When Sydney, Australia’s AC/DC released their fifth album Back In Black, it became an instant epic in the quintet’s discography. Yet the success was bittersweet, coming in the aftermath of the death of original lead singer Bon Scott, whose vocals on previous albums made songs like “Highway To Hell,” “TNT,” and “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” resonate with audiences around the world.
The band’s previous albums – High Voltage (1976), Let There Be Rock (1977), Powerage (1978), and Highway To Hell (1979) each found the band ascending to a new level. When Bon Scott died in 1980 after suffocating on his own vomit from a night of excessive drinking and falling asleep in his car with his head tilted back against the head rest, the remaining members were pressed to find a new lead singer. Through the grapevine of the music business, the members of AC/DC heard about a brute singer from Newcastle, England whose scraping vocal purveyance was similar to Scott. Enter Brian Johnson.
The album Back In Black was recorded in a studio in the Bahamas with producer John “Mutt Lange” (Cars, Def Leppard) and was to be released within six months after Scott’s death. The immortal title track would serve as a tribute to fallen leader Bon Scott.
The ten tracks on Back In Black are revved-up toe- tapping pulsations with roughly knotted edges strewn across them. The twin guitar turbines of the Young brothers, Malcolm and younger brother Angus, emblazon the songs with crunching riff-ola and roughshod cuts that bite, squeeze, scrape, and punch across the kicking rhythmic beats. The scratchy textures of Brian Johnson’s vocals project a soul torn in agony like going through an exorcism or some bone crushing ordeal. His coarse vocal scats rip and tear, snicker, screech and snarl through the songs. Bass player Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd kept the beating hard and pounding solid. Their songs are odes to the loud, crude, rawness of rock, showing influences from Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, and Ike and Tina Turner. In fact, Brian Johnson’s first rehearsal with the band included a rendition of Ike and Tina’s song “Nutbush City Limits.”
The haunting convolutions of “Hells Bells” opens the album, as the band engraves a trail of speeding thrusts on “Shoot To Thrill” and charging choruses on “What Do You Do For Money Honey.” The bluesy rock axis holding up “Givin’ The Dog A Bone” is roped by head banging beats even branching the album on a more melodic scale. “Let Me Put My Love Into You” features cranked drum strikes and brawling contortions while the title track struts with a cool boogie groove. “You Shook Me All Night Long” is a foot stomping rowdy gambol. “Have A Drink On Me” delves into hard rock verses tweaked by ripping guitar hooks. “Shake A Leg” resounds as the harbinger to power-pop metal and “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” bolsters blues/rock ridges along ruffled guitar gyrations.
Angus Young told VH-1 Classics that his older brother and former band producer George Young advised him during the recording of Back In Black to write songs as “if you were an unknown band, how would you want to attract an audience.” Mutt told them, “You gotta get that impression across that you’re presenting something new that nobody’s heard for the first time.”
But AC/DC have managed to hold up for thirty-three years since their inception in 1973 as Angus reveals, “If you want to make a record that’s gonna be around, you gotta aim for your fans, because they’re the ones that are always gonna be there.” He claims that his philosophy has kept them young and energetic and at 48 years old, he can still rock a schoolboy uniform on stage like nobody’s business.