On July 25, 1980, Australian rock ‘n’ roll band AC/DC released their seventh studio album titled Back in Black. It is known to be one of the best-selling albums of all time, having sold about 50 million copies worldwide. Forty years later, people all over the world still blast that thing every chance they get! Success doesn’t happen without some setbacks, however.
AC/DC faced tragedy at the start of the 80s with former vocalist Bon Scott’s death. He died on February 19, 1980, following a heavy night of drinking. The band briefly considered breaking up, but they decided to carry on and find a new singer to fill Scott’s shoes. After auditioning numerous singers, record-producer Mutt Lange recommended Geordie’s Brian Johnson to the boys. After hitting it off with them, playing Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits” and the band’s “Whole Lotta Rosie,” Johnson became AC/DC’s new lead vocalist.
AC/DC headed for the Bahamas to record Back in Black. The Young brothers wrote the music, while Johnson came up with the words. There’s “Back in Black,” the band’s tribute to Scott, and “Shoot to Thrill,” etc., but how many people know what went down when recording “Hells Bells”?
Lange and Johnson had an encounter with mother nature, which inspired the lyrics for the song. Yep, rolling thunder, pouring rain, coming on like a hurricane, lightning flashing across the sky, etc., that’s what happened! Malcolm Young came up with the idea to incorporate a bell during the intro. “Angus had the title, ‘Hells Bells,’ and I was just taking a piss, and I just thought, ‘hang on, why don’t we get a big f**king bell?!?'”, said Young on VH1’s Ultimate Albums – The Story of Back in Black.
Johnson wrote the words to “You Shook Me All Night Long,” and he sang it for Lange, but he thought it had too many words. So Lange came up with a simpler version, and it sounded folk-rock. “I did it like that, and Mal heard it and went, ‘what the f**k is this?’ (laughs),” said Johnson in the same documentary. So they went with Brian Johnson’s version, thank goodness!
The title “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” came about from the clubs in London. The clubs were getting complaints about noise pollution. It was the last track written, and Mal and Angus came up with it in fifteen minutes. The opening lyrics were inspired by the TV evangelists that were on during the late 70s through the 80s. In the words of Mal, “give them a bit of that bulls**t preaching stuff!” Which Johnson delivered.
My favorite track on Back in Black is “What Do You Do For Money Honey.” I first heard it on Stiff Upper Lip Live, and I got hooked immediately! Johnson’s vocals were top-notch, and Angus’ guitar solo is worth banging your head to! The lyrics are playful, they have a unique sense of humor, and it’s fun to sing along to, at least for me it is!
In all honesty, there isn’t a bad song on this album. It kicked everyone’s butts back then, and it kicks everyone’s butts today! AC/DC’s Back in Black made a mark in rock ‘n’ roll history because they managed to do the impossible: Maintain and further their success after losing their lead vocalist.
Name your favorite track from Back in Black in the comments below!
Take care and see ya real soon!
Nice write up, Lana! I watched that VH1 special and it was great to see the band pull back the curtain on their writing process. Favorite track is a tough one… but I never get tired of Shoot To Thrill.
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Thank you so much BuriedOnMars! It’s interesting that “Shoot To Thrill” is your favorite because I never took interest in that one until I watched that documentary, where Brian discussed how he came up with the lyrics.