Hot off the Press

AC/DC | Back in Black

by Mark Allen
– Senior Columnist —

acdc back in blackHow do you know an album is a classic? When it still sounds as good thirty-five years after its release as it did the day it hit the streets. And make no mistake, Back in Black is a badass, bona fide classic. You can be nitpicky and point out that the album isn’t flawless if you must—and frankly, you would be correct—but anyone who claims Back in Black isn’t classic caliber deserves to have a guitar busted over their head.

This is lean, mean, red-blooded Rock ‘n’ Roll that saw the band come roaring back from the tragic death of their original singer right after they broke big with Highway to Hell. Sure, the album sounds like unbridled grief therapy, but it simultaneously sounds like a band with something to prove, a defiant, clenched-fist declaration that the Reaper may have kicked them in the nuts, but they refuse to fade quietly into the dark night of has-beens.

AC/DC fans will forever debate who was the superior vocalist—the original (Bon Scott) or the replacement (Brian Johnson)—but even folks who prefer Scott agree that you could not ask for a better replacement than Johnson. And there’s absolutely no denying that the band obtained the kind of commercial heights with Johnson at the helm (20 million copies sold) that they scarcely dared dream of with Scott. Seriously, this is probably the most successful vocalist replacement in rock history.

The songs themselves are so well known by now that it’s almost pointless to discuss them … but let’s do it anyway. Brothers Angus and Malcolm Young give a showcase on how guitarists should work in synchronicity, performing in gritty lockstep to inject the foundational riffs with crunch and punch, and with Johnson rasping about sex and booze, several jukebox favorites were born.

“You Shook Me All Night Long” is the go-to song when you want to get people shaking their stuff on a dance floor, the song’s insistent hooks impossible to resist. Same goes for the blistering title track; “Back in Black” is blessed with an instantly recognizable guitar riff and is guaranteed to make you bang your head. Brian Johnson pours on the sneering attitude and wails like a man with something to prove and the result is the very epitome of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Back in Black works on dual levels; first, it serves as a stellar “F*ck you, Grim Reaper” tribute to Bon Scott, but even when stripped of the tragic back story, it also works as a raucously explosive dose of gritty, testosteronic Hard Rock. Even if AC/DC’s next album (The Razor’s Edge) was technically superior, Back in Black is the album that defined their career. The band continues to release good music, but they have never topped this thirty-five year old classic. Because sometimes older is better.

Genre: Hard Rock, Rock

Brian Johnson (vocals)
Angus Young (lead guitar)
Malcolm Young (rhythm guitar)
Cliff Williams (bassist)
Phil Rudd (drums)

Track Listing
1. Hell’s Bells
2. Shoot to Thrill
3. What Do You Do For Money
4. Given the Dog a Bone
5. Let Me Put My Love Into You
6. Back in Black
7. You Shook Me All Night Long
8. Have a Drink on Me
9. Shake a Leg
10. Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution

Label: Atlantic Records