Sunday, June 2, 2013

AC/DC -- "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" (1976)

Gettin' had
Gettin' took
I tell you, folks
It's harder than it looks
It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock 'n' roll

When's the last time you heard a great rock song that features a rousing bagpipe solo?  I'm willing to wager that it's been a long, long time.

A lot of rock bands have recorded songs about life on the road.  Some of those songs are upbeat tales featuring debauchery with comely young groupies -- like Grand Funk Railroad's "We're An American Band."  Others are more melancholy -- like Bob Seger's "Turn the Page."

"It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" has feel-good music, but its lyrics make the life of a touring rock band sound pretty grim.

Here's a quiet keyboard-and-female-vocal cover version of the song by the Norwegian duo, Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, which emphasizes the downside of being rockstars:

AC/DC, which was formed in Australia in 1973 and continues to tour and record, is one of the most successful rock bands of all time.  The group has sold more than 200 million albums worldwide -- the Back In Black album alone sold 50 million copies worldwide, making it second only to Michael Jackson's Thriller.    

Despite AC/DC's prolific output (14 studio albums to date) and enormous worldwide popularity, it was not one of the groups that has been featured on 2 or 3 lines to date.  I think it's about time to correct that oversight, don't you?

To be perfectly frank, 2 or 3 lines has given short shrift to the entire heavy metal genre.  We've featured songs by metal legends Black Sabbath and Metallica.  But we've overlooked Pantera, Judas Priest, Megadeath, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Motörhead, and so many others.  Perhaps an AC/DC post will help mitigate our past sins.

"It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" is the first track on High Voltage, the first AC/DC album released outside of Australia.

The record's producer had heard that AC/DC frontman Bon Scott was once in a pipe band, and suggested he play a bagpipe solo.  Scott had been in a pipe band, but as a drummer -- not a piper.  He managed to get a tune out of the instrument, and played the pipes a number of times when the band performed the song in concert.

Bon Scott -- obviously
very glad to see you
Bon Scott, who is considered one of the great hard rock/heavy metal vocalists of all time, died in 1980 (he was only 33) after a night of heavy drinking.  The official cause of death was acute alcohol poisoning, but some believe he died from aspirating his own vomit.  

One reason I picked this song to represent AC/DC is the crazy music video, which depicts the group performing the song on the back of a flatbed truck that was driving slowly down Swanston Street, a busy thoroughfare in downtown Melbourne, Australia.  (You'll see a number of streetcars on Swanston Street, which recently became a car-free street.)

Mosaic at the base of the "Rats of Tobruk"
memorial in Mackay, Australia
The video also features several members of the Rats of Tobruk Pipe Band.  The "Rats of Tobruk" was the name given to the Australian and British troops who successfully defended the Libyan port of Tobruk during a seven-month siege by the German Afrika Corps in 1941.

"It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" has been covered by a diverse group of musicians, including the Dropkick Murphys, Motörhead, Lucinda Williams, Pat Boone and . . . the Wiggles?

But perhaps the most famous cover of the song was the one that's featured in the closing credits of the 2003 movie, School of Rock, which starred Jack Black.  It's pretty good -- but it doesn't have bagpipes:

Here's AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)":

Click here to buy the High Voltage album from Amazon:


  1. How annoying! Apparently the AC/DC video has been embargoed because of licensing issues. I was hoping to see the action on Swanston St. in Melbourne--I was there about 12 years ago on a special tour for tramcar enthusiasts. The whole area is hog heaven for electric railway fans. I even got to drive a preserved tramcar in Bendigo. Regarding the list of cover versions--it's probably the only place you'll see Lucinda Williams and Pat Boone next to each other.

  2. Bob, I think we've fixed the problem -- at least for the time being.

  3. Came through LOUD and clear--love those old W-class trams. And bagpipes take me back to the early 70s in Duarte CA--we had a local pipe band that would perform in front of a restaurant on old Route 66. We lived several blocks away, but there was no doubt when the traditions of Bonnie Scotland were being kept alive. My older daughter got into Highland dancing and is now a certified instructor. Aye, laddie, tis a fine video.