The Day Bon Scott Played His Final Show With AC/DC
On Jan. 27, 1980, AC/DC closed out their Highway to Hell tour with a makeup date in Southampton, U.K. Although no one knew it at the time, they were also playing their last show with Bon Scott on lead vocals.
Early 1980 saw the band's commercial fortunes shifting into high gear outside their native Australia. Packed with some of their best songs and helmed by incoming producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange, the Highway to Hell LP was AC/DC's first to crack the upper half of Billboard's Top 200 Albums tally in the U.S., soaring all the way to No. 17 and sending the title track to No. 47 on the pop chart. With their fifth international release, they looked like they were poised for worldwide superstardom.
The band would, in fact, soon make that leap -- but they'd sadly have to do it without Scott, who was found dead on Feb. 19, 1980. The singer's appetite for intoxication was well known among his bandmates, but the details of his final night on Earth were tragically mundane: He went out drinking with some friends, overindulged and, after being left in his car with the driver's seat reclined so he could sleep it off, ended up choking to death on his own vomit.
"For us, it was like losing a member of your family,” explained guitarist Angus Young. "It’s very, very difficult to go through something like that. Not only is it your friend, it’s also somebody you’ve been working with all that time."
But as they'd be forced to do decades later when co-founder Malcolm Young was sidelined with health issues, the band members regrouped and soldiered on. Buoyed by support from Scott's surviving family, they made the difficult decision to hire a new singer -- and found what ended up being the perfect new addition in former Geordie vocalist Brian Johnson.
The rest, as any AC/DC fan knows, is history: AC/DC re-emerged with Johnson at the mic mere months after Scott's death, sending their Back in Black album to stores on July 25, 1980. Both a tribute to their fallen mate and a top-to-bottom killer rock record, Black picked up where Highway left off, giving the band its first Top 40 hits in the U.S. ("You Shook Me All Night Long" and the title track) and affirming its status as one of the bigger rock acts on the planet.
"It was kind of a go-for-broke," Young reflected during a 2014 interview with Ultimate Classic Rock. "We really didn’t know if the people who knew AC/DC accept this. Would they accept Brian? It was a lot of pressure on him. But I think he wanted to make it all happen."