It’s easy to overlook the legacy of an album like Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. It was only AC/DC’s second record, albeit one of their last with front man Bon Scott, who was to die five years later from an alcohol overdose.
In the years leading up to his death, the band had cemented themselves as hard rock riff maniacs with a soft spot for satiating chorus lines. Yet it was only in 1980, the same year Scott died, that their seminal record, Back In Black, would bump them from Australia’s finest guitar-shredding party-seekers, to gods of the international rock anthem.
They’d had success before, but never like this. Still, without those years leading up to 1980, the year everything changed, they’d likely never have become as iconic as they are today, and while Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap may just be one step in their hellish ladder up to the sun of success, its telling of how formative their first years were to become.
“Dirty deeds/ Do anything you wanna do/ Done dirty cheap” sings Scott on the record’s title track, which has since become emblematic of the band’s raucous indifference for commercial status. He growls his way through the chorus, as wheezing breaths of menace slip past us and a kick drum lurks onwards, and before you know it, we’re listening to a ripping guitar solo that is foretelling of the glorious riffs which were to make “Thunderstruck” their biggest hit of all time, only four years later.
Truthfully, the whole record is as wild as they come. “I’ve got big balls” repeats Scott, before giving one of the most high-octane performances he’s ever given on “Rocker”. He throws himself into the vocals and unravels with them, seducing all fuzz-loving metalheads whilst simultaneously quenching an insatiable thirst to party, and party hard.
And perhaps that’s why this record did so well for Scott and co. It sounds fucking fun, with a vigorous impatience to break free. Granted, their debut album High Voltage had only been released six months earlier, but the band had already been plummeted so deep into the limelight, with the success of tracks like “T.N.T” and “It’s A Long Way To The Top”, that anything unfaithful to their pulverizing sound would have been incredibly polarizing for fans. They made no accommodations, they wrote what they wanted, how they wanted, and the masses responded.
Truth be told, I’m no AC/DC fanatic (I wasn’t even alive when this record was released), but listening to it 45 years later, I immediately understand why it marked the birth of their career. You almost have to look at this record as their second debut, a confirmation that the riff-centric spectacle which they had delivered on High Voltage would prevail.
Very rarely do they hint at a softer sound, at something more reflective, but Dirty Deed’s penultimate track “Ride On” does so with subtle certainty. It’s the best song on the record, because they drop their guard for five and a half minutes, they take a breath, flick the switch, lower the gain and take a look around themselves, offering something beyond their rich licks of bloody blues and wailing bass, something so free-spirited, so untamed, that it makes Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap an effortlessly unapologetic album.