AC/DC lead singer Bon Scott died tragically on February 19, 1980, but the band quickly went looking for new singer. They quickly settled on Brian Johnson, who fronted English band Geordie. The band then went into the studio in April-May 1980 with Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange, who produced the band’s previous album. The resulting album, Back in Black, functioned as a macabre tribute, a rebirth of a band, and perhaps the band’s seminal recording.

AC/DC Back in Black

The album’s dark cover is an obvious tribute to their fallen friend (and later became the object of parody in This is Spinal Tap). The album’s opening track “Hells Bells” continues the theme both sonically and lyrically (“I’m a rolling thunder, pourin’ rain. I’m comin’ down like a hurricane. My lightning’s flashing across the sky. You’re only young but you’re gonna die.”). Another song from the album is thought to have a direct connection to Scott. “Have a Drink on Me” contained another reference to hell within the lyrics, “So join me for a drink boys. We’re gonna make a big noise. So don’t worry about tomorrow, Take it today. Forget about the tip.  We’ll get hell to pay.  Have a drink on me.”.

Other key tracks from the album included “Shoot to Thrill”, “Let Me Put My Love Into You” (rated the sixth most filty song ever by the PMRC in 1985), and “You Shook Me All Night Long” which was a rare top 40 pop hit for the hard rock group.  The album was completed and issued to stores in July 1980 where it was an immediate hit. The album was top 5 but continued to sell in large quantities, eventually selling over 22 million copies in the U.S. alone, and 49 million worldwide (the second highest ever). Johnson’s powerful voice and good-natured stage presence easily won over fans mourning Bon Scott.

The title track “Back in Black” was also a top 40 hit, and featured an oft-sampled guitar riff (later used, without permission, by the Beastie Boys). The song’s theme “I’m back…” is in a sense a tribute to Scott, but perhaps most connected to the other members of the band. Johnson has been quoted extensively about writing lyrics for the album, but the timeline makes that seem quite unbelievable. I believe the lyrics were written by Angus and Malcolm Young, perhaps in combination with Lange (Johnson wrote only occasionally for Geordie, and has not received songwriting credits for any AC/DC album issued after 1990 – ten years after he joined the band).