REVIEW: AC/DC – Bonfire (5 CD box set with extras)

AC/DC – Bonfire (1997 EastWest)

Bonfire is less of an AC/DC box set, but more of a tribute to Bon Scott.  LeBrain readers know that Bon was the late great second AC/DC lead singer.  (They did one single, “Can I Get Close to You” / “Rocking in the Parlor” with original singer Dave Evans.)   In every other meaningful way, Bon Scott is the first and best lead singer. That’s not a slight against Brian Johnson because he’s proven himself and then some.  I don’t always listen to AC/DC, but when I do, I prefer Bon Scott.

Featuring four special albums spread over five CDs, Bonfire is largely live. Early versions of this box, which I am lucky enough to own, were loaded to the gills with extras. More on that later, but I highly recommend the original box set rather than the reissue that comes in a digipack book.  Still, the music is what most people will buy this for, and most of it is previously unreleased.

BONFIRE_0006Part 1 – Live at Atlantic Studios. This was an old live set once released as a promotional LP to radio stations. As much as possible was remastered from the original tapes, which were partially erased. The rest of the music was taken from an actual LP and spliced. Sounds as great as can be expected, and I love the sound of AC/DC playing away in a small venue. This disc is more proof that AC/DC could gel like no other.  This is really an outstanding disc.

BONFIRE_0008Part 2 – Let There Be Rock: The Movie. Spread out over 2 CDs, this is the complete concert. It is heavy, it is fast, and it is awesome. To hear the old band jam away on a 10 minute + version of “Rocker” is simply amazing.  It’s this kind of thing we’ll never hear again.  It’s a good thing they recorded it, and the audio on these discs is perfect.  The concert was recorded in France mere months before Bon’s death.  I would consider this set to be the definitive live AC/DC album.

BONFIRE_0010Part 3 – Volts. This was the disc I was most interested in, and it’s a little strange. It’s partly rare and demo material, with a couple album hits (“Ride On” and “It’s A Long Way”) sprinkled in. Obviously AC/DC cleared out their vaults of rare stuff with the Backtracks box last year, but this is a fun taster. I’m not sure how they arrived at this track listing, considering how much material they had to pick from, and the disc’s running time is fairly short. The end of the disc has hidden stuff, interviews with Bon himself.

As for the rarities, five are early AC/DC demos, some with alternate titles and lyrics.  Two are more tracks are live rarities. Among the demos, there are some songs here that I like better than the released versions — “Back Seat Confidential” is superior to “Beating Around ths Bush” to my ears.

BONFIRE_0012Part 4 – Back In Black. Including this disc on Bonfire, I have bought Back In Black on CD five times. (Original CD issue, first remaster, Bonfire, second remaster, dual disc.) I’m sure if you’re reading this, you own Back In Black too.  I believe this to be the same music tracks as the first Back In Black CD remaster. It comes in a little digipack, which is unique to this set, although similar to later releases. I’m not going to review Back In Black here. It’s a great album, albeit I’m bored to death with hearing most of these songs over and over today. I don’t think it’s as good as the early Bon stuff, but it was a remarkable comeback. It was included here as a tribute to Bon, as a final coda for this box set. I guess.  But seriously, what AC/DC fan was buying Bonfire that didn’t already have Back in Black?  This is completely redundant.  I think the set would have been better off if they didn’t include it.  Cheaper at least.

And, the box.  The first release of Bonfire was loaded with great fun extras. There’s a long and informative book full of photos. There’s a poster. A bottle opener/keychain thingy.  On used copies, this is almost always missing.  Most people kept the good stuff, and sold the box set assuming the kid at the CD store wouldn’t notice.  There was also a sticker, a rub-on tattoo, and a guitar pick. Be careful when buying this used and make sure all this stuff is present, particularly the ever-popular pick. If it’s not, ask the clerk for a discount.

4.5/5 stars

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59 comments

  1. Proud to own this one (the original too with all its bits still intact!). I especially liked the Atlantic Studios CD, I thought that was absolutely smoking. And actually, I didn’t have Back in Black when I bought this so that was a welcome bonus for me. I was never the biggest fan of these guys and when this came out I was only really interested in the Bon Scott stuff so I didn’t have any Brian Johnston stuff! I still don’t have that much to be honest.

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    1. Scott you may well be the ONLY fan in the world who spent the money on the Bonfire box set without owning Back In Black!

      I have them all now (for the collection, right?) but it’s Bon that I listen to the most.

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      1. Haha I know! I don’t have much of the BJ years at all… Back in Black, For Those About to Rock, Live, Stiff Upper Lip, Razors Edge… think that might be the lot! Oh, and a couple of box sets that have got BJ stuff included.

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        1. Yes me neither. They seem to keep their affairs pretty private. Not the sort of band to do their dirty laundry in public! There was an article a year or so ago in the same mag about For Those About to Rock and it was pretty fascinating regarding those inner-workings so I’m hoping for more of the same!

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  2. Yep for me this is the ultimate Box Set! I agree with ya Mike there is no need for BIB to be included. I’m like u I must have had at least 5 copies of it myself!
    But for the Bon fan (Powerage being my fav) this is awesome esp to include the Live In Paris audio. I have always loved that film and the set list is fantastic.
    For me anyways this was a great release.
    Glad to see them do sumthin about that era!

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  3. HMO ,with the Johnson era check out Flick Of The Switch. It’s raw back to basics Ac Dc.
    It was released after For Those About To Rock and Ac Dc stripped it all back in regards to the sonics and the rawness of it plus the songs are good.
    I mean it did not do well commercially but u have to give it to them for doing a complete 180 and doing what they wanted to do…
    This is my fav Johnson album….check it out…

    Deke

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    1. Thank Deke. I keep hearing people recommend that one but I’ve never heard it. I’ll pick it up if I see it going cheap anywhere. Although, AC/DC are a bit of a hard sell with me these days so it would have to amazingly good to win me over!

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  4. A very fair write-up on an excellent if slightly flawed (yep, why include Back In Black?) box set. I never got the box since a friend from my days working at Atlantic Records (I was there from ’88 to ’94) got me promo copies. Much as I’d like to have the box and all the goodies included, once I had the music…for free…that was sufficient.

    I was fortunate to get another AC/DC box a couple of years later, which includes all of the original albums (through Ballbreaker, I believe) in mini-LP sleeves with all original artwork reproduced. I suppose if I’m going to own only one AC/DC box set, that would be my choice, but if I ever stumble on the Bonfire box dirt cheap (no pun intended) with all of the original packaging, I’ll probably pick it up.

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    1. Hey thanks Rich! I mean to comment on your excellent Jayhawks article. I know so little about the band so I’m just reading along for now.

      The AC/DC box that you have sounds pretty good. I can’t remember if it is you, or HMO — but I know somebody here really liked Ballbreaker, an album I rarely give a chance. One thing I am surprised they have never done — release some kind of box set similar to yours, but with the Australian albums. You know enough fans would buy it. You can buy box sets of the Beatles UK or US albums already…

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      1. Hey Mike. No worries re: my Jayhawks series. I appreciate you lurking in the background. My next post, which will be up in the next couple of days, features the two albums that made me a lifelong fan (and they’re still the only two I knew really well going into this series). I wouldn’t be surprised if you like a lot of the material on those albums.

        As for AC/DC…yep, I really like Ballbreaker, and think it’s better than Stiff Upper Lip. Not sure it’s a modern classic or anything like that but it was a solid collection and marked the return of their true drummer, Phil Rudd.

        They are very protective of their legacy which may explain why they haven’t released the kind of box set you’re describing, although it would make their loyal fans happy so there’s no reason for them not to. I know from my days at Atlantic that their management team has great quality control and everything they do is carefully decided. I respect them a lot for that.

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        1. I’m not surprised that they are very protective of their legacy. I know that two or three years ago, Helix recorded a cover of “It’s a Long Way to the Top”. It’s never been released because AC/DC’s lawyers won’t let them. Apparently the band do NOT like cover versions of their songs, and that was that. The Helix cover remains in the vaults!

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        2. Interesting about the Helix cover. My understanding is that the original artist doesn’t have much (or any) control over who covers their songs. It’s up to the publishing company, and to the best of my knowledge they can only turn down an initial cover version, so if the publisher never wants a song covered they just flat out deny all requests. Once a cover is approved, anyone is permitted to record it as long as they pay the publisher based on then-current statutory publishing rates. The publisher can request monthly payments instead of quarterly at that point, but I don’t think they can keep other artists from recording & releasing the song. This is all based on my tangential knowledge of publishing royalties from my days at Atlantic, GRP & Sony when I handled artist royalties.

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        3. Rich I’ll see if I can find the article about the Helix thing. It’ll probably explain the situation better than I can!

          Here it is: http://www.bravewords.com/news/147678

          HELIX mainman Brian Vollmer has issued the following update:

          “About a month ago I started putting together a Best Of 2000-2010 CD entitled Running Wild In The 21st Century. One of the songs I intended on adding to the disc was ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top If You Wanna Rock And Roll’. To do so, I did the honest thing, which was to try to obtain the mechanical licensing for the song and pay the fees required before going to press. I first had to find the publisher, not an easy task when it comes to AC/DC songs it seems, as they have different publishers in different territories. I first went to the U.S. publishers., and after not hearing back from them, eventually contacted the Australian publishers, Albert & Sons. Here is the email which I sent to them:

          To whom it may concern,
          Hello, I am the lead singer of the group Helix. I’ve tried to contact Albert & Son publishing several times about publishing on an AC/DC song ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top If You Wanna Rock And Roll’ and no one has gotten back to me. We would like to use the song (re-recorded by Helix) as a bonus track on a CD we’ll be putting out soon called Running Wild In The 21st Century. This is for the territory of Canada and does not involve digital downloads.

          I cannot proceed with my project until I know whether or not I can use our version of this song. We plan on pressing a small run of 500 units to start; more if there is a demand. Helix is a platinum selling act in Canada but as you know, CD sales over the past several years have fallen dramatically. We cannot press until we pay the mechanicals and we can’t pay the mechanicals until you get back to us.

          Bonn Scott wrote in this song about how hard the music business is and how frequently you get screwed. I’ve been doing this for 36 years now and I can relate. Please let me know one way or another if I can use this song. That’s all I’m asking.

          Thank you for you time.

          Brian Vollmer

          When I returned from our gigs up north in Thunder Bay and Kenora, Lynda (Vollmer) informed me that there was a lawyer who had phoned me from N.Y.C. by the name of a Mr. Prager, and that he wanted me to phone him immediately, so I did. He came on the line and in a very rude voice informed me that I had got his company ‘…in trouble…’ and ‘…what the hell did I think I was doing…?’ I told him my intention was never to get anyone in trouble; that all I was trying to do was the honest thing-paying the mechanicals-and that if need be, I would apologize to whomever I supposedly got into trouble. He asked me what I wanted to use the song for and so I explained it to him, to which he replied, ‘…well, find another song! I don’t care if you’ve just recorded the greatest version in the world! AC/DC doesn’t like anyone to record their songs!’ As I was asking him again whom I should phone to apologize to, he slammed the phone down on me.

          Well, first off, his statement that ‘…AC/DC doesn’t let anyone record their songs…’ is a bunch of hooey. Tom Mathers of Perris Records released a compilation cover CD of AC/DC songs a couple of years ago and I know THE MUDMEN had a version of Long Way on one of their CDs on Capitol/E.M.I. Sean Kelly, whom I work with, told me that he had played on a cover of an AC/DC song as well. Lastly, I don’t need some hotshot lawyer from N.Y.C. trying to brow beat me over the phone. Maybe the guy should just try doing his job. Bon Scott must be rolling in his grave knowing an asshole like Mr. Prager from N.Y.C. is representing him now that he’s gone. Nuff said.

          Now that we can’t include this song on the compilation CD, we’ll probably go in and record a new original to add as a bonus track. We have several written; it will just take a little time to get one recorded as we’re extremely busy with recording an acoustic CD of all the Helix hits (as yet un-named). Realistially, Running Wild in the 21st Century will now be delayed until spring 2011.”

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        4. Wow, thanks for sharing that info. That’s probably Bud Prager, who’s been a powerful industry guy for at least 35-40 years. Not sure why he has such a problem with this. I really don’t think they can be held back legally from releasing the song, but they do need to at least get a license from the publisher first, and a lot of publishers aren’t prompt in their replies (as in, they never get back to you). That’s ridiculous, of course, since the purpose of a publisher is to monetize the copyrights that they control. The more people recording a song, the more money they make. I’ve had dealings similar to this and it always perplexes me. The best thing for Helix to do is create a digital download of the song that you can only access with a code when you buy the CD. That way they’re giving it away, and maybe the AC/DC guys (their people, not the band) will never know.

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        5. Bud Prager, that name is familiar. I believe he managed Megadeth or something. In fact I think he came up with the title of the song “Crush ‘Em” for Mustaine. I’ll have to check my liner notes.

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  5. The French live one sounds like the soundtrack to an old VHS I used to have (long gone now), which was brilliant.

    Live at Atlantic is brilliant too, but I’ve got one so never quite tempted by this box set.

    But you are bang on about BIB, wonderful though it is – why?

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        1. Yup – although a second-hand place once tried to tell me it was a bootleg. I’ve compared it to other artists ‘Live at Atlantic’ and it really is identical – same fonts, label, cue sheet on the rear giving the DJ patter and the timings. I suspect their motives!

          Maybe a Christmas special?

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  6. Awesome! I’ve seen this in shops a few times, over the years, but never plunked down what they were asking for it. No idea if they were complete or not.

    I do love this band, have owned various of their CDs over the years. Right now all I have is Back In Black (probably my third replacement copy) and the Live At River Plate, courtesy of you. If I got this box, I’d own BIB a fourth time! Haha. But I really love the sounds of that 2CD live record…

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        1. If AC/DC were any other band, there would probably be several compilations to choose from that would save you time & money, but as I mentioned earlier these guys are very protective of their catalog and have done a great job of making each album essential (or at least making them seem that way).

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        2. I did find a box set of everything up to 2000, but Cdn Amazon says $400 new. I could get most of their albums for about $5, so even at 20 albums it’s $100… I don’t know of a box from a box set worth $300… :)

          Here’s a question for you guys: are the remasters worth it? I mean, honestly. Do they make that much of a difference?

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        3. I think there have been several sets of remasters since their catalog has moved from Warner to Sony and possibly even another label. I had a lot of the original Atlantic/Warner CD pressings and they were fine but a little flat. The box set I mentioned earlier, which includes CDs in mini replica LP sleeves, has what I believe is the first generation of remasters and they sound great. I’ve never felt the need to upgrade beyond that set.

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        4. There have been at least two sets of remasters in Canada. Probably more when you include obscure Japanese runs and so on. The originals also had terrible basic packaging, not really anything special at all. The remasters at least included colour booklets. The current digipack set of remasters is quite nice with good liner notes. But I’m sure your box set has you covered.

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        5. What I love about the packaging of my box set is that all of the original elements from the LPs have been reproduced, including the inner sleeves & any gatefolds. Many of these LP-replica sets now only reproduce the outer sleeve, which to me is a half-ass job. At least some of the “Complete Albums Collections” will include the original credits & photos in a booklet, but having a fully reproduced LP in CD size is super cool.

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        6. Yes, that I like — when the care is gone to duplicate ALL original elements. I spent a lot of money on Kiss Japanese import CDs that were supposed to be mini vinyl replicas, but didn’t go all the way. They were very half-arsed.

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        7. Ouch, that couldn’t have been a cheap purchase so getting half-arsed packaging is extra disappointing. Fortunately I’m not obsessive about packaging…I just want the best option available for a reasonable price…but if I’m going to replace old LPs or upgrade from an earlier CD pressing, I want to have all of the original packaging elements. Is that too much to ask? (Apparently yes)

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        8. You know what Rich, it is too much to ask apparently. Look at the Whitesnake reissues. They can’t even bother to get all the pertinent bonus tracks and B-sides in place. Packaging? Fuggetaboutit!

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        9. Thanks for the tip! I’m not generally a fan of remasters – I figure if it was good enough for them to release in the first place, it must be how the band (or someone, anyway) thought it ought to be heard. I’ve seen remasters of their records in digipaks, usually 2 for $10 at HMV, that sort of thing. I imagine those came a bit later. The original albums are still available, used, in lots of places.

          This is a ‘given unlimited funds’ situation for me. I love the band, and would play their CDs, but it might take me some time to get to them. Maybe one or two here or there…

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        10. Keep in mind that a lot of original CD pressings were done without the approval of the artists or anyone involved in the original recordings, so often they sounded terrible. Record companies used 2nd & 3rd generation tapes to master from, which is why the whole idea of remastering happened in the late-80s & beyond. As technology improved some artists went back & remastered numerous times, and that’s where I lose interest. For AC/DC, I would recommend anything other than the original non-remastered pressings, and the digipaks should be remastered. I hope you can find them all very cheap. The Bon Scott era is worth hearing in its entirety.

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        11. I can confirm that any AC/DC in a digipack IS remastered.

          Here’s what confuses me though Rich. I get the idea of remastering the old albums that sounded tinny and have no vibrancy when transferred to CD. But why do I see remasters now of recent albums like Stiff Upper Lip and Ballbreaker? That’s where it reeks of exploitation to me.

          And yes Bon Scott IS worth hearing in its entirety.

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        12. I couldn’t imagine anything more frustrating, having an album released that wasn’t sounding the way you wanted it, and all because of the apathy or ignorance of the people who took over the whole thing on you. I know they sign away a lot of control in those contracts, they’re just so happy to be signed but don’t look deep enough… it’s Van Morrison’s Drumshanbo Hustle over and over again…

          My Back In Black is the regular version, not remastered. Sounds OK to me. I dunno, maybe it’s my ears. Or lack of premium stereo equipment, or maybe it’s just what I’m used to… But I could see how early years records might be worse off, with lesser tech, etc.

          Every AC/DC record I’ve heard sounds good to me. I have froends who have all these early years ones, I heard them over the years. Awesome stuff.

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