The 10 AC/DC Songs That Are More Important Than You Think

by Jesse Fink

30 July 2014


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5. “Live Wire”
(TNT, 1975; High Voltage, 1976)

A real staple of AC/DC’s live shows, in fact the first song they ever played on stage when they arrived in the United States in 1977, without Mark Evans, and the song that opens the brilliant Live from the Atlantic Studios release. That record was produced for American radio stations by Michael Klenfner, Perry Cooper and Judy Libow at Atlantic Records.

Significantly, “Live Wire” was also the first song AC/DC played live in England, at the Red Cow in Hammersmith in 1976.

There’s a great passage in Mark’s book about it and for me it sums up the power of the band: “We opened with ‘Live Wire.’ My bass intro drifted in the air, Mal’s ominous guitar chords joined in, Phil’s hi-hat cymbals tapped away and then the song exploded when Angus and the drums absolutely fucking erupted. I felt like I was lifted off the ground, it was that powerful.”

Jimmy Douglass, who was the engineer on Live from the Atlantic Studios, told me: “I remember the feeling of standing and just looking at the speakers, listening and going, ‘Hooooly shit.’” That’s how powerful their music is. For me, there’s nothing like AC/DC and I believe it’s their primal energy, what Jimmy calls their “pure energy fire”, that is the secret of their popularity around the world. I’ve seen a picture of a young Buddhist monk in the Himalayas with an AC/DC T-shirt under his robe. What other band has that reach?

4. “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)”
(TNT, 1975; High Voltage, 1976)

This is another song that showcases the brilliance of George Young—the bagpipes were all his idea—but more significantly the one that first got the notice of American radio programmers and launched AC/DC’s Stateside adventure. Contrary to all the claims already made (from Seattle’s Steve Slaton to Flint’s Peter C. Cavanaugh), the first person to play AC/DC on the radio in the United States was Bill Bartlett at WPDQ/WAIV in Jacksonville, Florida. Texas, California, Massachussetts and the Midwest were key areas for early airplay, but Florida was where it all kicked off.

Bartlett had been playing AC/DC well before anyone else after coming out to Australia as a foreign-exchange student in the early ‘70s and getting on the mailing list of Australian record companies for new releases. Bartlett also broke Little River Band on radio in the US. These were the days when record companies had a lot of trouble getting Aussie bands played. I’ve seen a photo from the era of an A&R guy in Florida shopping around a new LRB record with a live tree kangaroo as a gimmick.

Australian bands have a lot to thank Bartlett for, and he was acknowledged in a letter from late Atlantic Records promo executive Perry Cooper as “the first person in the country to turn me on to AC/DC.” Bartlett now lives in Costa Rica and “It’s a Long Way to the Top” has become a classic, loved by fans and covered by scores of bands. I especially love the Nantucket version. Dropkick Murphys do a very commendable version, too.

3. “High Voltage”
(TNT, 1975; High Voltage, 1976)

A song that for me encapsulates the max-energy joie de vivre and peerless rock boogie of AC/DC before they went all primal noise with Let There Be Rock. Don’t listen to the God botherers or the critics who tell you AC/DC’s music is dark with infernal themes. It’s joyful at its core. It’s just pure rock ‘n’ roll. You’d have to be dead not to have your head or body move with this track. The first of their true classics and an enduring hit among fans. But who played the drums on it?

According to Tony Currenti, it was him and not Phil Rudd, who’s in the clip filmed in Melbourne in 1975. I’ve seen Tony play this live and he plays in exactly the same style: understated, not heavy, but with real swing and powerfully. Rudd plays the drums for “High Voltage” in a different way: you can hear it in the intro.

A friend called Anthony Stocqueler, who plays in the Australian AC/DC tribute band Let There Be Bon, rehearsed with him before The Choirboys show in Sydney and told me, “The intro is different with Tony. Phil plays four ‘dah dah dah dah’ while Tony does two ‘dah dah dah dah’ then falls in to 4/4 time while the guitars are still doing the intro. It’s something that is very unique to Tony’s style. Phil has never done it like the album: only once live in Sydney in 2010. Still didn’t sound quite right. The first time I played the song with Tony he played it like the record. I had goosebumps. No drummer ever does it like that.”

Currenti claims he laid down the track in the studio while recording “High Voltage”, the Australian version, which puts him at odds with the recollection of former Albert Productions A&R head honcho Chris Gilbey, who asserts the record was cut after the sessions had finished. Fascinatingly, audience noise for the clip, directed by Larry Larstead, was stolen from George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh live album. Larry apologises to Harrison for it in the book.

2. “Soul Stripper”
(High Voltage, 1975; ’74 Jailbreak, 1984)

This is one of the songs from the band’s debut LP, 1975’s High Voltage, that never made it on to the American issue of High Voltage (1976) but instead finally got released on the 1984 EP, ‘74 Jailbreak. How it never ended up on the band’s first American album I will never know. It’s one of the most compelling, hypnotic AC/DC songs I’ve heard, with dueling guitar leads from Malcolm and Angus (who share the songwriting credit between them), and again is notable for having George, Angus and Malcolm play on it, with vocals from Bon Scott and drums by the band’s forgotten drummer, Tony Currenti, who performed all the songs on the album bar “Baby Please Don’t Go”.

I was the first author ever who’d bothered to go talk to Tony. I tracked him down to his pizzeria in southern Sydney, went in, sat down and had a coffee and pizza with this avuncular Sicilian guy who looked like Al Delvecchio from Happy Days. He’s not the kind of guy you would expect in a million years had played for AC/DC. His shirt, covering his ample girth, was covered in flour. He told me a story that has changed AC/DC history and Tony’s since gone on to play drums again for the first time in four decades.

He recently played “High Voltage”, the single, on stage with The Choirboys in Sydney and is keen to start playing live again, either in Australia or overseas with interested acts. He’s an amazing drummer: a real “feel” player. You listen to the drums on that album and they’re very different to Phil Rudd’s playing but in no way inferior. There’s a good reason why Tony was George Young’s favourite session drummer and was asked to join AC/DC twice. Significantly, he also played on Stevie Wright’s classic, “Evie”, a song that should have been a hit in America but bombed.

Tony has been mentioned in passing on for his work on “Soul Stripper”, which is a belated recognition but still grossly insufficient. He never got an album credit for any of his work with AC/DC – anywhere – despite appearing on several releases, including the band’s American debut, High Voltage (1976) and ‘74 Jailbreak (1984). He deserves that at the very least. All he wants is to meet the Youngs again. He’s not after money. He’s happy with his lot. At the end of the day he’s part of rock history.

1. “Gimme a Bullet”
(Powerage, 1978)

This was the song that began my personal Conradian journey into the music of the Young brothers. It opens my book, The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC (St Martin’s Press, $25.99), as it was the song that, at a crucial juncture in my life, connected me with AC/DC on an emotional and physical level I’d never experienced before, and it made me a fan.

Far more interesting to readers is that after the book came out in Australia, I gave a lift one night to Mark Evans, AC/DC’s former bass player from 1975–77. My daughter Billie, Mark and I drove through the western suburbs of Sydney listening to songs off Powerage, Highway to Hell and Let There Be Rock. It was surreal. Driving around midnight, AC/DC cranked up full volume like something out of Wayne’s World, with a guy who used to be in AC/DC in the back seat, singing along with Billie and me. I’ll never forget it.

Mark’s a big part of the book and I dedicated it to him, former AC/DC drummer Tony Currenti and former Atlantic Records executive Michael Klenfner. Mark told me he’d gone away after reading The Youngs and re-listened to Powerage. He’d been in an adjoining studio playing with another band when some of it was recorded and George Young had even borrowed his guitar (as Cliff Williams had had visa problems entering Australia).

After re-listening to the album, Mark was convinced George Young had played bass on the album (there are previously unpublished photos in the book from inside the studio of George playing bass with Angus and Malcolm). Perhaps that was why the bass on “Gimme a Bullet” was so good and so much notier than Cliff’s usual contributions. Some of the bass on the album could well be Cliff, who eventually arrived in Australia and went into the studio – his name appears on the album and the official line is that he was the bass player.  But whose bass playing finally ended up being used on each track in the final analysis is up for debate.

Listen to it yourself and decide. There’s a history of George Young playing uncredited bass on AC/DC records. Personally, I think it’s one of their greatest songs, notable for the lack of a solo from Angus Young – and, as I write in the book, it stopped me from doing something stupid at a weak moment. Powerage is unquestionably the band’s masterpiece.

Jesse Fink worked for five years as a senior editor of non-fiction for HarperCollins Publishers before becoming deputy editor of Inside Sport magazine. He has won or been commended for several Australian Sports Commission Media Awards and had his feature writing collected in a number of anthologies. Fink is the author of the critically acclaimed 15 Days in June and the memoir Laid Bare: One Man’s Story of Sex, Love and Other Disorders. He lives in Sydney, Australia.

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