Atlantic Records, 1978


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


The problem with having a hit album is that people forget about your past works. When I was a DJ, people would be constantly calling in to hear songs from AC/DC's 1980 classic Back In Black. And while I love the album as much as the next person, I sometimes get sick of hearing the same songs from the same album over and over again. (After a while, when people would call for songs like "You Shook Me All Night Long," I would say, "No. It's overplayed." And I wonder why I had no listeners.)

One fine example of an album which has been pushed aside by the blockbusters is their 1978 release Powerage. It has remained somewhat in the eye of the public due to the band's performing "Sin City" at their live shows, but this whole album is one which deserves to be unearthed - as I did in the Pierce Memorial Archives (only sixteen more boxes to unpack).

AC/DC was in a period of transition at the time this was recorded. Gone was original bassist Mark Evans, and in came Cliff Williams, who added a whole new dimension to the backbeat of the band - as well as a decent backing vocal. Bon Scott and crew must have decided that it was time to kick some serious ass on record. And for the most part, they succeed.

Opening with "Rock 'N' Roll Damnation," AC/DC show they're capable of mixing hard rock with a touch of the blues (is that harmonica or a good imitation on guitar?) while creating a groove you can dance or slam your head to. (This one was released as a single at the time; somewhere I have a DJ pressing of the track in stereo and mono, AM radio still being big in those days.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

One track later, on "Down Payment Blues," the big picture is displayed. The opening guitar riffs of the brothers Young let the listener know quickly that this song is going to be a rollercoaster ride. The power builds as the riffs get more intense, and I don't think I've ever heard Scott sing with more intensity (as well as hoarseness). It's truly a great song, one which was dusted off during the Ballbreaker tour. (Brian Johnson held his own very well on it, by the way.)

"Sin City" has been a concert staple for the longest time, and "Gone Shootin'" was brought to people's attention courtesy of the soundtrack to Beavis & Butthead Do America (which I still have to see... and I'll eventually get to it). The only other track that may be somewhat familiar is "Riff Raff," which opened up their first live album, If You Want Blood You've Got It.

Other songs on Powerage can be spotty at times. "Gimme A Bullet" is a decent enough track, but is not as strong as a good portion of the album. "What's Next To The Moon" is different, to say the least, but in my book, it doesn't rank among AC/DC's best songs. "Up To My Neck In You" is okay, as is "Kicked In The Teeth."

At this time, the European versions of AC/DC's albums usually contained a track or two that never made it onto the American version. This time around, they left out "Cold Hearted Man," a song which I haven't heard in a few years. (Guess I'll have to dust off my import copy of Powerage later tonight.) Seeing that Atlantic (or Atco, or whatever the hell label they're on now) just remastered AC/DC's entire catalog, I honestly don't see why they couldn't have thrown this track on finally. Cripes, the disc is less than 40 minutes long; not only would it have filled out the album, but it would have given long-time fans another reason to buy another copy of the album.

The production work of Vanda and Young (yes, he's related to Angus and Malcolm Young) is raw, but is perfect for the atmosphere these tunes create. In this case, I don't want to hear the polish that a state-of-the-art, 48-track digital studio can give me. I sometimes like my cheese crunchy, and Powerage gives it to me the way I like it.

This album captures a band in transition, from nobodies to future stars in bloom, and is one treasure that has been ignored by rock fans for far too long. Way back when I wrote for HitsWorld I called this one album people have never heard of from a group they should have. Let's hope that this statement won't be true much longer.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.