"Hells Bells" is a song by the Australian rock band AC/DC, released in 1980 as the first track of their album Back in Black. It's a well-known and iconic rock song that showcases AC/DC's signature hard rock sound and powerful vocals by lead singer Brian Johnson. At the same time, it's a different sort of song by the band, and here's why:
Album and release of "Hells Bells"
"Hells Bells" was released as the first track on the Back in Black album, which was released on July 25, 1980. This album was significant for AC/DC, as it was their first album following the death of lead vocalist Bon Scott, with Brian Johnson taking over as the new vocalist.
Composition and lyrics: The song's lyrics reference the tolling of a bell and evoke themes of mortality, the passing of time, and impending doom. The phrase "Hells Bells" is a play on words, referencing both the ominous tolling of a bell and the idea of entering into a dangerous or difficult situation.
Music and style: Musically,"Hells Bells"is characterized by its hard-hitting, riff-heavy guitar work by Angus Young and Malcolm Young. Even though “Highway to Hell” has ostensibly dark references to Hell, it's not quite as moody as the almost somber "Hells Bells," which is probably the band at its most serious. The song has a dark and heavy sound, featuring the iconic tolling bell at the beginning, which adds to its eerie and foreboding atmosphere.
Success and legacy/Tribute to Bon Scott
"Hells Bells" has become one of AC/DC's most iconic and enduring songs, becoming a staple of their live performances and is often considered one of the band's greatest hits. The song has been praised for its powerful composition and Johnson's distinct vocals. The "Back in Black" album, including "Hells Bells," is an artistic achievement, and is seen as a tribute to AC/DC's former lead singer, Bon Scott, who died in February 1980. Johnson always gracefully said Bon Scott was "larger than life." The dark and mournful tone of "Hells Bells" sets the stage for the album and pays homage to Scott while marking the band's transition to a new era with Brian Johnson.
Curiously enough, Johnson was hesitant to even audition for AC/DC, saying: “Someone phoned up and asked me to join this thing, and I just said, ‘Nah, I’ve been bitten before...'I had three Top 10 hits with [previous band] Geordie. And after three years we were as broke as when we started. Those were the days of the great rip off...I just said, ‘I’m not gonna do this again. I was away from home all the time, missed my daughters growing up. But then I got curious and thought, ‘Well, what’s the harm in trying out?’ So I went down, sang with the boys and…. Boing!” Of course, Back in Black is often listed as the second best-selling album of all time.
At the end of the day, "Hells Bells" is a cornerstone of AC/DC's discography, showcasing their characteristic hard rock sound and establishing their resilience and creativity during a challenging period for the band. The band apparently still plans to tour soon, and this song will no doubt be in their arsenal if and when they do.