AC/DC – Highway To Hell (1979)

AllMusic Review: The title track of the quadruple-platinum 1979 album that made AC/DC international stars, “Highway to Hell” is not only one of hard rock’s all-time anthems (in spite of its lackluster chart showing in both the U.K. and U.S.), but also a chilling epitaph for lead singer Bon Scott, who drank himself to death several months later. Scott was notorious for living out the hard-partying, devil-may-care rock & roll lifestyle that “Highway to Hell” celebrated. And, as though he had a premonition of where his excesses were taking him, the song’s central metaphor — hedonism as damnation — was eerily mirrored when Scott’s lifeless body was discovered in a car outside a party he had attended. Yet he embraced all of it with rowdy abandon, as well as a certain pride that demanded attention from everyone, regardless of whether they approved (“Hey Satan, paid my dues/Playing in a rockin’ band/Hey Mama, look at me/I’m on my way to the promised land”). The lyrics displayed a fierce, stubborn independence in his choice of lifestyle (“Askin’ nothin’, leave me be”; “nobody’s gonna slow me down”), but not really loneliness (of hell: “goin’ down! party time! my friends are gonna be there too”). It’s ironic that Scott seems most alive when facing death with the fearless bravado of “Highway to Hell,” yet it’s undeniably true, especially given his positively unhinged performance. The untutored ugliness of his voice; the playfulness with which he used it to his advantage; the wails, growls, screeches, and scratches — all these qualities combine to give the song an unbridled enthusiasm without which it might take on an air of ambivalence. The rest of the band’s performance behind Scott typifies the blend of power, simplicity, and sheer groove that made AC/DC one of the greatest hard rock bands ever: the Young brothers play a monster three-chord, start-stop riff that leaves lots of space for Phil Rudd’s thumping backbeat to breathe. Angus Young’s solo sticks to simple, melodic, blues-derived licks, and afterwards, he delivers a wild freak-out pick-slide down the strings that sounds like nothing so much as Bon Scott’s insanity being let loose upon the world. Even if “Highway to Hell” is an undeniable classic no matter which way you look at it, it’s arguable as to whether the song would have had quite the same resonance had Scott not died several months after the album’s release. However, the fact remains that Scott’s death yanks the song out of the realm of macho fantasy and lends it a certain honesty and truth, a more human element, in contrast to the self-conscious posing with which so many heavy metal bands performed material of a similar nature. And that’s what makes it one of the greatest hard rock anthems ever recorded. — Steve Huey

Track Listing

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Highway to Hell” 3:29
2. “Girls Got Rhythm” 3:24
3. “Walk All Over You” 5:10
4. “Touch Too Much” 4:28
5. “Beating Around the Bush” 3:55
Side two
No. Title Length
1. “Shot Down in Flames” 3:23
2. “Get It Hot” 2:35
3. “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)” 4:38
4. “Love Hungry Man” 4:18
5. “Night Prowler” 6:18


Schill Score: 9/10


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