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The Story of AC/DC’s Transitional ‘Powerage’ Album

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Australian rockers AC/DC were teetering on the brink of worldwide stardom when they released Powerage on May 25, 1978, and though the album didn’t quite get them there, it marked an important period of transition for the band and remains a favorite of many fans who feel it is an underrated classic.

Their previous album, Let There Be Rock, had helped the group 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, it 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 album 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 the band’s early work so compelling.

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 the album that’s anything 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 via the Backtracks boxed set in 2009. The tour for the album 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 Bon Scott era and the last before his tragic death.

Powerage is a much-overlooked album in the AC/DC canon, perhaps most significant historically 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 it as one of their favorite AC/DC outings, and with artists including Guns N’ Roses, Twisted Sister, Great White and Bruce Dickinson covering its songs either live or on record.

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