In my teen years, High Voltage was the first Bon Scott album I bought after Highway to Hell. I choose it because it had a bunch of songs I had never heard before. (Live versions of “T.N.T”. and “The Jack” from 1992’s AC/DC Live being the only two exceptions) Plus, it was released in 1976, the year I was born. I thought this was the cat’s ass. I was probably supposed to be listening to Nirvana or some depressing shit (No offense!) as it was what everyone my age was listening to at the time, but the jovial and bluesy tone of the old stuff (Van Halen, Black Sabbath, ZZ Top, yo!) spoke to me more.
I remember devouring the back cover of High Voltage during my first listen. It is a collage of made up letters from authority figures scolding them for being bad asses and ladies who wished to spend more time with them. These guys did seem to be bad asses. They’d probably beat me up if I ever ran into them.
The version of High Voltage that we got in North America is a compilation of two Australian albums, High Voltage (aka Aussie High Voltage) and T.N.T. Yep, AC/DC was two albums deep in their homeland of Australia before finally getting some vinyl pressed in the USA. Aussie High Voltage is their debut from 1975 and it is a bit of a mess. Only two(!) of its tracks are represented here with the remaining eight going to 1976’s much more refined T.N.T. Having fully listened to both Aussie albums I can say for certain that this compilation does represent the best of AC/DC in their formative years.
High Voltage has a raw sound to it. Guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young’s tone is much thinner when compared to their sound on Back In Black or Highway To Hell, but the “guitar bite” is still there. Angus’ lead guitar licks are great but he has yet to reach “Guitar God” status. With a few exceptions his solos are concise and not the epic pieces they would become, but the album has it where it counts with plenty of groovy hooks. This is a band that worships the guitar riff and there are some classic ones here.
Lead singer Bon Scott’s lyrics were fantastic for the most part as he chronicles his life with now iconic tunes like “It’s A Long way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll)” and “Rock ‘N Roll Singer”. (Side note: The Cult totally ripped off the riff for “Rock ‘N Roll Singer” on “Wild Flower”. Fight me on it.)
“Live Wire” is one of their more underrated tracks and my favorite on the album. It’s slow build up with the Mark Evan’s bass thumping away on the B note would become the bands opening track for most of their live shows in the ’70s. It one of the few tracks on the album where I feel Angus is allowed to soar on lead. A sign of things to come.
“T.N.T” kicks off side two. AC/DC sound iconic and big when their riffs give the chords plenty of space to breath. The Muddy Water influence is strong with this one. It is still played live at just about every show.
The two tracks from Aussie High Voltage are the best original songs it has to offer. “Little Lover” is a straight up sleazy blues tune and wins my choice lyric award for:
Killed me when I saw
The wet patch on your seat
Was it Coca Cola?
Ew. Doesn’t have the same effect without Bon singing it. Trust me… it’s good! I dig this tune a lot and I wish the track played out for a bit longer. The Young brothers wrap it up by trading some bluesy licks back and forth as the song fades down. That could have went on for a much longer time.
“She’s Got Balls” is the other Aussie High Voltage tune. Legend has it that Bon wrote it for an ex-girlfriend who demanded that he write her a song. She wasn’t flattered by they lyrics but we got a what is probably AC/DC’s first “AC/DC riff” ever recorded. Not their best, but a cool tune that is a nice addition.
Not everything is gold though. I’ll come clean and admit that the lyrics for the studio version “The Jack” are awful. Early AC/DC could successfully blur the lines between sleazy rock and novelty song, but the card playing sexual innuendo in this one falls flat. The live version of “The Jack” on If you Want Blood… You Got It! with better lyrics is where it is at. “Can I Sit Next To You Girl” was written before Bon Scott joined the band and it is odd ball tune. Weird to hear Bon politely ask a lady if it is OK for him to take up some space next to her after shouting “Stick this in your fuse box” two songs previous. I could take it or leave it.
The album is wrapped up with the appropriately titled tune, “High Voltage”. A different tune for AC/DC as Angus uses the chord progression of… A… C… D… C… for the chorus because someone said he should. It does work as it is spliced together nicely with a blues rock shuffle. I like it. The original version on T.N.T. does end differently as it kicks into the start of their cover of Chuck Berry’s “School Days” but only fades out here. Nothing to fret over though. Only the nerdiest fans would notice.
This is a must own for any AC/DC fan and probably a nice library addition to anyone who likes rock music. The tracks that are missing from the original Aussie albums are not some of their best work. Most have now been included on various compilation/rare tracks albums over the years and are for wild, hard-core completion-ist only.
As an AC/DC album: 3.5/5
Compared to Nirvana or some depressing shit (No offence!): 7.5/5