Sometimes our musical stars can seem just like us, normal Joes and Janes who got blessed with a bit of talent, fortified it with a healthy dose of persistence and got lucky too; I like that, it tweaks my sense of democracy. Other times though, some artists’ work just seems to have descended upon us from a higher plane of perfection, okay so it may have been shaped by mortal hands but only in the role of vessels for the celestial vibrations of the Gods; I like that too, it’s nice to be totally overwhelmed occasionally and reminded of your true status in the multiverse.
AC/DC Back In Black definitely falls into the latter category.
From first to last-minute it is sheer machine-tooled perfection, there is not a spare or slack second here. Did I say machine-tooled? that’s not it, it is more human, more humane, than that too. We can agree on the perfection though, surely?
‘Stand Up’, from Fly On The Wall, was the AC/DC track that gave me that first hit of head lightning when I heard it – it quite literally changed music for me for ever, it’s this thrill I’ve been chasing in my music buying ever since. without that jolt I doubt I’d have become a rocker, at least to the extent I did. It changed what I listened to, the length of my hair, what I wore, what I spent my free time doodling, what I spent my money on, who I ended up being mates with, influenced which lucky ladies had the honour of becoming my girlfriends – not bad for an album track. Then came ‘Hells Bells’ and I flipped out even further.
A friend of my dad’s lent me Who Made Who* and I can remember now the impact that ‘Hells Bells’ had on me. I was listening to it on my Walkman on a sunny day, walking by the side of our farm where the chicken coop was. The bell! The bell! Sunny day, or not, I was suddenly walking through a graveyard on a menacing rain-drenched night. Quite simply I had never heard anything so perfect before, so transformative, so mean. I genuinely had no idea how anyone was allowed to make music this nasty, this ominous, this scary. Just listen to the tone of that guitar, it reeks of evil. Brian Johnson never sounded so aggressive, before or since; the fact that I could understand one word in six of anything he was singing, helped the words I made up in those heady, pre-internet days were way more blood-curdling than the real ones eventually turned out to be. Suddenly here was something that was totally and utterly mine, rather than belonging to any world of my parents’ devising**. I suddenly realised I wanted nasty and I definitely wanted MORE.
After listening to ‘Hells Bells’, roughly 1.76m times, I bought the vinyl of Back In Black on the same day I bought High Voltage*^. I knew the history and the context of the album before I bought it, the sleeve punched that home even to an idiot like me. I can remember the bus journey home, pouring over the inner sleeve – I still haven’t forgiven Atlantic for not putting the right track order on the back cover though, yes I know it looks a bit more like a haiku the way it was arranged, but come on, this is AC/DC!
Being AC/DC the songs run through the full spectrum of the human experience – romantic love (Let Me Put My Love Into You^^), nocturnal love (You Shook Me All Night Long), purchasable love (What Do You Do For Money Honey), trigger happy love (Shoot To Thrill), a few paeans to drinking and loud music and then, most wholesomely, the love of a man for his family pet (Given The Dog A Bone). There’s a
whole lotta love on Back In Black.
Listening to Back In Black tonight, every single track has memories for me, from a highly inappropriate family sing along in a holiday cottage to ‘What Do You Do For Money Honey’ where, thinking fast I told my small children it was a song about how bees earned their living, through to seeing the band crank out ‘Shoot To Thrill’ the last time I saw ’em and the last night out in Carmarthen before I went off to university dancing to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ with a raven-haired beauty^*. I have a lot invested in these grooves and just like one of Proust’s madeleine’s I only have to hear a note before it all comes flooding back to me.
Which is all very good and very teenage, I am perfectly sure that any music lover will have similarly loaded albums but what makes Back In Black transcend this is just the fact that it is so incredibly good. Every track hits the mark, every track (apart from ‘Shake A Leg’ which I’ve always thought of as the weak link) sounds even better than the last. The performance the band put in is nothing short of phenomenal, the sound Lange extracts from them is perfection itself. The rhythm and swing of ‘Back In Black’ is just unparalleled, no wonder every hip-hop mother bugger has rapped over the top of it at some point, it is inventive too. Every riff sounds tightly coiled and every vocal line is either attacked, leered over, or both if necessary. It is the drum sound that I’m obsessing over tonight though, Phil Rudd whilst possibly being a bit of a challenging chap to have in your circle of friends was one holy hell of a sticksman, everything hit hard and beautifully precise, recorded just as it should be too; there’s a beauty in it that more technical/showy drummers never nail for me.
Everywhere I turn there are more cheap thrills than I can handle on this LP, some massive like the lyrics of ‘Hells Bells’, others comparatively minor like the swing of ‘Let Me Put My Love Into You’, or the sheer heads down head-banging of the end of ‘… Honey’ and the start of ‘… Bone’. I just played around putting the needle down at random to see if I could find a single Planck time of music that I didn’t think was awe-inspiring. The best I could come up with after this exhaustively scientific experiment? the gap between ‘… All Night Long’ and ‘Have A Drink On Me’, although as an unbiased fan I still maintain that the gaps between AC/DC’s tracks are better than most bands’ entire careers. I wonder if anyone has ever made a suitably rudely titled compilation along these lines? Thigh Gap: AC/DC’s Best Silences.
There are tribes of as-yet-undiscovered tree-dwelling indigenous folk in darkest Borneo that have an opinion on Bon/Brian/Post-Pre-Pro-Anti, each on its’ merits I say as long as you realise that your opinion isn’t as important as mine because I AM 1537 (and it’s unlikely you are too). All I’ll say is that I hope someone writes me an epitaph, intentional or not, a fraction as good as ‘Have A Drink On me’, which will always feature in my AC/DC Top 10. I’ve always found it a really potent song, always used to crank it up before going out on the town and there’s just something about the way the last verse gets smashed out by the boys that moves me.
I’ve written way more here than I usually let myself do and I haven’t even made it to half of my favourite songs yet, but my advice is to stop reading this (in a minute, not yet!) and get playing this instead. Call me excitable but every second of Back In Black thrills me and that’s all I need. I’m guessing by the fact that it has sold a few copies here and there, others of you may feel the same – good because if any LP in my collection has descended upon us from a higher plane of perfection, then it is Back In Black.
*I do actually get around to writing about Back In Black later on, don’t worry – you haven’t been the victim of AC/DC related spam, whatever Google may think of me.
**although to date the only thing my mum has ever knocked on my door and told me to turn down was Iggy & The Stooges Raw Power, on the grounds it was a ‘totally negative racket’. Yeah!!
*^exactly a week before I bought Appetite For Destruction – there was just unlimited greatness to discover back then, I miss that. That is the UK version of High Voltage by the way, I’d had the Aussie version for 6 months already by then.
^^home to one of my all-time fave double entendre thingys, ‘Let me put my love into you babe / Let me cut your cake with my knife’, oh Ronsard, eat your heart out!
^*who was strangely unimpressed when I told her that I had been a little bit sick in my mouth five minutes before, but that I had decided I would kiss her now. Chicks, eh?