ARTIST OF THE MONTH: AC/DC
July 1, 2020
With the mightiest metal masterpiece of them all, ‘Back In Black’, celebrating its 40th birthday this month, AC/DC are our artists of the month for July.
As the 1970s came to a close, AC/DC were poised to become one of the most popular rock and roll acts around. Their signature brand of no-bull, good-time rock and roll had already galvanized audiences in their native Australia and across Europe, and their sixth album, 1979’s ‘Highway To Hell’, was gaining traction in America.
Indeed, the album became the band’s first to crack the US Top 100 by going Top 20, while British fans propelled it into the Top 10.
Then tragedy struck. Bon Scott, the group’s charismatic frontman, died after a night of drinking. Though the group considered hanging it up, Scott’s family and friends urged them to press on. Working with ‘Highway To Hell’ producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, the group brought in Geordie singer Brian Johnson after his successful audition in London’s celebrated Vanilla Studios revealed that his bluesy howl complemented Scott’s style while building on the band’s foundational sound. Having run through a version of ‘Nutbush City Limits’, a very early trial of ‘Back In Black’ confirmed that magic was indeed in the air.
Over seven weeks at Compass Point Studios in The Bahamas — raucous sessions beset by everything from severe storms to a crab scuttling into the studio — AC/DC and Lange honed a set of 10 unforgettable rock tracks, from the opening one-two punch of ‘Hells Bells’ and ‘Shoot To Thrill’ to the instantly memorable riffs of ‘Back In Black’ and ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.
Aimed squarely below the neck, this is music that rolls just as hard as it rocks. With Angus Young leading the charge on lead guitar, the solid groove of rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd was the band’s engine room that thrust the music forward. And over it was to new singer Brian Johnson, who ensured that ‘Back In Black’ was as much a celebration as it was a tribute to his fallen predecessor.
This was also evident in ‘Back In Black’s idiosyncratic and iconic artwork. With the band’s logo and album title embossed on an all-black cover, this was quite unlike anything that had been seen before. Consequently, it remains one of the most famous and recognizable album covers of all-time, spawning untold imitators.
Fans were thrilled by ‘Back In Black’, welcoming Johnson with open arms. No less an authority than Rolling Stone magazine hailed it as “the apex of heavy-metal art,” and the album topped the charts in Australia, the United Kingdom, France and Canada. It also became the group’s first of nine Top 10 albums in America, remaining a consistent seller with 413 weeks on the Billboard 200 (it still sits in the chart’s upper half as of June 2020).
And with nearly 30 million in certified sales around the world, it’s second only to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ as the best-selling album of all time.
Proof positive that, 40 years later, always bet on Black.
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