As reactions to the arrival of AC/DC’s new album Highway to Hell began to roll in, the band could be forgiven for feeling excited but also relieved. In the months leading up to its release they’d come close to rolling off the road, but some backstage activity – not least the hiring of producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange – had put them back in top gear.

On August 17, 1979, Bon Scott, Angus Young, Malcolm Young, Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd embarked upon the tour to support their new album, fully expecting great things. With dates in Europe, the U.K. and North America, and a reputation on the up, the general feeling was that they were ready for the big time.

Their first show was in Belgium, followed by a warm-up British leg that saw them supporting the Who, and delivering a set that usually opened with “Live Wire” and “Problem Child” then closed with “If You Want Blood You’ve Got It” and “Let There Be Rock.” When the band took over as headline act starting in Oakland, CA on September 5, they delivered a run of shows (with ticket prices averaging around $7) that featured support acts including Molly Hatchet, Pat Travers, Def Leppard, Judas Priest and Diamond Head. Admittedly, AC/DC fans tended not to give the opening acts much attention, preferring instead to indulge themselves in the refined sound that Lange had helped them achieve – louder than ever, but cleaner and therefore easier to enjoy.

AC/DC – ‘Highway to Hell’ Live in 1979

The band seemed happy as they endured the usual ups and downs of life on the road, so eloquently expressed in Scott’s lyrics. On the AC-DC.net fan archive, witnesses recalled how, at London’s Wembley Stadium, the sound system cut out during “Whole Lotta Rosie” and didn’t start up again until partway through “Rocker” – with some believing the Who’s crew were to blame as a result of the upstarts’ performance being so well-received. In Santa Cruz, CA, Scott received a cut lip during the part of the show where he carried Angus Young on his back through the crowd, and vowed never to play the city again.

A review of their Texas show on September 14 read: “The unique sound of AC/DC is provided by the emotionally-strained vocals of lead singer Bon Scott. Scott's salient voice sent out emotion to the crowd and, in return, evoked emotion from the crowd. The high energy of the music kept the audience members on the auditorium floor standing throughout the show. Only a few stood on the floor. Most stood in the seats of the auditorium. Others stood on the arms of the chairs to get a better view. The music even had some literally climbing the walls to sit on a small ledge in order to see the constantly-moving band.”

By November, Highway to Hell had reached No. 7 and would go on to become AC/DC’s first million-selling album, securing their future. Sadly, of course, the achievement didn’t secure Scott’s own future. He played his last U.S. show on October 21, then his last-ever show in Southampton, U.K., on January 27, 1980, and died on February 19. There had been a handful of hints that the charismatic frontman and his colleagues knew something was wrong – in one TV interview, asked why the band described him as “special,” Scott replied: “I’m a special drunkard… I drink too much.” Asked if he thought he was a star, he said: “No. I see stars sometimes.” In a radio interview after the Santa Cruz incident, Angus is reported to have observed: “Don’t worry about Bon – he’s already got his coffin ordered.”

Bon Scott interview 1979

 

AC/DC Albums Ranked Worst to Best