AC/DC's Highway To Hell: the stars pay tribute

AC/DC in 1979
(Image credit: Fin Costello)

Released 40 years ago today, Highway To Hell is AC/DC at their feral, thrilling, lascivious best. 

It's an album that wrestled triumph away from the jaws of disaster. So desperate were Atlantic Records for AC/DC to live up to label's commercial expectations, they almost coerced the band into covering Spencer Davis Group’s 1966 hit Gimme Some Lovin’

Band leader Malcolm Young refused to be bullied, and instead fired producer Eddie Kramer, who'd worked with everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Led Zeppelin and Kiss, and had exactly the kind of Midas touch with rock music Atlantic hoped would spirit the band into the chart. 

Hired to replace Kramer was the South African Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange, whose previous most successful production was The Boomtown Rats' 1978 hit Rat Trap. On paper it didn't look like a perfect match, but the result was immense. AC/DC never lacked energy or aggression, but Highway To Hell pulled off something of a miracle: it applied a commercial sheen to the band's sound without pulling any of those heart-stopping punches. And it went on to become the band's first million-selling album.   

Below, musicians from across the rock world pick some of their favourite songs from Highway To Hell.

Girls Got Rhythm

Jimmy Chamberlin, Smashing Pumpkins: “This song is the whole package. The riff, the pacing, and the driving groove (Phil Rudd!), add up to an explosive track two. AC/DC’s pocket reigns supreme in rock'n'roll. 

"The way the vocal sits  with the rhythm section is so tight. Both Bon and Brian had that incredible vocal pocket that really drives the band rhythmically. For me, it’s a big part of what sets AC/DC apart from everyone else" 

Highway To Hell

Britt Daniel, Spoon: “Highway to Hell is the first record where they broke away from their brother George’s production to work with Mutt Lange, sometimes to great affect and sometimes not so much. I miss some of the raucousness that they set aside on this record — the new sound came into full focus on Back In Black. 

"You can really hear Mutt’s influence on songs like Touch Too Much, where Mutt himself sings harmonies to Bon Scott’s lead vocal, coming up with a sound that no other AC/DC record had had before; what it really sounds like is a Mutt-produced Def Leppard record from maybe three or four years later. 

"But my favourite song on the record must be Highway To Hell with that amazing spacious riff. There’s gotta be some John Fogerty in this song, right? Always felt like it to me"

Get It Hot

Murray Macleod, The XCERTS: “I think Get It Hot might be one of my all time favourite AC/DC songs. It's got a real late 70s Status Quo feel to it and it's basically the sound of summer, in my mind at least. 

"Nobody's playing Manilow, nobody's playing soul and no one's playing hard to get, just a good old rock'n'roll"; now if those words don't put a shit-eating grin on your face, there is no hope for rock'n'roll and there is no hope for you."

Girls Got Rhythm

Jesse Hughes, Eagles of Death Metal: "The fact that there is a Highway to Hell and a Stairway to Heaven says a lot about anticipated traffic numbers. And while that may be AC/DC’s sixth studio album, it was the first to really catapult them into my sights, and the track that did it for me was Girls Got Rhythm

"For a horny desert teen, that song painted an image of dirty rock‘n’roll, and rock chicks like no other at that time. It created a fantasy, a credo, a philosophy, a way of life, a boogie-woogie that I still walk and talk and live today. 

Love me till I'm legless… Aching and sore… Enough to stop a freight train... Or start the Third World War.  No doubt about it, can’t live without it. The girl’s got rhythm. She’s got the backseat rhythm."

Touch Too Much

Grant Nicholas, Feeder: “I first discovered AC/DC when i was around 11 or 12 years old and used to try and cover Touch Too Much in my school and local bands. My first proper guitar was a Gibson SG inspired by Angus Youth, the master of entertainment and great guitar licks. 

"Malcom Young was also such a great rhythm guitarist. Holding it all together with that pounding drum and bass groove. There are not many people who won’t feel the urge to air guitar and drum to an AC/DC song after a few beers. Classic and timeless good time rock n’ roll."

Highway To Hell

Dan Hawkins, The Darkness: “I am a big fan of Malcolm Young. My dad was a builder and I used to work with him from a very early age, so I have been hitting things really hard and repetitively for as long as I can remember. I think that's why I fell in love with his guitar playing as that pretty much sums it up! 

"There's not a lot to this song musically, but there's something about the groove and the attitude that is everything I love about rock'n'roll. They don't make them like this anymore. Turn it up and get fucked up - or vice versa!"

Highway To Hell

Barns Courtney: "Unashamedly, unapologetically Highway To Hell. It’s the best tune. I know it, the band knew it, it’s the title track of the record for a reason. Everyone’s gonna be cool and pretend that’s not their favourite track on this album and they’re all fuckin' liars! 

"The first time I heard this song, it was being screamed out of a window by two valley girls in a four-door convertible, and it blew my goddamn mind! Set my prepubescent bones on fire! For the kid that went to catholic school and wasn’t allowed to play Golden Eye, it was everything. And it still is." 

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.