Highway To Hell, might be the seminal album that put AC/DC in the hearts of every hard-rocking American, but as their earlier crowd favorite suggests, it was a long way to the top. For AC/DC this was more than a lyric, but a mantra that lead them to be one of the most iconic bands the world has ever known.
By the time 1979 rolled around, the band was no stranger to the studio or stage, and already had their unique sound on lock. With five crowd pleasing albums under their belt that included gems like “T.N.T” and “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”, AC/DC was about to experience the most important life lesson any band with a track record can endure: the importance of staying uncomfortable.
It could be argued that it was simply their time to shine on a global scale. If you look at the other popular rock groups of the time, they all carried a different sound that drove them slightly further away from the genre, whether it was Led Zeppelin's blues edge, David Bowie’s avant garde, or Elton’s John’s show tune style. AC/DC, on the other hand, was the bare bones, no bullshit, working man rock and roll the world was thirsty for at the turn of the decade. What came to fruition, was the rock band who has always answered that call, but now in a powerful yet polished force that lead them to their first platinum album in America.
As my recent AC/DC Countdown video details, Highway To Hell marked the band’s first experience with a producer who wasn’t their brother, George Young. The label decision met the band with some animosity, but in hindsight it proved to be one of the most significant changes the band will ever make. After being paired with well-known producer Eddie Kramer, which only proved to be a toxic relationship, the band hired the relatively unknown Robert “Mutt” Lange, who would change the landscape of AC/DC’s future.
Where most bands fall short of great songwriting, this was never the case for AC/DC and Lange not only knew that, but never tried to change it. His genius was to add even more AC/DC to the already unique sound that invoked the true spirit of rock. By adding in backing vocals, sitting down with vocalist Bon Scott to fully develop breathing patterns, and honing in on drum sounds and guitar punches, it was the band’s sound fully realized at last. Fearless, decisive, and steadfast, the only downside to the creation is that it would unknowingly serve as Bon Scott’s farewell to the world. But doing so at his finest and most robust deliverance in the band’s career to date was a poetic close to an important chapter of rock history.
To me, the biggest take away of Highway To Hell is knowing that no matter how great of an act you may be, it’s learning how to still leap forward. Something I feel many band’s today have yet to take the time to understand. Just when you think you have it all figured out, sometimes unexpected change is the very thing you need. 40 years later, I’m still learning from this legendary album, and I’m more excited than ever to not only look back, but look forward to the career of AC/DC.
Give AC/DC's Highway To Hell a spin today for its 40th anniversary right here.