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ACDC In Highway To Hell Album Cover
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Every Song On AC/DC’s Highway To Hell, Ranked From Worst To Best

On the 40th anniversary of AC/DC’s Highway To Hell, we rank every track on the record.

Forty years ago, AC/DC released their final record with singer Bon Scott, though they didn’t know it at the time. Bon’s swansong is a collection of powerful singles, as well as a manifesto of his lustful rocker lifestyle. Producer Robert “Mutt” Lange, then known for elevating pub rock tunes into hit singles, polished AC/DC into an elite strike force anchored by the locked-in rhythm section of drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Cliff Williams, leaving plenty of room for Malcolm Young’s punchy riffs and brother Angus’s expressive, bluesy solos to leave their mark. Of its 10 songs, nine are stone-cold classics, making Highway to Hell one of the most consistent records in the band’s discography. Here are those 10 songs, from worst to best.

10. LOVE HUNGRY MAN

No Bon Scott-era AC/DC album has aged so well as Highway to Hell. Every song on the record could have been a successful radio single…except Love Hungry Man. The penultimate track on the album suffers from being sandwiched between two of the best songs on the record, but can’t stand up on its own right, either. In a 1998 interview with Q Magazine, Angus Young called it the band’s worst song in his estimation.

9. GET IT HOT

At two and a half minutes long, the furious boogie of Get It Hot keeps the momentum on Highway to Hell going but doesn’t stand up well on its own. The punk-fuelled drive that underpins its chorus gets the adrenaline pumping, but the verse riff feels too much like something The Rolling Stones would have written around the same time. AC/DC were more thoroughly themselves elsewhere on the album.

8. BEATING AROUND THE BUSH

Sure, the opening riff sounds an awful lot like Oh Well by Fleetwood Mac, but Peter Green’s edition of that band never had the sheer kinetic energy of AC/DC. The band spends a good deal of the song in double time, a rarity for the usually groovy team of Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd, but they nail it on this song. However, Bon’s usually juvenile sense of sexual humor is better when it carries a little more subtlety. “Beating around the bush” is a little on-the-nose for him.

7. SHOT DOWN IN FLAMES

From a band as predisposed to sexual context as Bon-era AC/DC, it’s refreshing to hear a huge, self-deprecating song about having his advances rejected. After the entirety of Side A details Bon’s lascivious success, opening Side B with him being told to “go to hell” makes flipping the record over more fun than it would otherwise be. Bon’s wailing “Ain’t it a shame!” during the chorus on this song is a highlight, as well. Angus teases his brief but exciting guitar solo with a tasteful series of pick slides first—you’ve got to love when the songwriting is on theme as well as rocking in its own right.

6. GIRLS GOT RHYTHM

Who doesn’t love an ode to straightforward women who take you to the backseat of the car and show you how things are done? “I’ve been around the world, I’ve seen a million girls,” Bon yells in the intro. But he can’t get the one with the backseat rhythm off of his mind. Besides, that riff.

5. IF YOU WANT BLOOD (YOU'VE GOT IT)

An action-movie soundtrack staple, If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) shows Bon-era AC/DC at their most pugnacious. Named after the band’s live album from the previous year, it’s so aggressive that it feels a little out of place next to more feel-good party songs. At four and a half minutes long,, with endless repeats of the chorus making up what feels like the whole last half of the song, it could stand to be a little shorter. Even so, Bon’s raving chorus is a gem, and he packed some of his most clever lyrics into the song’s scant verses: “Feeling like a Christian / Locked in a cage / Thrown to the lions / on the second page.”

4. WALK ALL OVER YOU

AC/DC always had a sense of melody, but under the tutelage of Mutt Lange, Bon received vocal coaching and the band added striking backing vocals to their songs for the first time on Highway to Hell. Lange himself joined in the vocal sessions, and his harmony with Cliff and Malcolm get a chance to step into the fore on Walk All Over You. The song’s ominous intro doesn’t really match the rest of the tune and probably could have been cut, but it does foreshadow the massive sound that the band later pursued on Back In Black.

3. NIGHT PROWLER

Highway to Hell is a mostly up-tempo and optimistic record about good times to be had — that is, up until its closer, Night Prowler, comes on. Brooding, ominous and deeply bluesy, it’s the longest and most atmospheric track on the album, one that showcases Bon’s storytelling abilities. Ostensibly about a boy sneaking into his girlfriend’s room at night, the song was a favorite of serial killer Richard Ramírez, who was nicknamed the “Night Stalker.” The band’s dodged the Ramírez connection since, but one doesn’t need to be a true-crime junkie to hear the song’s malicious undertones — or its striking songwriting.

2. TOUCH TOO MUCH

Nowhere does the band’s then-new sense of harmony and vocal prowess serve their music better than on Touch Too Much, the finest make out song of the band’s first period. Its chorus is so piercing that it’s a wonder the single, released in December 1979, hasn’t become more of a radio staple. Bon’s flair for the dramatic reaches a fever pitch when he screams, “Touch me!” cueing a blistering solo from Angus — an endearing moment of vulnerable yearning from a band that barely explored those emotions. If any song points to how good AC/DC could have become had Bon stayed alive, this is it.

1. HIGHWAY TO HELL

Hit play on a CD or vinyl of Highway to Hell and it’s all downhill after the title track, metaphorically and literally. Love Hungry Man aside there isn’t a weak cut in the bunch, but the title track’s opening riff, infectious drum groove, and full-on “fuck it, we’re all gonna die so we might as well do whatever we want” attitude have few equals in the rock canon. The song’s infectious and anthemic chorus made it a radio hit and live staple in the band’s catalog — apocryphally, when the band played it live for the first time, most of the audience had the chorus memorized after its first repeat.

***

Posted on July 27th 2019, 4:00pm
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