Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published July 21st 2020
40 years on and it's still brilliant
Following my recent column about the classic Cold Chisel album East, it came to my attention that this was not the only magnificent album released in 1980 forty years ago (as I write this)! In July of 1980, an album that is one of the best-selling albums of all time was released by an Australian band that people thought were done and gone.
What album? Back In Black by AC/DC (1980).
AC/DC were in an unenviable situation. Their iconic and charismatic lead singer Bon Scott had died in February 1980 and fans the world over were not sure what was going to happen. After getting the blessing of Bon Scott's father, the Young brothers Malcolm and Angus searched for a new singer. They found one very quickly in Brian Johnson from the UK. And suddenly this album was released.
Just like that. Written, recorded, mixed and released faster than some bands take to put down one song. And, the results were incredible.
There is a reason this is one of the best-selling albums of all time, and the best-selling hard rock/heavy metal album ever (genre definitions confuse me sometimes).
Let's look at the album!
'Hell's Bells' We open with the tolling of a bell. And then the slow build-up to the roar that is the chorus. Deep and dark and foreboding, and quite the opening track. 5 minutes that set out their intent this is a heavy album, get ready to rock. And still, a song used in their live set to this day. Sometimes with whopping huge bell ringing out as well. This is a classic AC/DC song.
'Shoot To Thrill' We up the ante in speed a little, bringing the guitars to the fore for the second track. This is a much under-appreciated track, as I really enjoy this one. Johnson's vocals are great, the simple drumming pattern is really effective and Angus' guitar is just superb. Great one-two punch to open the album.
'What Do You Do For Money Honey' If this had appeared on the album of any other band, it would have been a home run, but here Yeah, it's there. It is far from bad, and it has a strong tempo and decent tune to it, rising it above the norm,
'Given The Dog A Bone' My cassette version calls it 'Givin' The Dog ', my CD calls it 'Given The Dog '; I don't know. This track is okay, but does feel a little bit like album filler. Having said that, the opening vocal "Ooh, yeah!", the guitar form and the drum pattern seems to have set the template for much of the poodle rock to follow (not as powerfully) later on in the decade.
'Let Me Put My Love Into You' Yeah, subtlety has never been one of AC/DC's strong points. This track closes out side one with a song that is not full-bore, having a decent groove and strong guitar without going into OTT flashiness. A fan favourite, but a different sound to much of the rest of the album, which is always something good.
Unusually for any album, Back In Black is back-ended with the greatest songs. Most albums start with a bang and peter out; this album starts with a decent rocking sense, and then explodes.
'Back In Black' The title track opening side two is a statement of intent. AC/DC, despite the loss of Scott, were back (not that they ever really left) and they were going to rock the place. This track still stands as one of the best title tracks of a rock album. Following on from the last song on side one, it does not go in for anything over the top, but settles into itself nicely and stays there.
'You Shook Me All Night Long' This was the single from the album that just exploded. You could not escape it in the early 80s. It was everywhere and it really introduced a lot of people to hard rock. Going back and listening to earlier AC/DC albums, it does come across as a little more polished, but compared to the anodyne rock of the early 2000s and even today, it is powerful rock and roll and it gets you going. This was the first AC/DC song I ever heard, on one of those K-Tel collections (1980 The Summer for those playing at home), and by the end of 1981, I'd found a friend with a copy of the whole album and made a copy of it before buying my own sometime later. This song is where it started for me.
'Have A Drink On Me' Yeah, not real sure about this track. The music is great with some decent guitar riffs, and Johnson's voice is in fine form, but the lyrics It's about drinking to get drunk. But Bon Scott had died less than six months earlier after an alcohol binge. Sure, it might just be a song, but I still cringe a little at it. Having said that, without the context I now have, when I was a teenager I loved this song, so this is my adult brain talking.
'Shake A Leg' Again, not a terrible song, but on this album it is filler. Decent enough, and would fit in so well on a lot of later 1980s rock album by lesser bands. But here, not so much.
'Rock And Roll Ain't Noise Pollution' And we finish with a track I consider one of the best closing songs of a rock album, and for years this was my favourite AC/DC song. The feedback I received in Twitter shows a number of people disagree with me, but that's fine, we all have opinions, and my opinion is this album finishes with an absolute corker of a track.
So, there we have it. Forty years on, one of the best albums of all time, according to sales. Is it perfect? No. Does it rock? Yes. Did AC/DC manage to show that there was life after Bon Scott? undoubtedly.
This is a truly great rock album, and if you haven't heard it, it is well worth tracking down. Truly great album.