The Cassette Chronicles – AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

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AC/DC – BACK IN BLACK (1980)

Record Store Day 2018 was rather a dull and stale event for me. While I look forward to it each year, I’ve found less and less material amongst the slew of special releases that I’m interested in buying with each year’s passing. This year’s batch of music was the worst yet for me. There was really only one item that I wanted and it was specifically because it would be used for this article you are now reading.

AC/DC’s Back In Black got a special 2018 re-release on cassette. So instead of listening to the album on a tape that is 38 years old, I wanted a new copy (I own it on CD as well).

Unfortunately, I got to my local shop later than I’d hoped and couldn’t seem to find a copy of it. So, it seemed I was outta luck. Then fate, in the personage of my friend Jeff, intervened. He was going out to his local shop the day after Record Store Day and he was getting a copy of the album for himself and offered to pick up one for me if they had a second copy. A week later, the album was in my hands all the way from the state of Georgia.

Now before I talk about the album’s track list I should go back a little further. Despite not being a full-fledged rock and metal fan until about 1983-1984, I was at least a little bit aware of AC/DC, much to the chagrin of a few nuns and laypeople who worked at the Catholic school I was attending while in the fourth grade.

It was about that time that the boys in the school discovered the band’s song “Big Balls” and for totally immature males, this was THE GREATEST SONG OF ALL TIME! And you haven’t lived until you see the horrified faces of the teachers in the school as they hear a bunch of pre-adolescent boys running down the hallway singing the lyrics to the song. I managed to get in trouble for that despite the fact I wasn’t involved, having the misfortune of bad timing as I came out of the bathroom at the same time one of the teachers caught the other boys in the hallway. Still, it was freaking hilarious at the time. Between that and “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”, I had a small inkling of what the band was doing at that time.

Of course, I didn’t discover 1980’s Back In Black until it had been out a few years but by the time I was that full-fledged member of the metal music community, I was in love with the title track and “You Shook Me All Night Long”. I still am today as I get a real charge of electricity running through me whenever I hear the intro for either song.

So that’s a little background about my connection with the band. As for this particular listening session, I found it a bit odd that without any planning on the day I was going to listen to the album, I pulled out my AC/DC shirt and read the appreciation article in Classic Rock magazine on the passing of Malcolm Young.

So, how does this album that has sold so many albums since it came out that it ranks #2 all-time behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller in terms of total number of albums sold fair all these years later?

No surprise here, but it is still as fantastic a recording now as it was upon its initial release. I know so much has been written about the album and the individual songs that anything I say might seem like you’ve read it a million times before, but this album is simply a perfect encapsulation of the band. They really couldn’t have done better (and let’s be honest, never quite did) than what they did on Back In Black.

The first side of the album features stone cold classics like the eerily ominous “Hells Bells” with that echoing church bell intro and the relentless burner “Shoot To Thrill”. The latter song might just be one of my favorite songs from the band. What makes the album so remarkable to me is that even the songs that are an admitted step down from being “classic AC/DC”, they are still really great songs. While I’ve heard “What Do You Do For Money Honey” and “Given The Dog A Bone” countless times, I actually found myself with a refreshed sense of enthusiasm for both tracks. I know that “Let Me Put My Love Into You” is about as subtle as a sledgehammer through a plate glass window but still, the song has its single entendre charms.

As for Side Two, what can be newly said about the killer 1-2 punch of the title track and “You Shook Me All Night Long”? Easily the two best known songs from the Brian Johnson era and two of the best songs from the entire breadth of the band’s discography, you can’t ask for more out of these two songs. Hell, I saw Melissa Etheridge play “You Shook Me All Night Long” in concert with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry on guitar and it still was a song that just kicked my butt all over again. As for the title cut, it’s perfect. ‘Nuff Said.

Closing with a defiant to the establishment anthem like “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” brought AC/DC’s legacy altering album to a rousing finish but before that you had the boozy charm of “Have A Drink On Me” and fiery “Shake A Leg” to keep the blood pumping.

Ideally, I would love to desire to buy lots of new stuff on Record Store Day each year. But the offerings (and cost of them) kind of precludes that. That said, I certainly was able to get the one true treasure I coveted and getting to write about how much it means to me makes it all worthwhile.

I don’t know what might be next for the band. Cliff Williams has retired, Malcolm Young died and Brian Johnson had to leave the band (or was unceremoniously kicked out depending on who’s telling the story) over the potential loss of his hearing. It’s just Angus with longtime drummer Chris Slade left in the band. But whether this is the end of the band or not, to have a senses-shattering album like Back In Black is all that any band could ever ask for. And since we are forever about to rock, AC/DC should be saluted endlessly for their contribution to our eternal playlist.

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