Australian rock band AC/DC released their seventh studio album, Back in Black. The album was released on 25 July 1980 by Albert Productions and Atlantic Records. Brian Johnson replaces the deceased Bon Scott as the band’s lead singer for the first time.
Johnson, Angus and Malcolm Young composed the album, which was recorded in the Bahamas in April and May 1980 with producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who worked on their previous album. After its completion, Back in Black was mixed by the group at New York’s Electric Lady Studios. Designed as a “sign of mourning” for Scott, the album’s cover is all black.
The international success of Back in Black, their sixth studio album, was unprecedented. The album is estimated to have sold 50 million copies worldwide, making it the second best-selling album in music history. After releasing the album, the band embarked on a world tour in support of it, cementing their position among the most popular music groups of the early 1980s.
As well as receiving positive critical reception upon release, the album has been listed numerous times among the “greatest” albums of all time. Several times since its release, the album has been reissued and remastered, most recently for digital distribution. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified it 25x Platinum on 9 December 2019.
AC/DC entered the international market with their fourth album, Let There Be Rock, in 1977. With their sixth single, Highway to Hell, they were poised for greater success. The record was produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who made the band’s sound more catchy and accessible. It was their first gold album in the United States, selling over 500,000 copies, and also reached the top 20 on the UK’s pop charts.
The group departed for the final tour dates of their breakthrough release as the new decade approached. Shortly after the initial recording was completed, a follow-up was to be conducted. In 1980, Scott went on a drinking binge in London that caused him to lose consciousness, so a friend let him sleep in the back of his Renault 5.
Scott was found unresponsive the next morning and was rushed to King’s College Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. According to the coroner, Scott’s death was caused by pulmonary aspiration of vomit, but the official cause of death is listed as “acute alcoholic poisoning” and “death by misadventure“. Scott’s ashes were interred at Fremantle Cemetery in Western Australia by his family. The band considered disbanding because of the loss. Fortunately, friends and family convinced them to stick together.
Lange advised the group to bring in Geordie singer Brian Johnson, who impressed the group. Johnson returned for a second rehearsal after the band grudgingly worked through the rest of the list of applicants. To the singer’s surprise, Malcolm Young called him on 29 March to offer him the job.
Recording and production
Bon Scott, who began his career as a drummer with The Spektors, recorded the drum tracks for “Let Me Put My Love Into You” and “Have a Drink on Me” as the band began writing new material for Highway to Hell.
Angus Young revealed to Paste in a 2021 interview that Scott’s contributions to the album were limited to playing drums on early demo versions of the songs “Hells Bells” and “Have a Drink on Me“.
Back in Black rehearsals were scheduled over three weeks at E-Zee Hire Studios in London, but were cut to one week when Compass Point Studios in Nassau, in the Bahamas, became available. While they preferred to record their next record in the UK, there were no studios available, and the Bahamas offered a tax advantage.
Back in Black was recorded at Compass Point in mid-April to May 1980 by producer “Mutt” Lange. Tropical storms had just hit the area upon their arrival, causing havoc on the studio’s electricity.
Johnson recalled that:
“It was hardly any kind of studio, we were in these little concrete cells, comfy mind, you had a bed and a chair. And this big old black lady ran the whole place. Oh, she was fearsome, she ruled that place with a rod of iron. We had to lock the doors at night because she’d warned us about these Haitians who’d come down at night and rob the place. So she bought us all these six-foot fishing spears to keep at the fucking door! It was a bit of a stretch from Newcastle, I can tell you.”
Additionally, their equipment was initially held up by customs, and other gear had to be gradually imported from the UK. Having never recorded with the group, Johnson felt pressured during the process. Despite Scott’s passing, the group decided not to use any of Scott’s writings for the album’s lyrics. “Hells Bells,” the opening line of Johnson’s song, referred to the bad weather as a factor in adjusting to the environment. Johnson’s vocals were Lange’s primary focus, demanding perfection from each take.
It was like, ‘Again, Brian, again – hold on, you sang that note too long so there’s no room for a breath’. He wouldn’t let anything go past him. He had this thing where he didn’t want people to listen to the album down the road and say there’s no way someone could sing that, they’ve dropped that in, even the breaths had to be in the right place. And you cannot knock a man for that, but he drove me nuts. I’d be sitting there going, ‘Arrggghh!’.— Brian Johnson
In the studio, there was a general feeling of optimism. However, Tony Platt was dismayed to find the studio’s rooms were not sonically compatible with the group’s sound, which was intended to be dry and compact. Anecdotally, a crab shuffling across the wooden floor of the studio interrupted a recording during the sessions. Angus Young’s guitar sound was largely influenced by a wireless guitar device, a Ken Schaffer design called the Schaffer–Vega diversity system, which provided a signal boost and was released as a separate effect in 2014.
A bell for the album was sought from manager Ian Jeffery at the end of the process. The foundry Jeffery located to produce the bell had already taken seven weeks to complete, so he suggested Platt record a nearby church’s bells instead. The recordings were not sufficient due to the sound of birds flying away each time the bell rang. Production of the bell was accelerated by the foundry, which turned out to be perfectly tuned, and it was recorded with Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studio. After recording was complete, Back in Black was mixed at Electric Lady Studios in New York City.
The all-black album cover was a “mourning sign” for Scott, according to Angus Young. While Atlantic Records disagreed with the cover, they agreed if the band outlined their logo in gray.
Darias “Back in Black”
For Scout, Daria’s all-black outfit servThe all-black outfit worn by Daria can serve as a good reminder to Scout. A great singer who sadly died far too young. “Back in Black” is a lovely tribute to this singer who sadly did not live to see this album. As much as I love the original, I love the cover as well.
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