VERSUS: Highway To Hell vs. Back in Black

VERSUS: Highway To Hell vs. Back in Black

Welcome to another edition of Versus, the series where we look at two albums in metal history, and compare them to each other, and see which one was the better record. In this special edition of Versus, we are going to do something a little different. In this edition, we will pick two releases from the same band, and see which one is the better album.

This matchup, we have the legendary Australian band AC/DC. Formed in 1973 by the Young brothers, lead guitarist and schoolboy-dressed Angus Young and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young. The band would release six studio albums with lead singer Bon Scott until his tragic passing in 1980. They then recruited Geordie front man Brian Johnson, and has been with the band since. Through their fifty year career, the band has released seventeen studio albums, performed all across the world, and had Guns N' Roses front man Axl Rose fill in for Johnson while Johnson was dealing with hearing loss.

Today, we are going to look at two albums that defined the band, that challenged the band with loss, and how to continue and how the band would rise from the ashes like a phoenix to become one of the most well known acts in hard rock and heavy metal. Let's start this edition of Versus in this battle I'm calling "The Duel Down Under"

Our first opponent, is Highway To Hell, the band's sixth studio album, released on July 27th, 1979. This would be the last album to feature lead singer Bon Scott, who would pass away seven months after the release. The record is Scott at his peak of machismo, swagger, male bravado and attitude in his vocal performance and personality. Let's take a look at this classic record and see what it brings to this matchup.

Opening with the album's title track. starting with that iconic opening riff that everyone wants to learn when they pick up the guitar. A simple riff, but is impactful and sounds so heavy, enforced by Phil Rudd's pulsing drums adding intensity to the song. When Scott's vocals kick in, the song brings another element with energy and bravado. With the legendary sing along chorus, a great guitar solo by Angus Young, and Scott's famous scream near the end on the closing chorus, the song sets the stage for one of the band's greatest albums and the start of Scott's swan song.

Following that up with "Girls Got Rhythm", Scott's vocals are drenched in machoness, delivering that manly swagger and boldness in his lyrics and performance. The call and response feel of the chorus, along with the feel of Rudd's driving drums over the simple guitar playing add that fast-paced feel to the song. Songs like "Walk All Over You" continue with the simple guitar playing opening riff but adds impact with Rudd's drum strikes, with his drums bringing a great rhythm and pulse in the track as the guitar notes hang in the mix.

"Beating Around The Bush" opens with a fast paced, almost squirrely opening guitar riff, almost has a country feel to the playing style. Scott's theatrical, testosterone-tinged vocals with pulsing drums behind him during the verse section create an awesome up-tempo classic, added with another great guitar solo by Angus Young. The following track "Shot Down in Flames" continues the same prowess and attitude in the performance, following almost the same identical formula as the previous song.

The album's other popular song is "If You Want Blood (You've Got It)". With a classic opening guitar riff, following by building drums, the song builds in intensity as Scott's vocals kick in and doesn't slow down at all. The chant along chorus has such a demanding presence and can picture the crowd of thousands chanting it along with the band. I love the ending of the song, with a pedal to the metal energy and excitement as the song fades out. The song was featured in the 1995 film Empire Records, performed by the cast, as well as later covered by the mighty GWAR on their 2017 album The Blood of Gods.

The album closes with the song "Night Prowler", a more slowed down track. Very bluesy in the guitar tone and performance but a tiny bit grittier, almost in the vein of Aerosmith, but darker and more ominous in feel and performance. The song was allegedly linked to serial killer Richard Ramirez, who was a fan of the band. The band did confirm the song is not about murder, but is about a boy sneaking into his girlfriend's bedroom at night. Though ending on a darker note with this song, the album is overall an AC/DC classic and Bon Scott giving his heart and soul in what would be his final album with the band. The release was a commercial success and the band would rise in popularity with the release.

It's opponent, Back in Black, the band's seventh album, released on July 25th, 1980. Released six months after the passing of Bon Scott, the band recruited Geordie front man Brian Johnson to join the band. Recorded in seven weeks, and mainly written by the Young brothers and Johnson, the band would rise from the ashes to cement their legacy in hard rock and heavy metal with this release. Let's look at this record and see how the band would follow up Highway To Hell.

Opening with the haunting bells of "Hells Bells", the band brings a dark, brooding, and ominous feel to the song. Until the band picks up the pace and tempo of the track. Johnson's recognizable vocals kick in with such vigor and force. The vocals rise in the pre-chorus, with the band matching it into the chorus with the chanting of the song's title. Angus Young's guitar solo is more prominent in the mix, showing off his amazing talent of creating that bluesy, heavy, while also being perfectly delivered, guitar solos that made it a signature staple of the band's sound.  Following that is "Shoot To Thrill", a more up-tempo, high energy track. With the band firing on all cylinders, the hard rock feel and attitude of the song gives you that headbanging, toe-tapping feel to the song with a catchy chorus to match. Johnson's scream and yelling "Pull The Trigger" into the guitar solo is so high-octane, sounds so good to a live audience or a great workout playlist.

Songs like "What Do You Do For Money Honey" continue the band's perfect blend of hard rock and heavy metal. Johnson's vocals sound like he is giving his all on the track to hit those highs while the band's backing vocals on the chorus give that perfect gang chorus style accompaniment. Angus delivers another memorable guitar solo, matching the up-tempo energy of the track as it blends beautifully right into the main riff and closing chorus. "Giving The Dog A Bone" continues that same feel and boldness as the previous song with the rest of the band, guitarist Malcolm Young, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd creating the band's legendary rhythm section for the song and the rest of the album.

Another AC/DC classic is the album's title track. One of the most recognizable opening riffs, the song delivers that strutting down the street feel of Saturday Night Fever, but for rock. With Johnson's fast-paced vocal delivery with the band slowed down to let the guitar and vocal feature, the song is a hard rock classic. An iconic guitar solo by Angus, playing all over the fretboard, fits the songs attitude and feel perfectly. With the even faster ending of the song, the song almost springs to life momentarily even more before returning to the main riff and chorus with gang chorus vocals accenting Johnson's high shriek vocals before the band closes out the song.

Following that up is the song that launched the band into popularity, thanks to MTV, with the track "You Shook Me All Night Long". With another classic opening riff, thumping reverbed-tinged drums, and Johnson's vocals clean and clear in the mix. With another chant along chorus, catchy riff, and a great wailing guitar solo by Angus, the song had that 80's hair metal machismo and bravado before the genre even was born. A classic AC/DC song that is still played today on many rock/metal stations and cemented the band's legacy in hard rock and heavy metal.

Songs like "Have A Drink of Me" has a classic sing-along chorus that can be sung in almost any bar. With Angus wailing and jumping all over the fretboard in his guitar solo, and the band's famous rhythm section thumping and pulsing, keeping the energy and pace going. "Shake A Leg" adds more of a bluesy guitar feel and atmosphere to the song, similar to Aerosmith in their early records. Johnson delivers his classic highs with the band chanting along the song's title, trying to be the bass to his highs. The album's closer "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution", starting with a slowed down guitar intro and cigarette drag in the background, setting the tone for an epic finale to this album from the band. The band kicks in the door with full force, with Johnson's wailing vocals, and thumping drums and bass, making your head bang slowly to the groove.  This album comes to a close and cemented Brian Johnson as the new vocalist of AC/DC, but also showed that through the hard times, the band rose like a phoenix and released one of the best records of their career.

After listening to both of these iconic records, this is one of the toughest decisions I have ever had since starting this series. It's literally that joke of choosing between my kids. It was very close, and I mean VERY VERY close, but I would have to go with Back in Black as the winner of this matchup. I LOVE the Bon Scott era of AC/DC and I do prefer Scott's vocals over Johnson's because of his personality and swagger in his vocal delivery, but Back in Black is just a tiny bit better than Highway To Hell. The songs are more dynamic on this record, not as formulaic as the songs on Highway To Hell. Angus Young's guitar performance is just next level on this record. Lastly, for the band to lose their singer, get a new vocalist, record this masterpiece in a little over a month just shows the impressiveness the band went through and create this legendary record. AC/DC is a band that has been through the ringer and is still standing, making them one of the legendary bands in the genre and a band that has deserved the longevity they have had.

Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won this battle? Leave your comments in the comments section below and your suggestions who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.

VS: Highway To Hell vs Back in Black - Online Poll -
What’s your opinion? Vote now: Highway To Hell, Back in Black…

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to This Day In Metal.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.