Recording a song as monstrous as ACDC's Hells Bells, requires a monstrous bell. When the band wrote and recorded the song, using electronic church bell sound effects just didn't work. So the guys set out to find a bell that fit the bill.
The guys commissioned a one-ton bronze bell from a local foundry that they would also use on stage.
The bell wasn't ready in time for recording, however, so the manufacturer (John Taylor Bellfounders) arranged for them to record a similar bell at a nearby church. According to engineer Tony Platt, that didn't go well, as there were birds living in the bell, so when they rang it they also got the fluttering of wings (the birds would retreat back inside the bell after the toll).
They decided to use the bell that was in production, so they borrowed a mobile recording unit owned by Ronnie Laine and wheeled it into the foundry. The bell was hung on a block and tackle and struck by the man who built it.
Because of the harmonics, bells are not easy to record, so Platt placed about 15 microphones with various dynamics in different locations around the foundry to record the sounds. Once it was on tape, Platt brought the recordings to Electric Lady Studios in New York, where he and producer Mutt Lange chose the right combination of bell sounds, put a mix together, and slowed it down to half speed so the one-ton bell would sound like a more ominous two-ton bell. This was integrated into the mix, and the song was completed. Listeners with very sharp ears will notice that the bell when chimed live is an octave higher than than it is on the recording.
So, what is it like handling a cast iron, 1.4 Ton bell on the road?
G.D Praetorius takes readers behind the scenes at rock concerts throughout the Northeast United States during the early 1980s with ACDC and others. Babysitting A Band On The Rocks