Classic album 'Back in Black' revisited
Classic Albums: AC/DC 'Back In Black'

Fate moves in mysterious ways.

Back in 1979 a little-known, Gateshead-born singer called Brian Johnson was performing with his band Geordie while suffering from appendicitis. Rolling around on the floor in agony and screaming before being wheeled off stage, the gig was watched by enthralled AC/DC vocalist Bon Scott who thought it was part of the show. At the time, AC/DC were riding high on the back of ‘Highway To Hell’, their first album to make an impact in America, and finally, after five years it seemed the band were on the verge of major commercial breakthrough. But less than a year later, Scott was found dead in a car after choking on his own vomit on a night out in London. Soon after his death, AC/DC hired Johnson as their new singer.

It’s debatable how many bands could lose their singer and return with not only their best record to date, but a record that would come to define the very spirit of rock ‘n’ roll itself, that would become a benchmark for other bands to aspire to aim for, but never better. ‘Back In Black’ is of course this album, and having sold over forty-five million copies worldwide, it’s the second best-selling album of all time, second only to Jacko’s ‘Thriller’.

A tribute to their late singer, despite being born out of grief, ‘Back In Black’ explodes in a testosterone-fuelled, strutting slab of sex, booze and fast cars. A raucous celebration of hedonistic excess, it’s ten songs of pure escapism, a middle finger to the mundane existence of everyday life.

In comparison to Scott’s sleazy, bad-boy growl, Johnson shrieks as though someone’s just stabbed him in the eye with a fork, while the Young brothers provide the frenzied solos and guitar riffs that spiral around him at an alarming rate. Sure, a lot of the songs sound the same and, despite being their best album, the prowling riff for ‘Shake A Leg’ or ‘Let Me Put My Love Into You’ could herald the arrival of myriad AC/DC numbers. Progression aint one of the band’s strong points, but hey, why mess with perfection?

Of course, along with ‘Highway To Hell’, the raunch of ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’, anthemic air-punching of ‘Hells Bells’ and the unstoppable, instantly recognisable riff of ‘Back In Black’, have become AC/DC signature songs - as synonymous with the band as Angus Young’s school uniform, duckwalking and perpetually raised arm.

But it’s ‘Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’ that always caught this writer’s ear. The whole anthem sums up the swaggering, stomp of AC/DC’s pleasure-seeking attitude. And as Johnson screeches “Forget about the past / It’ll always be with us / It’s never gonna die”, it’s clear just how fitting a tribute for rock’s wild man, Bon Scott, ‘Back In Black’ was and still is - the biggest sex-soiled party that rock ever threw.

Words by Dannii Leivers

AC/DC - ‘Back in Black’
Released: 25th July 1980
Producer: Mutt Lange

Brian Johnson - lead vocals
Angus Young - lead guitar
Malcolm Young - rhythm guitar, backing vocals
Cliff Williams - bass guitar, backing vocals
Phil Rudd - drums, percussion

1. ‘Hells Bells’
2. ‘Shoot To Thrill’
3. ‘What Do You Do For Money Honey’
4. ‘Given The Dog A Bone’
5. ‘Let Me Put My Love Into You’
6. ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’
7. ‘Have A Drink On Me’
8. ‘Shake A Leg’
9. ‘Back In Black’
10. ‘Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’

1980: In The News
- John Lennon is shot dead by Mark Chapman outside his flat in New York.
- Ronald Reagan becomes President of the United States.
- Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham dies of alcohol poisoning.

1980: The Albums
-The Birthday Party - ‘The Birthday Party’
-Talking Heads - ‘Remain In Light’
-Iron Maiden - ‘Iron Maiden’


Clash Magazine Issue 52

This article appears in the 52nd issue of Clash Magazine. Pick it up in stores from July 1st.

Find out more about the issue HERE. Subscribe to Clash Magazine HERE.



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