The pressure was on. Brian Johnson had just joined AC/DC following the death of former vocalist Bon Scott in 1980. Guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young told their new singer that they had a song called “You Shook Me All Night Long” that needed lyrics. Wanting to impress his new bandmates, Johnson wrote the lyrics to the band’s classic song that same night.
“I had to impress somebody,” said Johnson in a 2014 interview, joking that he wanted to repay the band for his plane ticket down to The Bahamas where they were starting to work on their sixth album, Back in Black.
The Meaning: Fast Machine … Motor Clean
Johnson already had the opening line, She was a fast machine / She kept her motor clean. A car enthusiast, Johnson was exploring the similarities between women and cars. In AC/DC language: they (women and cars) move fast, and it’s exciting to see all the different models.
“That was the first thing that came to me head, but the boys had the title,” revealed Johnson of writing the first verse. “Malcolm and Angus said, ‘Hey listen, we got this song,’ and if you listen to the chords it just fell in anyway, so I can’t claim any credit on that. The rest was just filler, the verses, and it all worked out smashing.”
The song was also partly inspired by images of American women—and their thighs—images planted in Johnson’s head while the band was in The Bahamas.
She was a fast machine, she kept her motor clean
She was the best damn woman that I ever seen
She had the sightless eyes, telling me no lies
Knocking me out with those American thighs
Taking more than her share, had me fighting for air
She told me to come, but I was already there
‘Cause the walls start shaking, the Earth was quaking
My mind was aching and we were making it
Sex and Cars
Of course, it is an AC/DC song, so “You Shook Me All Night Long” is chock-full of more sexual innuendos throughout the lyrics.
Working double time on the seduction line
She’s one of a kind, she’s just mine, all mine
Wanted no applause, it’s just another course
Made a meal outta me, and come back for more
Had to cool me down to take another round
Now I’m back in the ring to take another swing
That the walls were shaking, the Earth was quaking
My mind was aching and we were making it
Brian Johnson’s “First Times”
Co-writing all 10 tracks for Back in Black with the Youngs, “You Shook Me All Night Long” was also the first song Johnson wrote as a member of AC/DC and the first single the band released featuring their new singer.
Following the death of Scott, the band initially retreated from making more music until the late singer’s father suggested they find a new singer and keep playing. Back In Black was their tribute to Scott.
Back in Black
Produced by Robert “Mutt” Lange, who worked with the band on their previous album, Highway to Hell, in 1979, Back in Black was dedicated to Scott, and the all-black album cover was a symbol of mourning for their late singer.
“‘Back in Black’ was really a tribute to Bon,” said Angus Young. “Brian was our new frontman and vocalist, and we really didn’t know how it would be received. It was good that it became well-received and it’s still a very popular album that’s lasted through the last 40 years.”
Opening on “Hell’s Bells” and riding into signature AC/DC songs like “Shoot to Thrill,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” and the title track Back in Black sold more than 50 million copies (25 million in the U.S., alone) and is the fourth best-selling album of all time, according to the Recording Industry Association of American, behind the Eagles’ Their Greatest Hit, Michael Jackson‘s Thriller, and the Eagles‘ Hotel California.
“You Shook Me All Night Long” was the mark of a new beginning for AC/DC, and still remains one of the band’s most well-known songs.
It’s also still one of Johnson’s favorites.
“It was just a thing that came at the time,” said Johnson on writing the classic song. “I still think it’s one of the greatest rock and roll riffs I’ve ever heard in me life.”
And you shook me all night long
Yeah, you shook me all night long
And knocked me out, I said you shook me all night long
You had me shaking and you shook me all night long
Yeah, you shook me
Well, you took me
Photo: Columbia Records