" with Bon, but "Rockin' in the Parlour" remains exclusive to the Evans single. Needless to say, that single is a pricey, hard to find collector's item today. (According to the record collector's site Discogs, the highest price ever paid for a copy in their marketplace was just over $900.)

Dave Evans moved on to the moderately successful Aussie glam-rock band Rabbit, who released two studio albums in the late '70s, and he continues to maintain an on-and-off solo career to this day, usually billing himself (somewhat dubiously) as "The Original Voice of AC/DC."

"Show Business" (1975)

"High Voltage" and "TNT"

Re-energized by their new front man, AC/DC released their initial pair of full length studio albums via Albert Productions in 1975 - High Voltage in February and T.N.T. in December. At first, the LPs were only available in Australia, but they became popular overseas as imports, eventually creating a buzz that major labels couldn't ignore. AC/DC inked a worldwide deal with Atlantic Records in 1976, and their first international release, also called High Voltage, was released the same year..

Essentially, the '76 High Voltage was a compilation of tracks from the prior Aussie-only releases, comprised of seven songs from T.N.T. (excluding "Rocker" and a cover of Chuck Berry's "School Days") and only two ("Little Lover" and "She's Got Balls") from the original High Voltage. I remember being very surprised when I first saw an Aussie copy of H.V. in the late '80s, and wondering why it had a different cover than the one I was familiar with, and a bunch of songs I'd never heard! (The remainder of the Aussie-only tracks eventually trickled out to the rest of the world over the years, on compilations like the '74 Jailbreak EP and the Bonfire and Backtracks box sets.)

High Voltage received mixed reviews upon its 1976 worldwide release - Rolling Stone famously called it "calculated stupidity," but the AC/DC machine rolled on regardless. Paying their dues as an opening act for bands like KISS, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, and UFO, the AC/DC boys delighted in blowing the headliners off the stage, each and every night.

"School Days" (1975)

Dirty Deeds and Beyond

World domination was still a few years away for AC/DC, but they were well on their way by the time their third LP, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap arrived in 1976.

Dirty Deeds was well received in Europe and Australia, but the album was not released in America until 1981 due to behind-the-scenes clashes with the U.S. branch of Atlantic Records. By that time Bon Scott had tragically passed, AC/DC had released the epic Back in Black with new vocalist Brian Johnson, and they had moved on to the next phase of their career.... but that's a story for another day.

Thanks to the internet, live and studio recordings from AC/DC's legendary early days are readily available for curious listeners to check out. Raise a cold beer in honor of Bon Scott while you check out some of these long-lost tracks, and weep for what might have been if he'd lived beyond 1980...

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© 2021 Keith Abt

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