The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum

Headbanger's Anthem: AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" Celebrates 35th Anniversary

Monday, August 4: 2 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall

AC/DC Highway to Hell Album Cover Art 1979 original

A guitarist in schoolboy knickers, a singer who must have gargled with glass shards, and a penchant for tales of non-stop debauchery made AC/DC the late 70s archetypal heavy metal band. Brothers Angus and Malcolm Young generated bulldozing guitar, with their early records produced by third sibling, George (former member of popsters the Easybeats, who had a hit in 1966 with "Friday on my Mind").

Released in the first week of August 1979, AC/DC’s Highway to Hell was a major turning point for the group. Though the group's fifth album, it was the band’s first collaboration with producer Robert “Mutt” Lange, who brought a keen focus to AC/DC’s energetic sound.

With the album's release, AC/DC crept into the U.S. mainstream on the strength of "Highway to Hell," the thunderous opening to the album of the same name. The song didn't endear them to religious right-wingers, who posited that AC/DC's name was shorthand for "anti Christ/Devil's children."  Nor did it help when California's "Night Stalker" serial killer Richard Ramirez, expressed his admiration for the group.

WATCH: AC/DC Perform "Highway to Hell" live at the Induction Ceremony with Brian Johnson in 2003:

But the real subject matter of "Highway to Hell" was cautionary. Singer Bon Scott was voicing his feelings about the nasty habits that contributed to his own early demise a few months after the song's release. The combination of boozy reverie and imminent danger – "no stop signs / speed limit / nobody's gonna slow me down" –explains "Highway to Hell"s durability as a headbanger's anthem. Bolstered by the title cut, the album hit Number 17 on the U.S. charts. Sadly, within months of its release, tragedy struck when lead singer Bon Scott died from alcohol poisoning.

Scott’s original handwritten lyric for "Highway to Hell" are featured alongside one of Angus Young's famous schoolboy outfits in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland's Heavy Metal exhibit.

Bon Scott handwritten lyrics to "Highway to Hell" from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Collection in Cleveland, Ohio, exhibit

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