As immensely successful as AC/DC’s 1980 album Back in Black was (it has sold around 50 million copies worldwide), the band didn’t have a No. 1 record until their seventh North American release, For Those About to Rock We Salute You came out on Nov. 23, 1981.

The band came out of the gate with a full arsenal – literally. “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You),” now a traditional show-closer, is a mid-paced stormer about the band’s appreciation for its fans, and about three-and-a-half minutes in, the music is punctuated with cannon blasts that continue until the end of the song. It’s such a good song that it makes the other songs on the album, which rock in their own right, sound somewhat anemic by comparison.

Really, AC/DC were in a no-win situation, and after they went supernova with the release of Back in Black in 1980, the group became a victim of its own popularity. There was no way they were going to match the cultural impact of that album, so they tried something different. The problem was, they didn’t know exactly what they wanted and it shows.

The band began working on For Those About to Rock We Salute You in July 1981 at EMI Pathe-Marconi Studios in Paris. They hired producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who had worked on their previous two albums and right away they ran into problems. Unhappy with the sound they were getting, they relocated to a warehouse on the edge of the city and rented the Mobile One studio.

After they recorded the music, Johnson tracked his vocals at Family Sound Studio and then AC/DC recorded overdubs at HIS Studios. Though they were done in September 1981 they second-guessed themselves all the way and by the time they were finished they didn’t know if they had recorded another hit or committed commercial suicide. Likely due to their unhappy experiences recording the album, For Those About to Rock We Salute You marked the end of AC/DC’s working relationship with Lange.

“Christ! It took us forever to make that record and it sounds like it,” the late Malcolm Young told Metal CD in 1992. “It’s full of bits and pieces and it doesn’t flow properly like an AC/DC album should… By the time we’d completed it I don’t think anyone …could tell whether it sounded right or wrong.”

There’s quite a bit of diversity on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, which combines a range of distorted, bluesy riffs, string-bending solos and left hand tapping with devilish lyrics about getting tough (“Put the Finger on You”), getting off (“Let’s Get It Up,” “Inject the Venom”), getting f---ed over (“Snowballed”) and getting ugly (“C.O.D,” “Evil Walks” and the Night Prowler-ish “Night of the Long Knives”). There’s even a political Johnson-penned track (“Breaking the Rules”), but that only emphasizes the overall schizophrenic feel of the record.

“Snowballed” and “C.O.D.” sound like traditional AC/DC, but lack the bite of anything off Back in Black, while “Spellbound” is a cool tune and aggressively trudges and pounds, yet “Put the Finger on You” sounds like lightweight ‘80s radio rock.

The band blamed Lange and their management for their inability to connect musically with the coherence they had in the past and near the end of the recording session they fired manager Peter Mensch. “I started getting weird vibes after [they played] Donnington, [England],” he told Q in 1997. “[The band’s] lawyer phoned David Krebs and he called me and said I was fired. They never told me why. I was stunned. Till then my s--- didn’t smell.”

Despite its setbacks, For Those About to Rock We Salute You is still one of AC/DC’s most satisfying Brian Johnson-fronted releases. The band’s ambivalence about the release and the critics’ negative comments didn’t rub off on the fans. Not only did For Those About to Rock We Salute You debut at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart, it remained at the top for three weeks and was certified platinum on Jan. 20, 1982, exactly two months after it was released. In January 2001 the record was quadruple platinum.

Almost a decade after the initial release of For Those About to Rock We Salute You, AC/DC headlined a concert in Moscow called “For Those About to Rock, Monsters in Moscow,” which also featured Metallica, Pantera, the Black Crowes and local thrash group E.S.T. The open-air event, which took place as the Soviet Union crumbled, drew 1.6 million people, most of whom were enjoying their first sanctioned rock festival. A home video capturing the event came out in 1992, but of the four AC/DC songs in the Wayne Isham-directed film, only “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” is from the album of the same name. The video also features three Metallica songs and four Pantera tunes.

Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.

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