AC/DC Overcame Tragedy and Delivered with ‘Back in Black’ | Album Review

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!

Lana

27 thoughts on “AC/DC Overcame Tragedy and Delivered with ‘Back in Black’ | Album Review

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    1. Thanks so much John. Sucks how overplaying a record makes people get sick of it. Especially for classics like Back in Black (and Hysteria in Def Leppard’s case). That’s the same reason why I don’t play Back in Black often and that’s also why I didn’t want to include a riff from that album for the 80s show because it would’ve been too obvious.

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      1. Exactly! Too dang easy because that’s one of the albums that comes to mind when people think of the 80s (and AC/DC). In my case, I also wanted to show ‘Flick of the Switch’ some love.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Damn! 1980 was just a killer year for hard rock/metal, there was just so much great music being released that a poor schoolboy like me couldn’t afford everything! Fortunately I had a couple of school friends into the same music as me, so we’d share our records with other in order to tape them. Strangely though, we ALL bought this album! Good write up. 🤘

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww thanks for sharing your memories from 1980. I agree that 1980 was a great year for music. Black Sabbath, Rush, Def Leppard, Van Halen, and Judas Priest all put out great albums that year. That’s nice you had friends that shared the same taste in music as you. Great minds think alike! Thanks for your kind words and I’m glad you enjoyed the review!

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  2. If they PMRC really knew what “Given the Dog a Bone” was really about, it would have made the filthy fifteen as well. Like you said, a lot of great tracks here and some do get overplayed, though I don’t mind hearing “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Hells Bells” played over and over. On the other hand, “What Do You Do For Money?” and “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” don’t get played enough. Fantastic review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much 80smetalman! Yeah what is the meaning behind “Givin’ the Dog a Bone” anyway? I never understood their secret meanings with dogs. It’s interesting you brought up “Hells Bells” because I don’t mind that one either; it’s not everyday you hear a bell in a song (excuse “For Whom the Bell Tolls”). EXACTLY!!! I’d take “What Do You Do For Money Honey” or “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” anyday, instead of “Shoot to Thrill” and “Back in Black.” “Have a Drink On Me” is good too; I think they played it on the Rock or Bust tour, thankfully. In other words, they need to play the lesser known tracks more often.

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      1. “Given [sic] the Dog a Bone” is about oral sex. The dog is a woman (bitch), the bone is his dick. That’s not me trying to be gross or sexist, that’s what the song’s about. I do feel a bit bad for ruining some of that Disney innocence, but you did ask.

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    1. Indeed people should get this record, as long as they can handle the overplayed tracks, haha. $24 for a CD? Dang, that’s nuts and I’m guessing it was the regular CD with no bonus tracks right? Weird how the prices changed overtime.

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      1. “Dog Eat Dog” is just an expression meaning that the world is ruthless, and everyone is trying to climb on top of each other to compete for the limited resources on our planet. Basically rich eat rich, fight your way to the top, etc.

        The song’s a bit silly, but I think that’s the message. No hidden fellatio messages in that one.

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  3. Haha ‘perfect for a truck commercial.’ Honestly, if they played that during a truck commercial they’d sell a lot of trucks… Anyway, a damn-near perfect album with riffs carved out of granite for future generations to admire.

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  4. Don’t look up “Given The Dog A Bone”, Lana! Stay pure!

    I never tire of this album. I should be but I don’t! All killer, no filler for me!

    I thought Cliff has some good presence on this one. He doesn’t always play the root notes which is pretty freakin’ cool. Maybe you need to be playing this album a whole lot louder?!?!?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, it’s not on my to-do list to look up “Given the Dog a Bone,” but ok lol! Even if I did look up the song, they’ll still be little boys to me!

      Ok, I respect that! But you can’t listen “Shake a Leg” and not hear a little bit of “Dirty Deeds” in the intro!

      The only thing that’s cool about Cliff during the Back in Black era is that his face was covered during all the music videos lol. I’d love to play AC/DC louder, but I’m trying to keep my hearing until I die!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey hearing is important because you want to be able to hear the music when you go to their gigs (and do other daily functions lol).

        I like how you made “ok” capitalized.

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      2. Ah now I learned something new about OK, thanks for teaching me that. I’m more of an informal person then. I hate when people say “kk,” so you don’t need to get into that!

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