So when I found myself more impressed with some of Brian’s material than Bon’s on the new AC/DC rarities box, Backtracks, it came as a real surprise to me. I know, I know, blasphemy right? But there are some real gems here.
Disc one features 12 studio rarities, dating all the way back to 1974. The earliest track is “Stick Around,” which was originally only available on the Australian version of High Voltage. The strangest song on the entire set has to be another off the Aussie High Voltage record: “Love Song.” AC/DC doing a power ballad? Unheard of, and yet here it is, with vocals by that master of sensitivity, Mr. Bon Scott.
Thankfully they shake off this momentary lapse of reason quickly with “R.I.P. (Rock In Peace),” another Australia-only release, from the original Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap LP.
The Brian Johnson era is well represented by another Aussie-only release, from 1990, “Down On The Borderline.” This was the B-side to the “Moneytalks” single, and it is a powerhouse. Another great Brian song comes from the overlooked soundtrack to The Last Action Hero, with “Big Gun.”
The last song on this collection, “Cyberspace,” is another strange one. It is just really weird to hear them sing about computers; the band is so old-school it does not seem right. Appropriately enough, the song originally appeared as an Australian B-side. “Cyberspace” backed another totally out-of-character AC/DC cut: “Safe In New York City.”
“Safe In New York City” is the final track on the second disc of this set, Live Rarities. It is odd to hear these guys singing about anyplace besides Australia, especially New York. Sure they are and have been an international band for years, but there is just no context at all for them to be singing about NYC. I know, I should have made this complaint back in 2000 when it originally came out. The song totally rocks, though, and that is really the only criteria that matters with AC/DC’s music.
There are only four Bon Scott live songs included among the 15 total: “Dirty Deeds,” “Dog Eat Dog,” “Live Wire,” and "Shot Down In Flames.” They are all very good versions, but the sound quality is nowhere near as good as it gets with some of the later material.
The centerpiece of the live disc has to be the 13-minute extravaganza of “Jailbreak.” Although this is one of Bon’s classic lyrics, Brian performs it admirably. But it is Angus’ guitar that really makes this version pop. The guy is such an underrated guitar player it is ridiculous. Listen to any of his solos—especially the extended ones he takes on “Jailbreak”—to hear for yourself.