If you are not familiar with the album, or any previous albums, or anything at all related to AC/DC, how can you know what to expect from â€œHighway to Hellâ€? One look at the cover and, depending the type of person you are and the music youâ€™re in to, youâ€™re already either nervous or excited. Now the whole gang isnâ€™t mean-looking. Bon Scottâ€™s smiling, for cryinâ€™ out loud. But he isnâ€™t the focus of the picture, and no parent is going to care about one guy looking friendly when the one closest to the camera is sporting devil horns and a tail, not to mention Malcolmâ€™s look of pure evil. After seeing this grisly photo and reading through the list of songs on the back of the album, a parentâ€™s reaction might be, â€œI am not letting my kid listen to this,â€ though that might not stop them buying the thing for their own, adult enjoyment. The kidâ€™s reaction? â€œI am so going to piss Mom and Dad off with this!â€ (Now, I donâ€™t know if kids will be reading this, but I donâ€™t want them to feel like theyâ€™ve been left out.)
Kids, parents, your first impressions arenâ€™t going to change at all.
Just start playing the album, and make sure the volume isnâ€™t too low. A guitar rumbles alone for a total of nine seconds, then the drums start beating, and either your toes start tapping to that hard, Phil rhythm or you arenâ€™t impressed and wince as Bon opens with the lyrics. Okay, anyone could loathe Bonâ€™s singing style, or, more specifically, that raucous, squawking, surprisingly seductive voice of his. But there are far worse singers, and, considering AC/DCâ€™s notorious reputation, Bon is the perfect singer for the rowdy band.
Bon always had a talent of writing lyrics that arenâ€™t explicitly talking about sex (most of the time, anyway). But if you listen and have a mature knowledge of wordplay, youâ€™ll know just what heâ€™s talking about. The thing is that these songs are performed so well that you canâ€™t help not being overly concerned about its message. These boys mean no harm. Bonâ€™s just singing about his understandable, if immature, fantasies and, most likely, his experiences. The band was more concerned with the music, anyway. Kids, youâ€™ve been warned. And donâ€™t ask your parents what â€œtonight is gonna be that nightâ€ means, â€˜cause that CD could get confiscated real quick.
With some music, the vocals are all that makes listening worthwhile. With â€œHighway to Hell,â€ itâ€™s strangely satisfying listening to Bon shrieking, cackling, and crooning. But the vocals arenâ€™t the heart and soul of AC/DCâ€™s work. Itâ€™s the guitars and the drums that make it all work. Phil Rudd drives the beat until you feel like your spineâ€™s going to crack in half from all your head-bobbing. Cliff Williams provides a killer base line, most notably on â€œLove Hungry Man.â€ Malcolm Young plays the immortal riffs, often with his little brother Angus.
But thatâ€™s only the beginning of Angusâ€™s part in AC/DCâ€™s music. You want mind-blowing, memorable, admirable electric guitar solos, youâ€™ve got to hear him. These solos arenâ€™t lifeless tones blown out of an oversized amp, only to flop limply onto the floor, waiting for a resurrection by a much better guitar player. They arenâ€™t just strings of notes that go on and on until youâ€™re waiting for the song to end. No, these solos move like living things. If youâ€™ve never seen Angus perform, then youâ€™ll be imagining some faceless guitarist shredding his heart out. If you are familiar with Angusâ€™s stage antics, then it will be easy for you to picture him doing his version of the â€œDuck Walkâ€ around your house, or even doing a â€œspasmâ€ right on your own floor. A scary thought, parents? Well, try not to think of him mooning you and your family in your kitchen, as he has done to some of his audiences. (Youâ€™re probably imagining it right now, arenâ€™t you? â€œMy bad . . .â€)
If youâ€™re waiting for me to name the best song on the album, donâ€™t hold your breath. Every song makes the listening worthwhile, and none of them sound the same. Yes, nearly all of them have, at the very least, some mention to sex, but the beauty of it is that they find new ways to present it. Bon always discovers new words to play with and new expressions to twist and expand until he has his song. And the best part about the songs as a whole is that Angusâ€™s guitar picking never gets old as he finds his own ways to pluck out solo after solo, and the rest of the band finds new beats and tunes to belt out at earsplitting volume.
Here are reviews of the songs themselves, as short as I could make them:
~The title track (â€œHighway to Hell,â€ in case youâ€™ve forgotten) is one of the best songs on the album. Iâ€™m not just saying it, believe me. It has one of the most memorable guitar riffs in hard rock history (just listen to the first eight seconds), a toe-tapping beat, and lyrics that are easy to fall in love with, even when Bonâ€™s belting them out with such enthusiasm that you know he means every word.
~â€œGirls Got Rhythmâ€ wonâ€™t just make an English teacher roll her/his eyes. It will also get their heads bobbing. This is also the first song on the album to be strengthened by the back-up vocals of Malcolm and Cliff (â€œgirl[â€™]s got rhythm; girl[â€™]s got rhythmâ€). These add depth to the song and make it more enjoyable to sing along with.
~As for â€œWalk All Over You,â€ it has a nice, long solo (though it could be a little louder), more strong back-up vocals, and the title pretty much tells you what to expect, message-wise.
~In â€œTouch Too Much,â€ Bon explores a great variety of ways to imply and describe sex without saying it outright â€“ more times than usual, that is. Otherwise, it provides another example of a song using Malcolm and Cliffâ€™s vocals, though I admire and am surprised by whoever raised their voice to such an abnormally high pitch for the chorus â€œa touch too much.â€
~â€œBeating Around the Bushâ€ is the most active of the albumâ€™s songs, by far, with a hard, fast guitar part for both Youngs and Malcolm, a driving cymbals-filled beat, and Bon singing as loud and high as any of the guitars. Its ending is my favorite out of all the other songsâ€™ endings. The song comes crashing, literately, to a close.
~Just because Bon sings about successful sex a lot doesnâ€™t mean he canâ€™t sing about failure. â€œShot Down in Flamesâ€ is one of those songs. How do men feel when a hot girl turns them down or ends up already â€œtakenâ€? Bon will let you know, with the passion only acquired by experience (and not to mention a great scream in the first eleven seconds). The guitars arenâ€™t as wonderful in this one, but Angus ends the song well with a string of fast, wailing notes, right before one of the strangest Bon sound effects Iâ€™ve ever heard.
~A chorus doesnâ€™t have to be elaborate to make you want to sing it. Just listen to â€œGet It Hot.â€ There isnâ€™t much distinctive guitar work in it, but itâ€™s still another head-bobber.
~Do me a favor. Turn up the volume on your stereo, speakers, or MP3 player to the loudest setting you can bear. Now, if you have â€œHighway to Hell,â€ skip to track eight, or otherwise go to â€œIf You Want Blood (Youâ€™ve Got It),â€ and play it. Did the first chord scare you? Thank you, Misters Young and Young, for providing us boring people with one more way to have a bit of fun. Okay, back to being serious. Letâ€™s see, this song uses more fine back-up vocals from Malcolm and Cliff and provides some of the more intriguing of Bonâ€™s lyrics (â€œitâ€™s animal/livinâ€™ in a human zooâ€). And, I canâ€™t forget, Bon does the best scream on the whole album about three and a half minutes into this song, followed by a rare fade-out ending.
~â€œLove Hungry Manâ€ isnâ€™t the hardest-rocking song AC/DCâ€™s done, but it finally lets Cliff shine. It has some of the most distinguished bass rhythms out of all of their songs. The back-up vocals are what make most of the lyrics memorable. But you canâ€™t forget Angus in this one. His guitar work ties this comparatively-mellow song together, especially during its final five seconds. Wait a sec. I wrote â€œmellowâ€ when writing about AC/DC? My mind must be finally blown . . .
~Okay, parents, this last track, â€œNight Prowler,â€ is the nightmare that you imagine when the name â€œAC/DCâ€ is mentioned: â€œYou donâ€™t feel the steel â€™til itâ€™s hanginâ€™ out your back.â€ Now, kids, this doesnâ€™t mean you should go and kill people like Richard Ramirez. That man was absolutely crazy . . . (It is said that Ramirez claimed this song compelled him to commit his brutal murders.) This is the slowest song on the album, complete with a note-crunching solo by Angus, and pays tribute to the bandâ€™s blues roots. Yes, that line after the music has ended is â€œShazbot, nanu, nanu,â€ from Mork and Mindy. Why Bon chose to end such a dark song with that, of all things, I donâ€™t know. He liked Robin Williams, apparently.
Need a wrap-up? Okay. PARENTS: Do not play this for you toddlers when theyâ€™re trying to go to sleep. It could give them nightmares. On the other hand, if your older offspring ever show signs of liking such genres as rap, hip-hop, or disco, let them take a listen to this album. It wonâ€™t hurt. It could change their musical minds. KIDS: When played at the right volume and the right consistency, this is the kind of album that will piss your parents off. Sure, sure, secretly, they might like it, too, but not when the whole house can hear it. There are better ways to listen to â€œHighway to Hell.â€ If youâ€™re the kind of kid who wants parent/child cooperation, turn down your sound system. Ask one of your guardians if they want to listen to it with you. If the person is old enough, as them about their time in the 70s and 80s. Sounds neither appealing nor possible to you? Well, Iâ€™m out of suggestions. Youâ€™re on your own.
This album has its flaws, but everything does (including this review), so I give it five stars. Donâ€™t like it? Then I think youâ€™ll feel more comfortable reading a rave review of Mariah Carey. Or Lilâ€™ Wayne. Or ABBA.
Thank you for reading! That was a long haul, wasnâ€™t it? I apologize. I canâ€™t make anything short . . . One last thing: We miss you, Bon!