Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

AC/DC - Powerage (Vinyl version)

AC/DC
Powerage (Vinyl version)


Released 1978 on Atlantic/Epic
Reviewed by griddell, 28/10/2006ce


Original running order:

Rock’N’Roll Damnation
Gimme A Bullet
Down Payment Blues
Gone Shootin’
Riff Raff
Sin City
Up To My Neck In You
What’s Next To The Moon
Cold Hearted Man
Kicked In The Teeth

‘Powerage - Unsung classic?’
If you are only familiar with the cd version of this album, you’re probably thinking something along those lines. So I have to emphasise we are talking about the original vinyl release, complete with different running order, a classic extra track and various songs un-tampered with. Check out the track listing above - this is how this album should be heard.
I urge you to go on-line, harass friends, beg, burrow or steal to hear this original version or at least to get your mitts on ‘Cold Hearted Man‘. This fine, fine Bon-era song, a single no less, was strangely omitted from the standardised cd releases, and even more criminally missed off the box-set ‘Bonfire‘.

Now I suspect Angus and Malcolm just aren’t the type of bros to sit re-assessing back catalogues. This in no way suggests that they don’t care about fans, but while they may think the current version of Powerage captures what the album is about, I disagree.
When Keith Richards waxes about the band, it’s this album he picks out - forgive any inaccuracies, but the quote’s something along the lines of ‘Listen to Powerage, man - those cats were really churning it out.’
(Alright, I might have made up the ‘cats’ bit)
While Highway To Hell is undoubtedly the slickest Bon album and a rock behemoth in it’s own right, for me, Powerage captures perfectly the rawness of the earlier albums combined with a subtle shift in song-writing and production that would propel them onto the global stage.

As a kick off point, you don’t get much better than ‘Rock’n’Roll Damnation’. No bullshit, just a classic AC/DC blues/rock riff driving things along nicely, some good bellows from Bon, and significantly, no out & out solo as such - even Angus could take a back seat occasionally. Thankfully this is basically unchanged from the vinyl, even with an extended ending compared to the fade-out on record.
Now here’s where things start going all Pete Tong.
‘Gimme A Bullet’ should be next. No arguments - it just should. Slightly slower in tempo to the opener, it’s still a fine thudding groove that introduced Cliff Williams more fluent bass playing and sets the listener up for a real highlight.
I’m talking about ‘Down Payment Blues’, a seriously underrated AC/DC number with one of Bon’s finest contributions. When he sings about not being able to ‘feed a cat on social security’ you know he lived the life. Anyone who dismisses his lyrics as simply ‘sexist nonsense’ are missing some subtly intelligent lines too - exhibit A ‘I know I ain’t doing much - doing nothing means a lot to me.’, sung with just the right amount of defiance. And I haven’t even mentioned the riff! Sheer Young bros genius, it also features a truly spine-tingling Angus solo that squeals with emotion.
The cd version has an additional riff tagged on the end. On first hearing, it was a novelty and I thought ‘great - even a few seconds of extra Bon stuff is a bonus‘. Going back to the record confirmed that the novelty quickly wears off. This song should end on Bon’s final croaked out line of ‘..blue-----s’.
Why? Because Môn ami, it sounds heavenly when ‘Gone Shootin’ slides in with that killer, Keef style, loose, funky, goddam sexy, riff. Yes - check the running order. This song gets shifted to the latter stages of the album on cd and that’s just wrong.
Lyrically, it’s something AC/DC wouldn’t approach again - Bon lamenting a girlfriends habit involving needles and spoons, his voice again full of raw emotion while the band just get down and groove. The bass in particular is a sign of new boy Cliff Williams being let loose (in AC/DC terms of course - it’s still the trademark tight rhythm section), This song also features a fantastic moment, when the strutting riff finally rolls to a halt there’s those few seconds of the chord ringing out , then - bang, that riff starts again and we’re off on a rock-it-out ending.
The different running order means too that after the double-whammy highlights of ‘Down Payment Blues’ then ‘Gone Shootin’, just when you think things can’t get any better, there is ‘Riff Raff’. Has there ever been a more appropriately titled song? Having heard ‘If You Want Blood’ first, I’ll always think that the live version is slightly better, but there’s a gnats ball hair in it. Just listen to the sound of Angus cranking that Gibson/Marshall riff to the max, the band build up in the back ground - fucking hell, that one riff would merit the song-title alone, never mind the rollercoaster that follows.
As good a song as the band ever wrote this is classic stuff, serving as a perfect closer to the vinyl side one.

Which, any smart dudes will know, means that ’Sin City’ is the opener on side two.
Having raved about the previous song, I’m almost at a lost to describe this track. Still a live favourite, it’s got all the crashing riff directness you’d expect with two major differences. First off there’s THAT guitar solo - a real off-the-wall one for the blues drenched Angus. Secondly, there’s the quietening it down bit with the bass rumbling and Bon once more slipping in a universal truth just when you think he’s only shouting about babes, gambling and booze. ‘Rich man poor man, beggar man thief - ain't got a hope in hell, that's my belief'.’ OK, the band never preach about social issues (thank fuck), but in amongst the good time attitude you can glean that the ordinary working dude is never far away from these rock ‘stars’.
If ‘Sin City’ pushes the envelope a bit, ‘Up To My Neck In You’ could have been off any of the previous AC/DC albums. Another running order debacle when it was re-issued, it simply sounds fan-frigging-tastic when that blues-riff crashes in. No surprises here - just simple 12-bar with mighty bellowed vocals, what does stand out is the solo. Proof if ever it was needed of the formula: Angus + Gibson, mutliplied by cranked up Marshall = heaven.
Now, if you think I’ve been complaining too much about running order & tracks with extra bits, then you ain’t heard nothing yet. Of all the tracks on the album. ‘What’s Next To The Moon’ pisses me off most. Yes, on cd it’s still another curiosity for an AC/DC number - surreal comic-book lyrics, a rumbling drum beat rather than a straight 4-4, an almost psychedelic guitar hook that leads to a cracking chorus, but there is one crucial difference.
THERE SHOULD BE NO GUITAR SOLO!

On vinyl what you get is the crashing Who-style riff of the last chorus followed by a spine-tingling hum of feedback while the song’s cranked into a suitably rocky ending. On cd you get an OK sounding solo, with of all things a tremolo ‘dive bomb’ that any AC/DC obsessive will know, Angus never used. So what’s the script!! Is this something Atlantic salvaged and simply bunged onto the cd release? Was Angus persuaded to add it later?
It stinks of record company interference (‘we can’t have an AC/DC song without a solo‘).

Now that feels better. Rant over. Almost!
Bare with me - it’s not all negativity here, but I could forgive all the tampering with mixes if, as on vinyl, you also got ‘Cold Hearted Man’ next.
Reminiscent of ‘Touch Too Much’ (commercial in AC/DC terms) with Bon growling about a loner/Eastwood figure and featuring a fantastic middle-eight with cyclical Angus riff, it’s no wonder it was a single. What is a wonder is that it’s never been officially released since.
Come on EPIC, or come on AC/DC - get your fucking act together!
Rant officially over, one thing unchanged running order wise is ‘Kicked In The Teeth’. A classic album closer, the riffs re-cycled from ‘Let there Be Rock’ with some top blues-screeching from Bon about being wronged (but ‘sometimes you loose - sometimes you win’). Meanwhile Angus ekes out heavenly lead sounds, some of which follow the old blues ‘call & response’ trick, the rest of which are sonic mayhem, let loose while the rhythm section keeps your feet on the ground - just.

The final album produced by the Vanda & Young team, it signifies the end of the raw, up & coming AC/DC. What followed was (and still is) fantastic but this original, un-fucked with version of Powerage is undoubtedly my favourite. Until you get the chance to hear it, just keep an open mind and don’t dismiss it!


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