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Why I ❤️ AC/DC’s Highway To Hell, by Death Cab For Cutie bassist Nick Harmer

Nick Harmer, bassist with alternative rockers Death Cab For Cutie, explains why Highway To Hell is the best AC/DC album



Growing up as a kid in America, there’d be an AC/DC song being played at any sporting event that you would go to. They were always the soundtrack for some kind of something. But I didn’t start to appreciate them until I became friends with Ben [Gibbard, Death Cab For Cutie frontman] in college. 

His father is one of the biggest AC/DC fans of all time. Which is fantastic, but he has this thing for Bon Scott. He argues that Bon Scott is the greatest male rock vocalist of all time. So he sat me down and made me listen to a bunch of records, including Highway To Hell, and made me tapes of all these old albums. After listening to that record, I came around to his way of thinking. 

The thing I like about them is how straight-forward and simplistic they are in their approach to rock’n’roll. There’s not a lot of wanky showy guitar tricks or crazy time signatures. The subject matter is about rock’n’roll, being in a rock’n’roll band, drugs or women. But they’re clever about it, too. People don’t realise how clever AC/DC are. It’s the ‘less is more’ philosophy. 

I also like the fact that they’re not theatrical at all, they just focus on the rock. Apart from Angus’s school uniform. And the big inflatable woman. And the big bell that they swing on. Okay, I take that back. But they’re not as theatrical as Kiss.

I think Beating Around The Bush is probably my favourite song on Highway To Hell. But that’s really difficult, because Shot Down In Flames and Highway To Hell itself are both great jams, too. 

I don’t think that AC/DC have been an influence on Death Cab For Cutie, however. Not in any way directly, and probably not indirectly, either. The entire band has a love and respect for them, though. 

We did a tour of Australia a few years back, and we played in Perth. We did a pilgrimage to Bon Scott’s grave while we were there. The reason we love them, as well as bands like Metallica and a lot of metal, is because it’s so vastly different to the music that we make. It’s really nice and a great break to put something on and clean my palate a little bit. 

I definitely think the Highway To Hell album’s dated well. It’s a timeless record, and we still listen to it a lot. Within our band and crew, we’ve argued about whether AC/DC are the best rock’n’roll band of all time. People will talk about Led Zeppelin, and obviously they were great. But AC/DC didn’t play any ballads, whereas Zeppelin would often play slower songs. With AC/DC it’s just straight-up rock’n’roll. 

Obviously it was tragic when Bon Scott died, but it seems like it’s perfectly acceptable for rock’n’roll singers to go out this way. And, you know, if that hadn’t happened we wouldn’t have had Back In Black, which is another great album.

Nick Harmer was speaking to Brett Callwood. Death Cab For Cutie tour the US in September