Meaning of “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC
On a symbolic and general level we all know what it means when someone says they are on the “highway to hell”, as Bon Scott is asserting in this song. That is to say that “hell” is the well-recognized realm of fiery damnation which occurs in the afterlife. However, the term can also be interpreted in many other ways. And likewise this song is said to allude to a bunch of different meanings.
The most-widely accepted definition seems to be that it is based on the arduous touring schedule which was part of AC/DC’s lives at the time. That is to say that co-writer Angus Young used to refer to their laborious road life as being “on a highway to hell”.
Another theory is that the song is based on physical locations, as in highways, that are situated in AC/DC’s native Australia. There was one stretch of road in particular, the Canning Highway, which Bon Scott is said to have dubbed the “highway to hell” due to the fact that certain characteristics of it attributed to many fatal motor accidents. Moreover at the end of this road was a bar called The Raffles which Bon was known to frequent as a place to hang out with his buddies. And likewise, the lyrics of the song state that his destination is a “party” with his “friends”.
But the man who succeeded Bon Scott as a member of AC/DC, Brian Johnson, has put forth yet another explanation of the song’s title. His theory states that it is referring to a different stretch of road that runs from Sydney to Perth and the lengthy bus ride required from one of these destination to the other along this route. When the sun sets during this trip it resembles “a fire ball”, which logically, within the context of this song, would be metaphorical with hellfire.
But “Highway to Hell” could be about the actual Hellfire
And then taking us back to the beginning of this post, there is also the idea that the singer is talking literally about going to hell. Indeed he even gives a shoutout to “Satan”, the master of that domain, during the song, stating that he has ‘paid his dues’, as in consciously conducting himself as someone who deserves entrance into hades. Moreover Bon Scott states that he has done so by “playing in a rock band”, thus insinuating that the way of life of AC/DC has warranted his admission into the fiery kingdom. Indeed when faced with the idea that this song and the overall project it was featured on had concealed Satanic messages, Angus Young responded that they “never hid” such ideas and by naming this song (and the album it is featured on) such, they displayed them “right in front of” the public’s view.
But despite which of the aforementioned origins a listener may choose to decide is the foundation of this song, it is clear that the subject of “Highway to Hell”, as in the singer himself, is engaged in a wild lifestyle. And despite being on such a perilous path, he does not desire anyone to try to “stop” him. Indeed he defines the life he is currently living as being “easy” and “free”, complete with applicable metaphors such as “no stop signs” or “speed limit”. And accordingly he has no intent of ‘slowing down’, despite recognizing that the trip he is currently taking is “a one-way ride”, which is to say that he will not be returning to his place of departure.
So conclusively we can say that his song is about the lifestyle of the singer. He recognizes that the end of the road he is on leads to hell. However, reaching this destination seems to be his intent. That is to say that he is clearly enjoying the freedom and fun that are part and parcel of being on the “highway to hell”. He therefore has no intention of altering his course or the momentum he has already gained.
Success of “Highway to Hell”
“Highway to Hell” has made a number of respected ‘greatest songs’ list, including the prestigious “The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”. It also appeared on the Rolling Stone’s list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, where it placed at number 258.
“Highway to Hell” managed to top Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart but only peaked at number 47 on the Hot 100.However, it was a notable moment in the history of the band, as it marked the first time in their career that they charted in the United States.
Furthermore, this song charted during four different years between 1979 and 2012 in the United Kingdom. In 2012 it reached its highest position ever on the UK Singles Chart, peaking at number 4.
Release Date of “Highway to Hell”
This song, which was published by Albert Productions, was originally released as the lead single from AC/DC’s album of the same name on 27 July 1979. Since then it has been featured on a number of their live albums.
This has been covered by a number of prominent artists including the likes of the following:
- Marilyn Manson
- Maroon 5
- Bruce Springsteen
- Billie Joel
- The cast of “Glee” (Jonathan Groff in particular) in 2010
Notable Live Performances
In 2003 AC/DC performed “Highway to Hell” as part of their induction ceremony into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Another notable venue they performed this song at was during the 2015 Grammys.
Who wrote “Highway to Hell”?
The song was written by AC/DC members Bon Scott, Malcolm Young and Angus Young. It was subsequently produced by Robert “Mutt” Lange, who worked on the entirety of the album and is credit with helping AC/DC blowup.
It’s worth noting that Bon Scott shockingly passed away during February of 1980. His death strangely came just six months after “Highway to Hell” was released.