Simply put, AC/DC's Back in Black is one of the biggest albums of any genre of any time anywhere. In December 2019, the Recording Industry Association of America announced that Back in Black has sold 25 million copies in the U.S. alone — more than the Beatles' White Album, Billy Joel's Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II, and Pink Floyd's The Wall. It's the best-selling hard-rock album of all time, right above Led Zeppelin IV. Globally, it's sold an estimated 50 million copies, making it the No. 2 most popular album in history worldwide, topped only by Michael Jackson's Thriller.
As such, Back in Black has influenced innumerable musicians who have followed in the band and the album's wake. One of those artists is Airbourne's Joel O'Keeffe. We talked to the Aussie rocker about his favorite track, how he compares Brian Johnson to Bon Scott, and the way the album spoke to him the first time he first heard it.
WHEN WAS THE FIRST TIME YOU HEARD BACK IN BLACK?
I first heard Back in Black early on back in secondary school from an AC/DC Brian Johnson–era box set Alberts Records in Australia released. I remember playing it over and over even in class with headphones and ignoring the teachers. Nothing they had to say interested me, but when it came to what AC/DC said, I was all ears.
WHAT DOES BACK IN BLACK MEAN TO YOU?
The greatest rock & roll album of all time ... along with all of the other AC/DC records.
BACK IN BLACK IS, OF COURSE, AC/DC'S FIRST ALBUM WITH BRIAN JOHNSON. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BRIAN AS COMPARED TO BON SCOTT?
They're both so different from each other, both original and both the iconic and most recognizable voices in not just AC/DC but in the history of rock & roll. I love them both. Bon Scott, the wild street poet who became the lightening bolt in the middle of the lewd, crude, sex-and-booze-fueled AC/DC boogie machine, and Brian Johnson, the only other possible bloke in the world with the balls and the iconic pipes to step into Bon's still warm shoes [to] deliver not only AC/DC's most successful album to date but the most successful rock & roll album in the history of the entire human race, fact.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE BACK IN BLACK SONG?
[Laughs] That's a bloody hard one 'cause they all are! So for today I'll go with "Shoot to Thrill," it's an absolute fist-pumper! Ang 'n' Mal's rhythm in the verses is pure adrenaline on six strings! Cliff 'n' Phil's rock & roll engine keeps chuggin' and Brian keeps ya singing and screamin' all the way!
ANGUS AND MALCOLM WERE ONE OF ROCK'S GREAT GUITAR DUOS. WHAT MADE THEIR PLAYING SO AWESOME?
The simple fact of them being brothers I believe is the fundamental reason behind their unique, dynamic and iconic guitar interplay.
IS BACK IN BLACK SOMETHING YOU REGULARLY GO BACK AND LISTEN TO? OR DOES IT REPRESENT A CERTAIN PERIOD OF TIME IN YOUR LIFE?
I have every edition on every format. I don't just listen to it — I absolutely rock my whole body and soul to it!