We celebrate an album that has become a supreme heavy rock classic and one of the biggest selling albums of all time.
Whilst we certainly will be getting to more obscure and less lauded albums as this new feature grows and grows there are certain albums that are too big to ignore, too gargantuan even such is the sheer weight of their presence in contemporary culture. Back In Black is one of them, and its particular presence in my life runs long and deep.
When I was about 10 years old I was going along happily enough with music I would hear on the radio or Top Of The Pops. I remember really liking Madness, and also having an inexplicable fondness for Welsh Elvis-alike Shakin’ Stevens. The most rocking thing on my radar were a rockabilly revival band called The Stray Cats who had just had a surprisingly massive hit with a thing called ‘Rock This Town’.
Then one day, via a childhood friend and neighbour who was about 2 or 3 years older than me, I discovered a sound which turned my head and indeed my life in w hole different direction. I’m not even sure which AC/DC record I heard first, and I would pretty quickly fall in love with the whole back catalogue, but I do know which album became my joint favourite (alongside live album If You Want Blood…).
So we surely all know the back story by know. After original lead-singer Bon Scott tragically died following a heavy drinking session AC/DC considered quitting until, after being urged by Scott’s parents to continue, they recruited former Geordie frontman Brian Johnson and almost immediately headed in to the studio.
The result was ten songs that combine to make a perfect whole, adding up to a masterclass in stripped down, no-frills, visceral rock and roll. From the tolling bell that introduces mighty opener ‘Hell’s Bells’ to the last notes of anthemic closer ‘Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’ the whole thing never lets up. Each song grabs you by the scruff of the neck and demands your attention. Songs like ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ and ‘Shoot To Thrill’ are perfectly weighted and executed, thrilling 4 minute bursts of that AC/DC sound, whilst the title track, which has one of the most famous intros in rock history as well as one of the most famous riffs, is pretty much the crystalisation of everything that is so perfect about what it is that AC/DC do.
And then of course there’s the staggering figures: Having sold an estimated 50 million copies since it’s release Back In Black sits second only to Michael Jackson’s Thriller in the all-time list. It has sold over 22 million copies in the US alone, making it the sixth-highest selling album there. It is the biggest-selling heavy metal or hard rock album ever, and the biggest selling by a group, all of which makes it also the biggest selling album ever by an Australian act.
Yep, it’s a monster. But there’s a very good reason for that. Some 35 years after it’s release it still kicks ass and still sounds like the perfect rock and roll record.