Tag Archives: AC/DC Reference

Classic Albums Revisited: DIRTY DEEDS DONE DIRT CHEAP

The second album that AC/DC recorded, DIRTY DEEDS DONE DIRT CHEAP has an unusual release history. In this modern age of iTUNES and instantaneous/simultaneous global releases it sometimes shocks people to learn just how fucked up some band’s catalogs are. The best examples are The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. For whatever reason, there is a huge differences in album art, album titles, track listing, etc. on much of the these classic band’s output. This issue often creates a problem for international fans who invariably ask, “which is the official or canonical release for this band?” Oddly enough, The Beatles and Stones are (like in most cases) polar opposites. For The Beatles, the British releases are considered the “true” or “real” catalog. Thus, in the 1980’s when their records were converted over to CD the American public was…confused when the British LP’s were released on CD. Meanwhile, The Rolling Stones choose to have the American release act as their “official” cannon.

Whatever.

What does any of this have to do with AC/DC? Well, if you live in Australia or Europe DIRTY DEEDS DONE DIRT CHEAP was the band’s second album, and it came out in 1979. If you lived in America it came out in 1981 after the massively successful BACK IN BLACK record. This might seem like a little detail, but if you’re living in America and AC/DC puts out BACK IN BLACK as a tribute to their fallen lead singer, Bon Scott, with new vocalist Brian Johnson and a year later Scott returns on a “new” record…you might wonder what the hell is going on.

The following “Classic Albums Revisited” is true, only the names have been changed to protected the innocent.

The delay in the album’s release in America is all about taste. The good folks over at Atlantic records didn’t get, probably couldn’t get, songs like “Squealer” or “Big Balls.” What they could ‘get’ was the piles of money the band made after Johnson’s death when BACK IN BLACK hit #4 on the US record charts. What’s amazing, however, is the success of DIRTY DEEDS. It went on to reach #3 here in the US, making it the highest charting AC/DC album.

This of course just goes to show you that the suits at the top have no idea what the hell they are doing.

I first heard AC/DC growing up listening to classic rock radio with my parents. I never really noticed a difference between Brian Johnson and Bon Scott. As an older, more critical listener I can separate the two (Scott having a slightly higher register than Johnson). Many consider Johnson to be an imitation of Scott, but I don’t think that’s very fair. However, as a music geek/nerd I have to love the original line-up more.

Growing up, I only knew one person in the whole world that liked AC/DC, a kid named Josh that lived over on the next street. I remember him showing me his CD collection before class in 8th grade. Our teacher was one of the younger teachers at our school, she happened to be walking by when he was showing me his collection:

“Oh, AC/DC…they were popular when I was in High School. I can’t believe people still listen to them.”

She had a nasty, slightly disgusted look on her face. Like we were looking at a Playboy instead of a stack of shiny plastic discs. I can’t really say I blame her, there is something inherently…dirty about AC/DC. Oh sure, they sing about the usual sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll…but that’s not quite what makes them seem so…’brown bag.’ For me, and I suspect lots of people, AC/DC is a bit of ‘brown bag’ bag. You know, the sort of thing you buy looking down at your shoes. The sort of thing you stuff under your mattress.

The album’s title track, “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” is one of the most cinematic rock songs I’ve ever heard. Every time I hear this song, a roaring advertisement for a dubious, back-alley problem solving service, I can see the vicious High School principal. I can see the cheating boyfriend who needs his ass kicked. The bitchy woman that needs to be put in her place. All of these people harass us throughout our lives– how often have we wished for a tough-talking wise guy to appear and magically “solve” these walking-problems by kicking some ass? The only thing better is: this service is surprisingly affordable (dirt cheap).

“Big Balls.” I’m sure there are a few of you reading this that have never heard this song. And I bet just by reading the title you have a pretty good idea what this song sounds like. Right??? Wrong. Oh sure, AC/DC could have gone all low-brow and written a song about how big their balls are. They could have, but they didn’t. Instead, these (seemingly) dunder-headed rockers form Down Under have crafted a shockingly up-scale double entendre. A song that’s both rockin’ and 10X funnier than any Weird Al song.

My favorite part:

“Some balls are held for charity
And some for fancy dress
But when they’re held for pleasure
They’re the balls that I like best”

The Chuck Berry-esque “Rocker” is an awesome, breathless song that clocks in at only 2:52 but manages to perfectly encapsulate everything about rock music. That this track is so perfect (and yep almost haphazardly dashed-off) is surprising…but not as surprising as “Ride On.” Think about AC/DC and what do you think of? Loud. Balls-to-the-walls rock, right? “Ride On” is a quiet, introspective cowboy song. It’s my favorite track because of the vulnerability in Bon Scott’s voice, the regret and yes…heartache in his soul. At five minutes, it’s too long for radio-play (and was thus, never released as a single) but in my book ranks as one of the greatest rock ballads of all time. The guitar solo starts at 3:40 and goes all the way to 4:47. It’s not a complex or blistering solo, but like great bluesman of the past, Angus Young astounds by somehow conveying real human emotion through thin steel stings.

It’s an amazing, beautiful moment and it’s on an AC/DC record.

The original Australian Artwork:

This album artwork was…DONE…DIRT…CHEAP!!!

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“You’re A Whole Different Person When You’re Scared”

Let me start off by explaining two things: firstly, this post is not my long-gestating epic on Warren Zevon.  Warren is my all-time favorite songwriter and I keep meaning to write a long, rambly essay about why he’s so awesome but I’ve had trouble finding the words.  So this is not that post.  Secondly, this post is not “about” the Colorado shootings that took place recently at a midnight showing of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.  That unfortunate event was the impetus for this post, but I don’t want to cheapen that tragic event by talking about it on DEFENDING AXL ROSE (which is just a shitty music blog).

Sometimes I wonder why I even bother listening to, obsessing over, and writing about music.  God knows it doesn’t make me any money.  But the older I get, the more I feel this terrible compulsion to disappear into music, where I’m able to float off into another place.  In college I was trained to not just read books, but write about them when I finished them.  I guess that explains why I feel the urge to write about albums after I’m done listening to them: I’ve been brainwashed by the educational system.  So in a nutshell, this blog is just an itch I have to scratch, and even though it feels like a waste of time, I indulge myself.

But every so often, something will happen that will really make me question all of it.  Usually this is a terrible, tragic event.  In the face of death, mass death of many innocent people, I can’t help but wonder “what the fuck am I doing with my life?”  What does it mean? Is there a point to any of this obsessive listening, or am I just wasting my time? Does art, specifically music, offer anything other than a fleeting, masturbatory escape from brutal reality?

I’ve been asking myself these (and other) questions all week.

Whenever a violent tragedy occurs, I’m always baffled by all the macho assholes who immediately step forward to let everyone know what “they would have done” had they been there.  I really can’t stand people who do this, but I was never able to articulate what it was exactly that was wrong with their braggadocious bravado.  Then a few days ago it hit me.  I was talking with my wife about recent events and the subject came up about thick-necked jerks who think they’d have stopped 9/11 had they just been on those planes…and then BANG! I instantly remembered Warren Zevon’s song “You’re A Whole Different Person When You’re Scared.”

“You’re A Whole Different Person When You’re Scared.”

That title is ridiculous, isn’t it? But it sums up everything nicely so it gets a pass in my book.  The thesis of the song, co-written by famed-gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, is that we’re not ourselves when we’re truly, deeply afraid.  The song is both groovy and goofy (because that’s how Zevon rolled) but at it’s core, “You’re A Whole Different Person When You’re Scared” is 100% true.  I’ve only been terrified one or two times in my life, and I can tell you–when you’re scared you don’t act like yourself.  You don’t act like yourself because human beings are animals, and when animals get scared, survival instincts kick-in.  It’s easy to say that in the face of extreme danger you’d “step up” and be a hero…but the the reality is something else entirely.  Can any of us really say, with anything approximating certainty, that we know what we’d do in the face of death? I don’t think so.

I’d been struggling to find the words, to sum up my position on the whole matter, when Zevon’s song suddenly sprang to mind.  That a song helped resolve my feelings about a very serious matter shouldn’t be a surprise to me, but it was.  Once I got to thinking about it, I realized that a life surrounded by art is more than just pretty things and cute sayings.  It’s more than just a good beat and fun time.  Music, good music, is more than just superficial beauty, it can enlighten us, and put into words what we know but cannot say.  I’m no mental-slouch, but I was having a hard time coming up with the exact reason for why I was so pissed at these tough-guy jerkoff’s–but Hunter S. Thompson and Warren Zevon knew what I was trying to say and gave me “You’re A Whole Different Person When You’re Scared.”

This whole experience has done nothing but affirm to me that I’m not wasting my time, there is something to be gained by enjoying music and the world of art.  Rock ‘n roll ain’t noise pollution, to me it makes good, good sense.

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