The title is often attributed as a phrase AC/DC guitarist Angus Young used to describe touring in America. There is a much more literal explanation, however. "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: "No stop signs... speed limits... nobody gonna slow me down."
So many people where killed by driving fast over that intersection at the top of the hill on the way for a good night out, that it was called the highway to hell, so when Bon was saying "I'm on the highway to hell" it meant that he was doing the nightly or weekly pilgrimage down Canning Highway to The Raffles bar to rock and drink with his mates: "Ain't nothing I would rather do. Going down, party time, my friends are gonna be there too."
Vocalist Brian Johnson explained to The Metro October 15, 2009: "It was written about being on the bus on the road where it takes forever to get from Melbourne or Sydney to Perth across the Nullarbor Plain. When the Sun's setting in the west and you're driving across it, it is like a fire ball. There is nothing to do, except have a quick one off the wrist or a game of cards, so that's where Bon came up with the lyrics."
This was the first AC/DC song to chart in the US. It helped drive huge sales for the Highway To Hell
album, which has sold over seven million copies in America. It was AC/DC's sixth album, and their last with vocalist Bon Scott, who died in 1980 from excessive drinking. Their next album, Back In Black
, was dedicated to him.
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Mutt Lange, who has also worked with The Cars, Bryan Adams, and Def Leppard (and Shania Twain, who he was married to from 1993-2008), produced the album. Lange took over after after failed sessions with Eddie Krammer, who had a solid resumé that included work with Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, but whose procedural style didn't work for AC/DC.
Lange was able to enhance the band's sound without altering their essence. On this song, he added robust background vocals to the choruses - something AC/DC didn't do on their previous efforts. This and other production refinements helped made the song a hit and expand their audience.
Recorded in London, Highway To Hell was the first AC/DC album recorded outside of Australia. The album cover had Angus Young on the cover wearing his schoolboy uniform and devil horns. Some religious groups found this quite offensive.
Serial killer Richard Ramirez claimed this album compelled him to murder. He believed AC/DC stood for "Anti Christ/Devil's Child."
In the 2003 film School of Rock Jack Black teaches the riff to the guitarist in the band. The song was also featured in the 2000 movie Little Nicky, starring Adam Sandler.
The AC/DC bluegrass tribute band Hayseed Dixie covered this on their 2001 album, A Hillbilly Tribute To AC/DC.
AC/DC performed this at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony when they were inducted in 2003. Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler inducted them, saying, "There is no greater purveyor of the power chord."
The chorus to the song was used in the 2010 movie Percy Jackson and the Olympians: the Lightning Thief
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A campaign to make the this the top song on the UK singles chart for Christmas 2013 resulted in a #4 placing and AC/DC's first top 10 British hit in a 40-year career. The Anglo-Australian hard rockers had previously been the most successful act never to have had a Top 10 hit single in the UK, having achieved a grand total of 30 chart entries, none of which have ever peaked any higher than #12 (that honor went to 1988 hit "Heatseeker").
When this song was released, there really was a "Highway to Hell" in America: Route 666. This section of highway ran through Arizona and Utah; it was later renumbered after various ghost stories emerged about unexplained happenings on the road.
AC/DC, who didn't win their first Grammy Award until 2010 (Best Hard Rock Performance for "War Machine
"), played this at the 2015 ceremony. They opened the telecast with "Rock or Bust
," then segued into "Highway."
This is the song that gets Peter Griffin banished from Amish country on the 2011 season 10 episode of Family Guy titled "Amish Guy." Looking to introduce the Amish to rock and roll, he produces a boom box and plays the song for their leader, who does not approve.
When AC/DC was accused of backmasking Satanic messages on their Highway To Hell record, Angus Young responded: "You didn't need to play [the album] backwards, because we never hid [the messages]. We'd call an album Highway To Hell, there it was right in front of them."
Along with "Shoot to Thrill
," this was used in the 2010 movie Iron Man 2
, which has a soundtrack made up entirely of AC/DC songs. Other movies to use the song include:Megamind
(2007)Final Destination 2
(2003)Detroit Rock City
It also appears in these TV shows:Sleepy Hollow
("Freedom" - 2017) How I Met Your Mother
("Symphony of Illumination" - 2011)Blue Bloods
("The Blue Templar" - 2011)Glee
("Hell-O" - 2010)ER
("Finders Keepers" - 2003)The Simpsons
("Simpsons Bible Stories" - 1999)