Paul Drane was producer and director for Australia´s immensely popular tv-show Countdown, a show aired on Sundays and was like an early version of MTV. Back in 1976 Paul got to direct the video for AC/DC´s ”It´s a long way to the top (If you wanna rock and roll)” and ”Jailbreak”. Here he tells the story behind those videos as well as why there was a second version shot of ”It´s a long way to the top (If you wanna rock and roll)” that didn´t see the light of day until many years later.
Tell us about the video and how it all came about?
The reason we ended up doing this ”It´s a long way to the top” clip was because Molly (Ian Meldrum, host) knew it was going to be a hit. We´d already had AC/DC live on the show several times. Every week we would run the top 10 and we would finish the show with the number one hit. We found that sometimes the number one hit might stay number one for five or six weeks and sometimes more, so we wanted to ensure that we had different versions of the song to be able to go out with on the show, otherwise it became very boring for us and the viewers. We did heaps and heaps of these things, but not always on film though. We had an executive producer who was in charge of the budget and if we were going to do something on film, I would have to make sure that it worked.
Basically, Molly was chatting with Bon, and with the bagpipes on the recording, he would love to have them in this extra film clip that we were going to do. Molly told me that Bon would like to have bagpipes and that rang a certain bell in my head, because here in Melbourne we had a traditional parade every year called Moomba and there were always a lot of bagpipes, so I just said ”Well, bagpipes says Moomba to me.” What happens on Moomba is that all these people parade, marching or on the back of a truck, going down Swanson Street, which is the main street in Melbourne.
I said ”Ok, this is what we have to do. We´re going to have bagpipes and we’ll put the band on a truck and we’ll drive down Swanson Street.” That´s how the idea came about.
So this video was shot for Countdown?
It was an exclusive Countdown clip and that was the point about the things that we did. We did this with lots of other bands. We would do something and it was an exclusive Countdown clip, which of course over the years has become the sort of recognised clip worldwide, the ”It´s a long way to the top” clip. Although this is the property of the ABC, it is used and screened all over the world as you know. At that stage Countdown had become the sort of must see show on Sunday nights. All I had to do in those days was ring the council of the city of Melbourne and say ”I´m the producer of Countdown and this is what we want to do…” and in less of two weeks it was organised. It was just a matter of saying ”Ok, can we do this?”
The arrangement was that we were going to do it very quickly in the morning, so we wouldn’t disturb a lot of traffic and everything like that. I had this agreement that I wanted to take the truck down Swanson Street three times. I had two cameras to cover the event. It was very easy to organise and it was very quick. Countdown was recorded live and it was, what I always describe it as – fly by the seat of your pants. Everything we did was spontaneous and fortunately it had a fantastic vibe about it. The clip was very quick to do. We didn’t announce it, so there were no public that were aware of what was going to happen and of course as soon as we set up the route of what part of Swanson Street we would be filming, as we started to go along the crowd just spontaneously went ”Ah, AC/DC!”, so they just went over to the side of the truck and were walking along with the band while they were playing.
This was a song they´d never heard because it was the new single, so they just got into it because it was AC/DC. That crowd just built and built as we went along. As I said, we had two cameras and I told them what areas I wanted to do. One camera on the truck, one on the ground and then reversing the positions for the bagpipes and all that stuff. On the last pass of course, I had a building that I could see and we got permission to go up on the top floor and get that really iconic shot of Melbourne. It was a lot of fun. The boys from AC/DC would do anything to cooperate and they were so pro. We would play the song and in this particular case only three times and they were there and it was just fantastic. Bon was an excellent showman and he had such a fantastic stage presence, but he plays that bagpipe as if it is a guitar, just bouncing around. He´s got so much energy, just the way he´s using that instrument and it´s like he´s been playing it all his life, but he only learned it a week earlier.
What was Bon Scott like?
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Bon, is energy. I know that Angus had the most incredible energy on stage but I think the same way about Bon because he… I mean, stage presence for any lead singer in a band is vital and Bon had that. He had charisma and when that band went on stage… I´d liken it to an act of walking onto the set of a feature film, because if you would’ve chatted with Bon and Angus and those boys before hand, they would be absolutely calm and completely down to earth, then walk onto that stage in front of an audience and ”BINGO!”, superstars. That´s what they’ve always done and that´s what Bon always did and it´s so sad that we lost him.
Did the band have any input on the video?
Because we had already worked on the studio set live on many occasion…of course the input came from Bon about involving the bagpipes. They all knew Moomba and as soon as I said ”We want to put you on the back of a truck.”, everybody just went ”Great!” That was all we needed to do and the band would just leave it up to me as to how I would shoot it and edit it to get that vibrance. The editor that I worked with was a guy called Hugh and he was a fantastic guy. He was an older person, but I didn’t have to say anything. He just absolutely nailed that edit. He did it with an incredible style and such a fabulous pace to incapsulate the whole mood of the band and their performance. I don´t think I needed to make any changes. I was delighted.
What were the reactions like when it was shown on Countdown?
One of the things that became with Countdown because it was so popular, is that we got to the stage where we couldn’t run a new song on that show unless we had a guarantee on the Friday before we recorded on the Saturday, that the albums or the singles were already in the shops. If we didn’t, then on Monday morning our switchboard would literally light up and everybody would be complaining. ”I wanna buy that record and I can´t buy it!” We would have all these people going crazy. Consequently the reaction to ”It´s a long way to the top” was absolutely, completely over the top. They went through the roof and everybody loved it. It was a number one hit from the moment we played it and that´s the reason why we didn’t use the other version.
On the day I wanted to have an extra option, again because of this need to be able to have different versions playing if the song was number one. On the afternoon of that shoot I went down to the city square to do what is referred to as a more traditional, if you like, band performance. Just shoot it with two cameras and run the song three or four times and you´ve got it in the bag. Again, the audience didn’t know about it. They started to gather around to watch the band and again, it was AC/DC and it was Countdown and people went ”Wow, this is exciting and I want to be here and watch it!” and it was great. It came together extremely well. It´s a traditional approach and everything like that, but the thing is that everybody loves the one on the back of the truck so much that the second version was never played on Countdown. We never used it. People started to become aware of it about… I don´t know, maybe ten years ago? Most people didn’t know about it. I think it was Rage (music show) here in Australia that discovered it, but many, many years later. It became an underground thing like ”Hey, did you know there´s this other version?”
What was the cost for a video like this one?
The reality was that the film crew was part of ABC, the truck belonged to ABC, the props department was ABC and we didn’t have to pay the council because they didn’t have to stop traffic or anything. All I had to pay for was the stock and the processing, so the budget was probably less than 200 dollars. Everybody cooperated.
When was the first time you worked with AC/DC on Countdown?
They came on the show pretty early in 1975. I can´t remember what song it was. They were another band coming on and Molly said to me ”These guys are gonna be big!”, but we would just cover them in exactly the same way as somebody else would come onto the show. We had an agreement with the musicians union at the time that we would do all vocals on the show live. We were allowed to use the backing tracks, because it was recognised that artists and the record company would spend a lot of time and money producing a record and we would do a great live version, but we wanted to reproduce the record exactly the way it was and present it on Countdown the way it was. When you get people like Bon, who every time would put his individual presence into a performing… but every time it was spot on. He would get the vocal performance, the notes, everything and he wouldn’t miss a beat and it was sensational. If he did a song a couple of times on Countdown, the vibrance that he had and the stage presence… I remember doing ”T.N.T.” and I ran some footage in the background on the screen and it was live with the kids in the audience and everything and we had some flashpots going off as well, that didn’t deter Bon for one split second, or Angus or any of the guys. These things were going off in the background and a huge atomic bomb going off on the screen and they just performed. They were fantastic, so we got to be good friends as a result of it and nearly a year later we did ”It´s a long way to the top”.
Then you did the video for ”Jailbreak”. Was it your idea to dress them up as guards and prisoners?
Yes, in this particular case it was my idea. When they told me about ”Jailbreak” and I listened to it, I said ”Look, this time I think we should be able to tell a story. Let´s not just do it straight as a band performance.” I wanted to use it to be able to tell a story and once again the guys were absolutely totally into it. I found a quarry in a nearby suburb of Melbourne, that wasn’t being used anymore, and I spoke to the guys about it. I talked to the wardrobe department and having Bon and Angus in uniforms of being the the prisoners and the other boys being the guards.
What was additionally interesting about this particular shoot… again, I had two cameras and for the film I would normally be using ABC camera operators and crew and I would have to pay for the external expenses, so the budget didn’t have to be very big. The only thing that was different on ”Jailbreak” is that I wanted to have these explosions. I spoke to our pyrotechnics department at the time and it was young and developing, so it was an opportunity for some of the newcomers in that crew to learn and be involved. Those explosions in the background of the performance, I could only do once, because I was paying for it. Every one of those was a single take and we couldn’t go back and do it again because we didn’t have the budget. I was cueing it to the music, the cameras rolling and every time, fortunately, it worked. It was very exciting. We were running around like nuts probably. Really small film crew and we shot it in half a day with no time to muck around. We knew it would be alright and I had a crew that I relied on.
What was interesting on that particular shoot was that when we came to the scene where the boys are escaping, it again had to be a single take. The props department had built me the doors and the plan was to blow them open, so the boys could run out. I said to the pyrotechnics department that we just wanted to blow the doors open, so during the planning they went ”Maybe we just need to put a little bit more explosive stuff in there to make sure they will blow open.” So here we go, we´re rolling and everything´s ready, the boys are behind the doors, I cue the explosions and ”Bingo”. Instead of just opening the doors, they blew them almost completely off the hinges. It was crazy!
The other thing that was interesting was that I wanted to have this shot with Bon where he gets shot in the back, but I couldn´’ afford to have the make-up artist out there on the shoot, because I would’ve been paying her all day for just one shot at the end. What we decided to do was that we were going to do it as a pick up later. I had everything organised with the make-up and the explosive blood pack ready, so we just went to a tiny little park, which is just literally down the road from the studio. It was lunch time and we’ve got this little bit of green grass and I’ve got a camera crew and Bon Scott from AC/DC and we´re about to shoot this sequence. Once again you have an audience that just go like a magnet and say ”What´s going on here? Hey Bon, give me your autograph!” There were people everywhere, but fortunately it worked a treat. So it was done as a pick up in the middle of this park and when the explosion came out of his back I think they all thought he was dead. It was a little bit over the top, but it worked. Once again Bon would do anything for me and I could only shoot it once. Bon nailed it of course and we all stood up laughing and the audience applauded when he stood up and walked away from it. It was a lot of fun.