Sex, mourning & rock&roll

By Tom MacIntosh

Released in July of 1980, AC/DC’s Back In Black is a hard-rock fossil that is bigger than a dinosaur as a place in rock history. By far the band’s trophy album, and is the 2nd best-selling album ever (behind Michael Jacksons Thriller)  with over 50 million copies sold, and reached #4 on Billboard 200. The record was recorded just 6 months after the death of their frontman Bon Scott due to an alcohol overdose, then replaced by Brian Johnson, and the result was stellar, not only for its hard-driving material, but the band’s inspirational determination to keep going.

Much of the record’s credit goes to Johnson whose brutal raspy scream gives the band their signature sound, coupled by brothers Angus and Malcolm Young on guitar, Phil Rudd on drums and Cliff Williams on bass.

The record opens with Hell’s Bells, a brooding bell tolls out a warning to be met by Angus’ ‘70 Gibson SG Custom, the rhythm section stomps in and Johnson wails away like a banshee extolling what hard rock dreams are made of, “I’ll give you black sensations up and down your spine/ If you’re into evil, you’re a friend of mine.” Along the same rock vein, track 2, Shoot to Thrill has Johnson screaming the virtues of virility, warning the lasses, “I’m the one who’s gonna make you burn., Rudd’s sexy drum beat and the Young brothers bluesy rock riffs make this song strut, and truly “pulls the trigger. Cut to track 4, Give The Dog a Bone, a rousing thumper that might be the most explicit song about oral sex ever written, “She’s blowing me crazy/till my ammunition is dry, relies on simplistic drums and bass behind classic rock guitar licks and a shredded solo by Angus that gives it that head-banging thrill. Let Me Put My Love In You is pretty well self-explanatory, with Johnson presenting his ’johnson(for translation- johnson another name for penis) as the hero of the song, another rockers fantasy that gets a bit creepy, “Don’t you struggle/Don’t you fight, but in the end seems to ask, “Let me put my love into you”. Angus’ pleading solo on this number is as tasty as ever.  

The record is proud, pomp, arrogant, and levels both barrels of mojo right between the legs, which remains true to the genre, to their needs, (sex, drink and drugs) and their massive fan base.

The title song Back In Black, is considered a tribute to Scott, and maybe one of the best title rock tracks of all time. A song that kicks ass from top to bottom, it leans into the hard, heavy throbbing bass beat and drums, then a peeling solo, and back on track to a climactic conclusion. It’s hard to think of a bar, arena, strip club, or stadium in the world that doesn’t have this on the shelf, ready to go. And the next track You Shook Me All Night Long, the band’s first top 40 hit, is another anthem to the rock & roll lifestyle of sex, drugs, conquest, “She was a fast machine/kept her motor clean..knockin’ me out with those American thighs/taking more than her share/ had me fighting for air/she told me to come but I was already there…”.Malcolm Young shines on his 1959 Gretsch White Falcon, and brother Angus rips another wicked solo for good measure.

Back In Black has been described as the best ‘one-night-stand’ record in rock history (Allmusic) and you can’t argue with that. It’s simply timeless, a record that keeps giving it 38 years later. It was also praised by Paul Elliott of Classic Rock as “...not just the best album AC/DC ever made, it’s the best album anybody has ever made.”