AC/DC‘s frontman, Angus Young recently revealed how a trip to the toilet produced one of the bands’ most prolific songs. He admits that “Highway to Hell” was quickly assembled during “minutes” while sitting “on the throne,” which included lyrics and guitar chords.
Young made this revelation to Zane Lowe on Essentials Radio on Apple Music 1 which is where he took Lowe through the creative process for the song.
Angus Young describes the song’s process
Like many artists, the band kicked around ideas for the new album for weeks. “We’d been in Miami, and we’d been in a rehearsal room and that’s what we were doing,” he said, Kerrang! reports. “We were putting together new tracks. And we’d been there a couple of weeks and we were going a bit slow. And then I had come in one day with [Malcolm Young, late AC/DC co-founder and guitarist] and just before we got in, I said, ‘I’ve got a good idea in my head.’”
Young began the process of working out the 1979 rock hit. “So I got in and he came in, and I started playing the beginning, the intro,” Young continued. “And so I was doing the da-da-da, da-da-da. And then I said to Malcolm… I had this thing about the drums.”
“And I said, ‘I just want it to come in in the right spot.’ And he said, ‘Okay.’ Malcolm got behind the drums and he said, ‘Right, you let me know when you hear the downbeat, the first downbeat of what you want.’ So that’s what I did. I said, ‘I’ll do my drop,’ and he said, ‘And I’ll follow your foot.’ So he came in with the beat. That’s how we set it up.”
A quick trip to the bathroom sealed the song’s fate
The songwriters continued to ruminate over the sound but needed lyrics. That’s when Young decided to retreat to the one place where he knew he could have privacy and do some deep thinking.
“And I said, ‘Okay, give me a few minutes,’ ” he said. “I went to the toilet, and then I was in the toilet and I was there and I’m sitting and thinking. And I’m just sitting on the throne more or less. Then I go, ‘I think I’ve got it. I’ve got it.” Excitedly adding, “‘I’ve got the idea in my head.’”
“And then I came in there and I said, ‘I’ve got it. Highway to hell.’ And I was over the chords that we had tried out through a chorus. And he went, ‘Yeah, that’ll work.’ And he said, ‘If we spread it out a bit into full singing thing.’ So he came up with a spread of it, ‘(Singing) Highway to Hell.’”
The song spent four weeks on the Billboard charts, peaking at number 18 in 2017. The tune turned 40 in 2019 and musicians shared how the song made an impact on them.
Gary Louris from The Jayhawks shared, “I think Angus Young is one of the most underrated guitar players in rock history. They were always just really good at the thing they did, and that’s why you listen to an album like ‘Highway to Hell’ today and it still sounds so timeless.”