Skip to content

AC/DC Highway to Hell LP (Atlantic Records 1979)

After so many years, this is still the best LP I ever heard. Of course, when you play a record that often in now nearly 27 years, there are ups and downs you experience with it. Sometimes the sparks don’t fly so high and after all, long-time relationships with music have their own conjunctures in which it’s played intensely or maybe not all for a longer time.
“Highway to hell” was one of  my first pieces of vinyl. My mother gave me the money to buy it when she realized how much music had begun meaning to me. Some years earlier, my father had allowed me to move the ancient phonograph of his (a german “Rex”, housed in a veritable commode with doors and a light bulb in the small phonograph cabin) into my room. Along with this, I inherited my mothers collection of Rock’n Roll and Schlager 7″s – from Elvis to Little Richard, from Peter Kraus to Johnny Cash, from Bill Haley and the Comets to Jerry Leee Lewis – these records fascinated me more than anything else, namely school and sports. Around 1977 I began to take interest in my brothers cassette tapes and adult books, both of which I studied carefully when he wasn’t in his room. So it came how it had to come: I figured out about AC/DC and Black Sabbath as I figured out about vaginas and blowjobs. Growing up as a total outsider in a swiss dump near the alps, this was my call: From trouble with peers and soon the cops and judges, the music got harder and harder and so did me little pecker.
“Highway to hell” marked many a rupture: One of my closest friends got killed in a horrible accident right in front of me (we rode on stolen bikes when he got hit by a truck), I saw my first splatter movies at the theatre and on video (which was a new medium back then) resulting in several traumas, got my first sentence from the juvenile court (working saturdays for a local ranger, which built up only more tension as my later career soon revealed), smoked my first pot, fingered a girl, bought my patches for the denim jacket etc.
These stories would always sound pathetic like they do sound pathetic here, I know, yet personally, they still reach deep. That’s maybe why I still care so much for “Highway to hell” and keep holding it dearly: A song like “Walk all over you” or “Night prowler” brings back blurry images of a younger self and these images however faded and unclear they have become, the music helped a great deal to preserve them.

What makes “Highway to hell” great in a more objective manner is that it’s indeed the record on which you can hear Bon Scott dying. Although it has the most polished sound of all the AC/DC albums and contains maybe 4 hit singles (title track, “Girls got rhythm”, “Shot down in flames” and the incredible “Touch too much”), it’s also the darkest of the band’s numerous releases. It may have to do with the historical perspective we all have on it, knowing that a few months later, Bon Scott would tragically die a lonesome death in the back of a car in London town. But I happen to think it’s more than that. The inseperable duo of “Touch too much” and “Walk all over you” runs shivers down the back still. So dark, so utterly despaired Bon sounds in the senseless attempt of gathering some vitalistic credibility by simply adressing messages of what was to be understood as hedonism to a blindfolded public. It remains a secret to me how you can “listen” to these songs (or rather: play them) for simple entertainment, a bit of air-geetaring maybe or a along a beer. This is music at the brink of a complete personal breakdown. The pictures evoken are those of violence and that inescapable “l’enfer c’est les autres” – atmosphere. Can’t be alone yet can’t be in company: isn’t this what Bon sings about in “Touch too much”?

PS: Funny how circles seem to close sometimes: I bought my mother a copy of “Highway to hell” on CD maybe two years ago, when she was about 68 years of age. She’s a total AC/DC maniac and occassionally reminds me on three special mornings we’ve had: When she woke me up and told me about the deaths of Elvis, of Bon Scott and of john Lennon (whose “Woman” and “Imagine” singles I loved back then). Good music is about death and not love, isn’t it?

PS II: Collectors notice: The first german pressing of this was on nice transparent yellow vinyl. This was, along with the multicolor version of “If you want Blood” and the red vinyl of the canadian “Powerage” edition, the only colored vinyl of the original AC/DC. About a year ago, somebody sold a yellow vinyl version of “Let there be Rock” on ebay. Never heard of that one before.

11 Comments