AC/DC’s “Back In Black”: For Bon Scott, or By Bon Scott?

Image Credit: Exagger Art

The collaboration between Bon Scott and AC/DC on their epic album, “Back In Black”, remains an intriguing riddle. Still unclear and unsolved to this day. How much did Bon Scott inspire this iconic, heavy metal monster? Not from the grave, but before it — as a rock and roll songwriter.

Is there thievery and a cover-up surrounding one of classic rock’s greatest albums? 37 years later, “Back In Black” still enjoys hefty sales and generous radio time, with no indication of slowing down.

Outside it’s enormous impact and accolades, AC/DC marketed the album as a tribute to Bon Scott. AC/DC’s memorial to their former front man may tug the heart strings of the masses, but questions remain over Bon Scott’s artistic contribution to “Back In Black”.

The “Highway To Hell” Gets Paved With Platinum:

After years of touring, promotion, and limited airplay, AC/DC released their platinum-selling album, “Highway To Hell”. The record took off, catapulting the band to rock stardom. The boys arrived — in the money and bonafied stars.

In the fall of 1979, AC/DC began groundwork for the follow-up album to “Highway To Hell”, untitled at the time. Angus and Malcolm Young would write the music, while Bon would pen the lyrics.

Through the winter of 1980, they’d often get together to compare notes. The Youngs to read Bon’s poetry, Bon to hear the latest chords and riffs. By then, the material began to form, pushing AC/DC closer to the recording studio.

The Death of Bon Scott:

When Bon finished his lyrics for the album, he called friends to celebrate the achievement. After a night of heavy drinking and drug use, Bon fell asleep in a parked car. Hours later, his mates discovered an unresponsive Scott, and phoned paramedics. Rushed to a hospital, Bon was pronounced dead on arrival.

AC/DC Moves Ahead To Record That Next Album, Holding Rehearsals for Bon Scott’s Replacement:

After weeks of tryouts, AC/DC selected Brian Johnson to be the band’s new lead singer. Soon after, AC/DC departed for the Bahamas to record that forthcoming album, “Back In Black”.

Bon Scott’s Notebook: Conspiracy Theory or Classic Rock’s Holy Grail?

After Bon’s death, his belongings were surrendered to the Scott family. The notebook with Bon’s song lyrics wasn’t among those items.

Legend has it, members of AC/DC’s entourage broke into Bon’s apartment and confiscated his notebook. (To this day, AC/DC denies any use of Bon’s lyrics on “Back In Black”, or knowledge of a notebook).

Since “Back In Black” and Beyond:
 
AC/DC continues to produce hit singles and gold records, yet nothing with the gravitas of “Back In Black”, “Highway To Hell”, or other albums from the Bon Scott era. All of AC/DC’s studio efforts since “Back In Black”, sound uneven and formulaic—one or two standouts in a lineup of mediocre tracks.

Raised on New York City radio, I know firsthand AC/DC gets enormous airplay. I also know that 90% of it comes from “Back In Black” and “Highway To Hell”. The other ten remains divided, still favoring the Bon Scott albums (“High Voltage” and “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” lead the charge).
 
AC/DC has made a lucrative career from a past shaped and influenced by Bon Scott — impossible without him. People wonder if Bon Scott will ever receive artistic credit for “Back In Black”, if in fact, it’s merit he’s earned and due.

When It Comes To Money, Actions Speak In Volumes:

If none of Bon’s lyrics were used for “Back In Black”, as AC/DC claims, why does the Scott family continue receiving royalties from “Back In Black”?

If AC/DC wrote and recorded “Back In Black” after Bon’s death, what would AC/DC owe his estate? What would cause a non-disclosure agreement between AC/DC and the Scott family regarding these royalty payments?

Rock and Roll Folklore:

I don’t buy the myth that a hyper-inspired Brian Johnson matched AC/DC’s music with these lyrics. Not when Johnson himself hasn’t written anything close to “Back In Black” in 37 years — neither has AC/DC.

Is it possible Bon’s missing notebook became the muse for “Back In Black”? It sure looks this way. Brian Johnson might deserve credit for filling in the blanks, but writing an album of this magnitude from scratch? In such a short time? By a songwriter with not much of a track record before or since?

Epilogue:

Bon Scott became famous as the inspiration for “Back In Black”. In dedication of this behemoth recording, but never as an actual artist and collaborator.

Facts and truth are funny things — no wonder people fear them. They’re often as cold as a dark tombstone, wink-wink.

Forget the mythology. Until there’s a deathbed confession, we may never know the true backstory connecting Bon Scott, AC/DC, and “Back In Black”.

For further reading, try Jesse Fink’s, Bon: The Last Highway (The Untold Story of Bon Scott and AC/DC’s Back In Black).