I previously reviewed AC/DC’s Highway to Hell (1979) album, so if you haven’t already, go check it out! For now, we are shifting focus to the last record I’ll be covering in the AC/DC album review series, Back in Black (1980). The reason why it’s the last in the series is because I already reviewed the following albums in a weird order. But enough about that, we’ve got quite a bit to cover because A LOT went down since AC/DC’s last studio album was released.
First of all, Bon Scott, former vocalist for the band, passed away on February 19, 1980, following a heavy night of drinking. The boys briefly considered disbanding, but with the blessing of Scott’s parents, they decided to carry on because Scott would’ve wanted them to. After trying numerous singers, AC/DC recruited Brian Johnson, former vocalist for Geordie, as their new lead singer. For his audition, Johnson sang Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits” and AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie.”
The band headed for the Bahamas with Mutt Lange to record at Compass Point Studios. There, a classic record was born. I covered my favorite stories of what went down during the recording process in a previous post for Back in Black’s 40th anniversary, so if you’re interested, check it out! Without further ado, let’s get on with the music!
The album begins with “Hells Bells” and dang, what a way to start a record! The giant bell is enough to send chills down my spine. Johnson’s voice is fresh and pre-cigarette madness, which he would experience in the later years. The main guitar riff is so eerie and melodic, while Phil Rudd’s simplistic drums add the right amount of flavor to the opening track.
AC/DC fans, please don’t get mad at me, but I think “Shoot to Thrill” is overrated. Maybe it’s because they played it too many times throughout the years, or the fact that they played it more than “What Do You Do For Money,” but yeah, I can’t get into that one. Despite the negatives, Johnson sounds great, and I’ll admit, I enjoy the lyrics because they are quite entertaining.
Speaking of “What Do You Do For Money,” I LOVE THAT TRACK!!! I truly believe that it is underrated because they haven’t played it since the Stiff Upper Lip tour and before that, they haven’t played it since the Back in Black tour. Johnson sings in the higher register throughout the entire song, the riff is insanely catchy, and overall, it’s a fun headbanger, especially Angus’ guitar solo. The chorus is simple, yes, but that’s the fun part, because it’s a simple question that can be interpreted in many ways.
“Givin’ the Dog a Bone” has another catchy riff and the title is fun to say, but what is with AC/DC’s obsession with dogs? Like seriously, if there’s a hidden meaning behind the title, I don’t get it boys. “Let Me Put My Love Into You” is a slower tune with fine backing vocals from Malcolm and Cliff Williams, and it’s a cute, romantic song. For some stupid reason, the song was on the Filthy Fifteen list that was put together by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) because the song was about sex. But those lyrics are harmless, AC/DC’s lyrics are nothing compared to the hits written by today’s artists.
“Back in Black” is one that I’ll listen to when the band performs it live, but I won’t play it often because I’d get sick of it. Don’t get me wrong, the guitar riff is perfect for a truck commercial and Johnson’s vocals are amazing, but the casual fans think that “Back in Black” is the best thing they’ve ever done, when that’s far from the truth. “You Shook Me All Night Long” is another overplayed track, but I still dig it because the riff is so melodic and besides “Back in Black,” people recognize the band for that song. The lyrics are fun and playful, and Rudd brings the groove, as usual.
“Have a Drink on Me” has a fun, bluesy riff, and it is another headbanger, indeed. I think about Scott and Mal when listening to this song because of what happened to Scott, but also that Mal himself had a drinking problem. On the VH1 documentary for AC/DC, they played “Have a Drink on Me” in the background when they brought up Mal’s drinking situation. It got to the point where he took time off from the Blow Up Your Video tour to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He recovered thankfully, but depending on my mood, it’s a hard track for me to listen to at times.
The opening riff to “Shake a Leg” is similar to “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” so that turned me off quite a bit. The main riff is not my favorite of the boys, and this song is more of a filler. Again, Johnson’s vocals are great and Rudd stomps those drums like he means it, but I would’ve been fine if the boys didn’t put “Shake a Leg” on the final product. I’ll admit, though, Angus does a wicked guitar solo for that track.
“Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” is a f*ck you to the Parents Music Resource Center, nah I’m joking, but it could be right? The riff is epic, but it’s only when you see Mal and Angus perform it live that you realize what an amazing duo they made. Rudd’s loose hi-hat sound is in full force and he holds a solid beat, all while having a cigarette in his mouth (assumingly). In a world where pop music has taken over mainstream and our fellow rock acts are getting older, AC/DC continues to remind us that rock ‘n’ roll will always be with us and it’ll never die!
Before I conclude this review, I need to get this off my chest, I couldn’t hear the dang bass! I’m sorry Cliff, you know I love you man. Ok, moving on! Despite one filler, Back in Black is still a bada** album. Johnson made his mark on that record and he fit perfectly with the band. Angus delivered the goods with his wild guitar solos, Mal showed everyone who’s boss with his powerful riffs, he and Williams nailed the backing vocals, and Rudd was pure gold on the drums. Back in Black may be overplayed, but it is a classic and it’s still pretty good after all this time. Therefore, I’d give this album 4.8 out of 5 stars.
Comment below your favorite song from AC/DC’s Back in Black!
Take care and see ya real soon!