How AC/DC hit the mark with ‘Heatseeker’

Like a missile locked on the target, AC/DC‘s “Heatseeker” was a warm moment in an otherwise cool period.

Although their albums still went platinum, the quintet’s 1983-88 stretch was considered fallow, both commercially and artistically. After opening the decade with the one-two punch of Back in black and For those who want to rock (we salute you)AC/DC went into retread mode on subsequent records like 1983’s Press the switch and the 1985s Fly on the wallwith the monotony only broken up by a few standout songs, ambitious tours and the exciting Who Made Who soundtrack album for the 1986 Stephen King film Maximum overdrive.

AC/DC still rocked fans, but maybe not all night long like they had before.

The group launched “Heatseeker” on Jan. 11, 1988, as the first strike on its 11th album, Blow up your video, which landed a week later. A characteristically sinewy, double-entendre-laden rocker written by guitar-slinging brothers Angus and Malcolm Young and front man Brian Johnson, “Heatseeker” made an explosive strike. The song reached No. 5 on the Australian charts and No. 20 on the Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock chart, the band’s best show in six years. It also gave AC/DC their highest-charting UK single to date (No. 12), a record that stood for 25 years until a resurgent “Highway to Hell” landed at No. 4 in December 2013 as part of a fan campaign to make it the official Christmas No. 1 of the year.

“Heatseeker” was further immortalized by its David Mallet-directed video, which mixes the band’s live performance with Strategic Air Command footage. Angus throws his cap at a missile switch and accidentally sends it around the world and into the Sydney Opera House where the band is performing (although the clip was filmed at Cannon Studios in England). The warhead opens to reveal Angus in trademark schoolboy attire, soloing over the rest of the band.

Watch AC/DC’s ‘Heatseeker’ video

“[‘Heatseeker’] was a fun one,” Angus told this writer during AC/DC’s Blow up your video trip. “We had the riff as we usually do, then we got it in shape and Brian put the lyrics on and … there it was.”

“Heatseeker” was written early in the album process and served as a template for what AC/DC wanted to achieve with Blow up your video. “We would continue where Who Made Who had slack,” Malcolm told Metal CD in 1992. “We lost our footing at that point and we needed to get that old feel back again… We were trying to capture the traditional 12-bar rock ‘n’ roll sound that we had in the beginning. ‘It ‘er the Way I Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and ‘Heatseeker’ were the ones that went down best when we played them live and they’ve stayed in the set.”

To get that “old feeling back again”, AC/DC reunited producers Harry Vanda and George Young, Angus and Malcolm’s older brother. Vanda and Young were both former members of Australian rock sensation the Easybeats, and had produced every AC/DC album through the 1978s If you want blood, you have it. “There was more production on the album than there had been on Fly on the wall or Press the switch“, Malcolm noted.

“It was like putting on a comfortable old pair of paints,” Angus said at the time. “[Vanda and Young] know where we come from and what we are, so it made sense to work with them again.”

Then-drummer Simon Wright also praised Vanda and Young in Martin Popoff’s book AC/DC: Album by Albumand said the duo “brought so much. They’re a great team, very musical and a big help. … It was more productive than it had ever been. There wasn’t a lot of downtime. There was a set plan for the day , which we would try to achieve in terms of getting songs down and stuff. It was a great time.”

AC/DC’s diligence was rewarded when Blow up your video reached no. 2 on the Australian and UK charts and No. 12 on the Billboard 200, their highest position since For those who want to rock. The supporting tour brought the band back to Australia for the first time in seven years, beginning in January. 29, 1988, in Perth. Life imitated art when the tour reached North America, where the show began with a heat-seeking missile ascending the stage, followed by set-opener “Heatseeker.”

AC/DC albums ranked

Critics say that every AC/DC album sounds the same, but that’s far from the truth.

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