Review Summary: A fun exercise of hard rock filth
There’s a rather convoluted history behind the release of AC/DC’s second international album. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap initially came out in 1976 but was deemed too uncommercial to go stateside by Atlantic Records. Perhaps there’s some vindication in the album being a hit upon its American release five years later, but that was also riding off the major success of Back in Black. All things considered, it might be lucky that the actual music turned out as well as it did.
If there’s one thing you can say about Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, it certainly lives up to its title. While the playing largely sticks to the band’s established tropes, the guitar tone is so coated in raw grime that almost makes me feel like I need to take a shower after listening. This is further reinforced by Bon Scott seemingly going out of his way to include the sleaziest lyrics he’d ever written. Songs like the funky “Squealer” and the American-exclusive “Love at First Feel” might be too dirty for their own good, but the double entendres on “Big Balls” are still funnier than they have any right to be and there’s a roguish charm to the narrative on “Ain’t No Fun (Waiting ‘Round to be a Millionaire).”
We also get a rare glimpse of the band’s sentimental side with “Ride On.” While the last couple albums have included the odd blues jam, the one here comes with a more subdued flavor as the rhythm shuffle stays steady, the guitars are subdued beyond the crackling solos, and the vocals deliver on their world-weary introspection. It’s the sort of song that feels out of character for AC/DC yet the contemplation comes with enough self-deprecation to convey sincerity. It’s no wonder the track has come to be seen as one of the Bon era’s best songs.
Of course, there’s still plenty of room for some fun, straightforward rockers. The title track is essentially a “T.N.T.” rewrite with a similarly anthemic riff set but comes into its own with a blunter chorus, fun verse vocals, and campy hitman lyrics. Elsewhere, “Problem Child” keeps up a tough veneer while “There’s Gonna Be Some Rockin’” and “R.I.P. (Rock In Peace)” take a more laid back roadhouse approach that relishes in the filth. It’s a damn shame that “Jailbreak” wasn’t included on the American edition as its climactic structure and stirring hooks make for a particularly rousing international closer.
Overall, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap has the bizarre dual status of keeping up AC/DC’s momentum internationally while being a late arrival staple in the US. The raunchy textures make for a fun listen in combination with the catchy as ever songwriting, but there’s a degree of nuance gives it a unique vibe. It’s no doubt as essential of a listen as anything else from the Bon Scott era, but I’d track down that international version if you could. It flows so much better.