“It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” is a song by Australian hard rock band AC/DC. It is the first track of the group’s second album T.N.T., released only in Australia on 8 December 1975, and was written by Angus Young, Malcolm Young, and Bon Scott. The song is notable for combining bagpipes with hard rock instrumentation; in the middle section of the song, there is a call and response between the bagpipes and guitar. The original recording is in B-flat major, but it was played live in A major.
A slightly shortened version of the song is also the first track on the international version of High Voltage, released in May 1976. This version appears only on the vinyl release and the 2003 CD reissue.
The full version of the song is also on the Volts CD of the Bonfire box set, released in 1997.
This was a signature song for Bon Scott. Brian Johnson, who replaced Scott as AC/DC’s lead vocalist after Scott’s death in 1980 until his departure in 2016, did not perform it, out of respect for his predecessor.
The song chronicles the hardships endured by a rock band on tour, such as being robbed, assaulted, stoned and cheated by a greedy agent. However, the band accepts these hardships as natural on the path to stardom, saying that “It’s a long way to the top/If you wanna rock ‘n’ roll”.
George Young (the older brother of Angus and Malcolm), having heard that Bon Scott was in a pipe band, encouraged the use of bagpipes in the song. Scott obliged despite having never played them before; he had actually been a drummer in the band. Scott used a set of bagpipes to play the song live until 1976, following an incident where he set them down at the corner of a stage during a gig at St Albans High School in St Albans, Victoria, Australia and they were destroyed by fans. Subsequent live performances used a recording of the song’s bagpipe part or an extended guitar solo by Angus.
The music video for “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)”, was filmed on 23 February 1976 for the Australian music television program Countdown. It featured the band’s members on the back of a flatbed truck traveling on Swanston Street in Melbourne, Australia, being followed by members of the Rats of Tobruk Pipe band. Known members of the Rats of Tobruk Pipe Band at the time of the video’s filming include Alan Butterworth, Les Kenfield, and Kevin Conlon. The video was dubbed with the studio track from the album T.N.T. and is available on the Family Jewels DVD.
The video was directed by Paul Drane. David Olney was the cameraman.
Two other videos for the song exist. One version, filmed the same day as the truck version, features the group miming the song on a stage in Melbourne’s City Square in front of an audience. The pipe players appear here as well. This version is available in the Backtracks box set. A third version features the group simply miming the song on a soundstage, making it appear as if it were being played live (This version is considered rare and as of 2014 hasn’t been officially released on any DVD compilations; it can be found on YouTube). Also, a version of the group performing the song on Australian Bandstand with Scott singing live over the studio track appears on the DVD set Plug Me In.
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