In his new memoir The Lives of Brian, the singer said that when the idea came up of having a real-life bell cast to use as a stage prop during “Hells Bells,” he didn’t think bandmates Malcolm and Angus Young were being serious.
“‘Yeah, lads, great idea, great idea,’ I said to them when they first explained it all to me,” he writes. “What I didn’t realize was that aside from working on the mastering and artwork, Malcolm and Angus had been deadly serious about the idea of starting ‘Hells Bells’ with a real tolling bell, then commissioning AC/DC’s very own bell to take on tour with us.”
Meanwhile, the band had chosen the Denison Bell in Leicestershire, England, as the perfect instrument to use for the opening section of the track, which would also open the album Back in Black. But Johnson noted that the bell proved impossible to record, because every time it was struck, the nesting birds that shared its church tower would fly off, ruining the take. It took so long for the bell to be readied for another strike that the birds had returned, so every subsequent take was trashed, too. Instead, AC/DC decided to wait for their bell to be made.
Watch AC/DC Perform ‘Hells Bells’ Live in 1991
“Weighing in at 2,000 pounds, or exactly one ton, it had the AC/DC logo and the song title stamped on the side,” Johnson said. “The bell was finished just in time to make Atlantic Records’ deadline, but there was a problem: It was smaller than the Denison Bell, so the tone wasn’t quite right.” The solution was to slow the tape down, rendering a “perfect match” to their original intentions. The band had the craftsmen who cast the bell strike it for the recording.
“I later found out that while the Hell’s Bell was still in the foundry, the workers hung it from the ceiling and tapped it with a forklift truck to signal when it was time for a tea break,” the singer noted. “So, for a while there, AC/DC had basically commissioned the world’s most expensive dinner gong.”
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