Guitarist Angus Young once said that the impetus for the song – a sinewy, semi-spoken account of a convict who tries to flee prison only to be (spoiler alert!) shot in the back as he galloped to freedom – was based on someone Scott met in a Perth, Australia, jail after he was arrested prior to joining AC/DC.
Another account, however, contends that Scott wrote the lyrics after reading a newspaper account about Mark Brandon “Chopper” Reid, who was sentenced to 16 years for murdering a gang leader and decided to attempt an escape three years into his sentence. He was caught when his accomplice, Jimmy Loughnan, freaked out due to a fear of tight spaces.
Given Scott’s taste for theatricality and mystery, the inconclusiveness seems fitting and befits the legend of the track itself. There’s some evidence AC/DC started working on “Jailbreak” – written by Scott, Young and his brother and fellow guitarist Malcolm Young – during sessions for 1975’s T.N.T., but it first appeared on the band’s third Australian studio album, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.
“Jailbreak” was not, however, on the revised track list for the 1981 U.S. release of that album, which made the song something of an underground favorite for true AC/DC aficionados.
Watch AC/DC’s ‘Jailbreak’ Video
The song was played live by the band but was not formally out in the U.S. (or Canada and Japan) until the ’74 Jailbreak EP came out during October 1984 as a follow-up to the Flick of the Switch album.
AC/DC included a live performance of “Jailbreak,” sung by Brian Johnson, on the 1992 Live (Collector’s Edition) set and on the 2009 Backtracks compilation. The best way to experience the song, however, is via the music video AC/DC filmed for it in March 1976 for Countdown, an Australian music program.
The clip, directed by Paul Drane, was shot in a rock quarry in suburban Melbourne, with the young-looking quintet acting out portions of the narrative (Malcolm Young and bassist Mark Evans are dressed as prison guards), complete with pyrotechnic explosions at key points.
Angus Young sports a matching shirt-and-shorts ensemble rather than his trademark schoolboy uniform, and Scott is absolutely magnetic, staring dead into the camera with the sly, leering grin of a guy spinning a yarn that may or may not be true. But he’s having so much fun, it doesn’t really matter.
AC/DC Albums Ranked Worst to Best
Critics say every AC/DC album sounds the same, but that’s far from the truth.