Back in Black


album cover

Lean Mean Arena Rock

Before he began producing his ex-wife Shania Twain's enormously lucrative high-gloss country-pop, Robert John "Mutt" Lange largely defined the sound of bad-boy arena rock. His productions—particularly this career effort for Aussie rockers AC/DC, which has sold over sixteen million copies in the U.S. alone, and its Def Leppard counterpart Pyromania, which kick-started a pop-metal revolution—defined an entire strain of '80s suburban rebellion. Even when the music itself wasn't terribly threatening, Lange gave it a distinct whiff of badass menace.

Back in Black is one of Lange's crowning achievements, a delicate balance of power and finesse that defined the commercial side of heavy music for years after its release. Recorded in 1980, just two months after AC/ DC's lead singer Bon Scott died (according to the coroner's report, he'd "drunk himself to death"), it is a ten-song feast of tightly wound, enormously disciplined stomp rock. New singer Brian Johnson was as willing to shred the upper end of his voice as Scott had been, and Lange made sure that every walloping rhythm guitar supporting Johnson's tales of lasciviousness (check out "What Do You Do for Money Honey") weighed in at industrial strength—and was executed with surgical precision.

The album's tightly wound radio songs—"Shoot to Thrill," the proud peacock strut "Back in Black," and the explosive "You Shook Me All Night Long"—share a mean streak. The rhythm section gets right near the boiling point and then hangs there, waiting for the schoolboy-uniform–wearing Angus Young to deliver demonically twisted lead guitar that pushes things over the edge. He always comes through: Every last solo here is a thrill ride.

Genre: Rock
Released: 1980, Atlantic (Reissued 2003, Epic)
Key Tracks: "Shoot to Thrill," "What Do You Do for Money Honey," "Back in Black," "You Shook Me All Night Long"
Next Stop: Def Leppard: Pyromania
After That: Thin Lizzy: Jailbreak
Book Page: 5

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#1 from croutonboy, Brooklyn, NY - 10/14/2008 7:19

Not to take umbrage with this gem, which is as pure a distillation of pure, visceral rock and roll ever recorded, but I would argue in favor of Highway to Hell, the predecessor to this and the final album of their first lead singer, Bon Scott.  Also produced by “Mutt” Lange, it has a more raw, devilish feel to it, while the hooks are as strong (if not stronger) than Back in Black.  And Scott’s delivery—more prankster and tongue-in-cheek than Brian Johnson can muster with his wails—is evocative of every teenage boys most rebellious and mischievous fantasies.  Spectacular, and impossible not to bang your head or air guitar to, regardless of age.

#2 from viewdemonde, Australia - 08/04/2009 8:25

Here’s something you might not expect: I used to do my ballet barre practice to the slower tracks. It’s actually very sensual music.

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