AC/DC's 'Back In Black' turns 43: Why their first album without Bon Scott is so important

AC/DC / Gary Miller/GettyImages

Recording Back in Black was a big and brave step for AC/DC. Thankfully, it became a huge commercial and critical success. Back In Black was recorded relatively quickly between April and May of 1980 in Nassau, Bahamas, after 33-year-old lead singer Bon Scott died on February 19.

Scott died from alcoholic poisoning after binge drinking. It shocked the band, but they decided to continue. They threw themselves into recruiting Brian Johnson as lead singer and got down to recording their next album.

While a recording studio in the Bahamas sounds like a restful place to rebuild, all the stories of it being a basic concrete block rather than well equipped luxury, combined with several tropical storms and difficulties importing some of the band's equipment, indicate otherwise.

Their hugely successful Highway To Hell album from the following year set a high standard. With a new singer in place, along with the emotional upset of losing Scott, and the studio conditions, the pressure was undoubtedly on.

Back in Black emerged quickly from those Nassau studio sessions after being mixed at Electric Lady Studios, New York. They released their sixth international album on July 25, 1980.

'Black In Black' 

Side A

"Hells Bells"

"Shoot to Thrill"

"What Do You Do for Money Honey"

"Given the Dog a Bone"

"Let Me Put My Love into You”

Side B

"Back in Black"

"You Shook Me All Night Long"

"Have a Drink on Me"

"Shake a Leg"

"Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution"

AC/DC's 'Back in Black' was a huge hit

The band needn’t have worried; Back In Black did well. Over 50 million copies were sold worldwide and it achieved 25 times platinum status in 2019. The album was a commercial and critical success. Rolling Stone magazine gave the album a very positive review.

"“Scott’s untimely demise seems to have lit a roaring fire under this Australian band. Back In Black is not only the best of AC/DC’s six American albums, it’s the apex of heavy-metal art: the first LP since Led Zeppelin II that captures all the blood, sweat and arrogance of the genre. In other words, Back in Black kicks like a mutha.”"

David Fricke, Rolling Stone magazine

While there was plenty of recognition for the amazing guitar playing of the Young brothers and the other musicians in the band, Rolling Stone laid much of the success down to Johnson’s vocals. Many saw him as a great fit. Johnson also shared equal credit for writing the songs on the album alongside brothers Angus and Malcolm Young.

Scott wasn’t forgotten. Angus Young explained that the all-black album cover was a sign of mourning for the deceased singer. He admitted that Atlantic Records were less keen on that but relented with the addition of the grey outline around the band's logo. 

AC/DC continues to play around the world, and Back In Black regularly features in best album lists. It was certainly a potential sliding doors moment when they decided to continue as a band and appoint Johnston on vocals. Two very good decisions indeed.

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