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Back In Black
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Back in Black _________________________________________________


In the very early hours of October 5, 1980, somewhere between shows in Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, I lost fifty dollars playing poker with AC/DC on their tour bus.  For a freelance writer with no expense account, living on unemployment checks, that was a lot of money.  For AC/DC – drummer Phil Rudd, bassist Cliff Williams, singer Brian Johnson and founding guitarists and brothers, Angus and Malcolm Young – it was a drop in the pot.

Eight days later, on October 13th, AC/DC’s sixth U.S. album, Back In Black, was certified platinum; released that July, it was the band’s first American million-seller.  And in November, a single from the LP, the bulldozing love song “You Shook Me All Night Long,” peaked at Number 35 on Billboard’s ® Hot 100 chart, AC/DC’s first Top Forty score since they started banging their heads and guitars against these shores in 1976.  England, Europe and the group’s native Australia already knew that AC/DC – started by the Youngs in 1973 and dedicated to the fundamental joys of racing riffage, hot-sugar choruses and whiskey-soaked sexual innuendo – were Hard Rock in Excelsis, the baddest boogie machine in the business.

Back In Black made them the biggest too – in America, the final holdout, and everywhere else.  By 1984, Back In Black had sold five million copies in the U.S. alone.  Today, the tally stands at 19 million; Back In Black is officially one of the best selling rock albums of all time.  But in October, 1980, the triumph was still fresh.  On the night I lost my fifty dollars, 6100 AC/DC fans at the Milwaukee Auditorium set a house record for T-shirt and merchandise sales.  “They have this intense loyalty,” Johnson said of those fans the next day, over breakfast in Madison.  “The kids don’t want to just come.  They want to be part of it.  They want a T-shirt that says, ‘I like AC/DC, and I’ll fight anybody who says different.’”

In 1980, after nearly losing everything, AC/DC had won the war.

The story of this album begins with the end of a life.  On February 19, 1980, Bon Scott – AC/DC’s vocalist and lyricist since 1974; the spitting image of the band’s lewd loud bravado in his tattoos and stove-pipe blue jeans, dripping lust and menace from every crevice of his sandpaper bark – was found dead in London, in the back of a car where he had passed out the night before after a drinking spree.  Scott had choked on his own vomit in his sleep.  He was 33.

Scott was also the heart, as well as the howl, of AC/DC.  Like the Youngs, whose family emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland to Sydney, Australia in the early 1960s, Ronald Belford Scott was a native Scotsman (from the town of Kirriemuir) raised under Aussie skies, first in Melbourne then in the west coast city of Fremantle, near Perth.  He had already been a pop star in Australia – in the 1960s beat group the Valentines, then in the hippie-rock band Fraternity – before he first saw AC/DC perform in Adelaide in August 1974 with original singer Dave Evans.  By September, Scott was at the mike, magnetizing the women in the audience with his street-corner charisma while Malcolm piloted the rhythm section and Angus tore up the floorboards with his rabid-schoolboy antics.  It was the pe4rfect marriage of contrasts, and Scott’s death ended it just as the first classic lineup of AC/DC – with the Melbourne-born Rudd, who joined in January of ‘75, and Williams an Englishman who arrived in the summer of ‘77 – cracked the gold record ceiling in the U.S. with 1979’s Highway To Hell.

“I was sad for Bon,” Angus told me on the 1980 road trip.  “I didn’t even think about the band.  We’d been with Bon all that time; we’d seen more of him than his family did.”  But Angus and Malcolm, who were writing and rehearsing for a new album when Scott died, went right back to work.  “I thought, ‘Well, fuck this, I’m not gonna sit around mopin’ all fuckin’ year,’” Malcolm explained.  “So I just rang Angus and said, ‘Do you wanna come back and rehearse?’”  That was two days after Scott’s funeral in Fremantle on March 1st.  On April 8th, AC/DC announced that they had a new lead singer: Brian Johnson.

Johnson, a coalminer’s son from Newcastle, England who had been through a decade of labor and near-glory with the British band Geordie, not only had the pipes but, weirdly, Bon Scott’s seal of approval.  Scott once saw Johnson in concert with Geordie and came away very impressed.

For the Youngs, it was like a nod from the beyond.  “We knew if Bon liked him, he must be good,” Angus said, “because Bon didn’t like many people.”  Johnson was working on a British Leyland assembly line, roofing cars when he got the call.  He passed his audition, at AC/DC’s rehearsal space in London, by singing Ike and Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits” and “Whole Lotta Rosie,” a Bon Scott showcase from 1977’s Let There Be Rock.

In mid-April, AC/DC set up shop at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, although not without a good flash of warrior attitude.  When the band arrived at the airport in Nassau, a customs inspector seized Malcolm’s guitar.  “Malcolm pulled it off him,” Johnson recalled, “and went, ‘You fuckin’…’  Fortunately, somebody held him back.  We’d just come down to do the album, and he would’ve ended up in prison.”

The next six weeks were all business.  Producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who had done the honors on Highway To Hell and was on his way to becoming one of the most successful console doctors in the recording industry, already knew how to make panoramic thunder from the bone-hard simplicity of AC/DC’s sound.  “With AC/DC, you’d just have Malcolm Young’s guitar on one side and Angus’ on the other,” Lange told me in a 1987 interview.  But he noted, “I always thought the guys in AC/DC were masters of slow rock.  They could play in half-time and sound so much more powerful.”  AC/DC were basically a blues band playing with heavy metal might and R&B restraint, throwing vocal and guitar lightning over locked, mostly mid-tempo grooves.  With minimal overdubbing and an attention to raw detail, Lange achieved a clarity of attack that preserved the animal pow of AC/DC’s live shows when squeezed through car-radio speakers.

Back In Black was, and still is, a marvel of rock & roll synchronicity: a dynamic new lead singer; the finest fire in the Youngs’ riff library; the concentrated violence of Angus’ guitar breaks; production that is at once luminous and bludgeoning.

You don’t need the adjectives anymore.  Heavy Metal Nation knows these hits by heart: the opening clang and iron march of “Hell’s Bells”; the defiant title track; the dark, plain-spoken heat of “Let Me Put My Love Into You”; the gold-digger put down “What Do You Do For Money Honey”; and Johnson’s closing fuck you to AC/DC’s critics, “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution,” which ends with the rock-bottom equation, “Rock ‘n’ roll is just rock ‘n’ roll, yeah!”  AC/DC, on stage and on record, were about a pure exchange of energies between band and audience, a mutual giving and explosion.  “They know it would be so easy for those roles to be reversed,” Johnson said of the crowd after that Milwaukee show in 1980, “for Brian Johnson to be in that audience, for Malcolm Young to be in that audience and for those kids to be in Malcolm’s or my place.”

For a record that sounds best when your ears and speakers bleed, Back In Black is really a silent tribute to Bon Scott: an all black cover with raised tombstone-like lettering.  There is no dedication, no mention of his name.  But the Youngs’ determination to rock, no matter what, was the supreme salute.  “There’s been an audience waiting for an honest rock ‘n’ roll band to come along and lay it on ‘em,” Scott said to me, when I interviewed him for Circus magazine in December, 1978.  “There’s a lot of people coming out of the woodwork to see our kind of rock.”

Scott did not live to see the millions who joined the AC/DC Army after Back In Black, but he always knew they were coming.  The band just had to keep going.  As Angus put it to me on that 1980 tour, “I’m sure if it had been one of us, Bon would have done the same.”

David Fricke

New York City
January, 2003


1. HELL’S BELLS  (5:09)

2. SHOOT TO THRILL  (5:14)




6. BACK IN BLACK  (4:13)





All titles A. Young-M. Young-B. Johnson
All titles published by J. Albert & Son (USA) Inc. (ASCAP)


Produced By Robert John “Mutt” Lange

Engineered by Tony Platt
Assistant Engineers: Jack Newber, Benji Armbrister

Recorded at Compass Point Studios April-May 1980

Mixing Engineer: Brad Samuelsohn

Albert Productions

Originally Released as Atlantic 16018 on July 25, 1980

Thanks to Keith Evans and Plug Usher for their help in the studio and to the rest of the AC/DC road crew: Ian, Jake, Mike and Terry.  Thanks also to Benji.

Special thanks to Phil Carson and all the people at Atlantic Records and WEA International.

Digitally Remastered from the original master tapes by George Marino at Sterling Sound

Mastering Supervision: Mike Fraser and Al Quaglieri

Digital Assembly: UE Nastasi

Original Album Art Direction: Bob Defrin

Original Album Photography: Bob Ellis

Reissue Booklet Design: SMAY Vision

Photography: Paul Cox/London Features: digipak inside right panel;
Michael Putland/Retna: pages 2-5, 8, 9, 14-15 & booklet back cover;
Ross Halfin/Idols: pages 6-7, 13;
Frank Griffin: page 10 (bottom left);
Anastasia Pantsios: page 10 (top & bottom right);
Mike Kagan/Retna: page 11;
Chris Walter/Retna: page 12;
Photofest: digipak outer left panel;
All other digipak photos by Bob Ellis (from original LP)

Additional artifacts courtesy Albert Productions and Arnaud Durieux.

This CD takes advantage of ConnecteD technology and will work as a key to unlock exclusive bonus music, videos, photos and more at www.acdcrocks.com





© 1980, 2003 Leidseplein Presse B.V./ (P) 1980 Leidseplein Presse B.V./ Manufactured by Epic, A Division of Sony Music/ 550 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022-3211/ “Epic” Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off. Marca Registrada/ WARNING: All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.

EPIC EK 80207

This package consists of previously released material.

This compact disc was manufactured to meet critical quality standards.  If you believe the disc has a manufacturing defect, please call our Quality Management Department at 1-800-255-7514.  New Jersey residents should call 609-722-8224.
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