AC/DC was teetering on the brink of worldwide stardom when they released Powerage on May 25, 1978. This album didn’t quite get them there, but it marked an important period of transition. The LP also remains a favorite of many fans who feel it is an underrated classic.
Their previous studio project, Let There Be Rock, helped AC/DC finally break into the all-important U.S. market, and with Powerage they were poised to bring their raucous brand of heavy-blues rock ‘n’ roll to audiences all across America. But in retrospect, it doesn’t have a standout single, and though there are many strong songs and performances, the album remains frustratingly uneven.
Powerage marked the studio debut of bassist Cliff Williams, who replaced Mark Evans – though Evans later said that some of his performances are on the album. It’s the last studio project of the classic Bon Scott era to be produced by Harry Vanda and George Young, and it features the unusually treble-heavy sound that marked much of that period of AC/DC’s career.
The album is bookended by a pair of classic tracks, kicking off with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation” and closing with the fist-upside-the-head fury of “Kicked in the Teeth.” Both of these tracks – along with other standouts like “Down Payment Blues,” “Riff Raff,” “Sin City” and “Up to My Neck in You” – feature the signature marriage of straight-ahead Angus Young guitar riffing and Bon Scott vocal pyrotechnics that made AC/DC’s early work so compelling.
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Other songs like “Gimme a Bullet,” “What’s Next to the Moon” or “Gone Shootin'” don’t quite reach those heights, but there’s nothing on Powerage that’s short of well-played and well-sung.
The album’s first pressing featured very different mixes of some tracks and the addition of “Cold Hearted Man,” which would eventually see wider circulation through a series of vinyl re-releases and the Backtracks boxed set in 2009. The accompanying tour was captured for 1978’s live album If You Want Blood You’ve Got It, and in 1979 AC/DC broke worldwide with Highway to Hell, the defining album of the Scott era and the last before his tragic death.
Powerage is a much-overlooked album in the AC/DC canon, perhaps most significant as the transitional record between Let There Be Rock and Highway to Hell. But its legend has grown over time, with rockers from Keith Richards to Eddie Van Halen praising this as one of their favorite AC/DC outings. Others including Guns N’ Roses, Twisted Sister, Great White and Bruce Dickinson have also covered its songs, either live or on record.
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