The sixth studio album from Australian rockers AC/DC was the last album to feature original lead singer, Bon Scott, who would pass away the next year in early 1980. Although he left too soon, he didn’t leave without deeply contributing to this great compilation of catchy hard-rock-anthems. With Highway To Hell, the songs often start off with lead guitarist Angus Young and drummer Phil Rudd, and this holds true with the first song as the introduction starts the album in the sharpest way.
The opening title-track, “Highway To Hell,” is a fitting song as it carries a level of attitude that can be heard throughout the album; an attitude that is carefree and rebellious. The band has never been known for thought-provoking lyrics, nor were they at the time, but this accepting track has Scott claiming he is destined to go to hell. The fact that he thinks it’s a good thing adds to the effect the album and song have on the listener. Though it is the first song on the album, it contains musical themes found throughout the rest of the record. Whether it’s the clear and crisp sound of Rudd’s drums, the gripping guitar solos from Angus Young, or the infectious choruses that often find a secure place in your memory all the way to the closing track “Night Prowler.” As for the other songs on the album, they might not succeed as much as the first track does, but they all are effective rock songs.
Like the next track, “Girls Got Rhythm,” which possesses similar guitars but is closer to the blues than the opener. It also deals with themes the album often mentions – women and sexuality. This head-bobbing track is a lyrical example of that as Scott is singing with words like, “love me til I’m legless, achin’ and sore. Enough to stop a freight train or start the third world war.” The girl has rhythm and so does the rhythm section as it boogies along in a hard-rock style typical of AC/DC.
Many of the songs use a similar speed and tempo, but the band isn’t afraid to mix it up with a song like “Walk all Over You,” where it regularly changes tempo from fast to slow. When Scott isn’t showcasing his vocals that sound like you can hear his throat through the speakers, the band pulls the weight with ease. Angus Young just makes playing the guitar sound easy, and will pull out a solo at any time without falling out of time with the rest of band.
Each song on the album is enjoyable and flows well with the next, but as previously mentioned, the lyrics are not one of the band’s stronger qualities which is okay, because you listen to an AC/DC album because the songs rock and feature sing-a-long choruses.
There are songs on the album like “Shot Down In Flames,” which is essentially a rejection song. With lyrics like, “I said baby what’s the goin price, she told me to go to hell. Shot down in flames, shot down in flames, ain’t that a shame, to be shot down in flames,” the messages often might not be deep or thought provoking, but Scott occasionally does come up with clever analogies and examples to explain how he feels, like in the song “If You Want Blood (You Got It)”: “It’s Animal, living in the human zoo, Animal, the shit they toss to you. Feelin’ like a Christian locked in a cage, thrown to the lions on the second page.” This song also happens to feature powerfully-driven guitars and a chorus that uses multiple vocals and it literally screams what Highway To Hell and AC/DC is all about.
The album is capped off by the nocturnal jam “Night Prowler.” This song finishes an album that is so good you would think any other band would deserve a lengthy break after its release, but not AC/DC as they would release the stellar Back in Black the following year.
The album was the band’s first reach into the US Top 100, selling over seven million copies and for a good reason, because every song on the album rocks and is enjoyable to listen to from start to finish. Every member in the band is solid and in some cases better than solid. For example, the guitar playing from Angus Young justifies any praise given to him for his ability. The rest of the band always keeps up and the rhythm section helps the album flow tremendously.
Many of the songs contain a chorus that is catchy, yet not annoying or too repetitive. A good example of this is the song “Touch Too Much,” which has an almost 80’s Def Leppard-like chorus, but in an AC/DC way. Overall the band goes on a hard rocking journey and the road comes easy to the ears the whole way.
The band had a breakthrough with this one, especially in the United States. With the passing of Bon Scott in 1980, the band managed to fill the huge void of their lead singer with Brian Johnson of the British band Geordie. The next album they would release was Back In Black (1980), and every rock fan knows that one. It ended up being their best-selling album.
Since Back In Black, the band released eight more albums, though none of which achieved the lofty status and success of Highway To Hell and its follow-up. Nevertheless, for their significant contributions to the world of hard rock music, the band was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.
Reviewer: Stephen Sheffer
IRC: Bill Pulice
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