Iconic. Quintessential. Timeless. This series of articles is meant to be about albums and bands that encompass these three words. We’ve covered bands from Aerosmith to Pantera and Van Halen to Iron Maiden. However, there’s one band with one particular album that you can’t help but like. That band is AC/DC, and the album is 1980’s “Back in Black”.
“Back in Black” was the first album the band recorded after the untimely death of original frontman Bon Scott. Chosen to replace him was former Geordie singer, Brian Johnson. Along with guitarists Angus Young and Malcolm Young, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd, they blazed their way into rock and roll folklore with a legendary performance on this album.
The album opens with the iconic Hells Bells, which begins with the iconic ringing of a church bell. Fading into the simple main riff, the song develops into a wonderful mid-tempo rocker, which gets stuck in the head of the listener for days. Johnson’s unique vocal style flies above the driving guitar chords and gives the band a truly original dimension. Young’s guitar drives the band on and Rudd’s drumming is so simple, but provides the perfect foundation. A solid opening track if there ever was one.
Next up is probably the best track on the whole album: Shoot to Thrill. This song is possessed of a brilliant main riff and a stunning chorus. The way Johnson’s vocals play off the guitar riff is just sublime, and the chord progression in the chorus goes perfectly with his vocal pattern. The melody is there, but it is more about the rhythm of his voice here. The breakdown part in the middle is simply excellent and the way it builds the song back up to the big crescendo of the final chorus is incredible. AC/DC write incredibly simple, effective rock and roll songs. This is one of their best.
Following this is What do You do For The Money Honey?, a bluesy number with a staccato feel riff. The vocals are much more melodic here and it shows the bands influences off a lot more. The gang style backing vocals in the chorus offer a different dimension to the sound, as the backing from Malcolm Young and Cliff Williams is naturally a much lower tone that Johnson’s insane falsetto. This is a solid album track and keeps it going at a steady pace.
Up next is Given the Dog a Bone, another mid-tempo rocker. This song has a particularly good main riff which keeps rolling under the vocals. The call and response vocals during the chorus here are a really great effect; it may have been used a lot by countless bands over the year, but few can say that they use it so effectively.
Next we have Let Me Put My Love Into You – three guesses what the subject matter of this song is! Moving swiftly on, this song seems much heavier and toned down than previous songs. The way the rhythm guitar breaks up for a lead line in the pre-chorus part is sheer, unadulterated genius. Johnson’s vocals here strike a lower tone in parts, which is a welcome change. As utterly amazing as his falsetto is, it’s nice hearing a different tone and his vocal range fully expressed. This song also has a particularly good guitar solo, solidifying Angus Young’s reputation as one of the best guitarists of all time.
Following on is the title track Back in Black. The main riff here is one of the best riffs of all time, and it certainly blew this listener’s mind when it was first heard, aged eight! The vocals really have an old school blues style here in the rhythm they utilise and Johnson deserves serious credit for this. The whole band provide a platform for him and the fills in the main riff allow Angus to show some virtuosity that it associated so much with rock and metal. This is simply a perfect, legendary song.
Up next is You Shook Me All Night Long, another of the band’s iconic hits. This song’s tempo and drive really keep it stuck in the listener’s head. Rudd’s drumming keeps the whole album solid, however with the first part of the song just being guitar and bass it is even more evident. He is one of the most underrated drummers in the entire world, and deserves all the credit in the world for providing the platform to one of the most successful rock and roll bands of all time. Fact.
Storming on after Have a Drink on Me, another blues influenced number. The guitar seems to swing beautifully here, but the drum groove keeps it solid and driving. Every song here sounds like classic AC/DC, however it’s the little nuances in the songs that keep it different and fresh. Here, as mentioned, it’s the guitars. The feel really brings out their influences in classic blues. It’s a really nice surprise hearing that come out, as their music is just straight up rock mainly.
Following up is Shake a Leg, a much faster song, yet with the same signature AC/DC feel to it. This song brings to the fore the sound of the Rolling Stones, mixed with more metallic music, which is essentially what AC/DC are. The guitar solo in this song is simply outstanding, and Angus’ use of tapping and tremolo picking is excellent.
Closing the album is Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution. This song is a call to arms, and a real statement from the band. They’ve successfully written a song about what they all love, and that passion really comes across through the speakers. Call AC/DC a stereotype of a band, however they do what they do, and they do it so well.
In closing, this album is just an absolute classic. There isn’t a bad track on it, it is consistent and best of all it is catchy. However brilliant complicated riffs are, “Back in Black” proves there’s just no substitute for simplicity. Take note young musicians of today; you just might learn something.
FOR FANS OF: Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Airbourne