The ominous tolling of a bell opens what is arguably one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time. AC/DC’s Back in Black marked a turning point for the group after the untimely death of lead singer Bon Scott at the age of 33. After the band achieved success not only in their home country of Australia but around the world as well, Scott battled issues with alcohol and drugs, eventually succumbing in February of 1980. At the time, the remaining members of the group contemplated disbanding but decided to press on after urging from fans, family and friends.
In choosing Scott’s replacement, the band strove to find someone who would not just imitate Scott’s signature rasping wail, but who could integrate into the band as they refined their new sound. Brian Johnson fit the bill and stepped into Scott’s shoes as the group’s new front man. Johnson himself wrote the lyrics for this album, as the group felt that it would be sacrilege to Scott’s legend to use his lyrics after his tragic passing. Less than six months after Scott’s death, AC/DC released Back in Black, which would go on to become the band’s most successful album and the second best-selling album of all time.
Staying true to AC/DC’s sex, drugs, and rock and roll roots, Back in Black delivers songs centered around partying and the hard rock lifestyle. The album serves as AC/DC’s homage to Scott, with the album cover in solid black as a symbol of mourning their loss. Maintaining elements of the style that fans knew and loved, this album features AC/DC’s rousing two-lead guitar sound, delivering a hard rock style that rattles listeners to the core with its rollicking guitar riffs. There is just something about this heavy-hitting sound that makes you want to get up out of your seat, jump around and dance.
From the slow lead-in of the opening track, “Hells Bells,” the album references the group’s recent tragedy but does not dwell on it for too long. It moves on to use thinly-veiled sexual metaphors extolling the perks of rock and roll fame in “Givin’ the Dog a Bone” and “Let Me Put My Love into You.” The album progresses to deliver perennial party anthems “You Shook Me All Night Long” and the title track “Back in Black.” The stadium-shaking power chords, booming bass lines and aggressive drumming back up Johnson’s shrieking vocals, which pay tribute to Scott’s legacy while solidifying Johnson as the new lead singer.
AC/DC Back in Black: The meaning behind the album cover article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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