The Australian rock band AC/DC made history with their guitar riffs, melodies and lyrics in their best performing single “Highway to Hell” released in 1979. 40 years after the release, this song still gets people revved up and screaming and jumping during the concerts. Those are the signs of an evergreen track.
“Highway to Hell” was released as the first single off of AC/DC’s sixth studio album, also titled ‘Highway to Hell.’ The song reached #4 on UK singles chart and #47 on the US singles chart. However, the song did reach #1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart in 1992. The single has also earned Gold certification by RIAA for over 500,000 units sold worldwide.
Despite this mediocre chart and sales performance, “Highway to Hell” remains a cultural icon in music history. The song was ranked at #258 on Rolling Stone magazine’s ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’ list. The song also made its way to ‘The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll’ list.
“Highway to Hell” track is a dedication to the life of mainstream artists on the road. Album, tour, album, tour was their mantra which drove them into madness. AC/DC admits that this lifestyle is the fastest way to the grave. Bon Scott, the lead vocalist of AC/DC at the time, had the following on his last will; “I’ve been on the road for 13 years; Planes, hotels, groupies, booze … they all scrape something from you.” He passed away a few months later to the song’s release, due to excessive drinking.
Is “Highway to Hell” a real place?
According to Songfacts, ‘“Highway to Hell” was the nickname for the Canning Highway in Australia. It runs from where lead singer Bon Scott lived in Fremantle and ends at a pub/bar called The Raffles, which was a big rock ‘n roll drinking hole in the ’70s. As Canning Highway gets close to the pub, it dips down into a steep decline. So many people were killed by driving fast over that intersection at the top of the hill on the way for a good night out’ earning its nickname.
Watch “Highway to Hell” Music Video by AC/DC
The first verse of “Highway to Hell” elaborates on the care-free lifestyle of the singer which could also be generalized for the rock-n-roll superstars of the day. He very well knows that life is a one-way ticket anyway, so might as well enjoy it to the fullest while he can. The 70’s and 80’s life of superstars was mainly surrounded by friends, partying, booze, drugs, sex and money. Bon Scott was aware of the consequences of this lifestyle, but he would have it no other way. Unfortunately enough, this lifestyle stole Bon Scott’s life less than a year since the release of the song.
The chorus of this track is one of the most famous lyrics all around the world. The repetitive lines emphasize the singer’s acknowledgement of the reckless lifestyle and living it up.
In the second verse of “Highway to Hell,” AC/DC mocks the mediocre life of all others they see. Coming from a predominantly Christian background, rock music does not blend well with religion, to begin with. And AC/DC rubs it on the face of onlookers; “Hey mama, look at me/I’m on the way to the promised land.” The ‘promised land‘ in Biblical context is a land area given to Abraham by God himself. AC/DC can be seen drawing similarities between their concept of ‘heaven’ which they enjoy now to that of the ‘promised land.’
In this cruise on the highway to hell, AC/DC has no stop signs, no brakes, and nobody to stop them. Life on the road and there is no law above them that could hold them back. They know its a crash-stop at the end of the road, but at least they would have enjoyed the thrill ride until then.
Watch AC/DC Perform “Highway to Hell” Live at River Plate
Bon Scott also brings up an interesting concept by bringing in a reference to Satan in the same verse that mentioned God. He sings that playing in a Rock band is his way of paying off his debt owed to Satan. The rocker lifestyle they lived has no ‘good’ in it, which makes it a perfect tribute to the spawn of devil himself-Satan.
A similar theme could be seen in Queen’s hit track “Don’t Stop Me Now,” which also alluded to the superstar lifestyle the band lived. Queen frontman, Freddie Mercury, also died of complications from AIDS, courtesy of his flamboyant lifestyle.
“Highway to Hell” is a true tribute to the lavish lifestyle the superstars of the day lived and a good reminder of how it all ends. AC/DC dedicated their next studio album ‘Back In Black’ to Bon Scott.
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