Black Sensations Up And Down My Spine

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.

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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.

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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.

Slippery when black
Slippery when black?

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

641 Down.

*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?

54 thoughts on “Black Sensations Up And Down My Spine

    1. Thank you very much Ovidiu – that’s very kind. I didn’t hear Rocks for a few years after this and it’s still one of my faves today.

  1. Really enjoyed this one, sir. First slice of AC/DC vinyl I got my hands on and I wouldn’t disagree with a word you wrote about it – it’s near perfect.

    I was late to the AC/DC party (truth be told, I haven’t found it to be the best party I’ve ever been to), but getting to know the history as I was discovering this one got me to settling on an opinion much like Mr Hubner there about this being probably the most important album they made. The track selection and sequencing. How Hells Bells is such a perfect intro – a fitting nod to Bon and Highway To Hell, and welcome to Brian. Great stuff.

    I like this one a whole lot, too. I have a long weekend and a bunch of records to look forward to. Think I might just add this to the spinning list …

  2. When I saw them last year, Shoot to Thrill was the song I really wanted to hear – much like on this record, only had to wait til the second song!
    Nice post Joe, I always appreciate reading about a writer’s favourites, the enthusiasm can be contagious!

  3. Really enjoyed this Sir. It was your most epic review that I’ve seen. I get the idea of how much you love this record — it’s a part of you. I wish I had that connection with it! In a way I am jealous of you. I always wanted to like it more than I actually do! I think I rated it 4/5? I can’t remember and it doesn’t matter. The point is, I’m glad that you posted such an epic tribute to one of the most important albums in heavy metal and indeed rock and roll history.

    1. Thanks a lot Mike. I tend to get a nosebleed after 1000 words, but I pushed on through despite getting hand cramp and a bad case of blogger’s nipple (at about 1300 words).

      Brian Johnson’s vocals are so good on this one – he really attacks it. Everyone does, it’s one of those situations where everyone is just on the top of their game – Lange too, some of the production on ‘Highway’ took the power of the band away, but he got everything so right here.

      1. Well put about Lange. The production here is very sharp. It’s like a razor. It’s perfect in every way but not Leppard-perfect.

        Blogger’s nipple?

      2. Don’t ask, it’s not pretty but still way better than coming down with Reviewer’s Lung – caused, some say, by inhaling too much dust from old vinyl.

      1. Nooo sir and I’m pretty sure they couldn’t understand the words. A dubbed tape played on a Fisher Price tape deck. I thought it was Bees Knees and it sure was built like a tank, that player. I bet it still works.

      2. I did have a little turntable one that played these thick, brightly-coloured plastic discs with nursery rhymes on … creating a lust for coloured vinyl that still burns strong 41 years later. Shoulda come with a health warning.

      3. Yeah, I had one of those too. But this was an actual record player, two speeds, and with a retractable center-thingy for 45’s. I played the Indiana Jones soundtrack on that thing to death.

      4. That’s cool. My parents first heard Jimi Hendrix on one of those, played to them by my auntie who would have been about 7 at the time – totally blew their minds apparently!

      5. I didn’t hear Hendrix until I was…about 11 or 12. And I didn’t like him. “Are You Experienced” was the track, and the backwards guitar at the beginning was too fucky for me!

      6. I had to like him – it was compulsory in my house, love Hendrix or leave home and seek my fortune elsewhere.

        My aunt had spent her pocket money on the single of ‘Purple Haze’ apparently! I love that story.

      7. I had a nightmare time trying to rebel against my folks – short of getting a buzz-cut and joining the services … as a pastor.

        My mum occasionally banged on the floor of my room and told me to turn stuff up – really!!

  4. Ya know, it just occurred to me now. Our next door neighbours’ house is up for sale, and there’s an open house on Saturday. I think I’ll open up all the windows and blast this one for ’em, eh? \m/ \m/

    1. Exactly – way better not having any neighbours. Also for maximum bonus points, just hang out nude in your front yard – if anyone asks just tell ’em that it’s your usual weekend routine (I’m assuming that it isn’t).

      1. I told my lovely wife we should buy that house and attach the two with a tunnel. The kids (they’re 6 and 4 years old) can live in one, we’ll live in the other. Totally safe, right?

        Man I’ve always hung out in the nude on the front lawn. Our neighbours are so innured now they’re not even surprised to see me in the park up the street. By now it’s just “oh hey, there he goes again…”

  5. I was late to this party. In my (really) small town high school, I was the jazz kid. Mostly the trumpet players, but a nice swath of it all. AC/DC was something the greasers in shop class listened to in their Camaros. Of course, I heard it everywhere but didn’t really attach.

    But when I did get it into my ears, on my own terms, I knew it for what it was. And you’ve already written it all, above. I’m rocking it right now, because of you.

    1. Trumpet covers of AC/DC would rock. I have heard a mariachi cover of Hells Bells and Dandy Warhols did a very slow, very sad version of it too.

      Yes – I am the puppet master!

      1. I’d be really surprised if there wasn’t already a horn section cover of AC/DC. It could be done, easily, and it could be done with SASS. Horn sections FTW!

  6. Back In Black, the first album I ever bought with my own cashola, and begat a life-long love affair with all things ‘DC. I worked my way backwards from there and discovered the skeezy wonder that was Bon Scott, and I have to admit that I am quite partial to “the early years”. I loved the reactions of my parents playing Back In Black at maximum volume for at least a year. They tried to convince me that this was Satan’s music and that it might just make me bisexual (that last one…what a stretch!). It wasn’t until I started bringing home albums like The Dayglo Abortions Feed Us A Fetus or the Dead Kennedys Plastic Surgery Disasters that they let up on AC/DC.

    I don’t think a week has gone by since 1980 that I haven’t played/heard at least one AC/DC song. Brilliant band, and brilliant album!

      1. Well, that would mean that my wife and 2 kids are just fronts for my real life, so…sure, why not.

    1. Thanks Sarca – it’s a hot-rodded Harry Potter mini-figure.

      It’s such a great LP, I’ve played it lots of times in the last few days and I keep finding new favourite bits.

  7. ‘Thigh Gap’? You really are an excitable boy, aren’t you?
    Another wonderfully OTT paean to Acca Dacca. I’m positive they’d be well chuffed.

    PS. Really looking forward to your Mum’s review of The Stooges.

    1. It was getting past 12.30, it was the best I could do!

      And thank you Bruce, it really is a special album this one – hewn out of pure, umm, black precious stuff (of some sort).

      That was pretty much all of my mum’s review of the Stooges – she’s a big fan of the Stranglers though. True story.

  8. Aw, come on, you know that “Given the Dog a Bone” isn’t really about love for one’s pet, hee hee. What you say about “Back in Black” is all true. It made me look at things in a whole new light. The only way to cover AC/DC in the rock style is to become an AC/DC tribute band like Hell’s Bells. They are not perfect in regards to AC/DC.

    1. Get out of here – it’s about a pooch!

      Thank you – it’s an important one for me this. One of the first metal LPs I found that loads of non-metal fans owned too, it really crossed over so well.

  9. Great read dude! Love how this album impacted U as youth. Certain albums just stick with U thru the years. I was 13 when this album came out and it was learning about the facts of life here! No more Love Gun, more like Given The Dog A Bone! Hahaha…

    1. Thank you Deke. Are you telling me it’s not about the family mutt? Don’t believe you!!

      I’m not sure I’d put it in my Top 3 DC’s, but it is perfect – at the same time. Odd.

  10. I had the same reaction the first time I heard “Hells Bells”. My mom and dad bought Back In Black on vinyl when it came out and I can remember feeling as if a cold wind blew through the living room as it played. Next to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mr. Crowley” and Alice Cooper’s “Steven” it really was one of the scariest songs I’d heard. Then the second time I heard it that guitar grabbed a hold of me and it was the toughest, most badass riff I’d ever heard.

    When I first started playing guitar, about a month in the first songbook I bought was the AC/DC Songbook. Those songs were pretty easy to learn for a beginner as they were three chords and that was it. But the thing about those three chords and AC/DC is that it’s not the chords, it’s how you play ’em. Thirty years in playing guitar and I still don’t possess the swagger that Angus and Malcolm possessed. They made it look so damn easy.

    I realized a few years later that “Hell’s Bells”, as well as the whole of Back In Black were both a funeral and a re-christening record. I think Back In Black is probably the most important record AC/DC ever made. Maybe not their best as a whole, but their most important.

    1. I might steal that ‘cold wind’ line, edit it in and pretend I thought of it.

      AC/DC are the very worst ever band to cover in a rock style – no-one can do it convincingly at all. Mariachi, acoustic styles = fine.

      1. Hey, go for it.

        All pale like an emasculated weakling when trying to cover AC/DC in earnest. You’re better off doing a dream pop version of “Beating Around The Bush”, as opposed to straight up rock and roll.

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