SONG DUEL!: “Back in Black” by AC/DC vs. “Back to Black” Amy Winehouse

Two songs enter. One song leaves. Well, OK, both leave. It’s not like we erase all traces of the losing song from the Internet, but we determine once and for all which tune has the right to their strikingly similar titles. This is SONG DUEL!

When the title tracks from two of the most popular albums of all time face off, one of them is bound to leave the bout black and blue.

In this corner: “Back in Black” from the AC/DC 1980 album of the same name, written as a tribute to former lead singer Bon Scott, who had suffered alcohol-induced “death by misadventure” (an actual legal term for an unintentional death that occurs without any violation of law or criminal negligence) just five months before its release. With its monster opening riff, the song helped make Mutt Lang (making his second appearance in this feature) the biggest producer in rock ‘n’ roll.

And in this corner: “Back to Black” from the Amy Winehouse 2006 album of the same name, written about one of the “off again” moments in her on-again-off-again relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil. A mournful dirge of a tune, it came packaged with a funereal video that has become all the more tragic since the English singer’s untimely death in July.


Precedence: True, “Back in Black” was released more than 25 years prior to “Back to Black,” but seeing as how the retro production of Winehouse’s song sounds like it could have come out during Motown’s ’60s heyday, I’m going to make a rather unorthodox move. It’s my blog. I can do what I want. Point: Winehouse.

Chart performance: Unlike “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good,” “Back to Black” never even charted on the Billboard Hot 100, but it was a Top 10 hit in the U.K. “Back in Black,” on the other hand, never charted in the U.K. but was a Top 40 hit in the U.S. That’s a bit a draw, so let’s consider the albums. Winehouse’s death spurred enough sales to make Back in Black the U.K.’s top-selling album of the century so far, but her fans will have to snatch up another 44 million copies or so before it overtakes Back in Black’s worldwide sales, which are second only to Thriller. Point: AC/DC.

Critical mass: As title tracks, both songs are the hearts of albums that received overwhelmingly positive praise. AC/DC has had a few more decades to establish Back in Black as a bona fide classic, but Winehouse’s death has already fast-tracked Back to Black’s canonization. Winehouse did win five Grammy Awards in 2007, something AC/DC never managed to do. Point: Winehouse, barely.

Technique: Oh man, how does one choose between the rock-solid cohesion of Angus Young & Co. and The Dap-Kings, the celebrated soul/funk band that served as Winehouse’s backing band? You can’t. It can’t be done. Point: It’s a tie.

Bad-assity: For an English, lady soul singer, Winehouse was relatively bad-ass, but nothing can compete with that opening guitar riff to “Back in Black.” It takes only a few seconds of those power chords to turn anyone into a whiskey-swilling headbanger looking for a fight. Point: AC/DC.

Sexitude: AC/DC is pretty sexy—especially in those schoolboy outfits, amirite ladies?—but Winehouse’s song contains the lyric “kept his dick wet” by its second line. And then there’s her smokey, sultry voice. Point: Winehouse.

Redeeming social value: As with all her songs, Winehouse’s kind of serves as a cautionary tale at this point. Point: Winehouse.

The victor, by a score of 4-2 … AMY WINEHOUSE!


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