The Real Meaning Behind AC/DC’s “Hells Bells”

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After frontman Bon Scott passed away on February 19, 1980, the band decided to carry on with new singer Brian Johnson and began work on their breakthrough album Back in Black. Back in Black, a tribute to Scott, is one of the best-selling albums in music history and has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide because to the explosive singles “You Shook Me All Night Long,” the title track (originally written by Scott), and the opening “Hells Bells.”

The band intended to begin the record with a bell ringing as a tribute to Scott. What they discovered was a 2,000-pound bronze bell made in Loughborough, England, by John Taylor Bellfounders. The sepulchral guitar riff of Angus Young breaks the melancholy bells and ushers in “Hells Bells,” establishing a new tempo for AC/DC.

The guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young and their “new” vocalist Johnson wrote the song “Hells Bells,” which had a clear message. The song’s lyrics were alluding to someone who was “raising hell,” which was something Scott was known for doing. The phrase “Hells Bells” is an angry or shocked exclamation.

Since the middle of the 19th century, the phrase “Hells Bells” has been used in the United Kingdom and the United States; nevertheless, it wasn’t until Australian soldier Joseph Maxwell adopted it as the title of his 1932 World War I book, Hell’s Bells and Mademoiselles, that it became more widely used.

Back in Black was largely recorded at Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, under the direction of John “Mutt” Lange, who had worked on AC/previous DC’s album, Highway to Hell.

“Mutt [Lange] says, ‘Tonight we’re gonna do “Hells Bells,” Brian,’” Johnson recalled the recording session.“I’m thinking, ‘Hmm, “Hells Bells,” right.’ I’d just done ‘Back in Black,’ so I thought, ‘Can it get any moodier?’ And then, right at that moment, there was a tropical thunderstorm the likes of which I’d never seen before. Mutt said, ‘Listen, thunder!’ And I said, ‘That’s rolling thunder. That’s what they call it in England.’ He says, ‘Rolling thunder, write that down.’

He continued:

“The fucking rain came down in torrents, you couldn’t hear yourself. I was gone. The song was ready that night. I hadn’t even heard the track ‘cause they were busy doing it. It was whacked down in the greatest haste.”

The song “Hells Bells” is mostly a tribute to Bon Scott, who was presented with a monument in Fremantle, Western Australia, in 2008.

Listen to the song below: