Back in Black
|Back in Black|
|Studio album by|
|Released||25 July 1980|
|Studio||Compass Point, Nassau, Bahamas|
|Producer||Robert John "Mutt" Lange|
|Singles from Back in Black|
Back in Black is the seventh studio album by Australian rock band AC/DC. It was released on 25 July 1980 by Albert Productions and Atlantic Records. It is the band's first album to feature lead singer Brian Johnson, following the death of previous lead singer Bon Scott.
After the commercial breakthrough of their 1979 album Highway to Hell, AC/DC was planning to record a follow-up, but in February 1980, Scott died from alcohol poisoning after a drinking binge. Instead of disbanding, they decided to continue on and recruited Johnson, who was previously vocalist for Geordie.
The album was composed by Johnson, Angus and Malcolm Young, and recorded over seven weeks in the Bahamas from April to May 1980 with producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange, who had worked on their previous album. 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, and 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. On 9 December 2019, it was certified 25x Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
AC/DC, formed in 1973, first broke into international markets in 1977 with their fourth album, Let There Be Rock. By 1979, they were poised for greater success with their sixth, Highway to Hell. Robert John "Mutt" Lange produced the record, making the band's sound more catchy and accessible, and it became their first gold album in the United States, selling over 500,000 copies, while also peaking at number 17 on that country's pop charts and number eight in the United Kingdom.
As the new decade approached, the group set off for the UK and France for the final tour dates of their breakthrough release. 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. The loss devastated the band, who considered breaking up. However, friends and family persuaded them to carry on.
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. After the band begrudgingly worked through the rest of the list of applicants in the following days, Johnson returned for a second rehearsal. On 29 March, Malcolm Young called the singer to offer him the job, to his surprise.
Recording and production
As the band commenced writing new material for the followup to Highway to Hell, vocalist Bon Scott, who began his career as a drummer with The Spektors, recorded the drum tracks on demo recordings of "Let Me Put My Love Into You" and "Have a Drink on Me".
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.
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. Johnson recalled that: "It was hardly any kind of studio, we were in these little concrete cells, comfy mind, you had a bed and a chair. And this big old black lady ran the whole place. Oh, she was fearsome, she ruled that place with a rod of iron. We had to lock the doors at night because she'd warned us about these Haitians who'd come down at night and rob the place. So she bought us all these six-foot fishing spears to keep at the fucking door! It was a bit of a stretch from Newcastle, I can tell you." In addition, their equipment was initially held up by customs, and other gear was slowly freighted over from the UK. 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." Lange focused particular attention on Johnson's vocals, demanding perfection out of each take.
It was like, 'Again, Brian, again - hold on, you sang that note too long so there's no room for a breath'. He wouldn't let anything go past him. He had this thing where he didn't want people to listen to the album down the road and say there's no way someone could sing that, they've dropped that in, even the breaths had to be in the right place. And you cannot knock a man for that, but he drove me nuts. I'd be sitting there going, 'Arrggghh!'.
The general attitude in the studio was optimistic. Engineer Tony Platt was dismayed, however, to find the studio's rooms were not sonically complementary to the group's sound, which was designed to be very dry and compact. A humorous anecdote from the sessions involved a recording being interrupted by a crab shuffling across the studio's wooden floor. 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.
Near the end of the process, the band phoned manager Ian Jeffery in search of a bell to include on the album. 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. Following the recording's completion, the group mixed Back in Black at Electric Lady Studios in New York City.
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.
Release and promotion
Back in Black was first released in the United States on 25 July 1980. Its release in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe followed on 31 July, and on 11 August in Australia. It was 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". It topped the British chart for two weeks and remained in the top 10 of the American chart for more than five months. In Australia, it reached number two on the ARIA Charts.
After Back in Black was released, AC/DC's previous records Highway to Hell, If You Want Blood You've Got It, and Let There Be Rock all re-entered the British charts, which made them the first band since The Beatles to have four albums in the British Top 100 simultaneously. Back in Black's American success prompted Atlantic, the band's US record company, to release their 1976 Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap album for the first time in the US; in May 1981 it surpassed Back in Black on the US chart at number three.
To promote the album, music videos were filmed for the songs "You Shook Me All Night Long", "Hells Bells", the title track, "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution", "Let Me Put My Love Into You", and "What Do You Do for Money Honey". Only the first four were released as singles. 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.
On 13 December 2007, the album was certified 22× multi-platinum by the RIAA, denoting 22 million American sales. This placed it sixth in the list of best-selling albums in the US. The album has also sold one million or more copies in Canada, Germany and France. 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"; rock historian Brock Helander said it was possibly "the best-selling heavy-metal album in history".
|Christgau's Record Guide||B−|
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Great Rock Discography||8/10|
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|Spin Alternative Record Guide||8/10|
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." 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.
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." 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". 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."
As her favourite album, Kitty Empire of The Observer acknowledged Back in Black is "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."
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. In 2001, VH1 ranked Back in Black No. 82 on its list of the Top 100 Albums. 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", maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list. In 2006, Q placed the album at No. 9 in its list of the 40 Best Albums of the '80s. That same year, Back in Black was included by Time in its list of the 100 Greatest Albums of All Time. It was listed at No. 2 in the book, 100 Best Australian Albums, in October 2010, and included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die in 2005.
Legacy and influence
Back in Black is an influential hard rock and heavy metal album. According to Tim Jonze of The Guardian, it has been hailed by some as "a high watermark" for heavy metal music. 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, while The Daily Telegraph ranked it as one of the 20 greatest heavy metal albums of all time. 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".
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." 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."
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. 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. American death metal group Six Feet Under recorded a cover of the entire album under the title Graveyard Classics 2.
|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|
|1.||"Back in Black"||4:14|
|2.||"You Shook Me All Night Long"||3:30|
|3.||"Have a Drink on Me"||3:57|
|4.||"Shake a Leg"||4:06|
|5.||"Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution"||4:15|
- According to the official AC/DC website and most worldwide releases, track four is "Given the Dog a Bone". On some albums, particular Australian releases, and also in the iTunes Store, it is sometimes shown as either "Givin' the Dog a Bone" or "Giving the Dog a Bone".
- Brian Johnson – lead vocals
- Angus Young – lead guitar
- Malcolm Young – rhythm guitar, backing vocals
- Cliff Williams – bass guitar, backing vocals
- Phil Rudd – drums
- Robert John "Mutt" Lange – production
- Tony Platt – assistant engineering
- Benji Armbrister – assistant engineering
- Jack Newber – assistant engineering
- Brad Samuelsohn – mixing
- Bob Ludwig – mastering (original LP)
- Barry Diament – mastering (original CD releases)
- Ted Jensen – remastering (EMI/Atco reissue)
- George Marino – remastering (Epic reissue)
- Bob Defrin – art direction
- Robert Ellis – photography
|Argentina (CAPIF)||3× Platinum||180,000^|
|Australia (ARIA)||12× Platinum||840,000^|
|Austria (IFPI Austria)||Platinum||50,000*|
|Canada (Music Canada)||Diamond||1,000,000^|
|Denmark (IFPI Denmark)||2× Platinum||40,000|
|France (SNEP)||2× Platinum||1,394,900|
|Germany (BVMI)||2× Platinum||1,000,000^|
|Italy (FIMI)||2× Platinum||200,000*|
|New Zealand (RMNZ)||Platinum||15,000^|
|Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)||2× Platinum||100,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||2× Platinum||600,000|
|United States (RIAA)||25× Platinum||25,000,000|
*sales figures based on certification alone
- List of best-selling albums
- List of best-selling albums in Australia
- List of best-selling albums in France
- List of best-selling albums in the United States
- List of diamond-certified albums in Canada
- List of number-one albums in Australia during the 1980s
- List of Top 25 albums for 1980 in Australia
- List of Canadian number-one albums of 1981
- List of UK Albums Chart number ones of the 1980s
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