Musical Brilliance: AC/DC’s “Back in Black”

I love this song. It’s one of those songs that gets better every time you listen to it. I could wax poetic for hours about why I love it or torture you with my own rendition (in which I make my voice sound like an old lady with her pinkie caught in a paper shredder), but instead of subjecting you to those horrors, I’ll give you three reasons why I love “Back in Black” so dearly:


1. Brian Johnson‘s Instrument* 

I’ve made a great many mistakes in my life, and it’s time for me to come clean about one of them: I used to watch American Idol. Religiously.

Wait a minute. You’re still here?

Okay, I’m a bit surprised you didn’t bail on me, but since you haven’t run screaming from the blog yet, I’ll go ahead and tell you one thing I did like about the show. I’d never before thought of a voice as an instrument. But when I heard people like Chris Daughtry, the dude named Cook who rocked out a version of a Mariah Carey song, and my all-time American Idol favorite—Elliott Yamin—I understood for the first time that a voice could be an instrument just as much as a flute, a tuba, or the cowbell (you knew I had to include that, right?).

The Instrument at Work

So if we’re considering the voice an instrument, how about the instrument on Brian Johnson*? That voice of his is a lethal weapon, a strident, screechy, volcanic instrument. And in “Back in Black,” that instrument is as sharp as a gleaming scalpel and as powerful as a six-year-old’s breath after a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Johnson owns “Back in Black,” and even if he sang it a cappella, I’d listen to him belt it out with a stupefied grin on my face.


2. The Beginning of the Second Verse

Before I tell you why I love it, why don’t you check out the words themselves…

Back in the back
Of a Cadillac
Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack

You hear the rhythm? The cadence? Do you feel the internal vortex the words themselves create? Many songs fall apart after the first sounding of the chorus. Not “Back in Black.” No, what the rhythms and the words at the beginning of the second verse do is herald in an even stronger phase of the song. A “You think that was great? Well, just wait for this…” attitude that proves more than mere bravado; it’s a promise that AC/DC makes good on and then some. Which brings me to…


3. “It’s all about the story”

The above quote is one I’ve heard my main editor, the incredible Don D’Auria of Samhain Horror, utter often. It’s a mantra I happen to agree with—everything a writer does, be it characterization, word choice, tone, pace, structure, time expansion, symbolism, foreshadowing…whatever—every single word must serve the story. It’s that way in fiction, it’s that way in television, it’s that way in movies.

And it’s that way in music.

Don D'Auria: Fabulous Editor and Former Bassist for the Turkish Speed Metal Band CANAVAR
Don D’Auria: Fabulous Editor and Former Bassist for the Turkish Speed Metal Band CANAVAR

No, I’m not suggesting that “Back in Black” tells some amazing story in the traditional, literary sense because not all songs aspire to become short stories or masterpieces of flash fiction. But a song is like a story in the sense that every note from Angus Young’s blazing guitar, every single drum beat, every single pause, every single everything in a song needs to serve that song. And in “Back in Black” it does. And in some magical way, that unity of effect (to quote Poe) makes the song universal.

I’d never claim to be a music expert; my wife, however, is. And though she can’t stand hard rock (yep, I married her anyway), she loves “Back in Black.” Perhaps even m0re tellingly, my two-year-old daughter clamors for it every time we get in the van. Does that make me an irresponsible parent? Perhaps. But I can tell you one thing: My kids and I rock out whenever “Back in Black” comes on.

So in case you have a hankering for it, here’s the brilliant piece of music about which I just wrote over 700 words.

*Get your minds out of the gutter!

Another Awesome Singer: Elliott Yamin
Another Awesome Singer: Elliott Yamin

Oh, and in case you haven’t checked out my new serial novel SAVAGE SPECIES, you can get the first installment for free right here (NIGHT TERRORS), the second installment (THE CHILDREN) for a buck fifty here, and the third part (DARK ZONE) here for $1.05. That’s over three hundred pages of rip-roaring horror for $2.55. Not bad, huh?

Now go order my books and jam to some AC/DC.



6 thoughts on “Musical Brilliance: AC/DC’s “Back in Black”

  1. Jonathan, great blog post. Crazy, man, but I admit that I watch AI with my wife, and she’s a huge David Cook fan, as well as Daughtry. We’ve seen both in concert, and met Cook backstage…supercool dude. And yeah, she loves Elliot Yamin, too. Had to read your article to her. By the way, my Mom loves the GnR song, “You’re Crazy.”


    1. THANK you, Chris! Yeah, I’ve wavered in and out of the AI spell for a while now, but it sounds like you guys like some of the same ones we have liked. That’s very cool about meeting David Cook backstage. The dude can really sing. Thanks for sharing the article with you wife, and tell your mom I think her taste in music is amazing. 🙂


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