[5] AC/DC – Back In Black

10 May

And just like that – after the cheesy pop and exotic world albums, the experimental jazz and mediocre gospel – we’re in my wheelhouse for the first time.  An album I already know.  An album I already own!

Although, it turns out not one I’m especially familiar with as a holistic recording.  I am more than familiar with the hits – usually played through poor quality sound systems at loud and smoky rock clubs.  I have heard the rest of the tracks a time or two of course, but it turns out I don’t recall sitting and listening to the entire Back In Black album since the day I first picked it out of a $5 bin sometime in the 2000s.

Cover of "Back in Black"

Listening with a critical ear, settling in for a week with this sub 45 minute disk, I was prepared to be underwhelmed, remembering the sideshow of a grown man in schooliform and a dead frontman. I mean, I just got finished slamming a recording of 120 fervent believers praising god with all they’ve got . . .

Instead this 3 decades old, straight forward hard rock album is a breath of fresh air – tight and catchy, with the blistering yet clean guitar solos that, in hindsight, probably influenced all of my favorite hair bands and albums from the late 80s and early 90s.

The singles, “Back In Black” and “You Shook Me All Night Long“, remain instantly, gloriously recognizable standards, with two of the sleaziest, hard driving, most infectious riffs in rock.  But throughout, true to the opening track’s title, the ringing, jangling guitars are brash and almost obnoxious without ever veering into actually annoying.  The guitars need to be big and bad to balance the screaming vocals, which are carried off with a remarkable lack of subtlty or nuance, yet somehow the whole works – it’s a tightrope walked arrogantly, effortlessly.

There is nothing earth shattering here (except perhaps the tone of Brian Johnson‘s screeching delivery), nothing new. But the performances are precise without losing passion, the songs tongue in cheek without entirely giving up their touch of danger.

And in the final analysis this stuff is just fun, even moreso than the pop purity of ABBA.  These are songs that have permeated seemingly every facet of pop culture, from blockbuster movies to network sitcoms, kids cartoons to TV ads for just about everything . . .

This has always, unashamedly been my favorite genre – wannabe bad boys talking a good game of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll with just enough of a grin to let you know that there’s a nice guy underneath the posturing and double entendre.  Exploring one of the earliest and most influential albums in that vein, I hear the musical prowess that also went into it, explaining the longevity, the appeal, the inclusion on every “Best Of” rock list you care to mention.

I’m enjoying this week more than I possibly thought I could.  There are nods to early Aerosmith (or at least to those same blues greats that Steve and Joe were reimagining for a new audience), moments of almost Zeppelin-like mysticism in the melodies, but the biggest surprise is the sound quality.  I grew up listening to 45s on crackling vinyl, albums on tape through cheap headphones.  I clearly recall the fuzzy mess of sound that I often used to listen to and love.

On CD, each guitar lick is crisp, each drum beat distinct allowing the musicality of the performers and their instruments to come through.  All of which again contrasts with Johnson’s mush mouthed, chord shredding screeching of the vivid if puerile lyrics.  It is fun to hear.  It is fun to (try to) sing along with.

It is even fun to dance around the living room to with your 3-year-old.
I wonder if she’ll still be listening to AC/’DC in 2043 . . .

Owned before blogging?  Yes. (1 of 5. 20%)
Heard before blogging?   Yes. (2 of 5. 40%)
Recommend?                    Yes. (4 of 5. 80%)

Next Week:  John Adams – Harmonium

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6 Responses to “[5] AC/DC – Back In Black”

  1. Carolyn May 12, 2013 at 2:33 PM #

    I actually love these songs….definitely fabulous “long car rides with the windows open, singing along loudly”. kind of songs!

  2. nycavri December 8, 2014 at 8:03 AM #

    Reblogged this on . . . To Hear Before I Blog and commented:

    Throughout December I am going to revisit the first months of this journey, taking time at the end of this year to remember where I’ve been and what I’ve heard.


  1. [94] Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Ry Cooder – A Meeting By The River | . . . To Hear Before I Blog - January 23, 2015

    […] even than Back In Black or Spiritual Unity, A Meeting By The River is the most perfectly titled recording to […]

  2. [101] Black Sabbath – Paranoid | . . . To Hear Before I Blog - March 13, 2015

    […] were plenty of vocalists who fared very well under these conditions – Steve Tyler and Brian Johnson to name just two explored to date in the 1,000 – projecting out over the crackle and fuzz, […]

  3. [114] Boogie Down Productions – By All Means Necessary | . . . To Hear Before I Blog - June 12, 2015

    […] honest, when it was done with a wink and a smile.  The Rock that I regarded as my own was guilty of the same often […]

  4. [121] David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars | . . . To Hear Before I Blog - July 31, 2015

    […] Yet still the brakes are on as Ziggy starts to wail “It Ain’t Easy”.  For a pillar of Rock radio, this is so much more controlled and restrained that (for example) Aerosmith’s Toys In The Attic or AC/DC’s Back In Black. […]

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