Brian Johnson Shoots Down Bon Scott ‘Back in Black’ Rumors
Brian Johnson has tackled long-standing rumors that the lyrics to AC/DC’s classic “Back in Black” were penned by Bon Scott before his death.
“The conspiracy theories are legion - usually started by people who think they know what happened but weren’t there,” Johnson explained in his new memoir, The Lives of Brian. The singer referenced an Australian writer, presumably Bon: The Last Highway author Jesse Fink, who “claimed that Bon Scott had already scribbled most of the words to the album in one of his notebooks before he died.”
But Johnson was clear and unwavering in confirming that he was the one who wrote the lyrics to the Back in Black album, including its title track.
“It was me at the end of the pen, writing every night and every morning, with only the title to work with,” the singer declared. “That’s what happened. That’s the truth and I really hope that settles it.” (Fink has issued a question-filled response to Johnson's assertions at JesseFinkBooks.com.)
It was in March 1980, roughly a month after Scott’s death, that Johnson auditioned with AC/DC. The English singer, then fronting Geordie II, didn’t believe he had much chance of landing the gig with the Australian band. “I did not think I had the job, nor was I even looking for it at the time,” Johnson told Yahoo Music, looking back at how he felt following that initial AC/DC audition. “I was just happy to say, ‘Well, that's another little bucket-list thing.’”
To his surprise, the band invited him back for another rehearsal. It was during that session that Johnson was presented with the basic idea for “Back in Black.”
“It’s a tribute to Bon,” Johnson recalled Malcolm Young telling him. “About death, but not in a morbid way or anything. More of a celebration - with some rock n’ roll swagger.”
According to Johnson, the song had a title, but no lyrics yet. It did, however, boast “one of the best fucking riffs that I had ever heard in my life.” “Without thinking, I just opened my mouth and screamed, ‘Back in black!’ the air exploding out of my lungs, ‘I hit the sack!’”
Even though Johnson was unable to immediately think of any further lines, he continued singing those two lyrics over the song’s powerful riff. The fledgling song quickly grabbed attention.
“For the briefest of moments, I felt a change in the room," he recalled. "People were appearing behind mixing desks and amplifiers, people I hadn’t noticed before. Eyes were moving. There was a buzz in the air. I mean, there’s no mistaking that look on someone’s face when they hear something for the first time that gives them chills. It’s involuntary.”
“Back in Black” would go on to become one of AC/DC’s most famous songs, while the album of the same name – Johnson’s first with the band – still ranks among the bestselling LPs of all time.