When Bon Scott leered, “Lock up your daughter, lock up your wife, lock up your back door,” on AC/DC’s North American debut album, High Voltage (1976), he wasn’t so much issuing a threat as celebrating his inalienable right to be crass. AC/DC showed how much fun true tastelessness could be and how liberating it could sound. These Australian delinquents played their bloodshot blues rock with the venom of punk rockers and the swagger of drunken lechers.The first batch of remastered reissues from AC/DC’s catalog captures the band at its politically incorrect peak.
High Voltage and Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976) find the quintet already sure of its strengths: The guitars of brothers Angus and Malcolm Young bark at each other, Phil Rudd swings the beat even as he’s pulverizing his kick drum, and Scott brings the raunch ‘n’ wail. The subject matter is standard-issue rock rebellion; Scott pauses only once to briefly contemplate the consequences of his night stalking in “Ride On.”
The boys graduate from the back of the bar to the front of the arena on Highway to Hell (1979), with a cleaner sound courtesy of Shania Twain’s future husband, producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange. The songs are more compact, the choruses fattened by rugby-team harmonies. The prize moment: Scott closes the hip-grinding “Shot Down in Flames” with a cackle worthy of the Wicked Witch of the West.
A year later, Scott drank himself to death. Yet the band went on to make its 1980 landmark album, Back in Black, in which his iron-lunged replacement, Brian Johnson, bellows, “Have a drink on me” without a shred of shame. From the ominous “Hell’s Bells” to the bawdy “You Shook Me All Night Long,” AC/DC flipped off the Reaper and gave Scott and his fans the best tribute they ever could have desired.