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 Beartooth's Caleb Shomo. We talked to the vocalist about his favorite track, how the band inspired him to learn to play "all the rock instruments" when he was a kid, and how AC/DC still inspire him today to write straightforward, badass songs.
WHAT DOES BACK IN BLACK MEAN TO YOU?
CALEB SHOMO Back in Black is extremely important in my life. To me, that's the record that kind of started everything with my love of rock & roll. I got it when I was probably 11 or 10, and it was the first record I had bought with my own money, so I was so excited to get it. Mom took me to the store, I'd spent the 15 to 20 bucks, whatever it was at that point, and went home and just played it out — I mean, just played that record over and over and over and over. I just couldn't get enough. I mean, every single part of it was just heavy and incredible, so that, to me, was just a big thing in my life, so it means a lot.
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?
Hmm. Great question. You know, I think Bon was one of the greatest rock singers of all time, period. I mean, that dude just absolutely ripped. He had such a huge range. He had such a cool voice. His whole thing he did was just incredible, and for somebody to come in and take the reigns from that, is a big fucking responsibility. But to take the reigns and then make Back in Black is fucking mind blowing. I mean, the vocals on this record are so iconic, and it would just not have been even close without Brian. It just wouldn't have been the same thing. They definitely made different records and it was different vibes, but they're both equally fucking amazing. Brian sings on one of the top-selling music albums of literally all time, so I guess that kind of speaks for itself.
HOW, IF AT ALL, DID BACK IN BLACK INFLUENCE YOUR OWN CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT, OR THE WAY YOU THOUGHT ABOUT WRITING MUSIC?
I guess the fact that I started learning all of the rock instruments at once at that time when I first got the record. I was learning guitar, learning drums, learning bass and I would just play AC/DC on every instrument all the fucking time. I would learn their guitar riffs, play them out, bass drums, like just that tight four on the floor. That shit was awesome. That had a huge influence on me from a very young age and I think it really bled into what I do now. Just the simplicity of the chords singing through, not trying to over complicate things, but when it's time to open up and let loose, like, let it fucking go. That is what I love about AC/DC, and they have definitely helped me learn how to write songs in a way that's just real straightforward.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE BACK IN BLACK SONG AND WHY?
My favorite song on Back in Black has got to be "Hell's Bells." The opening track on the record. That song just made me a huge sucker for openers. I love when it just kicks in and you know this record is going to fucking rip the entire way through. Opening songs are a really big thing for me so "Hell's Bells" takes the cake. The riff, the bell — it's all amazing.
ANGUS AND MALCOLM WERE ONE OF ROCK'S GREAT GUITAR DUOS. WHAT MADE THEIR PLAYING SO AWESOME?
Angus and Malcolm are just a fucking match made in heaven. They are just so rock solid at what they do. Malcolm is probably my personal favorite guitar player of all time. I play mostly rhythm guitar stuff so he was the god of holding down rhythm. He would play it hard, play it right and he didn't fucking mess up. I'm sure he just went shows and shows without messing up. The dude was just fucking rock solid. Tone was amazing, plays Gretsch guitars, love those — super badass. He just brought the platform for Angus to just go wild on top of. That's what I think they did so well together. When Angus would be playing solos, Malcolm knew when to pull back just right. He knew when to lay in with him on the solos. They were just glued, and that is very hard to find. And it's very inspirational stuff.
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 definitely still listen to Back in Black. I still listen to AC/DC all time. I just can't get enough of that band. It does definitely remind me of learning how to play rock & roll. You know, like picking up a guitar and playing the four AC/DC chords and just going wild and fucking turning up my amp super loud and then just playing drums and playing bass and learning how to turn all of that into a cohesive song. That's what it reminds me of. Because that was the era I was really jamming that record in.