Coming into 1980, AC/DC were on a roll. Buoyed by the success of Highway To Hell, it looked like they were going to finally achieve their plan of world domination. However in February tragedy struck and Bon Scott died after a night of carousing. Determined to keep going (with the blessings of Bon’s parents), AC/DC wasted no time in recruiting Geordie vocalist Brian Johnson into the fold. They then went to the famed Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas with producer John “Mutt” Lange and went to work.
Twenty-eight years later the result of those sessions, Back In Black, is now the second best selling album of all time (and soon to surpass Michael Jackson’s Thriller if current sales continue). It has stood the test of time and deserves to be considered one of the greatest ever rock ‘n’ roll albums. The culmination of 6 years’ slogging it out on the road, crystallised by grief, turned into some lean, mean and hard rock ‘n’ roll.
And to think that the record company was worried about the all black cover.
The success of Back In Black wasn’t simply based on an outpouring of grief for Bon. There was something more at work. AC/DC, as often in the career, rode the odd zeitgeist though through chance and not design. Back in Black coincided with the upswing in the fortunes of hard rock and metal in the 80s. And while the lads will claim they are just a rock ‘n’ roll band, they suited the times.
The songs themselves almost all follow the same pattern. Angus Young starts with a riff, Malcolm Young answers and then the whole band kicks in. Phil Rudd with that basic but insistent four on the floor beat with a bit of swing. Cliff Williams’ rumbling bass lines that provide the irresistible heart of the song. And Brian Johnson shrieks over the top. It is formulaic but effective — you know what you are going to get but it can be exhilarating. To enjoy, turn off the mind, engage the loins and enjoy the visceral thump of the band.
Critics have ignored AC/DC just as much as AC/DC have ignored their critics. The not-so-secret to their success is that single minded devotion to rock ‘n’ roll and ensuring that their fans have a good time. And that is what Back in Black delivers. A stunning selection of songs that are a force of nature.
Due to its familiarity Back in Black is not an AC/DC album I listen to on a regular basis. But when I do revisit the album, I can’t help marvel as this modern miracle of musical muscle. It is timeless and a fitting tribute to Bon and also a declaration that true rock ‘n’ roll will never die.
Back In Black by AC/DC
“Shoot To Thrill”
“What Do You Do For Money Honey”
“Given The Dog A Bone”
“Let Me Put My Love Into You”
“Back In Black”
“You Shook Me All Night Long”
“Have A Drink On Me”
“Shake A Leg”
“Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”