AC/DC – High Voltage

AC/DC - High Voltage


Atlantic Records
Release date: April 30, 1976

Guitars & Bass: A
Percussion: C-
Vocals: B+
Lyrics: B+
Recording Quality: B+
Originality: A
Overall Rating: B+

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AC/DC was simply way ahead of their time with High Voltage, and that’s a damn shame because the band’s originality wasn’t properly appreciated until quite a few years after the release of this classic album. The album has a couple shortcomings (which I will go into at length a bit later) but the music contained within it still feels “fresh” even when playing today. Now we Americans tend to have the short-sided nature of thinking that whatever happens in the U.S. must also be what is happening in the rest of the world, so I apologize if the “fact” I’m going to refer to in a few seconds is not true for the rest of planet earth, however, High Voltage had such a minuscule impact on the music industry in 1976 that it prevented AC/DC’s next superb effort, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, from even being released until AFTER Bon Scott died. It’s hard to believe a talented band like AC/DC that had such a huge, huge impact on heavy metal, if not the entire music industry, suffered an initial period of having doors slammed on their calloused fingertips before being taken seriously. Somehow, the Young brothers and Bon Scott, composers of each song on the album, must have known the road would be bumpy when they decided to kick off High Voltage with the apropos track: It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock ‘n’ Roll).

Throughout the album, AC/DC makes their style statement by focusing on “bluesy” rhythms driven by smooth, well-positioned bass grooves — complements of Mark Evans. The guitars have an original “sharpness” to them, considering High Voltage was recorded in the mid-1970s, and concentrate on staying with simple, catchy riffs that surprisingly never tire. Bon Scott demonstrates a unique vocal sound; raspy and course, yet enjoyable, musical, under control…and perfectly pitched with the sound of Angus and Malcolm Young’s guitars. How did they do that?! Musically, the only initial flaw lies in the percussion. The cymbal sound is pronounced, apparent, and perfectly intertwined with the guitar and vocal clarity present throughout the album, but the snare and bass drum of Phil Rudd are too subdued and underemphasized. Considering how well produced High Voltage was in lieu of the rough technology available at the time, when it came to laying down the drum tracks, someone obviously missed the beat (pun intended – you know, I crack myself up sometimes!). In crafting their style, AC/DC seemed to start with a conventional blues sound, then massaged and amplified certain aspects of this sound to create a wonderfully unique heavy rock, High Voltage, style of music – that is, except for the skins, which remained virtually identical and unchanged from a classic blues style of subtle percussion. AC/DC was clearly successful in writing lyrics that were well crafted, direct, and comedic by nature…showing the band was in the business to have fun and not to take themselves too seriously.

Back to Bon Scott – has a band’s sound and style ever meshed better with a vocalist than AC/DC’s did with Bon Scott? Sure, AC/DC was later to have success with Brian Johnson at the helm (and still enjoys ample success to this date). Bon Scott’s voice, however, was like hand-in-glove with this band: distorted, but clear, and refreshingly unique, yet simple. Bon Scott was nothing short of a superb find by the Young brothers; musically, lyrically, and as a showman — an investment that would pay extraordinary dividends even after his untimely and tragic death. Bon Scott lets it rip, lets it all hang out and pulls no punches just as he states within the Rock ‘N’ Roll Singer track, “Yeah, I got the Devil in my blood telling me what to do”, and then goes on to slyly quip, “And I’m all ears!”

Going through the songs, the opening track starts and stays with an impressively direct riff. Get this, though, after successfully luring the listener into a comfortable foot stomping session, the band introduces BAGPIPES of all things into the song! Jesus H., how can bagpipes fit into a hard rock song? Now if that wasn’t gutsy enough, Angus Young starts a “duel” with the bagpipes by switching the lead back and forth. Holy shit! But, you know, it actually works! How did they do that?! Phewwwww, someone besides “She” definitely had balls when crafting this song.

The 2nd track, Rock ‘N’ Roll Singer, is solid throughout and one of the top 4 songs on the album. The 3rd track, The Jack, shows the band’s lyrical humor, wit, and creativity as an extremely clever metaphor is carried throughout the tune to compare the disease/relational interlude to a poker game. Brilliant. This song, however, would have been a lot better if the band kept the length down to about 4 minutes vs. 6 minutes. For crying out loud, how many times do we need to be told that “she’s got The Jack”? Same deal for the 8th track, She’s Got Balls…ummm, we get the point after being told about 15 times on both topics…no need to drive home that same message another 30 times…please move on guys.

The next 2 tracks after The Jack, Live Wire and T.N.T., quickly help the listener forget the Chinese Torture Test just conducted after the 45th repeat of the line “she’s got The Jack”, and hit the target squarely. T.N.T. proclaims the best power chord riff of any track on the album.

Shifting gears a little bit again – it’s pretty evident AC/DC didn’t want the listener to get bored with this effort – up comes “Can I Sit Next to You Girl”, a song with an Alice Cooper tendency to it regarding lyrics…portraying Bon Scott as struggling with a social situation. Somewhat demented with shades of having a screw or two loose, Bon Scott suffers within and grows impatient as he awaits the Girl’s answer. An answer that never seems to come (probably because he never really does ask her directly). Brilliant again!

Next is Little Lover. This is the only song on the album that seems misdirected from the start. It has all the ingredients of a good song, but when it’s mixed together and thrown in the oven, it comes out flat like a potholder rather than tasty like a fine dessert. My take on this song is that it would have been way better if the tempo were substantially picked up. Listening to the song, I found myself trying to nudge it along to get it going. Unfortunately, it never did.

After enduring the shortcomings described above on She’s Got Balls, AC/DC once again gives reason to feel really good about this listening experience with the title track, High Voltage. The song is well paced, “electric”, hard, and fun. All in all, so is this album, thus making the entire effort a true original classic worthy of inclusion in any heavy rock music fan’s collection. Sit back and enjoy!


  • Dan Skiba

    Dan is a former partner at Metal Express Radio, and also served as a reviewer, photographer and interviewer on occasions. Based out of Indianapolis, USA he was first turned on to Hard Rock music in the mid-1970s when he purchased Deep Purple's Machine Head as his first album. He was immediately enthralled with the powerful guitar sound and pronounced drumbeat, and had to get more! His collection quickly expanded to include as many of Heavy Rock bands of the time that he could get his hands on, such as Ted Nugent, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath, to name just a few.

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