As 1979 drew to a close, Accept were in need of a hit. The scrappers from the then West German city of Solingen dreamed of following in the footsteps of fellow countrymen the Scorpions and busting their hi-octane metal beyond the boundaries of their home country. The problem was that their self-titled debut album, released earlier that year, had fallen on deaf ears.
“It was not an overnight success, by any means,” says Accept’s longtime guitarist Wolf Hoffmann. “It was kind of so-so, stylistically. Everybody made it clear to us that in order to be successful you had to be played on the radio. Our label said: ‘Maybe you should try to use an outside songwriter, cos you guys aren’t great at it.’”
Hoffmann and his bandmates were pragmatic enough to put pride aside and agree to the idea. And it didn’t take long for a prime candidate to land in their lap.
“Our music publisher, Rudi Holzhauer, said: ‘I’ve got this song that might fit you guys. It’s catchy, it’s heavy, and it was written for AC/DC,’” says Hoffmann. The song was a raucous glam-rock-tinged stomper titled I’m A Rebel, written by Alex Young, elder brother of Angus and Malcolm Young, and a former member of late-60s C-listers Grapefruit. AC/DC had recorded their own version three years earlier, but it never saw the light of day.
The roots of this ‘lost’ AC/DC track go back to an impromptu drunken session on the outskirts of Hamburg. Holzhauer, who worked for German publishers Schacht Music, had recently taken on the then relatively unknown Australian band. When they played a gig at Hamburg’s Fabrik club on September 15, 1976, he went to check them out.
“After the gig, we asked them to record a song for us,” Holzhauer told Hamburg newspaper Morgenpost in 2001. Holzhauer knew Alex Young, who was living in the city at the time. The song he wanted AC/DC to record was I’m A Rebel, written by the elder Young – an obvious choice, given the family connection.
The following evening, Angus, Malcolm and Bon Scott turned up at Studio Maschen. Holzhauer was there, as was engineer Jurgen Magnus, and Alex Young. “They recorded the song in a few hours,” Holzhauer later recalled.
Specific details of the session remain murky, as most of the people involved are now dead. But it seems the band were unhappy with the track. Perhaps it veered too close to glam-rock, or maybe their drunken antics in the studio sounded a lot less professional in the cold light of day.
Hoffmann disagrees. “It was awesome,” the guitarist says of the demo he heard. “It was pretty authentic. It sounded exactly like you’d imagine – like AC/DC.”
Three years after that session, Accept had few qualms about covering this lost gem on their second album, also eventually titled I’m A Rebel.
“We were a little bit sceptical, because we had never used anybody else’s song before – or since, as a matter of fact,” says Hoffmann. “But we realised the song was really good and really catchy, and it would maybe open the door for radio stuff. And it wasn’t like they were the mega band in those days that they are today. It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal. It was just a song we put on the album.”
Accept recorded their version in late 1979, with producer Dirk Steffens, and Alex Young was initially involved in the sessions. “He came out to the recording studio. He wanted to try his hand at producing us,” says Hoffmann. “We didn’t get along with him. I remember him being a little pushy and arrogant.”
Accept’s version of I’m A Rebel was released in early 1980 as the first single from the album. Credited to ‘George Alexander’ (a pseudonym for Alex Young), it bristled with the same glam-rock energy as the original AC/DC demo, while vocalist Udo Dirkschneider sounded uncannily like Bon Scott.
“Our version was nowhere near as good as theirs,” Hoffmann says with a laugh. “Come on, it was AC/DC.”
The original recording of I’m A Rebel has never officially been released, although a leaked version of the song has been in circulation on the internet for years. The latter features Alex Young on vocals, prompting some AC/DC historians to suggest that Bon Scott didn’t sing on the original. Hoffmann shoots that idea down.
“It was Bon,” he insists. “I’ll tell you how I know. Rudi Holzhauer, who suggested it to us, came to one of our shows eight or nine years ago, before he died. I asked him if he still had that original tape. He had it on his phone. We were all huddled round his iPhone, listening to the AC/DC version with Bon singing. It was amazing.”
Accept’s I’m A Rebel never did give them the breakthrough hit they needed (that came a couple of years later with 1982’s Restless And Wild album and its immortal proto-thrash anthem Fast As A Shark).
As for AC/DC’s original demo, it remains tantalisingly unreleased, gathering dust in the vaults of a Hamburg publishing company. And given the band’s iron grip on their legacy, that’s probably where it will remain.