Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is ‘Back In Black by AC/DC.
Whenever a young aspiring rock music aficionado asks his guru, whoever that might be, which album should he begin his rock n’ roll journey with, there are only a handful of albums that can realistically be considered. AC/DC’s iconic ‘Back In Black’ satisfies all of the necessary criteria, mainly because it has etched its way into the popular imagination of rock n’ roll history.
Having spent most of the ‘70s unable to crack the American market, the hard rocking Aussie’s emerged with the classic ‘Highway to Hell’ record in 1979 which placed them firmly on the musical map. Led by larger-than-life frontman Bon Scott and propelled by a relentless energy, things were moving in the right direction, that is, until tragedy struck in 1980. Thus began an almost mythological epoch in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll history.
The loss of Bon Scott to acute alcohol poisoning in London would later become sort of a benchmark from which AC/DC’s work would be assessed, i.e. pre/post 1980. The crushing loss of such a charismatic frontman just as their popularity began to soar should have been enough to destroy the band forever. But because of a unified desire for catharsis the band pushed on with the writing sessions.
Once Brian Johnson came on board it was decided that the record that was to become ‘Back in Black’ would act as a tribute to the late Bon Scott. Powering through the devastating loss of their friend, the band channelled their grief into creating ten of the most highly regarded songs in rock music.
The young fan would press play on his stereo and be greeted by an ominous bell chime which slowly gives way to the opening riff of Hells Bells. He would then hear Johnson’s inaugural vocal performance, his tone having been described as the sound of a truck landing on the man’s foot (honestly, could they have chosen a more appropriate replacement for Scott?).
The opening track is representative of the album as a whole. Hardly content to write power ballads for their fallen comrade, the band paid tribute in the only way they felt suitable; balls to the wall rock ‘n’ roll. Lyrical content varies from too many housewives on Valium to some less subtle sexual innuendos including Given The Dog A Bone.
While “classic” is a word that can often be used indiscriminately, there are a handful of songs that will forever be justified by their presence on any list of the top rock songs of all time. Worthy of this accolade are Shoot To Thrill, You Shook Me All Night Long and the album’s namesake Back In Black. All framed by iconic guitar riffs, these songs will truly stand the test of time (just check out Iron Man’s de facto theme song in The Avengers film!)
‘Back In Black’ is in many ways the product of circumstance with a dash of inexplicable magic and myth. Realistically the band was already on their creative path but on another level the debilitating loss of Bon Scott could have very easily derailed the entire project. By all accounts, especially given the timeline (the album was released only five months after Scott’s death), ‘Back In Black’ should not have happened at all. But it did. And boy is the world glad the rock ‘n’ roll Gods saw fit to allow its inception.