AC/DC released Back in Black — the album that would change their career and lives — 40 years ago on July 25th, 1980. It was their seventh studio album and first with singer Brian Johnson.
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.
“[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 Bon 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 Bon Scott.
“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.”
In addition to the title track, the album includes “Hells Bells,” “Shoot to Thrill” and “You Shook Me All Night Long.” It was embraced by a wide audience and would even go on to influence rap artists.
“Back in Black, when that came along there’d be Black guys coming up to you going, ‘Hey man, you guys are like us.’ You know, I mean there was so many people saying that. And then just after that a rap movement starts to emerge because of the way that it was sung, you know, because the jerkiness of it all, you know. And I think that’s how the rappers ended up grabbing it and they started doing their own stuff with it.”
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 two albums ahead of it are Eagles – Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 (38 million) and Eagles’ Hotel California (26 million).
“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.”