After several previous attempts to squeeze in some studio time while committed to a heavy touring schedule, a still fledgling AC/DC recorded their third album, Dirty Deeds Done Dirty Cheap, in 1976. Two versions of the album were made.
The first was published by Albert Studios and released in Australia and New Zealand. It featured all new tracks and a cartoon album sleeve that most notably featured Angus Young in the background flipping the “Australian Bird”.
The band decided to change the track list for those outside of their native region for various reasons, and thus a second or “international version” of Dirty Deeds was delivered to their worldwide publisher, Atlantic Records. Some of the changes had a thread of logic to it. ‘Rocker’, for instance, was in heavy rotation in their live sets, but the studio recording wasn’t available to the international audience. So, it was included to give those outside of Australia a chance to buy the tune. Other changes, like dropping the album’s first single (and one of its better tunes), ‘Jailbreak’, were mind-boggling.
The cover sleeve received a drastic change too. It’s true enough that the bird flipping cover wasn’t going to fly in the more uptight parts of the world, but what they replaced it with is this “high concept” image featuring group of d-bags hanging out in front of a cheap hotel with their identities hidden behind black bars over their eyes.
Hipgnosis, a British art design group who had done brilliant work in the past, including the album covers for Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy and Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, was hired for the job. While their style fits those bands, it doesn’t mix with AC/DC or the album’s greasy sense of humor.
But even with an altered track list and a weird cover, Dirty Deeds is pretty darn good. And if you lived anywhere outside of the USA or Canada you were going to get a version of it to rock out to in 1976. If you lived in those two countries you were going to have to wait another five years.
At the time, Atlantic Records had different department heads controlling what the label put out in different regions. The Americans would see to what was released in the USA and Canada, while those running the show in Europe basically covered the rest of the world. Europe published the album, but America did not.
The exclusion put the band in a serious funk as they were set to go on their first tour of North America and promote Dirty Deeds. The decision is believed to be the beginning of the end for Mark Evans as AC/DC’s bass player, and for a time put lead singer Bon Scott on thin ice with the rest of the band.
The Dirty Deeds story might have ended there if AC/DC hadn’t hit the big time with the release of their first two Top 40 selling albums back to back with Highway to Hell in ’79 and Back in Black the following year. The band’s back catalog saw a surge in sales, and the increase in American import sales of Dirty Deeds from Australia was enough to finally motivate Atlantic to give the album an official release in the land of the free.
Of course, that decision went on to create even MORE drama/controversy.
You See, Dirty Deeds is not a straight up AC/DC album. Even when it is positioned in the right place on the time line, it is still an oddity. The band’s first album, Aussie High Voltage, acts like a proper first album should. It stumbles at times (‘Love Song’) but is filled with enough potential (‘She’s Got Balls, ‘Show Business’) that hindsight can clearly tell you where this band is headed.
Their second album, T.N.T. is the first ‘real’ AC/DC record. The international version of High Voltage is a compilation of the bands first two albums, and T.N.T. makes 80% of it for a reason. It is stacked with the big rock riffs the band would become known for. Dirty Deeds has plenty of big riffs like the title track, ‘Squealer’, and ‘Problem Child’, but the other tunes have the band still experimenting with what works.
‘Ride On’ has a slow blues groove, loaded with raw emotion. It might be the best song they ever wrote and no other tune comes close to its style in their repertoire. ‘Ain’t No Fun (Waiting Around To Be A Millionaire)’ not only has a long title, but it is an endless boogie jam that creeps up to almost the 7 minute mark (the OG version is 7:32). It is also crammed full of lyrics that tell the story of a band trying to make it. Other AC/DC tunes have similar lyrics, but no other is structured like it.
‘There’s Gonna Be Some Rockin” is a Chuck Berry inspired, mid-tempo tune that sounds like a left over from their first album; the last of its kind from AC/DC. And finally, ‘Big Balls’ is a party novelty song loaded with sexy double entendres. A genre they would toy with now and then, but never go as full-out as they do here.
So in a lot of ways, Dirty Deeds acts as the band’s second album by showing its experimentation. Now, imagine this not only being AC/DC’s follow-up to their biggest album of all time, but the greatest rock and roll album of all time. That is how it was delivered to the ears of Americans and Canadians in 1981.
When Atlantic positioned Dirty Deeds as the successor to Back in Black, many believed how its shift in style and its featured former lead singer Bon Scott instead of the current one Brian Johnson, confused the casual fans and hurt the sales of its true follow up, For Those About To Rock. Even though FTATR did sell well enough when it was release later that year, its numbers were dramatically lower than both Back in Black and Highway To Hell. As for myself, I believe FTATR would have sold the same number if Dirty Deeds was in the mix or not. FTATR is a good album, but not as good as BiB, Highway, or even Dirty Deeds.
So, that is the legacy of the international version of AC/DC’s Dirty Deed Done Dirt Cheap. Despite getting passed by the Americans in 1976, it eventually went on to become the band’s third best selling album with 6 million copies sold in the USA alone. A number that is bumped by the timing of its release, but impressive none the less. I do hope to one day get my hands on a proper copy of the Australian version so I can dive deep into the songs and discuss how many of its tunes capture Bon at his best.
As an AC/DC album: 4/5
Compared to everything else: Shut yo’ face, this has ‘Ride On’!