Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Song Meaning & Analysis: It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll) by AC/DC

This is one of my favorite AC/DC songs. The song is considered one of AC/DC's signature ones, along with "Back in Black", "Highway to Hell" and "You Shock Me All Night Long." Yes, they have a zillion classics! Speaking of which, just like any other single AC/DC released, this too became a staple on classic rock radio. A video was shot to promote the song on Australian TV( keep in mind that there was no MTV at the time in 1975 ).

The promotional post for the song reads, "ORIGINAL PUNK ROCK." This song is not punk rock! Or at least it doesn't abide by the basic themes of a punk rock song, but it's understandable if they felt like that at the time. It was the mid 1970s, and punk rock scene hadn't matured enough to properly pick and choose its themes.

"It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" primarily talks about the hardships AC/DC had to go though the make to the "top." Song is in a way an autobiography of the five members at the time: Bon Scott, Angus Young, Malcom Young, Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams. 
Rock n' roll analysis of lyrics:

Ridin' down the highway - T.N.T. was only AC/DC's second studio album. They couldn't afford an airplane, unlike Led Zeppelin, so it was only buses and road-miles for them at the time.

Stop in all the by-ways - AC/DC used to play in in-between, smaller shows while they on their way from one big concert to another. This is another perk of having a tour bus - you can stop wherever you want to!

Lines #5 to #10 - All the obstacles the band had to go through. It sounds like the band was involve with some altercations, although I personally don't know any. If you're aware of this, please leave a comment below and I'll update this post.

It's harder than it looks - This is one of the most honest lines you'll ever hear about rock n' roll. It "looks" cool to be in a successful rock band, but looks are deceiving, because they had to work really hard to get there.

Hotel, motel / Make you wanna cry - having to stay overnight in hotels/motels with terrible furniture and washrooms.

Lady do the hard sell - "lady" could be attributed to stripes or prostitutes. "hard sell" probably means they don't come cheap :-(

Gettin' old / Gettin' grey - aging is twice as fast when you are in a hectic rock n' roll.

Lines #29 to #32 - financial difficulties AC/DC went through, probably with their management or with record companies.

The chorus basically sums up all the verses.

  1. Ridin' down the highway
  2. Goin' to a show
  3. Stop in all the by-ways
  4. Playin' rock 'n' roll
  5. Gettin' robbed
  6. Gettin' stoned
  7. Gettin' beat up
  8. Broken boned
  9. Gettin' had
  10. Gettin' took
  11. I tell you folks
  12. It's harder than it looks

  13. It's a long way to the top
  14. If you wanna rock 'n' roll
  15. It's a long way to the top
  16. If you wanna rock 'n' roll
  17. If you think it's easy doin' one night stands
  18. Try playin' in a rock roll band
  19. It's a long way to the top
  20. If you wanna rock 'n' roll

  21. Hotel, motel
  22. Make you wanna cry
  23. Lady do the hard sell
  24. Know the reason why
  25. Gettin' old
  26. Gettin' grey
  27. Gettin' ripped off
  28. Under-paid
  29. Gettin' sold
  30. Second hand
  31. That's how it goes
  32. Playin' in a band

  33. It's a long way to the top
  34. If you wanna rock 'n' roll
  35. It's a long way to the top
  36. If you wanna rock 'n' roll
  37. If you wanna be a star of stage and screen
  38. Look out it's rough and mean
  39. It's a long way to the top
  40. If you wanna rock 'n' roll

© 1975 J. Albert & Son (Pty) Ltd

Lyrics from: http://www.acdc.com/us/music/tnt/its-long-way-top-if-you-wanna-rock-n-roll

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