Back in Black

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Back in Black
Acdc backinblack cover.jpg
Studio album by AC/DC
Released 25 July 1980
Recorded
Genre Hard rock[1]
Length 42:11
Label
Producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange
AC/DC chronology
Highway to Hell
(1979)
Back in Black
(1980)
For Those About to Rock We Salute You
(1981)
Singles from Back in Black
  1. "You Shook Me All Night Long"
    Released: 19 August 1980
  2. "Hells Bells"
    Released: 31 October 1980
  3. "Back in Black"
    Released: 21 December 1980
  4. "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution"
    Released: 15 March 1981

Back in Black is the seventh studio album by Australian rock band AC/DC. Produced by Robert John "Mutt" Lange, the album was released on 25 July 1980 by Albert Productions and Atlantic Records. By the late 1970s, AC/DC began to achieve significant popularity outside their native Australia, with high-energy live performances and a string of successful albums. In 1979, they paired with producer Lange and recorded their international breakthrough, Highway to Hell. Shortly before the recording of their follow-up, lead vocalist Bon Scott died after a night of heavy alcohol consumption. The group continued on with ex-Geordie singer Brian Johnson.

Back in Black was recorded over seven weeks in the Bahamas in spring 1980. The area was hit by tropical storms at the time, making the sessions difficult at times. Johnson penned the album's lyrics and melodies, while guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young composed the music. Its musical content consists of hard rock-styled numbers with lyrics relating to sex, alcohol, partying and rock and roll. Lange demanded perfection in the band's recordings, particularly on Johnson's vocals. Following its completion, the group mixed Back in Black at Electric Lady Studios in New York City. The album's all-black cover was designed as a "sign of mourning" for Scott.

Their sixth international release, Back in Black was an unprecedented success: it has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide.[2][3][4][5] Its enormous sales figures have made it tied for the second-highest-selling album in history. The band supported the album with a yearlong world tour, cementing them among the most popular music acts of the early 1980s. Back in Black received positive critical reception at the time of its release, and it has since been included on numerous lists of "greatest" albums. Since its initial release, the album has been reissued and remastered multiple times, most recently for digital distribution.

Background[edit]

Bon Scott, the band's former vocalist in December 1979.

By 1979, AC/DC were poised to receive a significant level of success with their sixth studio album, Highway to Hell. Robert John "Mutt" Lange produced the record, making the band's sound more catchy and accessible to international audiences, and it became their first platinum album in the United States, selling over one million copies, while also peaking at number 17 on that country's pop charts and number eight in the United Kingdom.[6] AC/DC, formed in 1973, first broke into international markets in 1977 with their fourth record, Let There Be Rock. They were notable for their high-energy live performances, in which lead guitarist Angus Young would don a schoolboy outfit, and singer Bon Scott's distinctive raspy voice.[6]

As the new decade approached, the group set off for the UK and France for the final tour dates of their breakthrough release.[7] They planned to begin recording a follow-up shortly after its completion. On 19 February 1980, Scott went on a drinking binge in a London pub that caused him to lose consciousness, so a friend left him rest in the back of his Renault 5 overnight. The next morning, Scott was found unresponsive and rushed to King's College Hospital where medical personnel pronounced him dead on arrival. The coroner ruled that pulmonary aspiration of vomit was the cause of Scott's death, but the official cause was listed on the death certificate as "acute alcoholic poisoning" and classified as "death by misadventure". Scott was cremated and his ashes were interred by his family at Fremantle Cemetery in Fremantle, Western Australia.[8] The loss devastated the band, who considered breaking up. However, friends and family persuaded them to carry on.[9]

After Bon Scott's funeral, the band immediately began auditions for a replacement frontman. Among the applicants were Gary Pickford Hopkins and Allan Fryer of Fat Lip,[10] who, like Stevie Wright of the Easybeats, was touted by the press as most-certain replacements.[11] At the advice of Lange, the group brought in Geordie singer Brian Johnson, who impressed the group.[12] After begrudgingly working through the rest of the list of applicants in the following days, Johnson returned for a second rehearsal.[13] On 29 March, Malcom Young called the singer to offer him the job, to his surprise. Out of respect for Bon Scott, the band wanted a frontman who would not be a mere imitator of him and In addition to his voice, demeanor and love of classic soul and blues music, the group viewed Johnson an engaging personality who did not mimic Scott, which was one important requirement.[14] Johnson was officially announced as the new lead singer of AC/DC on 8 April 1980.

Recording and production[edit]

Brian Johnson, replaced Bon Scott as vocalist and composed the album's lyrics.

Rehearsals for Back in Black were scheduled over three weeks at London’s E-Zee Hire Studios, but it was cut to one week when an opening came up at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, in the Bahamas. Although they preferred to record their next effort in the UK, there were no studios available, and the Bahamas presented a nice tax advantage.[15]

Back in Black was recorded from mid-April to May 1980 at Compass Point with producer "Mutt" Lange. Upon their arrival, the area was being hit by several tropical storms, wreaking havoc on the studio's electricity. In addition, their equipment was initially held up by customs, and other gear slowly was freighted over from the UK.[16] Johnson felt pressure during the process, having never recorded with the group. None of Scott's writings were used for the album's lyrics, as the group felt it would seemingly profit from his passing. Instead, Johnson penned the album's lyrics and melodies, while the Young brothers composed the music.[17] Johnson reported having trouble adjusting to the environment, and even referenced the bad weather on the opening lines of "Hells Bells" ("I'm rolling thunder, pourin' rain. I'm comin' on like a hurricane. My lightning's flashing across the sky. You're only young but you're gonna die.").[18]

Back in Black was recorded in Nassau, the capital of The Bahamas.

The general attitude in the studio was optimistic. Engineer Tony Platt was dismayed, however, to find the studio's rooms were not sonically complimentary to the group's sound, which was designed to be very dry and compact.[19] A humorous anecdote from the sessions involved a recording being interrupted by random crab shuffling across the studio's wooden floor.[20] Angus Young's particular guitar sound was achieved in part by a wireless guitar device, the Schaffer-Vega Diversity System, a Ken Schaffer-design which provided a signal boost and was reissued as a separate guitar effect in 2014.[21][22]

Lange focused particular attention on Johnson's vocals, demanding perfection out of each take.[23] Near the end of the process, the band phoned manager Ian Jeffery in search of a bell to include on the album.[24] Jeffery located a foundry to produce the bell, but with seven weeks having already gone by, he suggested Platt record a nearby church's bells.[25] These recordings did not suffice due to the sound of a flurry of birds flying away at each bell hit. The foundry brought forward production on the bell, which turned out perfectly tuned, and it was recorded at Ronnie Lane's Mobile Studio.[25] Following the recording's completion, the group mixed Back in Black at Electric Lady Studios in New York City.[26]

According to Angus Young, the album's all-black cover was a "sign of mourning" for Scott. Atlantic Records disagreed with the cover, but accepted if the band put a grey outline around the AC/DC logo.[18]

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[27]
Blender 5/5 stars[28]
Robert Christgau B–[29]
Rolling Stone (1980) favourable[30]
Rolling Stone (2002) 4/5 stars[1]
Rolling Stone (2005) 5/5 stars[31]
Smash Hits 8/10[32]

Back in Black was released on 25 July 1980, less than half a year after Scott's death. AC/DC were nervous about the future, with Angus saying they were a "bit jittery" during recording.[33] However, the album proved to ease the band's worries, as it became their best selling, most popular and critically respected album. Not only did it go to no. 1 on the UK Albums Chart, its success meant AC/DC were the first band since The Beatles to have four albums in the British Top 100 simultaneously, as Highway to Hell, If You Want Blood You've Got It, and Let There Be Rock all re-entered the charts right after Back in Black was released.[34] In the US, the single "You Shook Me All Night Long"/"Have a Drink on Me" became AC/DC's first Top 40 hit in the country, peaking at no. 35.[34] The title track, along with "Hells Bells", "Shoot To Thrill", "You Shook Me All Night Long", and "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution" all became fan favorites and staples of the band's live performances. The other songs on Back in Black were largely ignored after the mid-1980s although "What Do You Do For Money Honey" was revived during the 2001 tour.

Legacy[edit]

A sample of AC/DC's "Back in Black" from Back in Black

Problems playing this file? See media help.

The album is featured on many "best of" lists. In 1989, it was ranked #26 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 Best Albums of the Eighties. The title track was ranked no. 190 on the same magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[35] In 2001, VH1 ranked Back in Black #82 on its list of the Top 100 Albums.[36] VH1 also placed the title track at #2 on its list of the 100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs. In 2003, the album was ranked #77 on Rolling Stone‍ '​s list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time".[37] In 2006, Q magazine placed the album at #9 in its list of the 40 Best Albums of the '80s.[38] It was listed at #2 in the book, 100 Best Australian Albums, in October 2010,[39] and included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die in 2005.[40]

Back in Black is also praised for its sound quality. In the years after its release, studios in Nashville, Tennessee (nicknamed "Music City") would use it to check the acoustics of a room, while Motörhead would use it to tune their sound system.[41]

American death metal group Six Feet Under recorded a cover of the entire album under the title Graveyard Classics 2.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Angus Young, Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Hells Bells"   5:10
2. "Shoot to Thrill"   5:17
3. "What Do You Do for Money Honey"   3:33
4. "Given the Dog a Bone"   3:30
5. "Let Me Put My Love Into You"   4:16
Side two
No. Title Length
1. "Back in Black"   4:14
2. "You Shook Me All Night Long"   3:30
3. "Have a Drink on Me"   3:57
4. "Shake a Leg"   4:06
5. "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution"   4:15
  • According to the official AC/DC website and most worldwide releases, track four is "Given the Dog a Bone".[42][43] On some albums, particularly Australian releases, it is sometimes shown as either "Givin' the Dog a Bone" or "Giving the Dog a Bone".[44]

Commercial performance[edit]

World wide, Back in Black is the second best-selling album of all time, behind only Michael Jackson's Thriller. Back in Black was very successful around the world, and despite never reaching no. 1 on the US Billboard 200, it received the 22x multi-platinum distinction, denoting 22 million albums sold. This currently places it sixth in the list of best-selling albums in the US (behind Thriller, Eagles' Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975), Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin IV, Pink Floyd's The Wall, and Billy Joel's Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II).[45] It is the best-selling hard rock album of all-time, and the best-selling album ever released by an Australian musical act. On 13 December 2007, the RIAA certified it 22x multi-platinum, recognizing sales of 22 million in the US,[46] making it the sixth-highest-selling album in the US (fourth-highest at the time).[45]

Back in Black stayed on the Billboard chart for 131 weeks, never reaching no. 1. However, it did reach no. 1 in Australia and the UK. In April 2010, it re-entered the Billboard charts at no. 181.

In 2014, Back in Black re entered the Billboard Charts at no. 73. As of 9 June 2014, Back In Black remains on the current Billboard 200 list, at no. 142.[47]

The album has also sold one million or more copies in Canada, Germany and France.[48] The album has sold 50 million copies worldwide.

Music videos[edit]

AC/DC recorded six music videos for the album which were recorded in Breda, in the Netherlands. The songs they used for the videos were "Back in Black", "Hells Bells", "What Do You Do for Money Honey", "You Shook Me All Night Long", "Let Me Put My Love Into You", and "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution", and were basic performance videos. Most of these remained officially unreleased until "Back in Black", "Hells Bells", "What Do You Do for Money Honey", and "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution", as well as the 1986 video for "You Shook Me All Night Long" which was filmed for the Who Made Who album, were released on the Family Jewels DVD. The original video for "You Shook Me All Night Long" was later released on the promo DVD Back in Black: The Videos and on the Backtracks box sets. One thing to note about both videos is the original 1980 video features drummer Phil Rudd, who appears on the actual track, while the 1986 video features Simon Wright who replaced Rudd in 1983. However, Rudd would return in 1994. This is not the first time Wright appeared in an AC/DC video for a track originally recorded with Rudd. Rudd appeared on Flick of the Switch (1983) while Wright appeared on the tour and videos for that album. "Let Me Put My Love Into You" still remains unreleased but can be viewed on YouTube. A video for "Shoot To Thrill", combining 2009 live footage of the group and scenes from Iron Man 2, was released in 2009.

DualDisc versions[edit]

Back in Black was included among a group of fifteen DualDisc releases that were test marketed in two cities in the US: Boston and Seattle. The DualDisc has the standard album on one side, and bonus material on the second side.

The DualDisc version was subsequently reissued in a commercial version that is somewhat different than the rare test market version.

Personnel[edit]

Production[edit]

Chart performance[edit]

Singles[edit]

Year Single Chart Peak position
1980 "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution" UK Singles Chart[81] 15
"You Shook Me All Night Long" US Billboard Hot 100[57] 35
UK Singles Chart[81] 38
1981 "Back in Black" US Billboard Hot 100[57] 37
US Billboard Top Tracks[57] 51

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Ma, Kai (6 June 2011). "Heavy Metal Under the Sea: Sharks Act Calmer When Listening to AC/DC". Time. Retrieved 5 June 2014. 
  3. ^ Sutcliffe, Phil (14 October 2010). AC/DC: High-Voltage Rock 'n' Roll: The Ultimate Illustrated History. Voyageur Press. 
  4. ^ McNamee, Gregory (24 August 2010). "AC/DC, "Back in Black" (Great Moments in Pop Music History)". Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 5 June 2014. 
  5. ^ Mierendorf, Mike (2 August 2012). "Cultural Impact: AC/DC – 'Back In Black'". Cultural Transmogrifier Magazine. Retrieved 8 August 2008. 
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  7. ^ Engleheart & Durieux 2008, p. 287.
  8. ^ Engleheart & Durieux 2008, p. 299.
  9. ^ Engleheart & Durieux 2008, p. 297.
  10. ^ Engleheart & Durieux 2008, p. 318.
  11. ^ Engleheart & Durieux 2008, p. 308.
  12. ^ Engleheart & Durieux 2008, p. 309.
  13. ^ Engleheart & Durieux 2008, p. 317–18.
  14. ^ Engleheart & Durieux 2008, p. 319–20.
  15. ^ Engleheart & Durieux 2008, p. 324.
  16. ^ Engleheart & Durieux 2008, p. 325.
  17. ^ Engleheart & Durieux 2008, p. 326.
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  19. ^ Engleheart & Durieux 2008, p. 327.
  20. ^ Engleheart & Durieux 2008, p. 330.
  21. ^ Molenda, Michael (June 2015). "The Schaffer Replica Pedal". Vintage Guitar: 124. 
  22. ^ Molenda, Michael (May 2015). "Solving the Mystery of Angus Young's Classic Back in Black Tone". Vintage Guitar: 50–51. 
  23. ^ Engleheart & Durieux 2008, p. 329.
  24. ^ Engleheart & Durieux 2008, p. 331.
  25. ^ a b Engleheart & Durieux 2008, p. 332.
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Bibliography[edit]

  • Engleheart, Murray; Durieux, Arnaud (2008). AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll. Harper Entertainment. ISBN 0-06-113391-4. 
Preceded by
Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police
Australian Kent Music Report number-one album
9 March 1981 (1 week)
Succeeded by
Greatest Hits by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show
Canadian RPM 50 Albums number-one album
21 February 1980 – 7 March 1980 (3 weeks)
Succeeded by
Double Fantasy by John Lennon
Preceded by
Deepest Purple: The Very Best of Deep Purple by Deep Purple
UK Albums Chart number-one album
9 August 1980 – 16 August 1980 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
Flesh and Blood by Roxy Music