I prefer my reviews to be serious and informative. ‘First Impressions’ allow for a more director’s commentary approach. I can be silly and talk bollox, or make points that only a handful of people will understand. Usually I will deliver insights into my history with similar music as well as into how my mind works and how both of these things change over time. You will have to either possess a fairly detailed understanding of Rock and Metal history and Subgenre conventions or have a second tab open at Wikipedia to fully follow every single point that I make, but don’t let that put you off…I’m not honestly expecting you to know every single riff or tone I’ll point out off by heart.
If you want your own First Impressions article, just suggest it in the comments.
This entry will feature the absolutely iconic and furiously influential Back In Black album from the Australian Rock band AC/DC. Its one of the most famous albums in the Rock and Metal world and quite frankly, its almost a mystery how I’ve been a serious fans of this sort of music for over a decade and never managed to hear it. Its been in just about every top-100-albums list I’ve ever seen, most of my friends own it, people play covers from it often and I love the title track whenever it comes on music TV or the radio.
I remember when I first started this blog about three years ago I planned to buy this album and Motorhead’s Ace Of Spades to blog about. At that stage it was in a series called ‘The Grand ReListening’ which I never finished, as it was supplanted by this superior First Impressions idea thanks to the mighty Magnum. I almost think the transition occurred during a conversation about how I wanted to re-listen to Back In Black but couldn’t since I’d not heard it. Still, its only taken three years to get it done. Not bad ey?
The main reason I suspect I may have gone this long without hearing it, or indeed getting into the band is because of the Schoolboy image that Angus Young has.
When I was at school I didn’t enjoy it and didn’t want to be reminded of it, and afterwards it just seemed a bit peado-y. I definitely remember feeling a bit creeped out when I watched their ‘No Bull’ dvd (which was gifted to me by my fabulous friend, blog-inspiration and co-podcasting-partner-in-not-crime Magnum Valentino ) and seeing him flashing his underwear while dressed as a schoolboy. It was a bit odd… reminds me of people who dress up as babies for sexual reasons… just, a bit creepy.
I realize I’m a sucker for Rock gimmicks like Kiss’ Make-Up and Iron Maiden’s Eddie-themed stage shows, Slipknot in general and anything else you care to name really, so its definitely hypocritical of me, but yeah… I don’t like AC/DC’s gimmick.
The album is the first of theirs with Brian Johnson on vocals, and was recorded one year after the Death of their original singer Bon Scott. I kind of like his voice because I like Stephen ‘Zetro’ Sousza from the band Exodus (who incidentally covers AC/DC’s ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ and ‘Overdose’) and he has a voice that’s very reminiscent of Johnson’s.
I usually like to go through a history of the subgenre an album belongs to, but I don’t have much to say here. I didn’t like anything older than the 90s when I first got into music and Nu Metal in particular, it took me 3 years to get Led Zeppelin, 5 to get Black Sabbath and about 9 to get Deep Purple and Jimi Hendrix. I got a Kiss album in my first year or two (Destroyer), but I only liked one song (‘Detroit Rock City’) so didn’t get into the band properly for about 7 years, at which point I also got into Heart.
I remember at a time when I enjoyed Alien Ant Farm and Ill Nino, a neighbor of mine listened to a Black Sabbath greatest hits album and I couldn’t understand how anyone could listen to anything with such an ‘old’ sounding production job. I gave him a lend of Demanufacture to ‘fix his ears.’
So, when I was really new to rock and metal I wouldn’t have liked AC/DC. If I had of tried them somewhere between getting into Exodus and now it might’ve worked though. So, I really could’ve been into them for 8 years or so already. So, only trying now is definitely tardy.
The album opens up with clanging bells. Its something a lot of things I like do. Then next in comes a few quiet notes that don’t sound like the AC/DC stereotype, but gradually it turns to the sound I expected, especially when Brian’s distinct vocals come in.
The song feels a bit laid back to me. It feels like its actually diagonal. Do you remember the video for Metallica’s ‘The Memory Remains’ ? – Where the whole room is on a giant swing and the band start having to play with the floor being diagonal? Well, it sounds like AC/DC wrote and recorded this song at a very steep angel on that swing.
The vocals are pretty energetic, and the guitar work is characterful without being flashy, reminding me of Ace Frehley a little bit. Interesting memory – the only time I ever saw the music video for this, was in the same MTV2 programme that I saw Judas Priest’s ‘Judas Rising’ video that I also saw only once ever.
Next up is ‘Shoot To Thrill’ which I feel I may have heard before on the live DVD Magnum gave me. I really like it. It reminds me a heck of a lot of Iron Maiden’s ‘Holy Smoke’ and Judas Priests ‘Private Property’ which some snobs may read as an insult, but I like those songs. Its so on the border of classic rock and heavy metal that I’m stumped as to what I’d categorize it as. If Dio was singing on the exact same song, I’d call it Heavy Metal, but if it came on in a playlist of classic rock songs beside Kiss and Heart I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow.
The song sounds like a road movie. It sounds like a convertible car. The scene in The Hangover where they drive with The Donna’s ‘Take It Off’ playing could replace that song with this and convey the same message the director was aiming for. It could also play in Detroit Rock City or Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back when any of the characters are on the highway.
Next up is ‘What You Do For Money, Honey’ which I mistake for a Black Country Communion song during the intro, but the main verse is the exact, EXACT stereotype AC/DC sound. The chorus reminds me of a song where he said ‘…and I went DOWN. IN. FLAMES’ which I can’t remember what its called right now. I think it was by Skid Row now that I think of it. BIG GUNS. It was ‘Big Guns’ by Skid Row. Seriously, compare those two!
It’s a very lively song. I imagine its great fun to sing along at gigs.
Next up is ‘Given The Dog A Bone’ which again is a bit heavier than I expect. It has some enjoyable variations on his vocal format. He puts a few different ideas into it. I can’t think of anything in particular to say about it though.
The next song ‘Let Me Put My Love Into You’ is a lot more interesting. It’s a lot different from what I expect from the band. It sounds like alcoholic cops on a sunny day’s night. Its kind of twisted sounding. Its got a lot of musical character. Shame the lyrics are just a bunch of double entendres. The guitar solo is really unique sounding. Its very slow and deliberate. The chorus reminds me of both Rainbow and Coverdale era Deep Purple. The end is interesting, a bit all over the place.
Next up is the Title Track, which I already love. Its got one of those ‘Smoke On The Water’-esque must-learn riffs. Its got the must sing-along ‘Back.In.Black.’ bit with cymbal catches. Its got almost rapping style fast vocal bits that remind me of Kud from Mudvayne singing ‘Superman Motherfucker without the ‘S’ on my chest!’ because of the speed and rhytmn of the delivery.
There’s also a fun drum roll that sounds more like the snare drum sucks up the sticks than the drummer hitting a drum with sticks. Its more of a slurp than a roll. It sounds like the “word” ‘shluup.’ The guitar solo again, is remarkably slow and considered, very characterful. Shame it just fades out instead of ending but otherwise awesome song.
‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ comes in next and it really, really reminds me of Kiss. It reminds me of Freaks And Geeks. It sounds like what I uninformedly think Van Halen might sound like. Up until the chorus at least. I feel like I’ve heard the chorus a billion times but like I’ve never heard the verses before. The chorus reminds me of ‘King Of The Nighttime World’ by Kiss, but the bit where he said ‘You’ sounds really sad, like he’s singing about a dead wife and not just ‘a lay.’
I appreciate how early into the song the guitar solo shows up. Punctual.
The whole song has this last day of high school, summer night, Superbad/Dazed And Confused/Friday Night Lights feel to it. It sounds like bittersweet moments exchanging over beer on an American football pitch.
This is followed by ‘Have A Drink On Me’ which is a very AC/DC sounding song. The only thing that makes it stand out, is the southern rock sounding ‘do-dey-doodle-oo-do-do-do’ lead line that has a more Skynyrd/Blackfoot feel to it than I expect from the Ausssies with the British singer. When the solo comes in (fast for once) the song is more energetic and bombastic than it already is. Its perfect party rock stuff. I suppose that matches the lyrics then. I still see Ricky Medlock’s face every time the lead-line comes in though. There’s some good drumming on this track too. He gets a lot done that you mightn’t expect.
Next up is ‘Shake A Leg’ which opens up with an incredibly promising half-explosion and some very Robert Plant-esque vocals. It works on that same promise of an explosion that Kiss’ ‘I Pledge Allegiance To The State Of Rock And Roll’ does. I love songs that do that. Also Clutch’s ‘You Can’t Stop Progress.’ It then properly kicks off into its heavy bit. Its heavy bit isn’t THAT heavy in all honesty, its like a clown car. It reminds me of the opening credits to Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, but its cool, even for all its clowny half-heaviness. I’d really have loved it during my big Classic Rock phase three years ago when I got into Deep Purple and reinstated Kiss, Led Zepp and Heart into regular rotation. In fact, I really love it now. It’s a very fun song indeed.
The bluesy, rattle on the snare intro to the absurdly titled final track ‘Rock N Roll Aint Noise Pollution’ is an odd sound for this record, but I’ll go with it. This is the least I’ve liked a verse on the album too, when its verse comes in. The pre-chorus saves it a bit, but I just am not a fan of the chorus at all. Its very clumsy, the cheesiest thing on the record and not either heavy or melodic enough to stimulate the ‘hoorah’ centers in my brain. Also, where other things on the record feel anthemic, this feels like they deliberately tried to write an anthem and it fell totally flat… like Judas Priest’s ‘United’ chorus, which spoils an otherwise brilliant, brilliant song. Trying to write an anthem is a tricky thing. I think you just have to let one happen by accident.
Then that’s the album over. It was short, It started off kinda surprising, it got really good and then it ended on a real bad note. If it was up to me, it would’ve ended with ‘Back In Black’ and opened with ‘Shoot To Thrill’ (and indeed I may change the metadata on my iTunes so that that happens from now on) but I’m sure they know what they’re doing, seeing as it sold fifty-billion-billion-billion copies.
Answer in the comments section please – do you actually like ‘Rock N Roll Aint Noise Pollution’ ?
I’d be a little surprised if that was anybody’s favourite track on the record. I mean I can see how it’s the odd man out and that may do some favours for it to stand out, but the fact that its not as good a song as literally every other AC/DC song I’ve ever heard, or indeed any AC/DC cover I’ve ever heard, or any AC/DC Rip-off I’ve heard (Airbourne for example) makes me sceptical.
A quick Wikipedia search suggests it was the highest charting single on the album. Huh.