"It ain't rocket science. It’s pure rock'n'roll": Def Leppard's Joe Elliott on the wild genius of AC/DC’s Powerage

AC/DC - Powerage cover art
(Image credit: Atlantic Records)

"AC/DC made so many great records, but for me Powerage is unbeatable. Highway To Hell is a great record. Back In Black is an unbelievable record. But it was a different kind of production on those albums. Those were studio records, whereas Powerage really captured how the band sounded live. 

“It’s also the best-sounding record they made with Harry Vanda and George Young producing. It’s got that live-in-the-studio feel, but it’s also more powerful than Let There Be Rock or Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. And unlike Let There Be Rock, most of Powerage is actually in tune! 

“There are so many great songs on Powerage. Rock And Roll Damnation – or Rock And Roll Dalmatian, as we used to call it – is a brilliant opener. And then you’ve got Riff Raff, Sin City, Gimme A Bullet, Down Payment Blues… I would shoot my own mother… well, no, I wouldn’t, but I would do something drastic to be able to write those kinds of songs. Stunning, absolutely stunning – the whole record. 

“The intro to Down Payment Blues is incredible. It’s kind of subtle for AC/DC, and beautifully done. I’d say that intro isright up there with Live Wire, which is pretty hard to beat. 

“One of the really deep cuts that I love is What’s Next To The Moon. The way Bon sings: ‘I tied my baby to the railroad tracks…’ Nobody wrote lyrics like Bon’s. The guy had the greatest gruff, soulful voice and the best sense of humour that any singer has ever had. He was one of the boys, and you wanted to hang out with a guy like that. And, thank god, I did for three weeks back in seventy-nine when Def Leppard opened for AC/DC. Bon lent me a tenner and I never got the chance to pay him back. When we were in Australia one time I visited his home town, where they have a statue of him. I felt I owed it to his memory."

“Some of Bon’s best stuff is on Powerage: the story of the junkie girlfriend in Gone Shootin’, the stuff about being on the dole in Down Payment Blues, and all the great lines in Sin City – ‘Bring on the dancing girls and put the champagne on ice!’ Fantastic. 

“We used to play Sin City when we first started gigging. We’d play that and Problem Child. And again, it’s the intro to Sin City that really hits home. That four-chord turnaround – bang, bang, bang bang! Just so fucking cool. 

“Lots of bands have tried to copy AC/DC but none of them ever got close. What you hear on Powerage is simply a great band with a great dynamic. Phil Rudd is one of the greatest rock drummers of all time. The rhythm in that band is stunning – Phil, Cliff Williams on bass and Malcom Young on rhythm guitar. When I saw them live I loved the way that Malcolm and Cliff would stay close to the back line on stage and just keep it all together. It was like: there’s no ego there. So they’d hang back while Angus was doing all his histrionics. And then you’d have Bon standing there, just being the coolest guy ever. They had the perfect balance. I don’t think that Malcolm ever wanted to play solos. He was happy to just be the guy that just held down the beat. 

“AC/DC just had that thing that other bands never had. I hate the phrase ‘the X factor’, because the TV show has ruined it, but that’s what AC/DC had. They had that extra bit of magic that other bands crave. But you’ve either got it or you haven’t. You can’t manufacture it. UFO had it with Schenker. Thin Lizzy had it with the classic line-up with Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham. And AC/DC absolutely had it when they made Powerage. There’s a good reason why Keith Richards thinks this is one of the best records ever made. As they say, it ain’t rocket science. It’s pure rock’n’roll. But it’s so fucking good!”

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”