It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)

"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 and New Zealand on 8 December 1975, and was written by Angus Young, Malcolm Young and Bon Scott. The song combines bagpipes with hard rock instrumentation; in the middle section of the song there is a call and response between the bagpipes and guitar.[2] The original recording is in B-flat major, but it was played live in A major.[3]

"It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)"
It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll).jpg
Single by AC/DC
from the album T.N.T.
B-side"Can I Sit Next to You Girl"
Released8 December 1975 (1975-12-08) (Aus)
15 April 1976 (1976-04-15) (UK)[1]
RecordedAlbert (Sydney)
GenreHard rock
Length5:01
LabelAlbert
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
AC/DC singles chronology
"High Voltage"
(1975)
"It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)"
(1975)
"T.N.T."
(1976)

The song is also the first track on the internationally released High Voltage (April 1976).

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, does not perform it, out of respect for his predecessor.[4]

In January 2018, as part of Triple M's "Ozzest 100", the 'most Australian' songs of all time, "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" was ranked number 5.[5]

LyricsEdit

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".[6]

BagpipesEdit

While jamming on new songs in the studio, co-producer George Young (the older brother of Angus and Malcolm) recalled that Bon Scott had once been in a pipe band and encouraged the band to experiment with incorporating bagpipes into the song. Scott left the studio that day and returned with a set of bagpipes purchased at a Park Street music store at what was an extortionately high price (AU$479) at the time. Bassist Mark Evans would later muse that the amount “would have bought two Strats”.[7] Simply putting the pipe-set together proved tricky, and it became apparent Scott had never played the instrument before, having in fact been a drummer in the aforementioned pipe band.[2] Nonetheless, Scott taught himself to play well enough to record and perform the song (initially with the help of tape loops).

However, playing the song live was made difficult by the fact that the whole band would have to tune to the drone pipe. Thus the song, though iconic of the band's early repertoire, was probably played live no more than 30 times.[7] The last occasion was in 1976, following an incident where Scott set down the pipe-set at the corner of a stage during a concert at St Albans High School in St Albans, Victoria, Australia and they were destroyed by fans.[2][8] Subsequent (relatively rare) live performances employed a recording of the song's bagpipe track or an extended guitar solo by Angus Young.[3]

PersonnelEdit

Music videoEdit

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 and the members of the Rats of Tobruk Pipe band on the back of a flatbed truck travelling on Swanston Street in Melbourne. The video was directed by Paul Drane.[10] David Olney was the cameraman.[11] and had a budget of $380.[12] The video was uploaded to YouTube on May 24, 2010, and it amassed over 38 million views.

Three 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.[13] The pipers appear here as well. This version is available in the Backtracks box set, and was uploaded to YouTube on June 11, 2022. 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 2022 has not been officially released). A fourth version of the video shows the group performing the song on Australian program Bandstand on Channel 9, filmed two days prior to the first 2 videos for Countdown. with Scott singing live over the studio track appears on the Plug Me In DVD set. This fourth version was uploaded to YouTube on January 11, 2021.

Alan Butterworth, Les Kenfield and Kevin Conlon play the bagpipes in the first 2 videos.

PopularityEdit

In May 2001, Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) celebrated its 75th anniversary by naming the Best Australian Songs of all time, as decided by a 100-member industry panel. "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" was ranked as the ninth song on the list.[14] In 2010 it was ranked no. 3 in Triple M's Ultimate 500 Rock Countdown in Melbourne. The top five were all AC/DC songs.[15] It was inducted into the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia in 2012.[16]

The song was also used in the comedy movie School of Rock (2003), both AC/DC's version and in a performance by the film's cast,[17] and during Only the Brave (2017).

ChartsEdit

Weekly chartsEdit

Chart (1975-76) Peak
position
Australian (Kent Music Report)[18][19] 9

Year-end chartsEdit

Chart (1976) Position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[19] 80

CertificationsEdit

Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[20] Silver 200,000 

  Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Connection to ACDC LaneEdit

On October 1, 2004, Melbourne's Corporation Lane was officially renamed "ACDC Lane" in honour of the band (street names in the City of Melbourne cannot contain the "/" character or other punctuation marks). This change was made in part because the music video for "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" was filmed on Melbourne's Swanston Street, near ACDC Lane. The Melbourne City Council's vote to rename the street was unanimous.[21] Bagpipers played "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" at the official renaming ceremony.[4]

Recorded cover versionsEdit

Performed by:

The Nantucket's version was promoted with a music video starring bodybuilding champion Mike Mentzer.[22] The song was covered during the credit sequence of the comedy movie School of Rock, performed by Jack Black and the class of children he taught while masquerading as a teacher. However, the children ad-libbed their own lyrics towards the ending of the song.

Billy Corgan covered the song live as an encore on almost every show during his 2005 tour supporting his debut solo effort TheFutureEmbrace.

A dramatic re-interpretation was released by Norwegian duo Susanna and the Magical Orchestra (aka Susanna Wallumrød and Morten Qvenild) in late summer 2006 on their second album Melody Mountain, which consists entirely of cover versions. Their style is slow and melancholic with only cembalo accompaniment to Wallumrød's pure vocal, and brings out the essential sadness of the song.

The pop rock band Hanson performed this song during some of the shows on the "Walk around the World" tour, often inviting the opening acts back on stage to sing together.

Melbourne Ukulele Kollective frequently play the song live, the most notable performances being during ABC-TV's Spicks and Specks in 2004;[23] and during the Australia Day flag-raising ceremony and people's march in 2009.

German medieval metal band In Extremo played the song on their Tranquilo-Acoustic Tour in 2009 on German Bagpipes.

On the 34th anniversary of the filming of the music video, it was recreated as part of the SLAM (Save Live Australian Music) rally, to protest liquor licensing laws which threaten live music. About ten thousand protesters marched down Swanston Street and up Bourke Street to the Victorian Parliament House, accompanied by the RocKwiz band on a flatbed truck playing the song.

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "AC/DC singles".
  2. ^ a b c Wall, Mick (2012). AC/DC: Hell Aint a Bad Place to Be. London: Orion Publishing group. ISBN 9781409115359.
  3. ^ a b Evans, Mark, Dirty Deeds: My Life Inside/Outside of AC/DC, Bazillion Points, 2011, p. 40.
  4. ^ a b "The legend lives on in a laneway to heaven", The Age, 15 February 2005. Retrieved on 2007-02-15.
  5. ^ "Here Are The Songs That Made Triple M's 'Ozzest 100'". Musicfeeds. 27 January 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  6. ^ "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)". Acdc.com. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
  7. ^ a b "AC/DC - The story behind the bagpipes , Its a long way to the top". YouTube. Archived from the original on 22 December 2021. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  8. ^ "Raw footage of AC/DC killing it at an Australian high school 40 years ago (& Bon Scott's bagpipes!)". Dangerousminds.net. 24 January 2018. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  9. ^ Saulnier, Jason (30 September 2011). "Mark Evans Interview". Music Legends. Archived from the original on 7 November 2012. Retrieved 6 May 2013.
  10. ^ Dino Scatena, "Clip Go the Years", Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Feb. 2005, retrieved 13 December 2008
  11. ^ Johnston, Chris, "AC/DC still current 30 years on", The Age, 23 February 2006. Retrieved on 2007-02-15.
  12. ^ Meldrum, Ian; Jenkins, Jeff (2014). The never, um, ever ending story: life, countdown and everything in between. Farnham, John (preface); Gudinski, Michael (introduction); Masterson, Lawrie (afterword). Crows Nest NSW Allen & Unwin. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-76011-205-9.
  13. ^ Donovan, Patrick (13 February 2010). "For a piper, it's a long way to the top from the back of a flatbed truck". The Age. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
  14. ^ "The final list: APRA'S Ten best Australian Songs". APRA. 28 May 2001. Archived from the original on 8 March 2008. Retrieved 8 May 2008.
  15. ^ "Triple M's Ultimate Rock 500 - 100 to 1". Triple M. Archived from the original on 29 February 2012. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  16. ^ "1975 It's A Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll) — AC/DC". Archived from the original on 8 November 2016. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  17. ^ Original Soundtrack - School of Rock [Original Soundtrack] Album Reviews, Songs & More | AllMusic, retrieved 27 July 2022
  18. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 11. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  19. ^ a b "National Top 100 Singles for 1976". Kent Music Report. 27 December 1976. Retrieved 15 January 2022 – via Imgur.
  20. ^ "British single certifications – AC/DC – It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 29 July 2022.
  21. ^ Boulton, Martin, "Lane way to the top for AC/DC", The Age, 10 September 2004. Retrieved on 2007-02-15.
  22. ^ Zehner, Aaron (17 October 2014). "DotTeeVee: Mike Mentzer with Nantucket Nautilus Rock Video". Paperback Hero. Archived from the original on 5 August 2021. Retrieved 5 August 2021.
  23. ^ "Melbourne Ukulele Kollective on Spicks and Specks". MUK. Archived from the original on 22 December 2021. Retrieved 31 January 2009.