Hells Bells: The Story of AC/DC’s Iconic Bell


In Brian Johnson’s autobiography, he humorously mentioned that when AC/DC appointed a massive one-tonne bronze bell for their iconic track ‘Hells Bells,’ they essentially created the “world’s most expensive dinner gong.” Workers at the John Taylor & Co. foundry crafted this iconic bell, and they used to play the song to signal their tea breaks.

This bell marked the beginning of the Brian Johnson era of AC/DC. And they recorded “Back In Black” as a tribute to their late lead singer, Bon Scott, who had tragically passed away just months before. Given the pressure of introducing a new lead singer to their fans and the album’s dedication to Scott. They knew they couldn’t take shortcuts by using sound effects. They needed the real thing.

To find the right bell, they embarked on a journey. Their first attempt involved recording at the Loughborough Carillon Museum. However, the background noise of traffic and birds made the recording unusable. So, they placed a call to the Taylor foundry while they were in the Bahamas working on “Back In Black,” seeking an alternative.

In the end, they decided to use a bell that was already in production. They brought in a mobile recording unit to capture its sound. Recording engineer Tony Platt faced the challenge of recording a massive one-tonne bell, which was especially tricky due to its harmonics. His solution was to position numerous microphones with unique dynamics throughout the Loughborough foundry.

Once the recording was complete, Platt traveled to New York with producer Mutt Lange, the mastermind behind the bell idea. They meticulously sifted through the recorded bell sounds and layered them, slowing them down to create a more ominous effect.

The grand debut of the ‘Hells Bell’ at the Nassau Coliseum during a live show caused quite a stir. The British-forged bronze bell, weighing over a tonne, was stowed away in a massive custom road case, initially appearing as just another stage prop. However, its immense weight became apparent as they attempted to hoist it on stage for Brian Johnson to strike. A forklift was required, and for a moment, it got stuck as the stage struggled to bear its weight. A heavy gauge cable eventually saved the day, allowing the bell to take its prominent position and kickstart the show.

Author G.D. Praetorius described the unforgettable moment in his book, “Babysitting A Band On The Rocks.” The bell’s tremendous weight led it to sink straight through the stage. Marking the dramatic start of the performance, “Back In Black” propelled AC/DC to sell over 200,000,000 records. “Back In Black” alone accounted for a quarter of that breathtaking number.

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