In the summer of 1993 I had bought my first copy of AC/DC’s Back in Black on cassette from Sam The Record Man in the New Sudbury Shopping Centre. I was 16 years old, the album was already 13 years old, and I believe the asking price was $8.99.
It wasn’t my first AC/DC album (That honour will forever belong to Who Made Who), but it quickly became (and still is) my favourite album of all time. Most fans I know have tired of Back in Black’s overplayed tracks and lean toward the deeper cuts on Powerage or perhaps Let There Be Rock as their favs, but fatigue never set in for me. Even as I write this post I threw it on the turntable and did a little Angus dance when ‘What Do You Do For Money Honey’ came on.
I find it difficult to describe why I enjoy Back in Black so much, which why my mission to review all things AC/DC hit a wall. I’ve started and stalled this review several times as I tried to attack it from different angles, but none felt right. I even attempted to do a mock review where I’d make the case that the album never existed; a satirical take on the conspiracy that former lead singer Bon Scott wrote many of it tunes while Brian Johnson got the credit. I couldn’t make it work though and I am somewhat tired of the topic after already covering it at length.
Perhaps I can speak about the criticism AC/DC receives for all of their tunes sounding alike. A notion that has never been the case for me, and I can’t explain why. I sort of do hear it on the straight up 4/4 rockers like ‘What do you Do For Money Honey‘ and ‘Given’ The Dog A Bone‘. Both have a similar vibe with lyrics that would earn them an F- from the #MeToo movement.
But there is the slow metal tune, ‘Hells Bells‘. The bright, pop of ‘You Shook Me All Night Long‘ and the blues shuffle of ‘Rock ‘N Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution‘. ‘Let Me Put My Love Into You Babe‘ has that Muddy Waters Chicago blues vibe. I listen to ‘Shoot To Thrill‘ and ‘Have A Drink On Me‘ and hear two different songs.
I was in college when Ballbreaker was released, and one of my roommates attempted to show me how its latest single ‘Hard As A Rock’ sounded exactly like their The Razor’s Edge hit ‘Thunderstruck’. No matter how many times we played both tracks and he banged away to the rhythm of both tunes on his thigh, I remained lost as to how. It’s my hang up I suppose since more people tell me all of their tracks sound alike than don’t.
And how about the number of times I purchased Back in Black? First came the previously mentioned cassette, then CD, vinyl, remastered CD, the copy included in the Bonfire Boxset, and finally the 2003 remaster. Five times in total…. feels like it was more. Hmmm… maybe that Dual Disc version with the bonus DVD is something I should look into. And perhaps a new vinyl “play copy” to preserve my OG copy would be a good idea… Besides, 7 is a lucky number of copies to have owned in one’s lifetime.
Then there are the memories. I remember introducing Sarah to AC/DC with Back in Black and was floored by how much she enjoyed it. The time my buddy Frank and I had loaded up on CDs for a long car trip, but the player didn’t work and we were stuck listening to Back in Black on a loop for four hours as it was the only cassette I had in the car. Or the time Mom barged in my room when I was a teenager to complain that the music was too loud. I quickly turned it down and was nervous she would take my Back in Black tape away because ‘Given’ the Dog A Bone’ was playing and Brian was singing about blow jobs.
Instead she said, “You can’t understand a thing that guy is saying. What is with you listening to him yell at you? Didn’t I yell at you enough when you were a kid?”
I almost replied, “If you understood what he is saying you did you wouldn’t let me listen to it!”, but I played it smart and said, “Ha, Ha. Yeah Mom. I like crap music”. She left, satisfied with my usual sarcastic response. Phew!
If a time machine became a reality most people would use it for science or to kill Hitler or something. But I’d head to 1980 and grab a front row seat for an AC/DC concert right after Back in Black came out. Listen to how solid this band was in their prime:
Hot damn! That look too! Brian in the Harley Davidson shirt, Angus sporting the much preferred green school boy outfit with a brown SG, and all you can make out from the boys in the back is some long rocker hair peeking through the darkness.
I have a strong opinion for every AC/DC album as to why it does or doesn’t work. But this one is just too close to the heart for me. All I can hear is perfection.
As an AC/DC album: 5/5
Compared to everything else: In a league of its own