In January of 1978, AC/DC gathered in the studio to lay down tracks for a new album. The band had already weathered negative reviews of their first few albums and built a strong fan base from the time proven formula of ‘tour, record, tour some more, record, and then keep right on touring.’ Not that the records they had made were anything less than stellar- High Voltage (and T.N.T. if you were in Australia), Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and Let There Be Rock, which had earned the band some long-awaited good reviews. In May of that year, AC/DC climbed the next step on the path to rock and roll god status with Powerage, the album that Keith Richards himself regards as his favorite from the Aussie band that clearly took the Stones to heart.
Powerage isn’t the most famous album from AC/DC, nor is it the most successful. But it is arguably the band’s most accomplished work in the studio, at least in the Bon Scott era. The opening track, “Rock And Roll Damnation” has a slow build that erupts into a tremendous hip-shaking groove, with just the right amount of handclaps and maraca to make you ignore that it doesn’t have a wild Angus Young solo (!). Singing along with the chorus makes “Down Payment Blues” hit all that much harder, as Bon Scott spins a tale of the hardships of the rock lifestyle, summing it up in the brilliant line, “got myself a Cadillac, can’t afford the gasoline” as the band slams it down behind him. Bon’s frustration switches target in the thumping “Gimme a Bullet” a lament on a bad relationship and the unique solution that only Bon could envision- “gimme a bullet to bite on and I’ll make believe it’s you.” We’ve all been there, haven’t we?The next three tracks are the centerpiece of the album, beginning with the sputtering opening of “Riff Raff.” As Cliff Williams’ bass swells, the drums kick in, with Angus hitting the wonderfully snaky boogie riff, then joining his brother to slam down riffs of thunder as Bon howls. After five glorious minutes, the record hits a more restrained groove for the taunt and seductive “Sin City.” The best Aussie description of Vegas values ever, the boogie stays thick as Bon tells of rich men, poor men, snakes, and loaded dice.
Things then take a turn on the final track of this hard rock trinity, “What’s Next To the Moon.” There’s still plenty of heavy riffs and a pounding chorus, but the verses are fairly restrained on guitar, allowing Bon full range to tell his story of surprisingly dark lyrics, hinting at violence and unusual imagery (“heavenly body flying across the sky, Superman was out of town”), all for a spurned love that still isn’t what’s next to the moon.
From here, the album does take a slight, but not disastrous dip. “Gone Shooting” is another thumpy blues-based track that could easily fit on any AC/DC album, but it’s still a bit of a letdown after the album’s high points. “Up To My Neck In You” also fits that description, but it’s a heavier riff, with just a hint of what was to come on the band’s next album (Highway to Hell), while “Kicked in the Teeth” brings to mind Let There Be Rock’s epic title track to bring the album to a close.
The album has five classic tracks that show a band coming into their own just before they hit it big. Bon Scott showcased an ever-developing lyrical genius (there’s a reason the next album had the couplet “she had the body of Venus- with arms!”). The rest of the band was right up there with him, putting down some of their best riffs and heaviest beats. So if you want some prime Bon Scott era AC/DC, grab Highway and Let There Be Rock, but be damn sure to grab this too.
AC/DC Powerage: Album Review article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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