100 Best Albums of the Eighties
AC/DC, 'Back in Black'
When AC/DC entered the studio in 1980 to cut Back in Black, its sixth American album, the band was nervous and uncertain about the future. Its longtime lead singer, the notorious Bon Scott, had choked to death in February following a drinking binge. The band members found a replacement in Brian Johnson, but they were still "a bit jittery," according to guitarist Angus Young. The gravel-voiced Johnson immediately clicked with the rest of AC/DC, and Back in Black surpassed all expectations, becoming one of the milestone hard-rock albums of the decade.
From the ominous tolling that opened "Hells Bells" to a closing blast of defiance titled "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution," the ten songs on Back in Black rock out with brute force and raunchy humor. "Let Me Put My Love Into You" and "You Shook Me All Night Long" may seem blasphemous to some, but AC/DC's lascivious frankness was part of a tradition passed down to rock from the blues. Besides, the down-under rockers were only writing about what they'd seen and heard on the road. Angus Young, who formed AC/DC in 1973 at the age of fourteen with older brother Malcolm, got an eyeful at an early age. "We were in Australia, which at that time was still a bit outback," says Young. "It was just a way of life, a way of talking, and that's how we communicated with the audience."
Angus picked up pointers about the guitar from his brother George, a member of the Easy Beats (of "Friday on My Mind" fame), and got the novel idea of performing in a schoolboy's uniform — blazer, short pants and beanie — from his sister Margaret, who for years had watched him run in the house, grab his guitar and run out the door without bothering to change clothes. "At first I thought, 'This is stupid,'" Young recalls. "But the moment I put it on, it was like Clark Kent and Superman. The suit gave me confidence: I could be another person and go, 'Well, it's not me,' you know?"
Back in Black came at a time when the band, through constant touring, had carved out a sizable audience. An instant success, the album entered the British charts at Number One and climbed to Number Four in the States — an exceptional showing for a heavy-metal album — and ultimately went on to sell 5 million copies worldwide. The members of AC/DC saluted Scott, their fallen comrade, by using black in the title and on the album jacket. "We didn't want to put in memory of, because Bon wasn't that sort of person," says Young. His loss inspired AC/DC to rock harder than ever — and to party somewhat more temperately. "I think we calmed down a bit," says Young. "But if there's a party, we can still put on a good show."