AC/DC unleashed Back in Black on July 25, 1980 and, to paraphrase one of the album’s most famous lines, on very first impact, “the walls started shaking, the earth was quaking.”
Over the course of the next three-and-a-half decades, Back in Black’s complete shock-and-awe rock-and-roll takeover of human consciousness has never for a moment let up. And that’s just as it should be.
So on the occasion of Back in Black’s 35th anniversary, with the Australian hellraisers out on a world tour in support of their fifteenth international blockbuster album Rock or Bust, here’s a round-up of 35 facts regarding rock’s mightiest-ever thunder from Down Under.
1. Back in Black is the seventh studio album by AC/DC, and the group’s first with singer Brian Johnson.
2. However explosively great the results of going with a new vocalist may have been artistically and financially, the reason was in no way a happen one: AC/DC’s prior singer—the one-of-a-kind rock-and-roll madman Bon Scott—died on February 19, 1980. Following a night of otherwise typical alcohol-fueled carrying on, Scott succumbed to what is officially described as “death by misadventure.”
3. Knowing that Scott would have demanded that the band carry on, the group did just that, turning Back in Black into a tribute to their fallen frontman.
4. An international hit right away, Back in Black shot to #1 in Australia, England, France, and Canada.
5. In the U.S., Back in Black peaked at #4 on the U.S. Billboard Album chart. However, its sales proved so consistently strong that Atlantic Records issued the group’s 1976 album Dirty Deeds Done Dirty Cheap stateside. Atlantic had originally passed on handling Dirty Deeds. In May 1981, Dirty Deeds beat out Back in Black on the Billboard chart by landing at #3.
6. To date, Back in Black has sold in excess of 40 million copies. It is the single biggest hard rock album ever released.
7. Worldwide, Back in Black ranks #2 in sales only behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
8. In the U.S., Back in Black is the sixth biggest seller of all time, behind Thriller; Their Greatest Hits by the Eagles; Led Zeppelin IV; The Wall by Pink Floyd, and Greatest Hits by Billy Joel.
9. AC/DC’s final record with Bon Scott, 1979’s Highway to Hell, had been their most popular to date. For for Back in Black, then, the group decided to stick with Highway producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange .
10. Mutt Lange’s intricate, high-tech, meticulous approach to recording and production proved to be a perfect paradoxical blend with AC/DC’s down-and-dirty, loud-and-sloppy inherent style. As a result, the group trusted him. Thus, AC/DC listened when Lange suggested they try out vocalist Brian Johnson, the gravel-throated frontman of a hard rock squad known as Geordie.
11. Brian Johnson bowled over AC/DC with his voice that, while shockingly powerful and gritty in its own right, was not immediately reminiscent of Bon Scott. They also loved that, like Scott, Johnson learned to sing as a result of his passion for classic blues and soul.
12. Bon Scott had written numerous songs for AC/DC’s follow-up to Highway to Hell, but the band felt ghoulish about using and profiting from the late singer’s work. Instead, Brian Johnson penned the album’s lyrics, while the music came from lead guitarist Angus Young his rhythm guitarist brother, Malcolm Young
13. AC/DC recorded Back in Black at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas over seven weeks from April to May 1980. They hit the island just in time for tropical storm season. As Brian Johnson would later say about the album itself, “It was a force of nature, that thing. It really was.”
14. At one point, a crab wandered into the studio’s drum booth from the beach, momentarily disrupting recording and busting up everyone involved. “It was cracking its claws like castanets!,” Brian Johnson remembers. Could that have been the perpetual prankster spirit of Bon Scott?
15. The crab wasn’t the only distraction. “It was hardly any kind of studio,” Malcolm Young once said. “We were in these little concrete cells… you had a bed and a chair. And this big old black lady ran the whole place. Oh, she was fearsome. She ruled that place with a rod of iron. We had to lock the doors at night because she’d warned us about these Haitians who’d come down at night and rob the place. So she bought us all these six-foot fishing spears to keep at the f—ing door! It was a bit of a stretch from Newcastle, I can tell you.”
16. Regarding the opening riff on the title track—indisputably one of the most iconic guitar crunches in all of rock—Angus Young recalls, “Malcolm had that riff for about three weeks. He came in one night and said, ‘You got your cassette here? Can I put this down? It’s been driving me mad. I won’t be getting any sleep until I put it on cassette.’ He sat down and played it all. The funniest thing is he said to me, ‘What do you think? I don’t know if it’s crap or not.’”
17. For the opening moments of “Hells Bells” (and the album itself), attempts to record the Denison Bell at England’s Carillon Tower and War Museum proved fruitless due to natural bird sounds. Instead, Mutt Lange had a custom 2.000-pound brass bell created by a foundry that would remain perfectly in tune. Those flawless rings were eventually captured at Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studio in England.
18. Lange’s notorious perfectionism landed with particular intensity on Brian Johnson’s vocals. The frontman refers to that time as a “blur” and adds, “Physically standing there and singing, I don’t remember, because it was one [take] after the other, day after day.”
19. Lange and the group mixed AC/DC at Electric Lady Studios in New York. Among the other classics to have emerged from that legendary facility are Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin, Dressed to Kill and Destroyer by Kiss, and Young Americans by David Bowie.
20. AC/DC toured the world in support of Back in Black. Their first show with Brian Johnson took place on July 1, 1980 in Namur, Belgium.
21. The group remembers some hostility initially directed toward Brian Johnson in the form of jeers and shots of “Where’s Bon?” By the end of show, though, Johnson and the band consistently won over even the most severe doubters.
22. For those who understandably still ached for Bon Scott action, AC/DC released their concert movie, Let There Be Rock, to theaters on September 18, 1980. The film is a triumphant showcase for Scott, shot in Paris on December 9, 1979. It’s tough to imagine that the firebrand frontman so very much alive on screen in Let There Be Rock would be dead just a few months later.
23. Rumors persist that some theaters showing Let There Be Rock were equipped with stacks of Marshall Amps to run the movie’s soundtrack through. Testimonies exist, but no hard evidence has yet turned up.
23. With Back in Black dominating not just heavy metal and hard rock but also mainstream radio across the year following its release, AC/DC headlined the second-ever Monsters of Rock festival on August 22, 1981.
24. AC/DC would again headline Monsters of Rock in 1984 and 1991.
25. Back in Black begat four singles. In order of release, they were “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution,” “Hells Bells,” and “Back in Black.”
26. An unknown number of “You Shook Me All Night Long” singles that were pressed incorrectly made it to the public. The record instead plays the song “Shake a Leg.” Copies of those singles are among the very most sought-after AC/DC collector’s items.
27. Two music videos for “You Shook Me All Night Long” exist. One, released in 1980, showcases the band playing live. The second was created in 1986 for Who Made Who, AC/DC’s combination greatest-hits and soundtrack album for the Stephen King cult movie, Maximum Overdrive. The Who Made Who video is a major comedic production starring Johnson and buxom British Page 3 model and Benny Hill Show starlet, Corinne Russell.
28. In March 2014, Brian Johnson joined Billy Joel onstage at one of the Piano Man’s monthly Madison Square Garden concerts. Together, they performed “You Shook Me All Night Long.”
29. Unlikely cover versions of “You Shook Me All Night Long” have been performed by Shania Twain (ex-wife of Mutt Lange), Mumford and Sons, and Big and Rich. Céline Dion sang it as a duet with Anastascia on the TV special, VH1 Divas Las Vegas.
30. From 1998 to 2010, the San Diego Padres used “Hells Bells” to introduce relief pitcher Trevor Hoffman. From there, MLB teams utilized metal anthems to bring on closers, most notably in the case of “Enter Sandman” and the New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera.
31. At the start of the third quarter at University of North Carolina football games, the Tar Heels take the field to “Hells Bells.”
32. AC/DC is especially proud of how AC/DC figured into the rescue mission of captive Black Hawk Down pilot Michael Durant from Somalia in 1993. “He was shoved in prison,” Brian Johnson says. “His back was broken. They were kicking him, shooting bullets into him and he was terrified. His pals knew that AC/DC was his favorite band so they hooked up a speaker to the skid of one of the Black Hawks and they were playing ‘Hells Bells’ over the rooftops. He took his shirt off and—because his legs were broken—he crawled up to the windows and waved his shirt. That’s how they got him out. Ain’t that amazing?!”
33. “Shoot to Thrill” is one of the most widely used rock songs in movies, TV, and video games. Among the productions that have employed the song are Iron Man 2, Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby, The Dukes of Hazzard, xXx: State of the Union, Red 2, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
35. Malcolm Young once beautifully summed up Back in Black by stating: “With Bon’s death we wanted to put everything down right, we were really focused on that album and it turned out to be timeless and I think it’ll stay that way. I think maybe AC/DC had come to a peak at that point.”