Growing up listening to rock and roll radio–our station was WKLC FM 105 out of St. Albans–I had heard some AC/DC songs by the summer of 1980, but I had never listened to a full album by that point. Nor do I think I would have anytime soon had it not been for our rock station.
I was 14 and my cousin Rusty was a few months younger, and for a few summers doing those years I went to spend a week or two at his house. It was there that I heard my first AC/DC album. The album was Back in Black, and, while I don’t remember it like it was yesterday, I remember it well.
FM 105–these days it goes by Rock 105 I believe–had a thing where they would play a new album on Friday nights. I don’t exactly know why Rusty and I happened to have the radio on that night–I don’t recall us listening to a lot of music together–but for whatever reason, we were that night, and I’m so glad we were.
I would have liked to have listened to this album that first time knowing some of the history of the band, but I didn’t. That history makes the amazing thing that is Back in Black all the more amazing. The band’s original singer, Bon Scott, had only been dead six months when the album was released, and there was question of whether the band would continue.
At the insistence of Scott’s family, not only did the band go on, but those scant six months later, they released not only an amazing album, but an album that, with 22 million units sold, is the sixth biggest selling album of all time.
Now, many factors can come into play to help a band sell a million or even a few million albums, but you don’t get to 22 million by chance, and you don’t get there quickly; sales like that are accumulated over years, and such staying power is only be achieved by albums with solid songs. Despite genre, if you’re looking for an album with a strong track-list, you’d be hard-pressed to find one with a stronger list than this.
For me to think that an album can exist with tracks like the title track, “Hell’s Bells,” ‘You Shook Me All Night Long,” and “Have a Drink on Me,” and none of those be my favorite song is just crazy. Still, after having spent a few days listening to nothing but this, I found the song I got off on the most was the album’s final track, “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.” I’m always looking to see what tracks bands think are special enough to put in that final track slot, and this one is certainly special enough. I don’t make albums, but if I did I think I’d want the final track to make the listener want to go back and begin listening to the whole thing all over again. This song does that.
Aside from the previously mentioned tracks, Back in Black also offers us five more AC/DC classics, “Shoot to Thrill,” “What Do You Do for Money Honey,” “Given the Dog a Bone,” “Let Me Put My Love into You,” and “Shake a Leg,” To think that those might be the weaker five songs on any album is amazing.
These days, the band that made that album is no more. Drummer Phil Rudd is in an Australian prison; bassist Cliff Williams retired after the last tour; Brian Johnson, the singer who replaced Mr. Scott and went on to front the band through most of the years of its successful run, has been sidelined by hearing loss; and Malcolm Young, the rhythm guitarist and older brother of those two hard-scrabble Australian brothers who had an idea about the music they wanted to hear, died last week. I never met Malcolm Young, but I always got the impression that he was just about the sweetest man in the rock and roll business, and his death saddens me. Only Malcolm’s younger brother, Angus, remains.
But that’s the great thing about the recording of music, it is recorded; we do have it. So, while the members of this band have been thrown to the winds, they were together in 1980, and they gave us this strong testament to rock and roll, and like Mr. Johnson said of the past in that outstanding final song, “it’ll always be with us; it’s never gonna die, never gonna die.” Indeed it isn’t, and I don’t know about you, but for me, rock and roll truly ain’t noise pollution.
God bless you, friends, and God bless Malcolm Young.