AC/DC released Back in Black — the album that would change their career and lives — 40 years ago tomorrow.
It was their seventh studio album and first with singer Brian Johnson, who replaced Bon Scott following his death from alcohol poisoning after a drinking binge five months earlier, on February 19th, 1980.
AC/DC had made a big dent in America with their previous album, 1979’s Highway to Hell, and some of the ideas for songs on Back in Black came together on the Highway to Hell tour.
Here’s Angus Young on the early stages of songs that would make it onto Back in Black.
“[My brother] Malcolm [Young] had a couple of ideas, you know, especially the ‘Back in Black’ riff, the title track. And I’d been fiddling around with little bits of ‘You Shook Me [All Night Long]’. So, you know, there was a few of the ideas that we had in place. So, it had sort of started, you know, the inspirational state, especially ‘Back in Black,’ I mean Malcolm had these riffs he said he couldn’t get out of his head so he had them on tape. He played them to me and he said, ‘What do you think?’ And I thought, ‘Hey, they’re great.'”
Right after Scott’s death, they considered hanging it up, but were convinced not to by family and friends — and wasted no time in holding auditions. Johnson, who used to front the band Geordie, won out and the band went into the studio in Nassau in The Bahamas in April and May with producer Mutt Lange, who produced Highway to Hell.
Though some of the musical ideas were born while Scott was alive, the band opted for fresh lyrics. And the album’s title track and cover are in tribute to Scott.
Here is Angus Young on the title “Back in Black.”
“That was our way of saluting Bon’s thing. We didn’t want to drudge out a tragedy, so we figured that was the best tribute we could do. So we made it black as the mark of respect when somebody passes away. That was the idea of it. There was a lot of people, actually, at the time, when we first said what we wanted, y’know, they were all saying, ‘You can’t do that. People don’t like that. Black, it’s negative thing.’ But for us it meant something and that’s what we stuck by.”
Back in Black went to number-four on the Billboard chart and is the fourth biggest-selling album in the U.S. with 25 million copies sold. Worldwide, that number exceeds 50 million. The three albums ahead of it are Eagles – Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 (38 million), Michael Jackson‘s Thriller (33 million) and Eagles’ Hotel California (26 million).
here is Brian Johnson on accepting the Diamond Award from the Recording Industry Association of America for AC/DC’s Back in Black.
“The funny thing was we got the award and as I walked off this guy took it back off us and said, ‘We only got one.’ I said, ‘You cheap git.’ They got a sample one they said. Elton John was getting one next and he didn’t have one. So they gave it to him and when he come off they took it off him and give it to Billy Joel. Can you imagine having an award show with one award. Those cheap bums.”