[Review] AC/DC: Highway To Hell (1979)

It was the end of the road for Bon Scott, but one heck of an exit.

Kronomyth 7.0: Hell? Oh, goodbye.

Start with a guitar riff that cracks like thunder. Add an irresistible beat that hits on the two and fours like a hammer. Mix in a bottom end that’s as smooth as butter. Heat it up with the hellacious vocals of Bon Scott and top it all of with a brief, brilliant guitar solo that keeps you hungry for more. Highway To Hell is the perfect formula for how to make a great rock and roll album. AC/DC had released great albums before this, but Highway took it to a higher level.

The first side of music is one of the most powerful plastic faces in rock and roll history, from the breathtaking beginning of “Highway To Hell” through Bon’s sexually charged “Beating Around The Bush.” The production team of Robert Lange and Tony Platt does a stellar job of cleaning up the band’s act, at least from a sonic perspective. The space between the instruments gives the music a clarity lacking on their last album, Powerage.

The record labels had less success cleaning up the band’s message. Highway To Hell is as unrepentantly dirty and profane as anything the band had recorded. (As a Christian, this would seem to present a conflict. I reconcile it by remembering that God uses all things for his glory. For more on that matter, see Proverbs 18:7.)

It’s hard nowadays to separate this music from the myth of Bon Scott, who died before the band’s next album. Is Highway To Hell the best album that Bon released with the band? In some ways, yes, although I could just as easily champion his performances on Let There Be Rock or Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. But it would be a mistake to think that Bon left on a high note. His final words on record are a dated (though typically topical) reference to Robin Williams’ Mork character, his final moments were spent passed out in a car. Highway To Hell is one record where myth and music don’t intersect neatly; it’s a great rock and roll album that deserved a great encore—and got one, but with a different singer on stage.

Original elpee version

A1. Highway To Hell (3:26)
A2. Girls Got Rhythm (3:23)
A3. Walk All Over You (5:08)
A4. Touch Too Much (4:24)
A5. Beating Around The Bush (3:55)
B1. Shot Down In Flames (3:21)
B2. Get It Hot (2:24)
B3. If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) (4:32)
B4. Love Hungry Man (4:14)
B5. Night Prowler (6:13)

All titles written by Angus Young, Malcolm Young & Bon Scott.

The Players

Phil Rudd (drums), Bon Scott (vocals), Cliff Williams (bass), Angus Young (guitar), Malcolm Young (guitar). Produced by Robert John Lange; recording engineered by Mark Dearney; mix engineered by Tony Platt.

The Pictures

Art direction by Bob Defrin. Photography by Jim Houghton.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette on July 27, 1979 in Australia (Albert, APLP 040), the UK (Atlantic, K 50628), the US (Atlantic, SD/CS 19244), Colombia (Atlantic/Sonolux, 23(7031)00214) and Germany (Atlantic, ATL 50628); reached #17 on the US charts (RIAA certified 7X platinum record) and #8 on the UK charts. Australian version features different cover.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1983 in Australia (Albert, APLP 040, on red label) with unique cover.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1984 in Germany (Atlantic, ATL 50628).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in the US (Atlantic, SD 19244) with custom AC/DC innersleeve.
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Atlantic, SD 19244-2).
  5. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 1994 in the US (Atlantic, 92419).
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in 1995 in Australia (Albert, 477088-2).
  7. Re-issued on remastered 180g vinyl elpee in 1998 in the UK (Simply Vinyl, SVLP-325).
  8. Re-issued on remastered 180g vinyl elpee and compact disc in 2003 in the US (Epic, E-80206/80206-2) and the UK (Sony, 510764-1).
  9. Re-issued on remastered compact disc in 2007 in Japan (Sony, SICP-1705).
  10. Re-issued on remastered compact disc on October 1, 2008 in Japan (Sony Music Japan, SICP 2025).

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