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Highway to Hell


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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 “Highway to Hell� One look at the cover and, depending the type of person you are and the music you’re in to, you’re already either nervous or excited. Now the whole gang isn’t mean-looking. Bon Scott’s smiling, for cryin’ out loud. But he isn’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 Malcolm’s look of pure evil. After seeing this grisly photo and reading through the list of songs on the back of the album, a parent’s reaction might be, “I am not letting my kid listen to this,†though that might not stop them buying the thing for their own, adult enjoyment. The kid’s reaction? “I am so going to piss Mom and Dad off with this!†(Now, I don’t know if kids will be reading this, but I don’t want them to feel like they’ve been left out.)

Kids, parents, your first impressions aren’t going to change at all.

Just start playing the album, and make sure the volume isn’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 aren’t impressed and wince as Bon opens with the lyrics. Okay, anyone could loathe Bon’s singing style, or, more specifically, that raucous, squawking, surprisingly seductive voice of his. But there are far worse singers, and, considering AC/DC’s notorious reputation, Bon is the perfect singer for the rowdy band.

Bon always had a talent of writing lyrics that aren’t explicitly talking about sex (most of the time, anyway). But if you listen and have a mature knowledge of wordplay, you’ll know just what he’s talking about. The thing is that these songs are performed so well that you can’t help not being overly concerned about its message. These boys mean no harm. Bon’s just singing about his understandable, if immature, fantasies and, most likely, his experiences. The band was more concerned with the music, anyway. Kids, you’ve been warned. And don’t ask your parents what “tonight is gonna be that night†means, ‘cause that CD could get confiscated real quick.

With some music, the vocals are all that makes listening worthwhile. With “Highway to Hell,†it’s strangely satisfying listening to Bon shrieking, cackling, and crooning. But the vocals aren’t the heart and soul of AC/DC’s work. It’s the guitars and the drums that make it all work. Phil Rudd drives the beat until you feel like your spine’s going to crack in half from all your head-bobbing. Cliff Williams provides a killer base line, most notably on “Love Hungry Man.†Malcolm Young plays the immortal riffs, often with his little brother Angus.

But that’s only the beginning of Angus’s part in AC/DC’s music. You want mind-blowing, memorable, admirable electric guitar solos, you’ve got to hear him. These solos aren’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 aren’t just strings of notes that go on and on until you’re waiting for the song to end. No, these solos move like living things. If you’ve never seen Angus perform, then you’ll be imagining some faceless guitarist shredding his heart out. If you are familiar with Angus’s stage antics, then it will be easy for you to picture him doing his version of the “Duck Walk†around your house, or even doing a “spasm†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. (You’re probably imagining it right now, aren’t you? “My bad . . .â€)

If you’re waiting for me to name the best song on the album, don’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 Angus’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 (“Highway to Hell,†in case you’ve forgotten) is one of the best songs on the album. I’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 Bon’s belting them out with such enthusiasm that you know he means every word.

~“Girls Got Rhythm†won’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 (“girl[’]s got rhythm; girl[’]s got rhythmâ€). These add depth to the song and make it more enjoyable to sing along with.

~As for “Walk All Over You,†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 “Touch Too Much,†Bon explores a great variety of ways to imply and describe sex without saying it outright – more times than usual, that is. Otherwise, it provides another example of a song using Malcolm and Cliff’s vocals, though I admire and am surprised by whoever raised their voice to such an abnormally high pitch for the chorus “a touch too much.â€

~“Beating Around the Bush†is the most active of the album’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 songs’ endings. The song comes crashing, literately, to a close.

~Just because Bon sings about successful sex a lot doesn’t mean he can’t sing about failure. “Shot Down in Flames†is one of those songs. How do men feel when a hot girl turns them down or ends up already “taken� 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 aren’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 I’ve ever heard.

~A chorus doesn’t have to be elaborate to make you want to sing it. Just listen to “Get It Hot.†There isn’t much distinctive guitar work in it, but it’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 “Highway to Hell,†skip to track eight, or otherwise go to “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It),†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. Let’s see, this song uses more fine back-up vocals from Malcolm and Cliff and provides some of the more intriguing of Bon’s lyrics (“it’s animal/livin’ in a human zooâ€). And, I can’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.

~“Love Hungry Man†isn’t the hardest-rocking song AC/DC’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 can’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 “mellow†when writing about AC/DC? My mind must be finally blown . . .

~Okay, parents, this last track, “Night Prowler,†is the nightmare that you imagine when the name “AC/DC†is mentioned: “You don’t feel the steel ’til it’s hangin’ out your back.†Now, kids, this doesn’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 band’s blues roots. Yes, that line after the music has ended is “Shazbot, nanu, nanu,†from Mork and Mindy. Why Bon chose to end such a dark song with that, of all things, I don’t know. He liked Robin Williams, apparently.

Need a wrap-up? Okay. PARENTS: Do not play this for you toddlers when they’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 won’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 “Highway to Hell.†If you’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, I’m out of suggestions. You’re on your own.

This album has its flaws, but everything does (including this review), so I give it five stars. Don’t like it? Then I think you’ll feel more comfortable reading a rave review of Mariah Carey. Or Lil’ Wayne. Or ABBA.

Thank you for reading! That was a long haul, wasn’t it? I apologize. I can’t make anything short . . . One last thing: We miss you, Bon!

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Nope, Laurie. My dad had never even heard of them before I played "Back in Black" for him . . . and he thought it was early rap. What?! Anyway, my mom had known about them when they were big, but she had always associated them to the "lowlife." She laughs whenever my sister and I sing along to one of their songs. My sister really introduced me to them, who was in turn introduced by a friend from school. Who knows what that kid will get into next . . .

And cadillacranch, I love that song and "Born to Run"! "BRUCE"! Now that's someone my mom really likes. I got him from her. Dad has all his complaints about the recording and whatever . . . Come on! He didn't even know "Bohemian Rhapsody" OR "Stairway to Heaven"!!!!!! Not a rock person . . .

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Nice review! :thumbsup:

I'm curious, then, how did you get into AC/DC without rock and roll parents? I found AC/DC through my dad, who was a rocker back in the day. Well, he still is a rocker, but he can't show it because he's in the military. Some things bring it out, still, though. :cool:

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My sister is the experimenter. She'll hear something at school and take a listen at home (usually through YouTube). If she likes it, then I'll hear it. In fact, the whole house will hear it. She likes her music loud. I liked the AC/DC she was listening to, and now I know more about them than she does!

It's not like my mom isn't a rock n' roll person. She likes The Beatles, The Who, Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, etc . . . The thing is that neither of my parents are into hard rock. My sister and I like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC, but you'll never see our parents listening to them.

Just a question, but why can't your dad "show" that he's still a rocker because he's in the military?

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How can "Highway to Hell" sound like "Back in Black" when two different guys did vocals? But heck, we're all entitled to our opinions, no offense . . .

You really shouldn't have taken my comment seriously. It certainly wasn't intended to be taken seriously. :P

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Oh, I hate choosing!

There's "Let There Be Rock," "Little Lover," "T.N.T." . . . Out of those three, my favorite is "Little Lover," though.

I love those eyes he did! They're so creepy, but they're also, just, I don't know, cool. :goof:

Has anyone seen a video of the band doing "Baby Don't Go"? Bon's dressed in drag, complete with eyeshadow and a blonde wig. It's crazy! Yet funny!

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