How an English Poet Inspired AC/DC’s ‘For Those About to Rock’
While most of AC/DC’s catalog was inspired by the holy trinity of booze, women and rock, one of their biggest hits had a far unlikelier source.
Released as a single on March 22, 1982, “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” quickly found a place among the band’s most popular tracks. The titular song from AC/DC’s eighth album reached No. 15 in the U.K. and peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. It also became a major highlight of the band’s live shows, with cannons brought onstage to replicate the bombastic sound effects. All this for a track inspired by a poet.
“Sometimes I go back [and think of] something I’ve read somewhere,” Angus Young explained to Zane Lowe in 2021. “There was a writer, Robert Graves I believe his name was. I think he had a book out or a story and it was, ‘For those about to die,’ and he went into a day in the Coliseum. And this is this thing the gladiators did, and I thought, ‘Hey, that might fit.’”
Graves was an English poet and historical novelist, whose works included I, Claudius, Claudius the God, King Jesus and an interpretation of The Twelve Caesars (the latter of which attributes the phrase, “Hail, Emperor, those who are about to die salute you" to Claudius). The award-winning writer released more than 140 works in his career and spent several years teaching poetry as a professor at Oxford University. Needless to say, Graves was a far cry from the oversized groupie who inspired “Whole Lotta Rosie.”
Listen to AC/DC's 'For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)'
“For Those About to Rock” began the same way most AC/DC songs did: with brothers Angus and Malcolm Young trading guitar riffs.
"So the two of us worked on that, and we came up with the verse idea of it," Young explained. "And the funny thing is, when we got to the chorus, we were going, ‘OK, what are we going to sing on this?’"
It was at that point that the guitarist recalled Graves’ work: “I think at first Malcolm thought, ‘Wait. What is he on?’ And I'm going, ‘Well, for those about to ... .’ And I got it in, I got it all in, ‘For those about the rock.’ So that kicked off that.”
Watch AC/DC Perform 'For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)' in 2009
Inspiration for the song’s military cannons came from a different - yet equally high-class - place. The band was at a rehearsal space in Paris on July 29, 1981, when Prince Charles married Princess Diana. The royal wedding was celebrated with cannon shots, which the band could hear booming through a nearby television.
“I don't know who had it on,” Angus noted. “There was a TV, and there was cannon shots going and there was a guy who worked there, like a watchman in the rehearsal place, and you could hear these cannons going off. And then it just struck me.”
“I just wanted something strong," the guitarist admitted. "Something masculine and rock ’n’ roll. And what’s more masculine than a cannon, y’know? I mean, it gets loaded, it fires and it destroys."
“For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” remains one of AC/DC’s most popular tracks. It still serves as the band’s go-to closing song at concerts, with military canons onstage adding to the deafening finale.