Few EP releases are as strong as AC/DC's '74 Jailbreak. In many respects, one could call this release a mini-greatest hits had it not been for the fact that the included songs were largely unavailable to music lovers outside of Australia. Released in 1984, US audiences were able, for the first time, to easily hear five exceptional tracks that were never released in their region during the 70s. While it is difficult to comprehend the fan's joy upon first hearing this release, one only has to spin the record and turn up the volume to hear just how polished AC/DC was in those early years.
Without a B-side to be found, '74 Jailbreak is one of the greatest AC/DC releases and should be in every fan's collection. Yes, the EP is short but that isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially if you have a copy on CD or are listening to the EP via a streaming service. For me, I have the 2003, remastered by George Marino at Sterling Sound, vinyl record. Talk about perfect, vinyl rarely sounds better than this, although I don't feel that way about all the AC/DC reissues from 2003, especially Back In Black with its inner-grove distortion. While '74 Jailbreak could have been mastered to 45-rpm, the 33.3-rpm pressing has an incredible soundstage with a perfect mix that ensures the bass and drum beats remain prominent, but never overpowering. Similarly, Scott's vocals have never sounded better and each high-hat tap is crystal clear. The vinyl edition is so well mastered and pressed that I feel no need to even compare it to the TIDAL Hi-Fi CD-quality edition. Yes, dear reader, this is where needle dropping to local digital files comes into play.
The artwork, in the full 12-inch format, is glorious and the inner sleeves, from these 2003 reissues, show just how much time and care was taken with the reissues. Many musicians and record labels could learn a thing or two about re-issuing albums on vinyl if they checked out the quality of the AC/DC pressings; excluding of course Back In Black. They are prized possessions!
Jailbreak was released initially on the 1976 album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and was also released as a single, with a reissue of the single arriving in 1980. While Jailbreak may not be the first song fans gravitate towards, it has been featured in AC/DC’s live performances for decades. The 1985 Dallas live recording, featured on Backtracks, is solid but doesn't have the power of the original. Normally, I prefer Johnson over Scott, but not in this case. The drawn-out 13-minute plus performance does hold the listener’s attention, but at times it can feel a little too self-indulgent. Similarly, the 1992 live performance, as heard on Live (Collector's Edition) suffers the same fate. Nevertheless, I feel this latter performance is more polished with Johnson's vocal delivery being stronger. Still, there is no escaping the fact that the original studio recording cannot be topped. Of course, that all depends on how much you love music videos. Featured on AC/DC's Family Jewels DVD collection, the clip is less cringe-worthy than other music videos of the same era, but Scott barely moves and appears to be singing this rock and roll tune in a polite college boy manner. It’s interesting, to say the least. Nevertheless, I'm glad it exists for posterity value if nothing else. Bottom line: Jailbreak is an exceptional song and a great start to '74 Jailbreak.
You Ain't Got A Hold On Me has an incredible rhythm. Although, I’ve always thought that Scott's vocal sounds particularly thin and forward on this song. Interestingly, you may notice when listening to Johnson-era recordings, by comparison, his vocals were always mixed in a more central position in relation to the music, whereas Scott’s always stood out in the mix. It is a minor difference, but noticeable.
Show Business is blues rock 101. I love it! The 1975 live recording, as featured on Family Jewels, is a solid performance but I have to wonder if Scott borrowed his outfit from Elton John.
Soul Stripper is a layered and complex wonderland. The soundstage is massive. The entrance, while lengthy, never gets dull and Scott's vocal entry and presence in the song is nothing short of perfection.
Baby, Please Don't Go is a cover, and a bloody good one at that. To say the song has been covered extensively is an understatement, but I’ve yet to hear, or see, anyone perform this song as well as AC/DC. Seriously, get your Family Jewels DVD out again and check out the larrikin-based performance on Australia's popular music show, Countdown, in April 1975. It’s hilarious and Scott would have easily made a name for himself on the streets of Sydney's Kings Cross with that outfit. It’s certainly an interesting contrast to Angus' schoolboy outfit and it’s funny to see Scott light a cigarette during the performance. That would never be allowed today and who knows maybe the Pippi Longstockings outfit would now also be condemned for fear of offending someone. Regardless, the performance shows just how much AC/DC was enjoying themselves. Their energy and smiles are addictive.
From start to finish, '74 Jailbreak is an exceptional collection of blues-based rock and roll songs that will never age and will remain part of the social consciousness for generators to come.
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