3. “Back in Black,” AC/DC

How many hundreds of times have I heard this song? But this morning one song ended and along came the clicking countdown of cymbals and muted guitar strings. One, two, three, four; one, two, justcymbals, justcymbals. Then: BAM. The cranked-up crunch of an E5 chord. Chills. As much as I love it, I don’t remember ever getting the chills listening to this song before. But that E5 chord chilled me. It screamed, “Thisisamutherfuckingrockandrollsong!” all in a split second. And I mean screamed. As the staccato riff played out, followed by the little pull-off lick in a bold call-and-answer, it occurred to me: If an alien ever came to me and said, “What is rock and roll?” I would play them this song. And they would hear that E5 and say, simply, “I understand.” And then they would choose not to use Earth as a game ball in the Super Colossal Mega Robot Baseball League. Because any planet that produced that sound should not be destroyed by a Super Colossal Louisville Slugger.

And let’s get back to that “justcymbals” part for a second. You have a classic rock and roll 4/4 countdown with cymbals and muted guitar. But the song doesn’t start after the first four, so there’s the first time your expectations are played with. Then it starts again for another four, right? Well, sort of. You get the one and two with cymbals and the click of muted guitar strings, but then the guitar is gone for the three and four. Just cymbals. Quieter. Lulling us. Then: BAM. All cranked up and distorted, that E5 destroys the silence. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice… consider me rocked.

I don’t have any specific memories of this song. It reminds me of my cousin, whose favourite band is AC/DC. It reminds me of my six-year-old boys, who have always claimed their favourite band is AC/DC (although “You Shook Me All Night Long” is their favourite song). I don’t remember the first time I heard it. But this morning it felt like I was born again and hearing it for the first time.

And when you know the history of this song, you’re even more convinced of its power. This was a band who had lost their revered singer, Bon Scott, in a tragic accident. They weren’t sure if they could continue to be AC/DC without him. Then they found Brian Johnson. Would AC/DC be the same? Of course not. Not exactly. But could they still be AC/DC? Could they still be the throbbing, screaming heart of rock and roll as it entered the ’80s? That’s the question this song and the album that bears its name answers. When Johnson’s shredded vocals come in, dodging in and out of that riff, weaving with it, interconnected, the deal is sealed. AC/DC is alive and well. Rock and roll is alive and well. And it ain’t noise pollution.

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