On July 25, 1980 AC/DC released Back In Black, an album that became an instant classic and is still one of the top selling rock albums worldwide. It is not hard to hear why. In the liner notes to the 2003 re-issue of the album David Fricke wrote that “Back In Black was, and still is, a marvel of rock & roll synchronicity.” The record features songs that are still classic rock anthems today including “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.” Produced by rock legend John “Mutt” Lange, the entire forty-two minutes are filled with heavy melodic guitar riffs, a steady pounding rock rhythm section, and the gritty, screeching voice of…Brian Johnson.
The story of Johnson’s role as lead singer is what pushes Back In Black past the realm of classic albums and into the space of rock mythology. The album was a rebirth for the band only months after previous lead singer Bon Scott passed away February 19, 1980. At the time, it seemed amazing that AC/DC could find a new singer who captured the passion, growl, and attitude of Scott’s voice – a voice that was at the heart of a song like “Highway to Hell,” the title track of the 1979 album (Scott’s last). The handwritten lyrics of the song now hang in the Rock Hall’s new Metal exhibit, right next to Angus Young’s famous school boy outfit. Back In Black opens with an exceptional tribute to Scott, “Hell’s Bells.” Church bells toll as a distorted guitar melody opens up the song, and when Johnson’s vocals enter the lyrics seem to describe the same character that Scott painted for himself, “I'm rolling thunder, pouring rain / I'm coming on like a hurricane / My lightning's flashing across the sky / You're only young but you're gonna die.” And yes, I know that Johnson was supposedly inspired by the actual storm that raged outside the recording studio, but it helped him to find the perfect way to describe the end of the journey that Scott described in “Highway to Hell.”
For me, the essence of the entire album can be felt in the opening to side two of the original vinyl – the title song. The closed high-hat and muted guitar strings count out eight beats (the last two played only on the high-hat), and then BAM, its right into the riff that dominates the rest of the song, “Yes, I’m back!” – and there can be no doubt about it, AC/DC was back (check it out for yourself here). I know any hard rock or metal fan has a story of the first time they heard the album, or the moment they fell in love with it, so sound off rock fans and share your story with the rest of us in the comments section below.
For those about to rock, we salute you!