The Beatles song ‘Helter Skelter’ famously ‘inspired’ Charles Manson to commit horrific crimes, a factor that has since sullied the track’s reputation due to the unwanted connection with the murderous cult leader. Decades later, AC/DC found themselves in a similar predicament.
‘Night Prowler’ featured as the closing track on the Australian group’s 1979 album Highway To Hell, and years later, it would become inextricably linked to the serial killer Richard Ramirez. In a year from 1984 until 1985, Ramirez committed sexual assault against 11 people, murdered 13, and left five with serious injuries.
The song contains menacing lyrics such as, “I’m your night prowler, asleep in the day, Night prowler, get out of my way, Yeah, I’m the night prowler, watch out tonight, Yes, I’m the night prowler, when you turn out the light.”
Los Angeles County homicide investigator Gil Carillo shared a photograph of the crime scene with the press, which started an association the group have desperately tried to shake off ever since.
“Upon investigating that murder,” Carillo commented. “One of the pieces of evidence left behind was a hat bearing the letters AC/DC on it. What the significance was, was trying to get attention through the media – to see if anybody knew somebody that wore an AC/DC hat.”
After he was finally caught, a childhood friend told the media that Ramirez was an obsessive fan of the group, and it had all the ingredients of a perfect tabloid storm.
The press ran with it and didn’t care about the collateral damage they were doing to AC/DC’s reputation. The significance of ‘Night Prowler’ emerged later when allegedly, during his confession, he “hummed” the track according to LAPD Officer George Thomas. However, in a later interview, Ramirez hinted that there was little truth to what was reported. “The world has been fed many lies about me,” he said. “I have read very few truths.” He added that serial killers are “a product of their times – and these are bloody-thirsty times”.
Due to his reported fascination with the group, Ramirez was commonly known as the ‘Night Stalker’. On numerous occasions, AC/DC have been forced to reiterate the song’s true meaning, which they claim has nothing to do with encouraging murderous activities. “That song is not called ‘Night Stalker,'” Malcolm Young once said. “It’s called ‘Night Prowler’ – and it’s about things you used to do when you are a kid, like sneaking into a girlfriend’s bedroom when her parents were asleep.”
Even the band’s name was scrutinised, with sections of the media scandalously claiming it stood for ‘Anti-Christ/Devil’s Child’. The truth was less sexy, and it was actually after the Young brothers saw the letters on their sister Margaret’s sewing machine. “It’s been called everything since, you know – the meaning of the letters,” Malcolm once groaned. “You tell them a sewing machine story, and they’re still going to think, ‘no, there’s more to this.'”
No matter how hard the band tries, Ramirez’s crimes remain a stain on their name despite having nothing to do with his heinous exploits and their work not motivating him to do the depraved things he did.