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From AC/DC's Bon Scott to Patti Smith: A Rock-and-Roll History of Bagpipes

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The history of the bagpipes’ inclusion in rock music is, in many ways, a history of noise. Dozens of kinds of bagpipes exist throughout the world, but it’s the loud Scottish variety that are prominent in popular culture and that many associate with an iconic kind of racket. Scottish bagpipes are the noisiest unamplified instrument on earth: A single set of pipes produces between 95 and 110 decibels of sound, putting them closer to a jackhammer (95 decibels) than to a piano (60 to 70 decibels).

Unlike with other instruments, this volume range is static, making the noisiness of the Scottish bagpipes both very public and impossible to ignore. The bagpipes don’t simply request your attention—they hold it hostage, which is why they work for ceremonial events like weddings and funerals. It’s also why they’ve historically worked so well with rock music. AC/DC’s first big hit, “Long Way to the Top,” notably used bagpipes during the era of its frontman Bon Scott, whose birthday is stillcelebrated in Scotland every year (he would have turned 70 today). In addition to being spectacularly anarchic-sounding, bagpipes have long been part of a tradition of protest—one that’s perfectly in line with the disruptive ethos rock was founded on.

A history of noise! Ha!

I didn't realize bagpipes could get so loud.

Anything! Just play it loud, okay?

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