The staggering success of the first post-Bon Scott -AC/DC album Back in Black in 1980, with global sales of 50 million copies was a remarkable achievement. But Brian Johnson (below) still had his detractors who likened him to a cross between Harold Steptoe and Andy Capp, the former rag and bone/scrap collector depicted in the 1960’s English TV series Steptoe and Son and the latter a flat-capped working class boozer and ne’er do well who is still a popular comic strip character in the UK. Brian’s voice was also compared unfavorably with the sound of grinding marbles in a cement mixer, but he had delivered in the recording studio and at live performances, and more importantly, he had the imprimatur of the Young brothers.Mutt “Lange” had worked his magic on the band’s two previous albums – Highway to Hell and Back in Black for total global sales of approx. 58 million, he had meticulously polished the AC/DC albums and achieved a separation and curation of sound that Vanda and Young had never quite achieved.Material success encouraged band members to plan for the future, Malcolm married his long-time partner O’linda (above) and acquired a home in London, Angus did likewise and married Ellen (below) and relocated to her hometown in the Netherlands, bassist Williams found a hideaway in Hawaii, drummer Rudd opted for a return to Sydney, and Brian Johnson eventually moved to Florida.It would therefore be mind-boggling to imagine how the band would implode over the next several years that would see their drummer (Phil Rudd), their producer (Mutt Lange), their manager (Peter Mensch) and even their cook, all be summarily sacked by Malcolm Young. Rudd would be re-employed some eleven years, and four albums later after two replacement drummers had also been sacked by Malcolm; obviously being a drummer in AC/DC was a hazardous career path, not unlike the succession of drummers in Spinal Tap, the legendary heavy metal band satirised in the mockumentary of the same name, whose disappearances were attributed to “spontaneous human combustion” or “choking on someonelse’s vomit.”The Youngs’ battles with their record company Atlantic continued unabated, the band were in the hyperspace of global success after Back in Black, so Atlantic decided to cash in by releasing the five year- old album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, which had never been released in the US. The absence of participation by the band in this release is evident from the album cover, well-dressed tourists in a tropical location stare at the camera sporting simpering grins, vaguely menacing glares and stares, all with their eyes obscured by blackout strips, it was so un-AC/DC -like it could have been mistaken for a Phil Collins album. It was clearly inferior to their last two albums, and although it would ultimately sell 2 million copies and hit #3 in the US, it failed to capitalise on the great momentum that the band already had in global markets and it wouldn’t be until the release of For Those About to Rock…We Salute You in 1981 that another AC/DC/Mutt Lange album emerged.The album title was coined by Angus who had been inspired by the Roman gladiators’ motto “For Those About to Die…We Salute You” (Ave Caesar morituri te salutant). It may well have been the epitaph on the relationship between the Youngs and Mutt Lange, whose painstaking and sometimes laborious methods of recording were testing the patience of Malcolm and Angus, who favoured a bluesy rawness and spontaneity over Mutt’s meticulous sound curation.
The album was a hit, charting #1 in US and #3 locally, sold over 5.6 mllion copies globally and the standout song was the title track which charted #15 in the UK and possessed much of the swagger and rock cred of Bon-era hits. Starting with a chorus and riff concocted by the Youngs and Johnson’s gladiatorially – inspired lyrics, it slowly built up to the full anthemic-riffing all guns-blazing finale, which included a fusillade of cannons, which would thereafter become a feature of their live act as captured here on the video of their Live At River Plate performance. Johnson’s song-writing contribution on this album was very uneven, Let’s Get It Up, Snowballed, and Inject The Venom were lyrically half-baked, and his creative energy seemed to be ebbing.By the time the band were recording Flick of the Switch back at the Compass Point Studios (Bahamas) Mutt Lange had departed and Malcom, Angus and their long-suffering sound engineer Tony Platt, were producing the album, the band’s manager Peter Mensch had been sacked and drummer Phil Rudd would be ousted before the album was completed.
Englishman Tony Wright replaced Rudd, so now there were no native-born Antipodeans left in the group, the album was a Malcolm Young-dominated project, his instruction to Platt was to aim for a sound like Muddy Waters 1977 album Hard Again and BB King’s recording with Johnny Winter of Mannish Boy – they didn’t even get close. Better tracks on the album like Rising Power and This House is on Fire were embarrassingly ordinary when compared to the band’s earlier work, in comparative terms the album stiffed when it only sold 1.2 million copies globally, although it did chart top 5 in both the UK and Australia.The downward trajectory continued with the Youngs’ producing Fly on the Wall at the Mountain studios in Montreaux (Switzerland), the post -Mutt Lange recording sessions were unfocused, raucous jam sessions, and with the possible exception of the title track, lyrically the songs were clumsy, smutty, juvenile examples of some of the worst cock rock written, many were re-tooled versions of earlier hits and the band was accused of self-plagiarism. The album stiffed, and barely scraped into the US top 40, but diehard fans in the UK (#7) and Australia (#4) were still supportive, although tours were being cancelled in Europe and none scheduled for the US.