‘Highway to Hell’ is one of AC/DC’s greatest albums -- and by natural extension one of hard rock’s greatest records as well. The group’s first platinum-seller in America, it consolidated their reputation as major stars and set the stage for total global domination in the years ahead. All this happened in spite of singer Bon Scott’s tragic demise, less than a year after 'Highway' was released.
We will now attempt to rank the 10 songs on this album from "worst" to best. But perhaps even more so than with our recent countdown of Metallica's 'Ride the Lightning' tracks, it would be more accurate to say we're ranking these AC/DC classics from great to greatest. Be sure to pick your own favorite 'Highway to Hell' song in the poll below once you've read our choices.
Since time immemorial, record labels have asked their artists to sequence the prospective “big hit single” second in their albums’ track-listing; and this practice speaks volumes about the surprising relative MEH-ness of ‘Girls Got Rhythm,’ which failed both as a single and at the lofty goal of becoming a lasting AC/DC favorite (except in the opinion of our Editor in Chief, and the three dudes who will swear it is a classic in the comments below).
Don’t get us wrong, ‘Get it Hot’ is a tight little number -- but the operative word here is “little.” It's the kind of retro rock and roll bash AC/DC could churn out in their sleep: appealing enough while it lasts, but ultimately leaving less than a titanic impression on the listener, especially compared to most of its fellow ‘Highway to Hell’ songs.
Bon Scott’s tongue-in-cheek tough-guy poetry and naturally lewd delivery actually mask the fact that ‘Love Hungry Man’ is one of AC/DC’s most romantic songs. (Well, relatively speaking — come on, work with us here!) More importantly, the tune is also distinctly melodic and damn infectious — an underrated gem, to be sure.
A song that’s had its reputation unfairly soiled by tragic circumstances beyond anyone’s control (namely a very tenuous association with serial killer Richard Ramirez), ‘Night Prowler’ will never challenge 'She's Got the Jack' or other, better known (and, frankly, just better) slow blues rockers in the AC/DC catalog. But it’s still a bad-ass tune!
There’s something about ‘Shot Down in Flames’ that harks back to AC/DC’s short-lived glam rock roots — particularly, nostalgic relics such as ‘Little Lover’ and ‘Can I Sit Next to You Girl.’ But, thanks to some electrifying Angus fretwork, ‘Shot Down’ easily updates those trace elements with the band’s bruising hard rock crunch, and became a live favorite during the ‘Highway to Hell’ tour.
‘If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)’
AC/DC came up with such an awesome title for their seminal first live album, that they simply had to write a new song around it for ‘Highway to Hell.’ That song is of course the kinetic ‘If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)' -- which fulfills every qualification for a bona fide AC/DC concert staple, yet has curiously received only very rare public airings over the years.
‘Beating Around the Bush’
One gets the feeling that the always breathtaking ‘Beating Around the Bush’ was AC/DC’s way of letting it all hang out, after spending the first half of ‘Highway to Hell’ gamely working with producer “Mutt” Lange’s to achieve their maximum hit album potential. Or maybe not — it’s hard to think straight when one’s head is bobbing and banging so frenetically to this tune’s agile licks and walloping riffs.
Another trademark warped Bon Scott "love" song, ‘Walk All Over You’ is introduced by perhaps the most ominous chord sequence in AC/DC’s entire discography (backed by Phil Rudd’s spot-on drum punctuations); then it accelerates down that ol’ ‘Highway to Hell’ and never looks back. By the time it does stop for a gas some five minutes later, the song has taught an absolute master class in rock and roll tension and release.
Everything AC/DC hoped to gain from “Mutt” Lange’s reputed “golden touch” was arguably crystallized in the spectacular ‘Touch Too Much,’ which showcased the circumspect sonic adjustments that the producer brought to the table (vocals up front in the mix, clearer instrumental separation) while keeping the band’s fundamental hard rock hallmarks intact. On top of all that, ‘Touch Too Much’ contains some of Bon’s best ever lyrics.
Sometimes you can’t argue with sheer numbers: ‘Highway to Hell’s’ title track is simply one of the most universal, iconic and beloved songs in classic rock history. As musically uncomplicated as it is clever of lyric, the song is basically irresistible from its very first, ringing power chords, and has been played at virtually every AC/DC concert in the decades since it was released. The bottom line is ‘Highway to Hell’ never gets old, and remains one of AC/DC's calling cards.