AC/DC: Back in Black – [Record 82]
Back in Black is an album by Australian hard rock band AC/DC. It is the seventh Australian and sixth internationally released studio album by the band.
Released on 21 July 1980, Back in Black was the first AC/DC album recorded without former lead singer Bon Scott, who died on 19 February at the age of 33, and was dedicated to him. The band considered disbanding following his death, but they ultimately decided to continue, with encouragement from Scott’s parents, and shortly thereafter hired Brian Johnson as their new lead singer and lyricist. Producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who had previously worked with AC/DC on Highway to Hell, was again brought in to produce. The album was recorded at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas, and Electric Lady Studios in New York, where the album was also mixed.
Back in Black was originally mastered by Bob Ludwig at Masterdisk, New York. It was remastered and re-released in 1994, then again as part of the Bonfire box set in 1997, and as part of the AC/DC Remasters series in 2003 by George Marino. In addition, a DualDisc version was released in 2004, featuring the album in enhanced LPCM Stereo format and the video documentary The Story of Back in Black.
As of June 2011, the album has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide, making it tied for second highest-selling album of all time, the highest-selling album by a band (together with Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon), 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, making it the sixth-highest-selling album in the US (fourth-highest at the time). “Back in Black” is the 77th album in the ranking “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” of the American magazine Rolling Stone.
1. Hells Bells.
2. Shoot to Thrill.
3. What Do You Do for Money Honey.
4. Given the Dog a Bone.
5. Let Me Put My Love Into You.
1. Back in Black.
2. You Shook Me All Night Long.
3. Have a Drink on Me.
4. Shake a Leg.
5. Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.
Overview: After the success of their previous album, Highway to Hell, Bon Scott and company began developing a new album. Some of the songwriting had been completed when he died unexpectedly from alcohol poisoning. When Brian Johnson became lead singer, AC/DC decided to finish the songwriting they had started under Scott, with the Young brothers composing the music and Johnson writing the lyrics. It contains some of their biggest hits, including “Hells Bells”, “Shoot to Thrill”, “You Shook Me All Night Long” and the title track “Back in Black”. The final song on the album, “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, reached no. 15 on the UK Singles Chart, the highest placing of any song on the album.
Back in Black was recorded at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas. It was not easy for AC/DC, as their equipment was initially held up by customs, and the island was overcome with tropical storms that wreaked havoc on the studio’s electricity. 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.”).
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.
Despite its massive commercial success, Back in Black did not reach the top of the US charts, peaking at no. 4 ; their next album, For Those About to Rock We Salute You, hit no. 1 in 1981, their first to do so. Back in Black, however, hit no. 1 on the UK charts.
“Let Me Put My Love Into You” was placed at no. 6 on the Parents Music Resource Center Filthy Fifteen list in 1985.
Reception: 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. However, the album proved to ease the band’s worries, as it became an instant success, and is their best-selling 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. 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 #35. Back in Black was also well received by critics, with Rolling Stone saying in its 1980 review of the album, “…the first LP since Led Zeppelin II that captures all the blood, sweat and arrogance of the [hard rock] genre.”
Legacy: 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. In 2001, VH1 ranked Back in Black #82 on its list of the Top 100 Albums. 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”. In 2006, Q magazine placed the album at #9 in its list of the 40 Best Albums of the ’80s. It was listed at #2 in the book, 100 Best Australian Albums, in October 2010, and included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die in 2005.
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.
American death metal group Six Feet Under recorded a cover of the entire album under the title Graveyard Classics 2.
Sales: 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, an especially unique distinction. 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).
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.
The album has also sold one million or more copies in Canada, Germany and France. The album has sold 50 million copies worldwide.
Music videos: 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.
DualDisc versions: 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.