"That kind of bare-bones grit they had in the early days was replaced with this driving sonic overload": Why I ❤️ AC/DC's Back In Black, by Kiss's Paul Stanley

Paul Stanley pointing at the camera, superimposed on the cover of of AC/DC's Back In Black
(Image credit: Kevin Mazur)

“There’s a great quote from Angus Young where somebody said to him: ‘This album sounds just like your last one’, and he goes: ‘No, it sounds like all of our albums!’ So I guess you could say it’s kind of hard to pick a favourite. 

“There are certain songs that I love. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap is amazing, and Highway To Hell is as nasty and glorious as you can get. But let’s be honest, Back In Black is on another level. 

“When Brian Johnson joined AC/DC, I was curious – like everyone was – about how that would impact the band and the chemistry they had with Bon Scott. But what they created with Back In Black was just monumental. The way that album starts with Hells Bells, it hit me like the first time I heard Black Sabbath – like, ‘Holy shit!’ 

"With Back In Black the band’s sound was polished to some degree. They were building on what they’d done before, moving forward. That kind of bare-bones grit they had in the early days was replaced with this driving sonic overload. But it was so brilliant. I thought what was gained overrode what was lost." 

“There’s another great song from the beginning of the Brian era. For Those About To Rock is as impressive and colossal as anything I’ve ever heard. The end of that song, with the cannons firing, it really is gladiator music!

“A lot of bands have tried to copy them, but AC/DC are the real deal, and I knew that from the first time I saw them. It was at the Whisky A Go Go in LA, sometime in the mid-seventies. They were so gritty, and the adrenaline level was just crazy. The amount of energy that Angus was expending on stage was mind boggling. 

"I mean, the sweat was just flying off him. You’re standing there thinking this man is possessed – like a demonic possession! And Bon had a unique style. He was kind of like the charismatic troublemaker. The kind of guy that everybody would look at and think: ‘Boy, I wish I had a mate like that…’ 

“A little later we took AC/DC out as the opening act for Kiss, and again, they were fantastic. As Angus has said, we made sure they had the best sound, and we always had the same attitude with opening acts. It’s cheating to undermine them or sabotage them. If you’re the headliner you’re supposed to be the champ, but if the champ can only win by having the contender fight with one hand tied behind their back, then you don’t deserve to be champion. So that’s part of it.

"And being a huge rock’n’roll fan, I wanted those bands to go out there and be the best they can be. Not only for the audience’s sake, but because I want to see them kick ass. Then it’s our job to show everyone why we’re the headliner. And if we can’t do that, that’s on us, it’s not on them.

“I also think that what AC/DC have is something that’s in all the great classic bands, without any exception. It’s that chemistry between two people, that yin and yang and a sense of camaraderie that audiences can relate to. All the great bands have it. It’s Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend. It’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. It’s Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart. If you go down the line it’s me and Gene, it’s Axl and Slash. AC/DC had it with Bon and Angus, and it was the same with Brian and Angus. 

"That yin and yang, it’s like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. There’s a balance and a chemistry on stage that has a real connection with an audience. I’ve always said that the key to a great band is to make it a club that everyone wants to be a member of. That camaraderie is a big part of what makes AC/DC so great. And when you listen to Back In Black or Highway To Hell or any of those classic records, I think you can really feel that chemistry."

Paul Stanley was speaking with Paul Elliott.

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”