Back in Black

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Back in Black
ACDC Back in Black.png
Studio album by AC/DC
Released 25 July 1980 (1980-07-25)
Recorded April–May 1980
Studio Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas
Genre Hard rock, heavy metal, arena rock
Length 42:11
Label Albert/Atlantic
Producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange
AC/DC chronology
Highway to Hell
Back in Black
For Those About to Rock We Salute You
Singles from Back in Black
  1. "You Shook Me All Night Long"
    Released: 19 August 1980
  2. "Hells Bells"
    Released: 31 October 1980
  3. "Back in Black"
    Released: 21 December 1980
  4. "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution"
    Released: 15 March 1981

Back in Black is the seventh studio album by Australian rock band AC/DC. Produced by Robert John "Mutt" Lange, the album was released on 25 July 1980 via Albert Productions and Atlantic Records.

By the late 1970s, AC/DC began achieving significant popularity outside their native Australia, with high-energy live performances and a series of successful albums. Lead singer Bon Scott died in February 1980, after recording for Back in Black had already started. Instead of disbanding, the group decided to continue on with new vocalist Brian Johnson.

Back in Black was composed by Johnson, Angus and Malcolm Young, and recorded over seven weeks in the Bahamas from April to May 1980 with producer Lange, whom they had previously worked with on their international breakthrough hit album Highway to Hell. Following its completion, the group mixed Back in Black at Electric Lady Studios in New York City. The album's all-black cover was designed as a "sign of mourning" for Scott.

As their sixth international studio release, Back in Black was an unprecedented success. It has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide.[1][2][3][4] It is one of the best-selling albums in music history. The band supported the album with a yearlong world tour, cementing them among the most popular music acts of the early 1980s. The album also received positive critical reception during its initial release, and it has since been included on numerous lists of "greatest" albums. Since its original release, the album has been reissued and remastered multiple times, most recently for digital distribution.


Bon Scott, the band's former vocalist in December 1979.

By 1979, AC/DC were poised to receive a significant level of success with their sixth studio album, Highway to Hell. Robert John "Mutt" Lange produced the record, making the band's sound more catchy and accessible to international audiences, and it became their first platinum album in the United States, selling over one million copies, while also peaking at number 17 on that country's pop charts and number eight in the United Kingdom.[5] AC/DC, formed in 1973, first broke into international markets in 1977 with their fourth record, Let There Be Rock.[5]

As the new decade approached, the group set off for the UK and France for the final tour dates of their breakthrough release.[6] They planned to begin recording a follow-up shortly after its completion. On 19 February 1980, Scott went on a drinking binge in a London pub that caused him to lose consciousness, so a friend let him rest in the back of his Renault 5 overnight. The next morning, Scott was found unresponsive and rushed to King's College Hospital where medical personnel pronounced him dead on arrival. The coroner ruled that pulmonary aspiration of vomit was the cause of Scott's death, but the official cause was listed on the death certificate as "acute alcoholic poisoning" and classified as "death by misadventure". Scott was cremated and his ashes were interred by his family at Fremantle Cemetery in Fremantle, Western Australia.[7] The loss devastated the band, who considered breaking up. However, friends and family persuaded them to carry on.[8]

After Bon Scott's funeral, the band immediately began auditions for a replacement frontman. At the advice of Lange, the group brought in Geordie singer Brian Johnson, who impressed the group.[9] After the band begrudgingly worked through the rest of the list of applicants in the following days, Johnson returned for a second rehearsal.[10] On 29 March, Malcolm Young called the singer to offer him the job, to his surprise.[11]

Recording and production

Brian Johnson replaced Bon Scott as vocalist.

Rehearsals for Back in Black were scheduled over three weeks at London’s E-Zee Hire Studios, but it was cut to one week when an opening came up at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, in the Bahamas. Although they preferred to record their next effort in the UK, there were no studios available, and the Bahamas presented a nice tax advantage.[12]

Back in Black was recorded from mid-April to May 1980 at Compass Point with producer "Mutt" Lange. Upon their arrival, the area was being hit by several tropical storms, wreaking havoc on the studio's electricity. In addition, their equipment was initially held up by customs, and other gear was slowly freighted over from the UK.[13] Johnson felt pressure during the process, having never recorded with the group. None of Scott's writings were used for the album's lyrics, as the group felt it would seemingly profit from his passing. 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.").[14] Lange focused particular attention on Johnson's vocals, demanding perfection out of each take.[15]

Back in Black was recorded in Nassau, the capital of The Bahamas.

The general attitude in the studio was optimistic. Engineer Tony Platt was dismayed, however, to find the studio's rooms were not sonically complimentary to the group's sound, which was designed to be very dry and compact.[16] A humorous anecdote from the sessions involved a recording being interrupted by random crab shuffling across the studio's wooden floor.[17] Angus Young's particular guitar sound was achieved in part by a wireless guitar device, the Schaffer-Vega Diversity System, a Ken Schaffer design which provided a signal boost and was reissued as a separate guitar effect in 2014.[18][19]

Near the end of the process, the band phoned manager Ian Jeffery in search of a bell to include on the album.[20] Jeffery located a foundry to produce the bell, but with seven weeks having already gone by, he suggested Platt record a nearby church's bells. These recordings did not suffice due to the sound of a flurry of birds flying away at each bell hit. The foundry brought forward production on the bell, which turned out perfectly tuned, and it was recorded with Ronnie Lane's Mobile Studio.[21] Following the recording's completion, the group mixed Back in Black at Electric Lady Studios in New York City.[22]

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.[14]

Release and reception

Retrospective professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[23]
Blender 5/5 stars[24]
Christgau's Record Guide B−[25]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4/5 stars[26]
The Great Rock Discography 8/10[26]
Music Story 5/5 stars[26]
MusicHound Rock 5/5[26]
Rolling Stone 5/5 stars[27]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[28]
Spin Alternative Record Guide 8/10[26]

Back in Black was released on 25 July 1980, less than half a year after Scott's death. AC/DC were nervous about their future, with Angus saying they were a "bit jittery" during recording. It was nonetheless an immediate commercial success, debuting at number one on the British albums chart and reaching number four on the American chart—which Rolling Stone called "an exceptional showing for a heavy-metal album".[29] The album's 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.[30] 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 no. 35.[30] On 13 December 2007, the album was certified 22× multi-platinum by the RIAA, denoting 22 million American sales.[31] This placed it sixth in the list of best-selling albums in the US.[32] The album has also sold one million or more copies in Canada, Germany and France.[33] Worldwide, it went on to sell 50 million copies, leading NME journalist Mark Beaumont to call it "the biggest selling hard rock album ever made";[34] rock historian Brock Helander said it was possibly "the best-selling heavy-metal album in history".[35]

Reviewing for Rolling Stone in 1980, David Fricke regarded Back in Black as "not only the best of AC/DC's six American albums" but "the apex of heavy-metal art: the first LP since Led Zeppelin II that captures all the blood, sweat and arrogance of the genre."[36] Red Starr from Smash Hits was more critical, finding the songs indistinguishable from one another and marred by hypermasculine fantasies, rock music stock phrases, garish guitar, and dull rhythms, on "yet another triumph for lowest common denominator headbanging — the new thoroughly predictable, thoroughly dreadful AC/DC album." He gave the record a score of 3 out of 10.[37]

In a retrospective review, Rolling Stone critic Christian Hoard praised the album as the band's greatest work, possibly "the leanest and meanest record of all time — balls-out arena rock that punks could love."[27] Barry Walters from Rolling Stone said Back in Black "still sounds thoroughly timeless, the essence of unrepentantly simple but savagely crafted hard rock" and "a celebration of thrashing, animal sex", although he observed "mean-spirited sexism" on songs such as "What Do You Do for Money Honey" and "Given the Dog a Bone".[38] Robert Christgau was less enthusiastic, finding the band somewhat too "primitive" and their sexual imagery "unimaginative". "Angus Young does come up with killer riffs", he wrote in Christgau's Record Guide: The '80s (1990), "though not as consistently as a refined person like myself might hope, and lead singer Brian Johnson sings like there's a cattle prod at his scrotum, just the thing for fans who can't decide whether their newfound testosterone is agony or ecstasy."[25] Kitty Empire of The Observer acknowledged it was "a preposterous, drongoid record ... built on casual sexism, eye-rolling double entendres, a highly questionable attitude to sexual consent ('Don't you struggle/ Don't you fight/ Don't you worry/ Cos it's your turn tonight') a penchant for firearms, and a crass celebration of the unthinking macho hedonism that killed the band's original singer." Nonetheless, she concurred with Fricke's original view of the album as a heavy metal masterpiece while naming it her favourite album ever, "the obsessive soundtrack of my adolescence, the racy middle-brow thriller that spoke to me both as a tomboy who wanted to be one of the guys, and the increasingly female ingenue who needed to work out the world of men. Plus teenagers love death."[39]

The album is featured on many "best of" lists. In 1989, it was ranked No. 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.[40] In 2001, VH1 ranked Back in Black No. 82 on its list of the Top 100 Albums.[41] VH1 also placed the title track at No. 2 on its list of the 100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs. In 2003, the album was ranked No. 77 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time".[42] In 2006, Q magazine placed the album at No. 9 in its list of the 40 Best Albums of the '80s.[43] It was listed at No. 2 in the book, 100 Best Australian Albums, in October 2010,[44] and included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die in 2005.[45]

Legacy and influence

Back in Black is an influential hard rock and heavy metal album.[46] According to Tim Jonze of The Guardian, it has been hailed by some as "a high watermark" for heavy metal music.[47] NME regarded it as an important release in 1980s metal and heavy rock, naming it one of the 20 best metal albums of its decade,[48] while The Daily Telegraph ranked it as one of the 20 greatest heavy metal albums of all time.[49] Paul Brannigan of Metal Hammer cited it as one of the ten albums that helped reestablish the genre's global popularity in 1980, making it "the greatest year for heavy metal".[50]

According to rock journalist Joe S. Harrington, Back in Black was released at a time when heavy metal stood at a turning point between a decline and a revival, as most bands in the genre were playing slower tempos and longer guitar solos, while AC/DC and Van Halen adopted punk rock's "high-energy implications" and "constricted their songs into more pop-oriented blasts". Harrington credited producer Lange for drawing AC/DC further away from the blues-oriented rock of their previous albums, and toward a more dynamic attack that concentrated and harmonized each element of the band: "the guitars were compacted into a singular statement of rhythmic efficiency, the rhythm section provided the thunderhorse overdrive, and vocalist Johnson belowed and brayed like the most unhinged practitioner of bluesy top-man dynamics since vintage Robert Plant." The resulting music, along with contemporaneous records by Motörhead and Ozzy Osbourne, helped revitalize and reintroduce metal to a younger generation of listeners, "eventually resulting in the punk-metal crossover personified by Metallica and others."[51] In 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die (2008), Tom Moon said Back in Black's "lean mean arena rock" and the production's "delicate balance of power and finesse" defined the commercial side of heavy music for years after its release."[52]

Lange's production for the album had an enduring impact in the music industry; "to this day, producers still use it as the de facto paint-by-numbers guidebook for how a hard-rock record should sound", Harrington wrote.[51] In the years after its release, studios in Nashville would use it to check the acoustics of a room, while Motörhead would use it to tune their sound system.[53] American death metal group Six Feet Under recorded a cover of the entire album under the title Graveyard Classics 2.[54]

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. "Let Me Put My Love into You" remains officially unreleased. A video for "Shoot to Thrill", combining 2009 live footage of the group and scenes from Iron Man 2, was released in 2009.

DualDisc versions

Back in Black was included among a group of fifteen DualDisc releases that were test marketed in 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.

Track listing

All tracks written by Angus Young, Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Hells Bells" 5:10
2. "Shoot to Thrill" 5:17
3. "What Do You Do for Money Honey" 3:33
4. "Given the Dog a Bone" 3:30
5. "Let Me Put My Love into You" 4:16
Side two
No. Title Length
6. "Back in Black" 4:14
7. "You Shook Me All Night Long" 3:30
8. "Have a Drink on Me" 3:57
9. "Shake a Leg" 4:06
10. "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution" 4:15
Total length: 42:11
  • According to the official AC/DC website and most worldwide releases, track four is "Given the Dog a Bone".[55][56] On some albums, particularly Australian releases, it is sometimes shown as either "Givin' the Dog a Bone" or "Giving the Dog a Bone".[57][58]






Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Argentina (CAPIF)[80] Platinum 60,000^
Australia (ARIA)[81] 12× Platinum 840,000^
Austria (IFPI Austria)[82] Platinum 50,000*
Canada (Music Canada)[83] Diamond 1,000,000^
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[84] 2× Platinum 40,000^
France (SNEP)[85] 2× Platinum 1,394,900[33]
Germany (BVMI)[86] 2× Platinum 1,000,000^
Italy (FIMI)[87] 2× Platinum 200,000*
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[88] Gold 50,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[89] 2× Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[90] 2× Platinum 600,000^
United States (RIAA)[91] 22× Platinum 22,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

See also


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  • Engleheart, Murray; Durieux, Arnaud (2008). AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll. Harper Entertainment. ISBN 0-06-113391-4.

External links

  • Back in Black at Discogs (list of releases)
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