AC/DC began recording what would become Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap in January 1976 at Albert Studios with Harry Vanda and George Young (older brother of guitarists Malcolm and Angus) producing. In April, the band went on their first tour of the U.K. where "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" was released as a single. According to the book AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll, Vanda and Young traveled to the U.K. to record several songs with the band at Vineland Studios for a scheduled EP, which was eventually scrapped. One song, "Love at First Feel," would surface on international Dirty Deeds release while the others, "Carry Me Home" and "Dirty Eyes," would remain unreleased, the latter being reworked into "Whole Lotta Rosie" on 1977's Let There Be Rock. A song titled "I'm a Rebel" was recorded at Maschener Studios as well with music and lyrics written by Angus and Malcolm Young's older brother, Alex Young. This song was never released by AC/DC and remains in Albert Productions' vaults. German band Accept later released it as a single and named their second album after the song. In September, High Voltage was released in the United States but, hampered by visa problems and a disinterested Atlantic Records label in America, the band returned to Australia to finish their third album.
The title track would become one of the band's most famous songs, with the narrator inviting people experiencing problems to either call him on 36-24-36, an actual phone number in Australia at the time, or visit him at his home, at which point he will perform assorted unsavoury acts to resolve said problems. Situations in which he offers assistance include those involving lewd high school headmasters and significant others who are either adulterous or who persistently find fault with their partners. The term "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" is an homage to the cartoon Beany and Cecil, which Angus watched when he was a child. One of the cartoon's characters was named Dishonest John, and carried a business card that read, "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. Holidays, Sundays and Special Rates." In 1981, after the album was released in the U.S., Norman and Marilyn White of Libertyville, Illinois filed a $250,000 lawsuit in Lake County, Illinois Circuit Court against Atlantic Records and its distributors because, they alleged, their telephone number was included in the song, resulting in hundreds of prank phone calls. Their attorney told the Chicago Tribune that the song's 36-24-36 digits were followed by what to his clients sounded like an "8," thus creating the couple's phone number.
Another fan-favorite from the album is "Ride On." Atypically for an AC/DC song, it has a sad, slow blues feel and features Scott's reflective lyrics and restrained, soulful delivery. The lyrics concern a man ruminating on the mistakes he has made in a relationship while drinking. It has frequently been cited as one of AC/DC's best songs. The track is also significant for Angus Young's stunning guitar solo. AC/DC biographer Murray Engleheart observes in his 2006 band memoir, "Overall, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap was rougher than T.N.T. and highlighted the difficulties of recording between increasingly demanding touring commitments. Song's like 'Ain't No Fun,' 'RIP,' 'Jailbreak,' and particularly the lonely resignation of 'Ride On,' were almost character studies of Bon and had a sense of impatience...breaking free and just plain loneliness." In an interview with Anthony O'Grady of RAM in August, 1976, Scott stated that "Ride On" was "about a guy who gets pissed around by chicks...can't find what he wants." "Ride On" was covered by the French band Trust on their self-titled 1979 debut album after supporting AC/DC in Paris, France in the fall of 1978. Bon Scott jammed the song with Trust at Scorpio Sound Studios in London, England on February 13, 1980, six days before his death. A recording of it would later surface on the Bon Scott Forever Volume 1 bootleg. In the same 1976 RAM interview, Scott that "Squealer" (which includes another blistering, blues-drenched solo from Young) was about a sexual encounter with a virgin. In concert, Scott would often introduce "Problem Child" as being about Angus.
A modified international edition was released on Atlantic Records on 17 December 1976 but Atlantic Records in America rejected it, unhappy with its vocals and production. According to bassist Mark Evans, the band's manager Michael Browning told him he assumed Bon Scott would be fired as a result. As band biographer Murray Engleheart observes in his book AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll, the band had not even toured the States yet, a market the band longed to conquer:
The tough rock acts only got what little airwave attention they did because they'd built up a fan base through tears on the road. AC/DC hadn't had the opportunity to marshal troops throught touring the U.S. and at the time there was no way something as raw and gritty as Dirty Deeds was going to make it onto American radio playlists by itself. It was a brutally simple catch-22...Americans were said to have trouble understanding Bon, and if the people working with the band couldn't make out the lyrics, how was his voice going to work on the all-important U.S. radio networks?
In hindsight, these concerns seem preposterous, considering that the LP - finally released in the States in March 1981 - would go on to become the second highest-selling Bon Scott album and is considered one of the band's classics. Following the American success of Highway to Hell in late 1979, copies of the album began to appear as imports in the US. Some of these imports were the original Australian edition on Albert Productions. However, Atlantic also pressed the international version in Australia, and many of these copies were also exported to the US. Strong demand for both import versions in the wake of the even greater success of Back in Black eventually led the US division of Atlantic to finally authorize an official US release in April 1981, which went straight to #3 on the Billboard album charts. The international release does contain significant alterations from the original album, however, with "Jailbreak" (which had preceded the LP's release in Australia and the U.K.) and "R.I.P. (Rock in Peace)" jettisoned in favor of "Rocker" (from the 1975 Australian edition of High Voltage), "Big Balls" and "Love at First Feel." "Jailbreak" did not see a release in the United States, Canada, and Japan until October 1984 as part of the international '74 JailbreakEP. A promo-only single, with "Show Business" as its B-side, was released to radio stations in the US at the time. "Love at First Feel" is one of only two tracks from international AC/DC albums not available on the band's Australian albums (The other is "Cold Hearted Man", released on European pressings of Powerage). However, "Love at First Feel" was released in Australia as a single in January 1977, with "Problem Child" as its B-side, which peaked in the Kent Music Report Singles Chart Top 100. The international release of Dirty Deeds also contains "Big Balls," one of the band's most infamous compositions that finds Scott, a deceptively clever lyricist, using double entendres by using ballroom and costume parties to obviously reference his own testicles. AC/DC had mined this territory before on "The Jack" and would again later on songs like "Given the Dog a Bone" but "Big Balls" could be their funniest attempt at sexual innuendo, although the song was controversial in its day and drew the ire of some critics who mistook the band's sense of humor. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap also led to more AC/DC appearances on Australia's Countdown music programme, following those in support of High Voltage and T.N.T. These appearances included a live performance of the album's title track, as well as a music video for "Jailbreak".
Two songs on the international album were edited from the full length versions on the original Australian album. The full length "Dirty Deeds..." has the title of the song chanted four times starting at 3:09, but on the edited version the chant is heard only twice. "Ain't No Fun..." lasted 7:29 on the Australian album but was faded out early to 6:57 on the international version. This means they trim off the Chuck Berry licks and title chanting to the end. However, both these full length versions were restored on the 1994 Atco Records remastered CD of the international album. The most recent 2003 CD edition by Epic Records goes back to the edited versions, as originally on the 1976 and 1981 international vinyl editions. The uncut versions of both songs were released on the 2009 box set Backtracks. On the original version of "Rocker", included on the Australian T.N.T. album, the song lasts 2:55 and cuts out abruptly as the guitar riff hits its peak. Conversely, all international editions of the "Dirty Deeds" album have a slightly shorter version where the song fades out at 2:50 before the cut. "Squealer" appears to be longer by thirteen seconds on the international version; this is due to it having a bumper of silence at the end, as it is the final track on the record. "Ride On" has a four-second difference (longer on the international version) which appears to be from a minor speed issue, although the last guitar slide can be heard better on the shorter Australian version.
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap has been certified 6x platinum both in Australia and in the US, selling at least six million copies, becoming the third-highest selling album by AC/DC in the US after Highway to Hell (7x platinum) and Back in Black (22x platinum). Allmusic gives the album gave it five out of five stars and said that "it captured the seething malevolence of Bon Scott...encouraged by the maniacal riffs of Angus and Malcolm Young" and that there was a "real sense of danger to this record." Greg Kot of Rolling Stone states: "The guitars of brothers Angus and Malcolm Young bark at each other, Phil Rudd swings the beat even as he's pulverizing his kick drum, and Scott brings the raunch 'n' wail. The subject matter is standard-issue rock rebellion; Scott pauses only once to briefly contemplate the consequences of his night stalking in "Ride On.'"
Most editions of this album contain the edited versions of the title track and "Ain't No Fun (Waiting Round to Be a Millionaire)". The 1994 remastered CD on Atco Records contains the full-length Australian versions of both songs.
"Rocker" was originally released on T.N.T. in a slightly longer version without the fade out.