On This Date in 1955: Angus Young, guitarist of Australian heavy-metal band AC/DC,…
- Posted on Jul 22nd 2010 3:30PM by James Sullivan
Clayton Call, Redferns
But wallowing in self-pity was not an option for the surviving members of a band that, from the start, gave itself over to 'Rock 'n' Roll Damnation," envisioned itself on a 'Highway to Hell' and taunted mortality by toying with 'High Voltage' and 'T.N.T.' Within a month or so of Scott's death, the remaining bandmates – guitarist brothers Angus and Malcolm Young (whose older sibling was a member of Australia's answer to the Beatles, the Easybeats), drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Cliff Williams – were auditioning replacement singers.
Days later, they were landing in the Bahamas with British rocker Brian Johnson, a council-housing banshee in the Robert Plant mold who'd lately been working on an assembly line, to record tracks for their seventh album.
'Back in Black' was released 30 years ago this July 25, less than half a year after the 33-year-old Scott's death. It wasn't exactly a monster straight out of the box: Two songs, 'You Shook Me All Night Long' and the title track, eventually nudged into the lower reaches of the US Top 40 (the first two AC/DC singles to do so); the former also barely made the UK Top 40. The album itself would creep as high as No. 4 US, though it topped the chart in Canada and Britain.
But 'Back in Black' kept selling steadily, even after the band released its followup, the pile-driving 'For Those About to Rock We Salute You,' in 1981. The album that looked like a tombstone ("It's like, how much more black could this be?" as Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel would soon ask. "And the answer is none. None more black") refused to die. It sold while the band trudged through a fallow period in the late 1980s; it continued to sell throughout the grunge era of the early '90s; it was still selling briskly when Johnson became the first band member to hit the age of 60, three years ago.
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Today, sales of 'Back in Black' sit just shy of the 50 million mark worldwide (with 22 million sold in the US alone), making it the second-biggest-selling album of all time, behind only Michael Jackson's 'Thriller.' No Beatles album ever sold nearly as many copies. Neither has Pink Floyd's ubiquitous 'The Dark Side of the Moon' nor the Eagles' 'Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975.'
The staggering success of 'Back in Black' has afforded the unassuming members of AC/DC the kind of industry leverage attained by only a select group of megastars. The band is one of the few remaining holdouts yet to make its music available on iTunes. When the Beastie Boys requested permission to include their early song 'Rock Hard,' which sampled 'Back in Black,' on a compilation, AC/DC just said no.
Like the plain black cover, the key to the album's blockbuster status lies in its simplicity, which gives it meaning to all sorts of music fans. When AC/DC first started gaining notice in the mid-'70s, the British press lumped the band with the punk movement. Pop-metal superstars such as Def Leppard (who hired 'Back in Black''s producer, Robert John "Mutt" Lange," whose first specialty was pub rock) owe the band an enormous debt.
Today's cow-patty-kickin' country performers more likely grew up on AC/DC than Waylon Jennings. Songs from 'Back in Black' have been covered by acts ranging from Muse and Shakira to Shania Twain (who married Mutt Lange). Forget the labels: 'Back in Black,' like the band itself, is just pure, untempered rock 'n' roll – timelessly so.
Oddly, Bon Scott once caught a set by Geordie, Brian Johnson's glam-y British band, and pronounced himself impressed. "We knew if Bon liked him, he must be good," recalled Angus, "because Bon didn't like many people."
As if to dance a jig on Scott's grave – "I'm sure if it had been one of us, Bon would have done the same," Angus Young told Rolling Stone's David Fricke in 1980 -- the songs on 'Back in Black,' reportedly begun while the frontman was still alive, are all credited to the Young brothers and Johnson. The new singer, who'd once stretched his pipes on songs from the musical 'Hair,' auditioned for the band with covers of 'Whole Lotta Rosie' and Ike and Tina Turner's 'Nutbush City Limits.' Within a matter of months, he was on his way to a lifetime of ringing 'Hell's Bells.'
"We just want to make the walls cave in and the ceiling collapse," Bon Scott once said. On their biggest album, the band that carried on without him demolished the whole temple.