40 Years Ago: AC/DC’s Back in Black is Released

On this day in 1980 AC/DC released their now classic album Back in Black. The album’s success comes at the end of an underdog story about a band who lost their singer only to return with a new one and reach all new heights of popularity.

AC/DC’s first singer Bon Scott died on February 19th, 1980, right when the band were first starting to gain success in the American market with their album Highway to Hell. With the blessing of Scott’s family the band decided to carry on with a new singer. Brian Johnson (who Bon praised at one time during his life when he saw Johnson’s previous band Geordie in concert) was the man they chose to replace Bon. The band decided to go with a completely different voice rather than electing to go with a singer with a similar voice to Scott.

Back in Black was recorded in April and May of 1980 with Highway to Hell producer Mutt Lange returning for his second album with the band. Johnson composed lyrics for several pieces of music that brother Angus and Malcolm Young were working on around the time of Bon’s death. The title track Back in Black’s riff was written on the tour for Highway to Hell, but eventually became a tribute to Bon Scott when Johnson wrote the lyrics after Bon’s death. The album’s all black cover was also used as a tribute to Scott, although Atlantic records was reluctant to do it at the time.

The album was a huge commercial success. It debuted at #1 in Britain and spent 5 months in the top 10 on the American charts. The debut single You Shook Me All Night Long became the band’s first song to hit the American top 40. The song was Johnson’s tribute to American women, written by a man who had never been to the United States. Hells Bells, Rock N’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution and Shoot to Thrill are all songs from the album that can still be heard on the radio on a constant basis.

Back in Black has now sold over 50 million copies worldwide. Some outlets claim the album has sold the second most units in history worldwide, second to only Michael Jackon’s Thriller. The album is one of the best examples of hard rock. Now is as good a time as ever to check it out if you haven’t. I know a lot of radio stations in my area are playing it in its entirety this weekend.