AC/DC’s ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ Turns 40
AC/DC, once the proud juggernaut of testosterone and fist, once the pariah of the well-heeled and the savior of the crestfallen, has entered strange and disappointing turf as they close the second decade of the 21st century. The mighty Brian Johnson, who replaced the mighty Bon Scott, has been replaced by the briefly mighty, for one record for another band, Axl Rose. Guitar god Malcolm Young, who invented more riffs than the bulk of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, has been sidelined early with dementia. Phil Rudd has been in trouble for literal dirty deeds such as death threats. Angus Young doesn’t look quite the same in his schoolboy outfit. This is the end of the second act for our rock gods, when the fans wait for one last burst of energy to carry the narrative to an acceptable denouement.
AC/DC; you should honor their power and precision, and their stoicism. Perhaps the saddest thing I’ve heard muttered about AC/DC is that they are Dad rock, placing them squarely in a camp with bands that include the likes of Kansas, Journey and Opeth. Have any of you ever listened to AC/DC next to a bonfire at night? Screamed the lyrics of “Dirty Deeds” out of your car window? It’s easy for the new generation to view the recent AC/DC like you would a scene from ‘Night At The Museum’; the old exhibits, not quite fossilized, have been brought to life for a few hours of entertainment for a single father with zero prospects working the night shift. But this is not the AC/DC of myth, a band with swagger, purpose and conviction. That was the AC/DC of ‘76, a band with the world at its feet.
It is in some ways the perfect moment to commemorate Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, which turns an astounding 40 years old today. The first time I heard the album was in a Webelos pack meeting in fourth grade. One of the kids brought the album to the gathering and one of the adults hosting the meeting inconceivably put the album on the turntable (when I later learned of his ample porn collection it seemed less of an oversight). The debauched sounds of “Love At First Feel” seemed worlds apart from whatever labyrinthine knot we struggled with that evening.
From that point on, Dirty Deeds was a constant companion for the years of my life that involved partying, smoking cigarettes, being dumb, placing myself at physical risk, avoiding homework and driving my beat up car to fields to try to find keg parties that had already been broken up by the police. It was the logical starting point for a journey that later found its way to more extreme music. But it was never replaced. It was the music I heard in my head as my old friend Chris chugged a beer in front of a cheap hotel room and grinned like a madman. If you haven’t shotgunned a beer and made an ass of yourself as you sang “Big Balls” – if you have not memorized every glorious word to that timeless ode to sex and schlongs and scrotums – you have not lived, grasshopper.
Dirty Deeds is both the most literal and most metaphorical rock album ever released. It’s literal in the sense that when Bon Scott screams that he’s a wheeler, dealer and a wicked woman stealer you know he is telling the absolute truth. Remember: you can’t dust for vomit. It’s literal in the sense that you know “Problem Child” was autobiographical for every band member. And it’s wonderfully metaphorical, packed with double entendres that put any person that tried to place a phone call to Connie Lingus to shame. The aforementioned “Big Balls” – the ones bouncing to the left and right – these song lyrics are canonical lines dripping with sarcasm and jovial malice. The lyrics of “Big Balls” are the glorious scripture of rock and roll, the sacred words, the golden plates brought down from heaven, the Kama-Sutra and the Bible, the holy writ. Learn them well or move down the path to Third Eye Blind and Green Day.
Dirty Deeds Done Dirty Cheap is not AC/DC’s proudest musical moment; that would be Highway To Hell or Back In Black. It is, however, the moment that AC/DC was at pinnacle AC/DC form, when image and reality were truly aligned. Cast your eyes away from the spectacle that remains and remember what AC/DC truly was for many glorious years in the 20th century; the sound of teen libido, the sound of the first cracked beer on a Friday night, the sound of a buzz kicking in, the sound of your beautiful and fleeting youth, the sound of the gorgeous girl walking down the hallway, the sound of a Zippo lighter sparking a Marlboro, the sound of a life so luminous it snuffs out any thought of growing old or dying, the sound of concrete shoes, cyanide and TNT. Done dirt cheap.