AC/DC: Let There Be Rock (1980)

This is the film that broke AC/DC in America.

Yes, a film had to break one of metal’s most enduring bands because, as usual, U.S radio was—and always will be—a day late and dollar short, stumbling behind the times. Sure, there were a few of the still independent progressive FM rock stations—ones not yet gobbled up by corporate America and its damned marketing consultants with their cursed “focus groups” and computerized “McDonald’s of Radio” playlists—that gave a few spins to the pre-Highway to Hell tunes “High Voltage,” “T.N.T.,” and “Whole Lotta Rosie.”

U.S radio eventually caught up with its European counterpart, where AC/DC was already a well-known and respected band, by way of their sixth album, the pretty-hard-to-ignore powerhouse, 1979’s Highway to Hell, featuring the now classic rock radio staple title song. But when the band’s first concert film played as a midnight movie in U.S theatres in the winter months of 1980, their stardom as a premiere heavy metal band in American was sealed.

And we have Tracy Sebastian, aka Billy Eye Harper, the leader of the greatest faux rock band of all time, Head Mistress, to thank for bringing AC/DC to America.

The original theatrical one-sheet.

To hear Ferd Sebastian, the director of Rocktober Blood, tell it in the U.K pages of Hysteria Lives!, his son, Tracy, was on vacation in Paris and seen the French-shot and European-released film that chronicled a December 9, 1979, AC/DC performance during their “Highway to Hell Tour” at the Pavillon de Paris.

Tracy, being a rock ‘n’ roll fanatic, and with his dad in the film business, a light bulb went off: he was adamant Sebastian International Pictures bring the film to America. After taking care of some post-production sound issues with the film and finalizing a distribution deal, the film was released on the U.S midnight movie circuit and, according to Ferd, “we four-walled the theatres and brought the money home every night. Lots of it.” And Warner Bros. took notice and wanted a piece of the action. So the Sebastians cut a deal with Bugs and the gang and made even more money. And it was the funds from the film that broke AC/DC in American that financed the production of our beloved heavy metal horror film featuring the slashin’ n’ singin’ of Billy Eye Harper.

Sadly, AC/DC’s lead singer, Bon Scott, never had a chance to enjoy the film’s success: he died on February 19. 1980, just over two months after filming was completed. Though the film shares its title and artwork, along with a few songs, from AC/DC’s fourth studio album, Let There Be Rock, the movie also includes live versions of songs from their albums from T.N.T., Powerage, and Highway to Hell, their 2nd, 5th, and 6th albums, respectively.

The film spends its first ten minutes with the band backstage, and then the music starts. For those of you not familiar with the pre-Brian Johnson era of the band, this is a chronicle of AC/DC when they were still, essentially, a bar band, only carousing on a larger stage—and sans the stage effects and pyrotechnics they became noted for in their post-Black In Black years. As the music unfolds, interviews conducted with the band two days before the concert are intercut between the songs.

What sets Let There Be Rock apart from other midnight movie concert films of the era: instead of shooting upwards, from a fan’s pit vantage point in front of the stage, as is typical of most concert films, Let There Be Rock is shot from above or on the stage—and is noted as the first concert film that “put the fans on stage” with the band.

The U.K Platinum-selling (50,000 copies) VHS home video version of the film.

The subsequent Warner Bros. DVDs—that ditched the original 1980 artwork (totally bogus!)—are readily available on all of the usual seller sites—even Walmart. But how are there no PPV online streams? Luckily, you can watch a pretty clean rip of the film on Daily Motion.

There was individual track-by-track playlist of the soundtrack on You Tube, sans interviews and backstage scenes, featuring film’s songs in order of their film appearance, but that playlist has since been deleted (par for the You Tube course).

“Live Wire” (T.N.T., 1975)
“Shot Down In Flames” (Highway to Hell, 1979)
“Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be” (Let There Be Rock, 1977)
“Sin City” (Powerage, 1978)
“Walk All Over You” (Highway to Hell, 1979)
“Bad Boy Boogie” (Let There Be Rock, 1977)
“The Jack” (T.N.T., 1975)
“Highway to Hell” (Highway to Hell, 1979)
“Girls Got Rhythm” (Highway to Hell, 1979)
“High Voltage” (T.N.T., 1975)
“Whole Lotta Rosie” (Let There Be Rock, 1977)
“Rocker” (T.N.T., 1975)
“Let There Be Rock” (Let There Be Rock, 1977)

In lieu of that deleted playlist, you can watch this version of “Live Wire” from the the film.

There’s more “midnight movies” to be had with our “10 Movies That Were Never Released to DVD” and check out our three part “Exploring: Video Nasties” featurettes. There’s more bands on film—of Billy Eye Harper and Headmistress and not the AC/DC variety—with our “No False Metal Movies” and “Ten Bands Made Up For Movies” examinations.

“Let there be flicks!”

Ferd Sebastian
July 25, 1933 — March 27, 2022

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and B&S Movies, and learn more about his work on Facebook.