AUSTRALIAN #1 HIT

 

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You Shook Me All Night Long (A Young/M Young/B Johnson) 1980 and Hells Bells (A Young/M Young/B Scott) and Back in Black (M Young/ A Young/ B Johnson)- AC/DC 1981 

Highway to Hell was the international breakthrough album for the band, producer Mutt Lange had driven the band for over three months to record it, in the past it would have taken them three weeks to record an album. There was a new discipline and focus about the creative process, the songs were impressive, the whole production had a sheen and chart-smart boogie feel to it that resonated internationally. Ultimately Highway to Hell would sell in excess of 8.5 million copies, climb to #17 in the US and #13 in Australia and even re-enter the UK singles charts again in 2013 for a #4 hit, the title track was included by the US Rock and Roll hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

 

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But before the band would record their next album, there would be two significant personnel changes in the AC/DC camp, tireless long-serving manager Michael Browning, would be sacked by the Young brothers.

The clan were still smarting at the way their brother George had been excluded from the band’s production team, and replaced by Mutt Lange, and they were also incensed at Browning’s ill-advised attempt to partner with Cedric Kushner in the management of the group, without their prior knowledge or approval. Browning was replaced by American Ted Mensch, who had been circling the band for some time, and was already managing Aerosmith and Ted Nugent. The sacking of Browning was brutal, the family had decided his fate, as they had done for all those associated with the band who were deemed to be disrespectful of the Youngs or a potential challenge to their authority.

On February 20th 1980 Bon Scott was found dead in a Renault 5 mini-car outside 67 Overhill Rd, East Dulwich, South London, the official cause of death was alcoholic poisoning, he was buried in the Fremantle (WA) cemetery, his gravesite has become a place of pilgrimage for rock fans, as has AC/DC Lane (Melb) named in the band’s honour.

The search for a replacement for Bon Scott involved auditions in London and the hopefuls reportedly included Ozzy Osbourne, John Swan, Jimmy Barnes, Angry Anderson and Stevie Wright, but ended with the unanimous selection by the Youngs of Brian Johnson, former front man for the glam rock group Geordie, who was deemed to be a capable replacement, similar in vocal style to Noddy Holder of UK band Slade.

Johnson had all but given up on a career in music and at the time he was approached to audition for the band, he was getting divorced, and living with his mother in Newcastle, working on a car assembly line and earning a few extra quid singing advertising jingles and gigging where he could. His audition songs were Nutbush City Limits, Let There Be Rock, and several Chuck Berry songs, and he nailed them, six weeks later he was in the Compass Point Studios (Nassau,Bahamas) with the rest of the band, recording the album Back In Black with legendary producer ‘Mutt” Lange.

You Shook Me All Night Long was the first single taken off the album, it is an inspired and highly disciplined serve of industrial strength stomp rock. Angus opens with a riveting guitar flourish, Malcolm riffs in perfect support of the percussion and Johnson wails into the opening verse until he arrives at the arresting pre-chorus “Cause the walls start shaking/The Earth was quaking/My mind was aching/And we were making it” which segues perfectly to the simple chorus which is the song title repeated several times.

Over time the actual provenance of some of the lyrics to this song have been revealed, “She told me to come but I was already there,” was found in Bon Scott’s lyric file after his death, recording engineer Tony Platt took credit for “Double time on the seduction line…” and Mutt Lange also made significant lyrical contributions to the album, but has never revealed what they were.

Johnson was not as theatrical or animated as Bon Scott but solid, dependable and a useful foil for the more outrageous antics of schoolboy-clad lead guitarist Angus Young whose solo guitar leads take the song over the edge. This lascivious, innuendo-laden ditty was a production tour de force by heavy metal supremo Lange, the mega-successful album Back In Black (#1 Aust, #1UK, and #4 USA) completely outsold the single which was a top 10 hit in Australia and #35 in the USA. The album sold 16 million copies in the USA alone, and 50 million copies globally, it was #1 in Australia where it sold 840,000 copies, and occupied the charts for 74 weeks, it sold a million copies in France, Canada, and the UK, Atlantic were now recouping their investment in the band  to a degree that they could never have imagined.

Johnson’s lyrics here reveal his preoccupation with metaphorically embodying the finer features of a muscle car – a powerful well-tuned engine, clean cylinders, and responsive circuits – with those of a pneumatic, seductive and compliant female, he returned to this metaphor in 1988 with the lyrics to Heatseeker, clearly his time on the car assembly line, had not been wasted.

 

Brian Johnson was under enormous pressure to write songs for this his first AC/DC album, he had big shoes to fill in Bon Scott, but the title track Back in Black was impressive, the opening riff was so catchy and memorable that the listener was engaged from the get-go, the Young brothers generated a counterbalance of swing and riffs against the pulsing beat of Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd’s rhythm section. The mid-section of the song delivered a clash of spiraling, dueling guitars, the technical brilliance of the band was indisputable, and Lange had harnessed the drive, energy and menace of the band like no one else before. By now Malcolm Young could rightly claim to be one of the greatest rhythm guitarists in the world, and Back in Black became the second AC/DC song to be included in the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

 

 

Producer Lange now challenged Johnson to capture the dark mood of the song he had just written Back in Black, and he was struggling to top it.

Hell’s Bells was to be the band’s tribute to the late Bon Scott, it was the first track on the album, and the second single released from it, a more funereal, gloomy portal to the more upbeat songs to follow could not be imagined. A mournful tolling bell opens proceedings followed by slow sinister riffs from Angus and the inspired lyrics of Johnson Across the sky… You’re only young but you’re gonna die …” Get my bell … gonna take you to hell, gonna get ya, Satan gonna get ya…”

As Johnson wrestled with the lyrics, nature came to his assistance, when a tropical rainstorm descended on the Bahamas, rolling thunder, teeming rain, jagged lightning flashes lifted straight from the AC/DC logo, proved to be the inspiration for Johnson to finish the song that night. At 5.10 minutes it was the longest track on the album and undoubtedly it was a subtler, more pensive composition than any other of AC/DC’s hits and was a memorable musical eulogy to their former front man.

 

The band were on the cusp of a golden era between 1979-1992 when they would notch no less than eight top 5 albums in Australia, overseas sales in this period would also be prodigious.

AC/DC were on the way to becoming, with the Bee Gees, the two most successful Australian groups in popular music history.

 

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