AC/DC: High Voltage - Album Of The Week Club review

High Voltage was the album that introduced AC/DC to the world beyond Australia, but it was not met with universal acclaim, as readers of Rolling Stone will attest

AC/DC - High Voltage album art
(Image: © Sony Music)

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AC/DC - High Voltage

AC/DC - High Voltage cover art

(Image credit: Sony Music)

It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)
Rock 'n' Roll Singer
The Jack
Live Wire
Can I Sit Next to You Girl
Little Lover
She's Got Balls
High Voltage

The album that introduced AC/DC to the world beyond Australia was not met with universal acclaim. Rolling Stone described High Voltage as an “all-time low” for rock music.

The album was comprised of the best tracks from the band’s first two Australia releases from 1975: the original High Voltage, and T.N.T.. Two of those songs have remained in AC/DC’s live set ever since: T.N.T. itself, with its wonderfully yobbish sensibility, and the dirty blues The Jack. And in Rock ‘N’ Roll Singer and It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll) – Bon Scott’s tales of dreams and heartbreak – there is a hunger in his voice that burns.

The production, by Harry Vanda and George Young, is crisp and simplistic, in its way every bit as good as Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange’s more sophisticated knob-twiddlings on later AC/DC diamonds such as Highway To Hell and Back In Black. And you gotta admire the audacity of including bagpipes on opening track It’s A Long Way To The Top, AC/DC’s Scottish heritage not being widely appreciated at this early point in their career. An international debut to savour.

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Other albums released in May 1976

  • Rocks - Aerosmith
  • Rising - Rainbow
  • Warren Zevon - Warren Zevon
  • Agents of Fortune - Blue Öyster Cult
  • Balls of Fire - Black Oak Arkansas
  • Nine on a Ten Scale - Sammy Hagar
  • No Earthly Connection - Rick Wakeman
  • No Heavy Petting - UFO
  • The Royal Scam - Steely Dan
  • Tales of Mystery and Imagination - The Alan Parsons Project


What they said...

"Lyrically, their universe begins and ends with the words "I," "me" and "mine." Lead singer Bon Scott spits out his vocals with a truly annoying aggression which, I suppose, is the only way to do it when all you seem to care about is being a star so that you can get laid every night. And that, friends, comprises the sum total of themes discussed on this record. Stupidity bothers me. Calculated stupidity offends me." (Rolling Stone)

"Overall it is an amazing album that got slept on by Rolling Stone who very obviously have terrible takes most of the time and have warmed up to the album alongside other critics since it's release, even going far as naming it one of the best band debuts of all time, and garnering it much more needed respect, as this album is great and a must-hear in their discography and for any hard rock fans." (Sputnik Music)

"As primal as High Voltage is, it's also a lot weirder and funnier than it's given credit for, too -- those are bagpipes that solo on It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock & Roll), and She's Got Balls is a perversely funny dirty joke. This is music so primal that it's enduring – it feels like it existed before AC/DC got there, and it will exist long afterward." (AllMusic)


What you said...

Roland Bearne: Over the last months I haven't given myself time to really continue contributing to this group (work and not running enough!) but as soon as i saw this was on the menu, my thoughts were immediate and easily formed. 

One can argue the relative merits of the albums of the AC/DC canon, from the "true-ness" of Powerage, the reaching the heights with Highway To Hell and on through the semi miraculous and world beating return of Back In Black. High Voltage though, is the foundation, the window thrown open to the world of this bunch of Scottish-Melbourne 'erberts who just made the most wonderful racket. 

You could stomp your feet, feel a bit naughty about the lyrics with your mates in class, you could jump around like a loon because Angus gave us permission to not give a stuff whether we had a thin tie or a mohawk and, hugely importantly, suddenly, here was a band who's riffs we could play! You could rehearse for a couple of weekends and knock together a version of TNT that would pass muster at a high school dance/ concert! Miraculous. 

I think this is as an important element of HV and those early AC/DC albums as anything else. I certainly was struggling with classical grades on guitar and really unable to tell my Dad that I really wasn't "getting it". Here come the Youngs! It was sort of ...everything really. Those riffs, the jaw dropping attitude and alchemy between the band, their naughty proto-beat poet vocalist and the audience that was immediately drawn in as if on some elemental level like pheromones or as if some dormant chromosome just sparked into life. The pretentious Cool Nazis of Rolling Stone can get in the sea! This is not only a great album in its own right but a massive musical catalyst and how many records can you say that about. So there!

Eric Ackerman: In fall of 1982, I worked at a place where the owner wouldn’t let us listen to a radio in the back room but did allow us to use an 8-track player. All he had for music was a Merle Haggard album and High Voltage. We played that AC/DC 8-track until it wore out. Good times!

Uli Hassinger: High Voltage Rock’n’Roll! What more to say. It’s probably the coolest rock album ever and the blueprint for straight forward, badass rock.

This was my first encounter with AC/DC. It must have been around 1978 and T.N.T. was in the German charts at this time. The song excited me right away and the whole album did. Nine spectacular songs, the counterpart to the big prog scene. Simple guitar riffs, a bluesy touch, a cocky singer and a great lead guitar player. That, combined with smutty lyrics, were the ingredients for right-in-your-face rock. Songs from the gutter and the real life of the streets. The debut from Rose Tattoo comes close.

The opener sets the direction of the album. The idea to include backpipes is brilliant. I love the video with the band on the back of a truck playing the song while driving through Melbourne. Rock’n’Roll singer and Live Wire are two of the best rock songs of them. The Jack is the best blues rock song ever (The Butcher And Fast Eddie not far behind). The first four songs stand out, but the other tunes are all excellent as well.

Together with Highway to Hell, their best album. I would prefer either of them to Back in Black which is brilliant as well but not so cool and slutty. 10/10.

Evan Sanders: Wow - add this album to the list of reasons why this group is great. I'm scratching my head about why this wasn't an instant classic when it came out, and equally wondering why it took until 1990 to get certified Platinum in the US. There are no truly weak songs on the album, and it has several of the AC/DC classics, including It's A Long Way To The Top, Live Wire, and T.N.T. The only drawback I noticed is the production quality sounds less "big" than Highway To Hell and Back In Black. The bass parts also sound less prominent in the mix, although maybe that was my headphones. 8/10.

Brian Carr: Ah, what a lovely trip down memory lane. I wrote about some of my personal memories with early-era AC/DC five years ago when we reviewed Powerage - I looked back so I wouldn’t repeat.

As epic as Powerage is, I feel like I know High Voltage better. My young (Young?), impressionable self was fascinated by the letters on the back of the sleeve. But more than that, the songs have always been more familiar to me. Not to say they’re better, just better remembered. Thankfully, High Voltage is another record that somehow made its way from my uncle’s collection to mine and I still have it all these years later.

So the main question that remains is, “Why do I only listen to these classic and beloved Bon Scott-era AC/DC albums occasionally?”

John Davidson: High Voltage sets the template for their whole career, particularly the Bon years, with its squealing solos, chugging bluesy riffs and naughty schoolboy vocals about sex (and boasting about lusting after women in general).

It's scrappy, uneven and slightly out of tune.. but full of the energy and vigour that propelled them to international success.

Although it retains the title of their first Australia only release, only two songs off that album make the transition onto this international repackaging of High Voltage and TNT.

One of them, Little Lover, is the weakest track on the album, though Rocker, which it replaces, isn’t essential either. With It’s A Long Way To The Top, The Jack, Live Wire, TNT, and the titular High Voltage all surviving well into their career as live staples it’s hard to believe they got such a muted reception at the time. Maybe the world just wasn’t quite ready for them. 8/10.

Paul De Maria Mañas: One of the greatest debut albums of all time, I consider six of the nine songs stone cold classics.

Greg Schwepe: I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that for most reviewers here (not all!), this was not the first AC/DC album to hit their ears. For me, this is one of those “look back albums” that you go back to after first being introduced to a band an album or two after their debut, because it didn’t make a big splash when it initially came out.

In the annals of AC/DC lore, some of the tracks on this album are classic of all classics, that remained (remain? C’mon, you need to tour again!) on their setlists in one form or another. But had this been the very first AC/DC album I heard, I might not have been that impressed. I mean, overall I like the songs and sound, but it’s not one of those debuts (and is it technically a debut in it’s various incarnations?) that instantly defines a band and is listed as one of their best after they’ve made 10+ more albums and been doing this for a long time.

Kind of a 50/50 album for me. Half really, really good, remaining half listenable, but nothing to knock your schoolboy socks off. But the really good songs so outshine the so-so ones, it really cranks up the overall score. For some of us, maybe the first time you heard these songs was not until you heard the live versions of them on If You Want Blood You’ve Got It, in all their fury; The Jack, High Voltage. "Oh...I need to go buy that "High Voltage" album... now!"

From a production standpoint, you have the guidance of Harry Vanda and George Young, who were no rookies. So that ratcheted up the quality a little.

We all know of bands that hit it out of the park on their debut and were almost superstars from the first album (we all could name some of our favourites), AC/DC were not one of those bands. But they were on a slow burn and when they finally did get it right, you could then look back and see how they got better with each release. Sometimes it’s worth the wait. 8 out of 10.

Chris Elliott: A good but not great album. It's raw and honest - sets the benchmark for what followed. I can't remember when I last played this before today - its a starting point but not an essential listen

Richard Cardenas: 10. To me, despite its simple three chord song structure, it was fresh and full of energy. It fit in quite well with the punk movement of the time.

Nigel Taylor: An absolute 10/10 classic that depending on the day of the week I can easily class as their best album.

Richard Taylor: I reckon this was my first ACDC album back in 1982. It rocked me then to the core… and still does. It’s testosterone alchemised into rock'n'roll. And while Angus, Malcolm, Mark and Phil drive the whole thing along, for me it’s Bon’s persona that rules the roost throughout. ‘a wet patch on your seat, was it Coca Cola?; ‘I got the devil in my blood telling me what to do’, ‘cooler than a body on ice hotter than a rolling dice’, ‘women to the left of me, women to the right’, ‘took her by surprise when I gave her one of my lines’ etc etc. 

High Voltage is the perfect companion album for any teenage lad with an eye for the ladies. Hats off to Brian Johnson but Bon’s ACDC will always be my AC/DC primarily. I would take this album any day (and any other Bon album) over Back In Black and the others (great as they are). On High Voltage, Bon emerges from fixing his motorbike, and invites you out on his dirty deeds. I’m still all ears.

Colin Whitfield: My first AC/DC album, worn out vinyl, just replayed it on CD yesterday, still absolutely love it.

Shayne Ashby: Great album but I think it's the weakest of the Bon Scott era. In saying that, I think the international release was different to the original Australian release.

Brett Deighton: If your foot doesn’t start tapping listening to this, you’re probably dead. Classic album.

Wade Babineau: First of all... what does Rolling Stone know? Three of the album's tracks have remained in the band's setlist for decades - The Jack, TNT and High Voltage. Kicking off with It's A Long Way To The Top – complete with Bon's bagpipe duel with Angus' guitar – it's the template for any song written about the hard luck and dues paid by those chasing the rock'n'oll dream., and given the places AC/DC played in the early days there is a sense of truth to the lyrics. Bon wrote from experiences that he and the band had. 

Rock N Roll Singer is along that line as well. Funny thing about The Jack is, I first it on the live If You Want Blood album first, and then heard this version with different lyrics. Either version, the lewd and lascivious nature remains intact. Listen to Live Wire and then go listen to some Airbourne songs and it's not hard to see the influence. One of many Bon hard-livin', hard-lovin' songs. Opening line "If you're lookin' for trouble, I'm the man to see" should have anyone ready to kick down doors. 

TNT still reverberates through many sports arenas, especially for hockey in North America. "See me ride out of the sunset / On your color TV screen / Out for all that I can get / If you know what I mean". Classic Bon Scott. Of the next three tracks (Can I Sit Next To You Girl, Little Lover, She's Got Balls), only the latter is the one I can hit skip on. The title track closes out proceedings and it's a defiant statement of what the band were bringing to their live shows: "high voltage rock n roll". 

Sure the band would expand and refine their sound over albums like Let There Be Rock and Powerage – before the polish of Highway to Hell – but High Voltage is certainly not an "all-time low" in the history of hard rock. A solid 8.5/10.

Bill Griffin: Off the top of my head, a negative review by RS is a rousing endorsement to me. I'm a bit surprised that I've never heard this album before. I thought I had them all. This is like a greatest hits collection all on its own. Every song is a major part of the discography.

One of my favourite rock quotes: "I was married at the time when I first joined the band and my wife said: 'Why don't you write a song about me ?' So I wrote 'She's got balls'. Then she divorced me." - Bon Scott

Troy Smith: The Rolling Stone critics were judgemental pretentious “cool dudes” who had no taste and bad ears. It was a classic then and still is now.

Adam McCann: Great album, quite often overlooked, but this and Dirty Deeds are examples of AC/DC at their barroom boogie best, where Bon's raw charisma stands tall. When you hear Bon sing about gigs and meeting a girl, you believe he's telling you personally over a pint with a cheeky wink and smile. Many have tried to replicate this sound, but never mastered it in the way that High Voltage does. Hopefully we'll one day get a deluxe edition with outtakes and the tracks from the Australian version/TNT without having to hunt down Backtracks.

Philip Qvist: Whatever RS Magazine says do the complete opposite - that's my motto. The Jack, TNT, High Voltage and It's A Long Way To The Top (complete with Bon's bagpipes) are all classic - and the rest of the album is hardly filler material either.

Yes, the band got better after High Voltage - and you could argue that, of all the international releases, this was the weakest album that Bon sang on. But it's all relative though, and it was still a great start from the band (well at least it was for us international listeners).

It is much better than some AC/DC albums such as Stiff Upper Lip, while many bands would love to have this album in their catalogue. Easy 8/10 for me.


Final score: 8.24 (233 votes cast, total score 1,920)

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