AC/DC continues to tour across the globe. Lead singer Brian Johnson, however, has been unable to join the band due to concerns over hearing loss. In a shocking choice, 80’s metal icon W. Axl Rose replaced Johnson as the new lead singer. A bit of irony exists here. Long-time fans of AC/DC know Johnson, himself, served as the replacement for the original lead singer Bon Scott. The first incarnation with Scott represented one of the hottest and iconic hard rock bands of the 1970’s. When Johnson took over on lead vocals, the band launched an enormously hot run in the 1980’s and beyond.
Death of Bon Scott
The birth of one of hard rock’s greatest bands took place in Sydney, Australia in 1973. The lineup went through a number of changes until around 1975. The band’s unique sound catapulted the combination of Scott, bassist Mark Evans, drummer Phil Rudd, and original founders and guitarists Angus Young, and Malcolm Young to unexpected international fame. Heavy metal existed on the fringe of the music scene, but the band’s 1976 album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap – mild by today’s standards – was highly controversial due to the inclusion of a ribald novelty song and the lead track about a hitman. Highway to Hell proved to be a huge hit. The LP furthered controversy about the band since the title played coy with the controversial – and often mythical – connection between hard rock and Satanism.
Albums sold incredibly well. Tours packed arenas all over the globe. And with success and fame came troubles. The band was not immune from the threats and dangers of the “rock and roll lifestyle.”
In the early morning hours of February 19, 1980, Scott left a musical club known as the Music Machine. He left the London club and went to sleep in a car. He never woke up. Scott was found unresponsive and rushed to a hospital. He was pronounced dead on arrival. Eventually, it was revealed he passed out and choked on his own vomit with alcohol poisoning blamed for the circumstances.
Bon Scott Talked to AC/DC Bandmates About Brian Johnson
After Scott’s death, the band contemplated breaking up. Instead, the chose to go in a new direction with a new lead singer.
The selection of Brian Johnson comes with quite a bit of tragic irony. In the early 1970’s, Bon Scott fronted a group named Fang during a not-so-successful tour of England. Fang opened for a marginally popular band called Geordie. Geordie was fronted by singer Johnson. Scott was impressed by the wild antics of Brian Johnson. The antics resulted from Johnson suffering an appendicitis attack on stage. How much of this tale is exaggerated probably will never be known. What is known is Scott told his bandmates in AC/DC about Johnson years later. He also copied some of Johnson’s stage act.
Johnson wasn’t the only choice for a replacement. He had fallen off the music radar and wasn’t even in Geordie anymore. Johnson started work at an auto garage when he was called to audition. After getting the gig, Johnson and the rest of the group would go on to make music history. Incredibly, the first album the new version of the band went to work on turned out to become one of the biggest sellers of all-time: Back in Black.
The Masterpiece Back in Black Album
Work on Back in Black commenced prior to Scott’s death. During the recording of this studio album, the project morphed into a tribute to the late singer. Produced by the highly-regarded Robert John “Mutt” Lange, Back in Black was initially recorded in the Bahamas before work moved to the famous Electric Lady Studio in New York City.
The album was released on July 25, 1980, and was a smash hit in both the UK and the US. The song “You Shook Me All Night Long” broke the US Top 40, a first for the band. Possibly, the album gained publicity due to Scott’s death. While that could have spiked sales somewhat at the beginning, the album wouldn’t have continued to sell as strong as it without critical and music fan appreciation. Back in Black succeeded with crossover appeal going beyond the hard rock crowd and into mainstream acceptance, a relative rarity at the time.
Back in Black eventually went 22x Platinum in the United States. Total record sales equal a stunning 50 million copies placing it second behind only Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the best-selling album of all time. Back in Black continues to find a new audience. As recently as 2014, Back in Black returned to the Billboard top 100 chart — 34 years after the original release.
The release of Back in Black absolutely contributed greatly to the massive “heavy metal boom” of the 1980’s. Many doors were opened for hard rock bands that had previously been closed. Unlike those bands, this one continues to headline tours to this day.