A nasty bout with food poisoning can lead a poor soul on a highway to hell right to the toilet, but for Angus Young, a visit to the toilet led to one of AC/DC’s signature songs. That’s right, the legendary guitarist conceived “Highway to Hell” while sitting on the porcelain throne.
The revelation came in a new interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, who had Angus and singer Brian Johnson share the stories behind a few of AC/DC’s best-known tunes.
“We had started with the Highway to Hell album … we’d been in Miami, and we’d been in a rehearsal room and that’s what we were doing,” began Angus about the 1979 hit. “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 [my brother Malcolm] and just before we got in, I said, ‘I’ve got a good idea in my head.'”
He continued, “So I got in and he came in, and I started playing the beginning, the intro. 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. But I didn’t have anything to sing. And he was saying to me, ‘Well, have you got something you can come up with?’ And I said, ‘Okay, give me a few minutes.'”
Don’t worry, here’s where the toilet comes in: “And 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, and then I go, ‘I think I’ve got it. I’ve got it. I’ve got it. 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’.”
In a separate new interview with Paste, Angus offered another AC/DC revelation, dispelling rumors that Bon Scott had sung on Back in Black songs prior to his death in February 1980. As the guitarist explained, Bon had actually helped out with drums on the early demos of a few Back in Black tracks, but never contributed vocals to the songs.
“At the time, me and Malcolm were writing songs, which became the songs for Back in Black,” explained Angus. “We were in London in a rehearsal room, and Bon had come down, too. … Anyhow, we were working away, and it was on an intro which was actually what became the intro for ‘Hells Bells.’ So Bon showed up, and Malcolm said, ‘Oh, great, Bon! You can get behind the kit!’ Because originally, Bon started as a drummer.
He added, “So Bon got behind the drum kit so we could try and work out this intro, how we wanted to do it. So we sorted that out how we wanted, and the other one was ‘Have a Drink on Me’, a riff Malcolm was playing around with. So we worked out the intro on that and how the song was gonna go. So he had Bon tapped to do a demo for that. So that was it, really.”
Sadly, Bon Scott died before he could contribute vocals to the album, as Angus noted: “He’d been working on some lyrics, and said, ‘We’ll hook up next week and maybe the three of us can just start going through stuff.’ But unfortunately, he passed before that.”
Of course, AC/DC quickly brought in Johnson, who recorded Back in Black, and the album went on to become one of the biggest-selling LPs in the history of music.
Watch Angus Young and Brian Johnson talking about some of the band’s biggest hits with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe in the video below, followed by our own exclusive with the super fan who unlocked the guitar tone in Back in Black.