How AC/DC Turned a Cartoon and TV Commercial Into ‘Dirty Deeds’
Inspiration can come from anywhere, and AC/DC’s 1976 single “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” is proof.
The song tells the story of a do-anything tough guy who is more than willing to use his muscle to take care of your problems for a nominal fee. Are you “havin' trouble with the high-school head?” Struggling with a lover who’s “double dealin' with your best friend?” Maybe you’ve “got a lady and you want her gone” – well then, this is the man you need to call.
AC/DC weren’t advocating for vengeance with the track - simply having a bit of fun. “Rugby clubs have been doing the same thing for years - songs like that,” singer Bon Scott said during a 1977 interview. “The songs that won the Second World War were like that, with the chaps singing them as they marched into battle.”
“There’s not much seriousness in it,” added guitarist Angus Young, agreeing with Scott. “It’s just rock ’n’ roll. Chew it up and spit it out.”
Listen to 'Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap' by AC/DC
Though AC/DC may not have taken the subject matter seriously, there’s no denying the infectious elements of “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” Young's guitar riffs propel the song, which is backed by powerful drum beats and heavy breaths. Scott’s vocals, wild and primitive in nature, are just convincing enough for the listener to question whether he really would take on a life of crime for the right price.
When it came to lyrics, the band lifted a couple of ideas from television.
“It was Angus that came up with the song title – 'Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,'" rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young recalled in 1992. “It was based on a cartoon character [Beany and Cecil's Dishonest John] that had the phrase as his calling card. Then Bon stuck in the line ‘I’m dirty, mean, mighty unclean’ from an advert for mosquito spray that was running on Aussie TV at the time.” (The latter line was actually used in an earlier AC/DC single, "T.N.T.")
“Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” was released as a single in Australia on Oct. 5, 1976. It wouldn’t get a U.S. release until 1981, following the success of AC/DC’s later efforts Highway to Hell and Back in Black. Time had taken no shine off of the recording, and fans didn’t seem to mind that Scott was still featured as singer, even though he died in 1980 (and had subsequently been replaced by Brian Johnson). “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” peaked at No. 4 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock chart and remains one of AC/DC’s most popular tracks.
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