Celebrating 40 Years Of Back In Black
The dawn of the 1980’s was the make or break moment for the world of heavy metal and hard rock; something needed to change and the future of this relatively new genre was uncertain. Thankfully, in a year which gave us Blizzard Of Oz, Ace of Spades & British Steel, things were looking up. But there was one band and one album which gave rock its indelible stamp in the music history books; AC/DC’s Back In Black.
The loss of Bon Scott
1980 was, not only a pivotal time for the permenance of rock & roll as we know it but, for AC/DC, it was a musical crossroads; having lost their beloved frontman Bon Scott at the tender age of 33. With 5 studio releases to their name and, with rock fandom still reeling from the success of the 1979 release Highway To Hell; both the band and fans feared that AC/DC had taken a blow to their sound and identity from which they may never recover. It was Bon Scott’s father who urged the band to swiftly get back in action and it seemed, Bon had already laid the groundwork for his replacement in the event of his departure.
Brian Johnson’s arrival
Prior to his death, on a visit to Newcastle (North East England), Bon Scott had been struck by the vocal talents of the lead singer from local glam rock outfit Geordie. Returning to London, he ensured that his band mates heard all about the lesser known vocalist Brian Johnson. It proved to be a turn of fate to which the band would owe their continued success.
Unfortunately, a reluctant Brian Johnson felt prematurely jaded by the music business and, in his own words, didn’t want to attend the London audition as Bon’s replacement, because the travel costs were too expensive!
Rock & Roll vacuum cleaners
It is a little known fact that the seminal Back In Black album actual owes it’s creation to the release of Hoover’s new compact upright vacuum cleaner! Hoover wanted to launch the model with a sexy, rock n roll campaign and enlisted Brian to sing the vocals on their advert’s hard rocking jingle; placing Brian (all expenses paid) in London for a chance meeting with AC/DC.
The eye of the storm
The musical chemistry was instant and weeks later the new line up flew to The Bahamas to begin recording Back In Black at Compass Studios on the island of Nassau. Many of the tracks needed for a full record remained unwritten and, following the initial recording of the album’s title track, Brian hit upon a bout of writer’s block. As if, in answer to his quandary, the island was suddenly struck by a series of violent tropical storms. This both changed the energy of the band’s performance and writing style; surrounded by intense and threatening weather conditions gave rise to tracks such as ‘Hells Bells’; you can hear the storm’s palpable energy within the song’s lyrics and performance.
Setting the tone for the future of rock guitar
Back In Black also saw a new level of sophistication in Angus Young’s playing and dynamics; his riffs and phrasing becoming a response to the new injection of Brian Johnson’s vocal style. From a guitar tone perspective, this also set the bench mark for the ultimate rock guitar sound; achieved by driving 50w & 100w Marshall heads to absolute breaking point, generating that pure, organic sag and compression now associated with our idea of a perfect stadium rock guitar sound - no effects (save some, almost indiscernible, post production delay on the solos), just humbuckers through tube amps dimed to the max!
Back In Black went on to reach No.1 in the UK and spent 131 weeks in the US charts. The band insisted on a fully black album sleeve and artwork, despite protests from the record company. Their intention was to present Back In Black as a full and honest tribute to the life and musical contribution of their recently departed friend and band mate Bon Scott.