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How AC/DC Caught Up With Their Past on ‘’74 Jailbreak’

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On Oct. 15, 1984, a tiny treasure trove of long-lost AC/DC rarities titled ’74 Jailbreak arrived to help curb the seemingly insatiable consumer demand for the world’s hottest hard-rock heroes. Ever since the Australian rockers had exploded to global superstardom on the strength of 1980’s watershed Back in Black album, their record company, Atlantic, couldn’t seem to ship enough AC/DC product into stores.

In 1981 alone they released Back in Black’s successor, For Those About to Rock (We Salute You), and, in the U.S. for the first time, 1976’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, which had remained unreleased stateside. Both were huge sellers, easily going platinum and proving that curiosity surrounding the band’s late original singer, Bon Scott, was as strong as the support for his replacement, Brian Johnson.

So less than a year after the November 1983 release of another new studio album, Flick of the Switch, rather than wait a couple more years for the group’s next effort, Atlantic dug deep into their vaults for five songs dating back 10 years to AC/DC’s earliest days. So early, in fact, that most of them predated the band’s signing with Atlantic and were recorded in late 1974 for an Australia-only version of the High Voltage album, which most fans had never heard let alone knew existed in the ’80s.

These Scott-sung offerings consisted of the title track, a surprisingly laid-back “You Ain’t Got a Hold on Me,” the seriously boogie-flavored “Show Business,” forbiddingly bluesy “Soul Stripper” and a positively sizzling cover of the R&B standard “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” which was a showstopper in AC/DC’s early days.

So that was it: five songs clocking in at 24 minutes, barely the blink of an eye, gazing back to a moment 10 years gone, and one life sacrificed to rock ‘n’ roll … but was it?

Well, no, and that’s why ’74 Jailbreak impacted fans on a level far deeper than its short track listing would suggest. It took them back to a time when bassist Mark Evans was still in the group, when Phil Rudd was not yet the world’s most rock-solid drummer this side of Charlie Watts, when power-chord-conjuring Malcolm Young still owned a pair of gold-topped glam-rock boots as he peeled off the odd guitar solo and when his snotty baby brother really was a teenager. (It should be noted that Tony Currenti played drums on three songs and Peter Clack on one other, and that bass duties were shared by Evans, George Young and Rob Bailey on this EP.)

’74 Jailbreak cast a precious spotlight on the band’s singer, who was an ancient 28 years old when the music was recorded. He was their heart and soul, and eventual martyr, who used to drive AC/DC’s van before he drove their juggernaut down the Highway to Hell. You could even say he gave them a final push down that highway, toward even brighter horizons, as he jumped out of the car to places unknown.

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