Review – Back in Black – ACDC

Back In Black was released on July 25, 1980. It has gone on to be second highest selling album of all-time. So let’s give it a spin.

Back In Black album cover
Back in Black album cover

Hells Bells

I’m a rolling thunder, pouring rain

I’m coming on like a hurricane

My lightning’s flashing across the sky

You’re only young, but you’re gonna die

After about 90 seconds of ominous bells and rumble drums and guitar, it’s a statement. The first words of Brian Johnson, the then new singer of ACDC, taking over a short time after the death of Bon Scott.

To be honest I’m too young to follow or care too much about Bon v Brian, but I’m old enough to remember this forty-year-old album. And while I’m much less of a rocker now than I was then, this, and its predecessor Highway to Hell, have stuck with me as masterpieces of the genre of hard rock.

Back In Black isn’t just the album they made after Highway to Hell though, it’s the mega-selling (second all-time to Michael Jackson’s Thriller) they made after Highway to Hell that pretty much invented the commercial hard rock come pop concoction that allowed people like Def Leppard and Bon Jovi to follow on with to their own riches.

But it’s an album that starts with this dark curtain-raiser. Not a typical ACDC song, nor a typical Mutt Lange song, the producer behind this and other big commercial rock records of the 80s. He was much more a man of ‘get to the refrain that they’ll think is the chorus and then hit them with the chorus as soon as you can man.’

It’s that Hells Bells doesn’t have a big chorus, just the build-up takes it’s time, and the whole solemn start of the thing seems to hit the right mood.

Shoot to Thrill

A far less subtle track, lyrics that appeal to any teenage fantasist

Shoot to thrill, play to kill
I got my gun at the ready, gonna fire at will, yeah

Let me guess, not really talking about a gun?

Still, the adrenaline is high in the song, we’ve got over tributes, and we’re quite sure that bon would agree with getting on with things. And that means have fun.

Like pretty much the whole album, what seems simple is actually a number of layers of sound, a basic beat but with guitars that weave in and out and never really a moment to breathe. I’d consider it a throw away track but a fun one.

What Do You Do for Money Honey

A song title that really doesn’t need an answer. I think this is rhetorical.

I suppose it’s hard to make a rock album without a prostitute song, but it lacks any subtlety, nor the exaggerated nonsense of previous efforts like Whole Lotta Rosie. A bit of plodder, probably the least entertaining one of the album.

Givin’ The Dog A Bone

Not a song for dog lovers.

Previously the penis was a gun, and now it’s bone. And they wonder what was the appeal to all those young guys?

Unlike the previous song though, there is more intensity here. The refrain of ‘she’s using her head again’ gives the impression that we’re not sure if Brian is looking forward to it or in a state of pain wishing she’d go away. But equally this is your classic Lange production nod. On most albums that line would be the chorus, it’s a catchy refrain, but nope, it’s followed by the real chorus the ‘givin’ the dog a bone’ line. The mastery of how to make instant rock-pop is on full display.

The constant guitar riff is simple, but insistent and carries the track.

Let Me Put My Love Into You Babe

This one almost seems like a ‘let’s stop and have a breather’ track. There’s nothing really too much wrong with it, but nothing that shines. After the intensity of the previous track, perhaps a good thing.

It does have mire of a bluesy feel, more a heritage song, looking back to what ACDC often were, rather than the pumped fun of the rock era they were part of creating.

Still, as with all tracks here, not much time is wasted getting from chorus to refrain to guitar riff, a quick verse, and off again.

Ready for side two!

Back In Black

Possibly the most riff of all riffs in rock, used again and again in popular culture. Allegedly the first thing Kurt Cobain learned to play. The Smoke on the Water of the slacker generation?

The song is a tribute to former singer Bon Scott and takes a positive attitude, ‘Forget the hearse, ’cause I’ll never die.’ Well still talking about him, so suppose not.

This is actually a fairly complex song. It has the quick brushed count in, the thumping riff, the passionate signing, a bit of guitar solo, a funky rhythm change for a few seconds, back to bang those guitars, a bit more screaming vocals, and let’s fade out.

Not a second wasted.

You Shook Me All Night Long

Did you want another classic riff? It’s so simple, basically just a bit of guitar and Brian singing until the first chorus. Less is more, and all that.

Another fine collection of sexual innuendo lyrics alongside the beautifully performed harmonies.

This has to be near the top of the ‘songs you can shout along to’ list.

Have A Drink On Me

For a band that lost a singer to an alcohol, a song that begins,

Whiskey, gin and brandy

With a glass, I’m pretty handy

I’m tryin’ to walk a straight line

On sour mash and cheap wine

And is called, ‘Have a Drink On me’ doesn’t seem in the best taste.

But just as earlier it wasn’t entirely clear if Brian was looking forward to getting a bit of head, here, the vocal fades away at times in a manner suggesting the offer of a drink is more a worry than a celebration.

Shake A Leg

There almost appears to be a social message in here trying to get out. Tale of a street fighting man, no less! It starts of a bit mean and moody, but Mutt Lange jumps in and says, it’s almost a minute and we haven’t had a sing a long chorus, so off we go, ‘shake a leg.’

This is a decent track, but for once I’d say the production style may have hurt it, there could have been a more adventurous song in here if allowed to breathe more.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution

ACDC have two songs that have become life affirming slogans for any rocker, ‘For Those About To Rock (We Salute You), and this.

I complained a bit about the production style on the last track, but this one builds correctly. A quiet intro, bang into a verse, rise to chorus, belt out the chorus. it may be a cliché now, but it’s sort of invented here.

Despite the title, we manage to get some smut in verse two, but no doubt to Brian’s relief, sex is turned down in favour of rock ‘n’ roll. Considering what he’s gone through earlier, I don’t think he’d have it in him to be honest.

Has there ever been an end of an album that is more of ‘we’ve done’ that the last thump of the drum here? It’s like they know they’ve done the best they could and won’t spoil it by hanging around a second more than they should.

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