Highway to Hell (in 666 words)

By Tom MacIntosh

AC/DC have been called a rock/blues band, a hard rock band, a heavy metal band, but in their own words they are “a rock and roll band, nothing more, nothing less. Their first breakthrough came in 1979 with the release of Highway To Hell, which sold over a million copies and launched them towards the stars in the biggest of ways, they went on to release 16 more albums, and have sold over 200 million copies worldwide, making them one of the best-selling rock groups in history.

Highway to Hell was also the last record original singer Bon Scott was to cut. His early death to alcohol poisoning almost sent the group home, but they persevered to become what they are today, rock Gods. Malcolm and Angus Young, Phil Rudd, Cliff Williams and Scott blast this album open with the title cut Highway to Hell, on nothing more than a gnarly riff backed by Rudd’s thumping drum beat, enter Scott's signature voice/scream, and the record is off to the races. The song is about life on the road from hotel to stage, and everything in between, best described by Angus Young, “...just because you call an album Highway to Hell you get all kinds of grief. And all we’d done is describe what it’s like to be on the road for 4 years, like we’d been. A lot of it was bus and car touring, with no real break. You crawl off the bus at four o'clock in the morning, and some journalist is doing a story and he says, ‘What would you call an AC/DC tour?’ Well, it was a highway to hell. It really was. When you’re sleeping with the singer’s socks two inches from your nose, that’s pretty close to hell.. Scott’s lyrics on this album speak mostly of lust, sex and partying, as seen in track 2, Girls Got Rhythm, “You know she move like sin, and when she let me in, it’s like liquid love, no doubt about it, can’t live without it..” and Love Hungry Man, the latter described by Angus as the worst song on the album, “I must have written that after a night of bad pizza…

Admittedly, Angus is a Gibson man, his go-to guitar was a 1965 Gibson SG, originally red with vibrola, then painted black. He’s also been seen shredding a 1976 Music Man Stingray in the beginnings (one of the first guitars manufactured by the American brand in the mid-70s.).


They spent 3 months in the studio under the eye of producer Robert “Mutt” Lange, who flipped all this blood, sweat and lust into a polished, heavy-swinging rock album that fits into the library as one of the greatest efforts by the quintet, and most certainly of any rock group ever.  Tracks Walk All Over You, If You Want Blood, Touch Too Much deliver what the band was built for: hard-driving kickass beats behind the genius of Angus’ brutal strangulation of his SG, and Scott’s unrelenting vocal reaches. Highway To Hell is Bon Scott’s baby, leading a rock and roll band at their most feral and fearless, a monster of an album, and his last running punch at a definitive rock legacy.  

Classic Rock described the album and title song as “Not just AC/DC’s greatest song, but the greatest rock anthem period.”.  A tribute to Bon Scott’s cocksure, carefree style of singing and writing. He is sorely missed, but remembered fondly for this epic opus.

The final cut on the album Night Prowler is testimony to the life-blood of the band and its devilish leanings. The cover photo, which has Angus in horns, (or horny) put parents on alert for their ‘satanic’ impulses, a concern that ironically sent sales to heavenly heights. The record reached platinum status in the U.S., Canada, U.K, Australia, France and Switzerland, and touched gold in Italy, Austria, and Argentina.

Bon Scott and his band gloriously alive!