AC/DC studio rarities

A new AC/DC box set titled Backtracks is being released this week. It contains 2 CDs and one DVD. The first CD contains 12 rare studio tracks, while the second CD contains 15 live cuts recorded between 1977 and 2000.

Although my hobby of searching out rare rock recordings did not fully develop until I was 20 or so, my first Rarebird moment came when I was a teenage metal-head in 1983. Although I owned every American-issued AC/DC album released up to that point (up until Flick of the Switch, to be exact), I still made a habit of flipping through the AC/DC bins every time I walked into record stores. One night, I came across an import copy of the band’s 1976 album High Voltage with different cover art. I had heard that the Australian versions of most of the Bon Scott-era albums contained at least one different track apiece. I was quite surprised when I examined the Australian High Voltage track listing, and found that it contained six songs which were unavailable in the States! (Most of the tracks from the American High Voltage release were released in Australia on an album called T.N.T.). As a kid who took pride in owning all of AC/DC’s albums, I was dying to hear these six songs that I didn't have. So I purchased my first rare/import album.

It’s hard to describe the feeling I got when I took it home and put it on the turntable. I thought it was so cool that I had six AC/DC songs that most fans probably did not know existed. And I liked all six of those songs, to boot. About one year later, four of those six songs were released in America on the 5-song EP ’74 Jailbreak. But the other two songs remained unreleased in the U.S. until now, as they are included on Backtracks. One of them, titled “Stick Around”, is exactly the type of unapologetically raunchy hard rock song we expect from AC/DC, and it rocks. However, the other newly reissued song from the Australian High Voltage is unlike anything else they have ever done. “Love Song” is just what its title says it is; it’s a tender and totally uncharacteristic glam-rock ballad, with a (gasp!) sensitive-sounding Bon crooning like a romantic softie. Some AC/DC fans hate the song, arguing that it’s the opposite of everything that the band has ever been about – but I love it.

The other track that was issued in America on the ’74 Jailbreak EP was the song “Jailbreak”, which was from the Australian version of the 1976 album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. There was another song from that album’s Australian edition which was unreleased in the States until it was included on Backtracks. “R.I.P. (Rock In Peace)” is a decent rocker that fits into the Dirty Deeds template, although its lyrics are actually sillier than most of the others. Another related cut included on Backtracks is “Fling Thing”, the B-side to the Australian “Jailbreak” single; it’s an odd instrumental, based on an old traditional Scottish song.

Backtracks also contains two nifty tracks from the 1977 Let There Be Rock sessions. “Crabsody in Blue” was released on the Aussie version of that album. Although its lyrics are in bad taste, it’s a good mid-tempo tune, similar to “Ride On” from Dirty Deeds. The other one, “Carry Me Home”, was the B-side of the Aussie single “Dog Eat Dog”. It’s a wilder song, with a more uninhibited Bon vocal.

Backtracks contains one other obscure Bon Scott-era studio track: “Cold Hearted Man” was the Australian B-side of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation”. It’s not great, but admirers of the 1978 Powerage album will take interest in it.

The other five studio tracks contained on the first Backtracks disc are rarities from the Brian Johnson era. Four of them (“Snake Eye”, “Borrowed Time”, “Down on the Borderline”, and “Cyberspace”) are Australian B-sides. The other one, “Big Gun”, was first released on the soundtrack for the 1993 Schwarzenegger movie The Last Action Hero. All five songs deliver the reliable, if predictable, hard-nosed attack that we expect from the Johnson-fronted AC/DC.

There are at least three Australian-released tracks which are conspicuously absent from Backtracks. The aforementioned T.N.T. album contained a cover of Chuck Berry’s “School Days”. That song was made available on the 1997 box set Bonfire. It’s listenable but hardly inspired. And where, oh where, is the very first AC/DC single? The original version of “Can I Sit Next To You Girl”, featuring their original vocalist Dave Evans, was the A-side of their 1974 debut single (Albert Productions AP-10551). The B-side was the Evans-sung “Rockin’ In The Parlour”. Evans was a fairly dynamic singer with a Burton Cummings-like voice, but he seems very tame in comparison to Bon Scott and Brian Johnson. Although most people probably don’t care about this long-forgotten part of the band’s history, I personally wish that the two Evans-sung tracks could have been included on Backtracks.

It’s good to see so many of these tracks finally receiving a long-overdue release in the United States. Although the younger Rarebird once felt like some sort of elitist for having these songs in my collection, I’m now at the age where I am simply happy that more AC/DC fans will have easy access to these songs.


Ian said…
I agree with you that the Dave Evans song should have been included on the album.
He is still performing today and still has a great voice. I have seen him perform on several occasions now and think he would make a better front man than Brian Johnson.