A change today from the heavy metal that’s been a large part of my listening in recent weeks, with the new and long-awaited album from Canadian country music star Shania Twain. “Now” is Twain’s first studio album in almost fifteen years since 2002’s “Up!” and the first since 1995’s “The Woman In Me” not to be co-written and produced by legendary producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange.
The reason for Lange not being involved is pretty straightforward really. He and Twain married in late 1993, just six months after first meeting. In 2008 it was announced that the pair had split, with Lange reportedly having had an affair with Twain’s best friend Marie-Anne Thiebaud. In one of those you-couldn’t-make-it-up twists, the couple divorced in 2010 and Twain then married Thiebaud’s ex-husband Frédéric Thiebaud on New Year’s Day 2011! In the midst of all this Twain’s singing voice began to suffer, culminating in her being able to neither sing or even speak properly as a result of dysphonia (in this case said to be brought on by lyme disease). Naturally, then, Lange wasn’t involved in Twain’s new work.
A period of recuperation was therefore necessary before Twain made a comeback with a residency in Las Vegas before taking the step of making a new album. And drama aside, that’s what we’re interested in. Is the record as good as her past, hugely successful albums? I’ll admit that early signs weren’t good.
The single “Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed”, a country / pop / reggae number has what I can only describe as a rather odd part at the end of each verse right before the chorus kicks in that still grates to my ears. Twain’s voice sounds strained in places, auto-tune / vocoder seems a little too obvious and (as my wife put it) there’s a “fiddle-dee-dee” bit that appears out of nowhere for no apparent reason that’s not quite in keeping with the rest of the song. Thank goodness the chorus is so strong and catchy!
The singer’s appearance at BBC Radio Two’s festival in a day recently at Hyde Park in London hadn’t helped. Playing a short set of just seven songs, she sang the refrain of “You’re Still The One” a cappella a couple of times between numbers, but the vocal sound changed very noticeably when the song itself was performed, strongly suggesting the use of pre-recorded vocals – likely not just on that one track either. The singing voice is still a problem live then, so what would that mean for the album. Would it turn out to be a disaster on the scale of Meat Loaf’s woeful “Braver Than We Are”?
The record begins with the aforementioned “Swingin’…” and I must say that it sounds a whole lot better on the stereo rather than the car radio! Twain’s records have never been pure country music in the traditional sense, with a great deal of pop sensibilities thrown in – especially on “Up!” and so it should come as no surprise that “Now” is a mature country pop (or more accurately pop country) album throughout.
In some ways it feels like a natural successor to the aforementioned “Up!”, but without the cynical marketing attempt (that album was released in three different mixes to try to appeal as far across the board as possible) and with a less feisty lyrical approach overall.
Much of the humour and zest of her previous songs has been replaced, on this long-player at least, by songs about self-empowerment and (despite Twain stating it’s not a divorce album) those clearly driven by heartbreak and betrayal, such as “I’m Alright” and other single “Life’s About To Get Good”.
I can’t honestly say that this album is as immediate as either “Come On Over” or “The Woman In Me”, but it is a very accomplished one and is likely to get played as regularly as “Up!” if not those two. Not one for those just interested in the big hits, perhaps, but this album as a whole can hold its own with her back catalogue. Despite the obvious vocal differences that have occurred during the intervening years Twain has an easy and natural style that suits the new material as well as it did those singalong hits of the past.
Looking great at 52, and still sounding pretty good too, it’s good to have Shania Twain back “Now”…“Now” tracklist:
1. Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed / 2. Home Now / 3. Light Of My Life / 4. Poor Me / 5. Who’s Gonna Be Your Girl / 6. More Fun / 7. I’m Alright / 8. Let’s Kiss And Make Up / 9. Where Do You Think You’re Going / 10. Roll Me On The River / 11. We Got Something They Don’t / 12. Because Of You / 13. You Can’t Buy Love / 14. Life’s About To Get Good / 15. Soldier / 16. All In All
OK, so when I recently finished my look back at my favourite albums from the Eighties with my top ten from 1989 I wasn’t sure whether to next tackle the Nineties (having already looked at 1995 some time ago) or the Seventies (again, 1975 has already been covered).
Well, decision made – it’s the Seventies, but this time I’m going to start at the end of the decade and work my way back from 1979 to 1970. As I have mentioned previously we are now in territory where I have come to appreciate these records in retrospect, not having been exposed to the majority of them when they first appeared.
Without further ado, therefore, here are (in alphabetical order) my personal favourite ten albums released during 1979…
1. AC/DC “Highway To Hell”
The band’s fifth studio album to be released outside of Australia, and what was to prove to be lead singer Bon Scott’s last, as he died in 1980 during early sessions for what would become “Back In Black”.
I can remember having the vinyl copy of this record and playing it a lot back in the early 80s when I was beginning my love of / obsession with (delete as appropriate!) music, having been turned onto the band through my regular Friday night engagements with BBC Radio 1 and Tommy Vance’s fabulous Friday Rock Show.
Aside from the classic title track which was a number 56 single in the UK, “Girls Got Rhythm” would also be a hit reaching number 29.
There were plenty of songs on the record that were about girls and sex, including the aforementioned “Girls Got Rhythm”, “Beating Around The Bush”, “Love Hungry Man” and “Touch Too Much”, for this then-teenage boy to envisage, whilst the band attracted controversy subsequently with the final track “Night Prowler” as it became associated with the case of Los Angeles serial killer Richard Ramirez – a fan of the band – who had been nicknamed the Night Stalker.
Regardless, this album – produced by legendary producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange – is a classic hard rock record and one of AC/DC’s very best.
2. The Clash “London Calling”
It would be nice to bolster my street cred by claiming to have been into bands like The Clash, Joy Division, Stiff Little Fingers or the Specials in the late 70s, but the truth is I was never that cool! Even when I started to get into music in secondary school (where I started in September ’79) it was mainly rock, metal and pop music that I listened to. In retrospect, however, I have investigated and come to appreciate many acts that passed me by at the time, including The Clash.
Released just a couple of weeks before the year’s end, “London Calling” was the band’s third album and saw them moving further away from their punk rock roots and embracing a variety of styles including reggae, ska and rockabilly, and it was the fusing of reggae and punk that initially drew me to the record.
Whilst single “Train In Vain” didn’t chart in the UK, “London Calling” itself just missed the top ten, reaching number 11. With nineteen tracks spread across four sides of vinyl in its original double album format, there is a lot of value for money to be had here, with some of the best tracks being “The Guns Of Brixton”, “Lover’s Rock”, “Lost In The Supermarket”, “Spanish Bombs” and, of course, “London Calling”.
3. Cozy Powell “Over The Top”
An instrumental album, this one was one of my favourites for attempting to play along to on the drums – sounding I suspect nothing like the great man himself.
Hailing from Cirencester, Powell became one of rock’s most well-known and loved drummers for his work with bands such as Rainbow, Michael Schenker Group, Whitesnake and Black Sabbath. “Over The Top” was his first – and best – solo album and featured contributions from Gary Moore, Bernie Marsden, Don Airey, Clem Clempson and Jack Bruce.
Kicking off with a version of “Theme One”, originally a single for Van Der Graaf Generator in 1972 and used weekly as link music on Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show, the album is full of actually memorable instrumental numbers, with some great performances from all concerned.
Naturally the drums are the focus and nowhere is this more the case than on the closing track “Over The Top” which incorporates Tchaikovsky melodies with original themes written by Airey and Powell and some simply thunderous drum soloing. Undoubtedly this is a record for drummers, or at least fans of drumming, but it is still strong enough in my opinion to hold its own in this list.
4. Led Zeppelin “In Through The Out Door”
Released in August of ’79, this would prove to be the final studio album from Led Zeppelin (leaving aside the outtakes collection “Coda”) as drummer John Bonham died in September of the following year.
Less guitar-heavy than the preceding album 1976’s “Presence”, there was more influence on the sound and material from singer Robert Plant and bassist / keyboardist John Paul Jones as the pair experimented with a new synthesizer that Jones had obtained and guitarist Jimmy Page and Bonham allegedly battled their addictions to heroin and alcohol respectively.
Whilst admittedly different in sound to the rest of Zeppelin’s work I still love this record. Favourite tracks include the opening “In The Evening”, the keyboard-heavy “Carouselambra” and “Fool In The Rain” (with some fantastic syncopated drumming). The closing two tracks “All My Love” and “I’m Gonna Crawl” are slow burn numbers, with the latter having a definite blues edge and the former perhaps pointing towards Plant’s early solo material.
Not as essential as “Physical Graffiti” or “Led Zeppelin IV” but any Led Zeppelin album is worthwhile and better than anything that many bands could ever produce.
5. Motörhead “Overkill” / “Bomber”
As I did with Saxon’s two releases of 1980 I’m cheating slightly by including two albums by Lemmy and his crew – “Overkill” came out in March ’79 and “Bomber” followed in October.
For may folk the band’s golden era was when the line-up saw Lemmy joined by guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clark and drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor – the version of the band responsible for 1977’s self-titled album as well as “Overkill”, “Bomber”, “Ace Of Spades” and “Iron Fist”.
“Overkill” contained two singles “No Class” (number 61) and the title track (number 39), whilst the title track from “Bomber” (number 34) was the sole single from that record. I can remember seeing the band on BBC’s “Top Of The Pops” numerous times in the late 70s / early 80s.
The group’s classic live album “No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith” contains six tracks from this pair of records in its ten tracks and many of the cuts here remain in the band’s live repertoire to this day including “Bomber”, “Stay Clean”, “Metropolis”, “No Class” and “Overkill”. Simply essential heavy metal.
6. Rainbow “Down To Earth”
July 1979 saw the release of “Down To Earth”, the fourth studio album from Ritchie Blackmore’s post-Deep Purple band Rainbow.
Following original singer Ronnie James Dio’s departure at the end of 1978 the album had been recorded by Blackmore, drummer Cozy Powell, keyboardist Don Airey and bassist Roger Glover. Glover wrote lyrics for all the songs and then singer Graham Bonnet was hired and recorded the vocal parts on top of the already near-complete record.
Two singles were released from the album, which saw Blackmore pursuing a more commercial sound. “Since You Been Gone” reached number 6 in the UK and “All Night Long” got to number 5.
Although more poppy than the Dio-fronted albums, there is still plenty of hard rock to be found here, particularly on “Eyes Of The World”, “Love’s No Friend” and “Lost In Hollywood” whilst “Bad Girl” and “Makin’ Love” also have their moments. Blackmore’s playing is sublime in places and his riffs as instant as ever and with brilliant rhythm work from Powell and Glover and Bonnet’s distinctive voice on top this is a great hard rock album.
7. Sky “Sky”
I have my parents to thank for this entry, the second all-instrumental one to make this list. They had this record in their collection, and I think one of two others from Sky, and I can remember listening to this at home quite often.
A so-called supergroup, Sky were formed by classical guitarist John Williams, bassist Herbie Flowers, drummer / percussionist Tristan Fry, guitarist Kevin Peek and keyboardist Francis Monkman – all of whom had extensive experience in session work as well as having been members of various bands.
A progressive rock band in nature, the group’s debut album “Sky” features a mixture of styles featuring electric and acoustic instrumentation. The first side of the record contained five short numbers (all under four minutes) including two classical adaptations, but it is side two where the magic is to be found.
Written by Monkman, “Where Opposites Meet” is a five-part suite that I never get tired of hearing and love just as much today as when I first heard it. Absolutely superb!
8. Status Quo “Whatever You Want”
Another album that hit the shelves in the latter part of 1979, in this case October, “Whatever You Want” was Status Quo’s twelfth studio album and produced two top twenty singles in the UK. The title track “Whatever You Want” made number 4 and “Living On An Island” got to number 16.
One of my favourite Status Quo albums, this has some truly great songs alongside the hits. These include “Shady Lady”, “Your Smiling Face”, “Breaking Away” and the brilliant one-two of “Come Rock With Me” which segues beautifully into “Rockin’ On”. It was such a thrill for me when “Come Rock With Me” appeared in the band’s live set for a while!
The album was retitled “Now Hear This” in 1980 for the American market in an attempt to achieve some success there with a remixed and differently sequenced record. That version is very good but the UK original, with its classic album cover, is hard to beat.
Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt’s guitars mesh perfectly on their trademark boogie crunch, Rossi pulls off some great solos, the rhythm section of Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan are right on the money and keyboardist Andy Bown’s contributions are important too. Most importantly, though, there is not one duff track here – ten superb Status Quo tracks.
9. Thin Lizzy “Black Rose : A Rock Legend”
Coming the year after the release of the band’s seminal live album “Live And Dangerous”, this was Thin Lizzy’s ninth studio album.
With guitarist Gary Moore staying with the band long enough to make a full album – having had stints in the band in 1974 and 1977, the line-up was completed by vocalist / bassist Phil Lynott, guitarist Scott Gorham and drummer Brian Downey.
The record produced three hit singles in the UK – “Waiting For An Alibi” (number 9), “Do Anything You Want To” (number 14) and “Sarah” (number 24). Of the rest of the album, the best tracks are “Got To Give It Up”, “S & M” and the four-part celtic epic “Róisín Dubh (Black Rose) : A Rock Legend” which is one of the highlights of the band’s entire catalogue.
10. Whitesnake “Lovehunter”
“Lovehunter”, another October ’79 release, was the second album from former Deep Purple singer David Coverdale’s band Whitesnake.
Recorded at Clearwell Castle here in the Forest of Dean, the album spawned one single, the lead track “Long Way From Home”, the video for which featured drummer Ian Paice, who had joined the band after the album was recorded, along with Coverdale, Jon Lord, Micky Moody, Bernie Marsden and Neil Murray. This incarnation of the band would only last until late 1981 but produced a further three excellent studio records.
The album cover, designed by Cyprus-born fantasy artist Chris Achilleos, attracted some controversy for obvious reasons, but is really a fairly accurate representation of Coverdale’s lyrical direction in tracks such as “Lovehunter”, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Women”, “Mean Business” and “Medicine Man”.
Musically, this album is very much in the bluesy hard rock era of the band, with some wonderful guitar interplay between Moody and Marsden adding colour to the muscular rhythm section, all topped off by Coverdale’s fantastic voice.
That, then, is my favourite ten albums from 1979. Some of the albums that narrowly missed out on making it onto this list include southern rock band Blackfoot’s “Strikes”, the Police’s “Regatta De Blanc”, Scorpions’ “Lovedrive” and Cliff Richard’s “Rock ‘N’ Roll Juvenile”.
In the wider world in 1979 Margaret Thatcher replaced Labour leader James Callaghan as British Prime Minister whilst President of the USA was Jimmy Carter. Football-wise, Liverpool won the old First Division with Arsenal beating Manchester United for the FA Cup. In cinemas top film releases of the year included “The Amityville Horror”, “Rocky II” and the fantastic “Apocalypse Now”.
Following on from my recent post on my top ten records from 1986 I am now reaching the final stages of that particular decade. Having covered 1980 all the way through to 1987 I’m left with just 1988 and 1989 to look back at.
So, let’s recap on my personal favourite ten albums of 1988…
All About Eve “All About Eve”
The debut album from English gothic folk rock band All About Eve, this self-titled release would also prove to be the band’s most commercially successful.
Five of the album’s tracks were released as singles, all but one of which reached the UK top forty. These were “In The Clouds” (number 47), “Wild Hearted Woman” (33), “Every Angel” (30), “Martha’s Harbour” (10) and “What Kind Of Fool” (29).
My own personal favourite tracks were “Never Promise (Anyone Forever)”, “She Moves Through The Fair”, “Flowers In Our Hair” and the beautifully delicate “Apple Tree Man”.
Incidentally, during a period of unemployment after being made redundant a dozen or so years ago I actually answered an ad from the band when they were looking for a drummer, one of the criteria being that applicants should be unemployed. On the minus side I didn’t have a drum kit at the time and hadn’t played for a few years but, hey, it’s the closest I ever came to my early dream of rock stardom!
2. Bon Jovi “New Jersey”
Following up on the massive success of “Slippery When Wet” (1986) must have been a daunting task, but Bon Jovi were clearly intent of doing just that, with a double album originally planned until the record label rejected that idea.
When the single disc record did see the light of day, again utilising the songwriting talents of Desmond Child on a number of tracks, it was to become more successful, chart-wise, in the UK than “Slippery When Wet” had been and produced more hit singles too.
“Bad Medicine”, “Born To Be My Baby”, “I’ll Be There For You” and “Lay Your Hands On Me” all reached the top thirty, with final single “Living In Sin” making number 35.
The record had a bluesier edge to some tracks, and there is a more diverse range of songs as shown on tracks such as “Blood On Blood”, “Love For Sale” and one of my own favourites “Homebound Train”. The hits from “Slippery When Wet” may be more well-known but as a complete album I believe that “New Jersey” is the better of the two.
3. Dare “Out Of The Silence”
When Thin Lizzy split after their farewell tour in 1983 many wouldn’t have thought that keyboardist Darren Wharton would go on to achieve success fronting a band of his own. However, Wharton formed the melodic rock band Dare in the mid-80s and their debut album “Out Of The Silence” hit the shelves in 1988.
The album was heavy on anthemic tunes, such as “Under The Sun”, “Return The Heart” and “King Of Spades”, the latter a tribute to the late Thin Lizzy leader Phil Lynott. There were also four singles in “Abandon”, “Heartbreaker”, “Nothing Is Stronger Than Love” and the sublime “The Raindance”.
I saw the band supporting Swedish rock band Europe on their UK tour in 1989 and thought they could be set for big things, but record sales tailed off and the group were dropped by their label after their second album. The band are still a going concern with a gentler, more celtic sound, and still producing quality music but “Out Of The Silence” remains a classic debut.
4. Iron Maiden “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son”
The seventh studio album from Iron Maiden was the last truly great album during vocalist Bruce Dickinson’s first tenure with the band.
A concept album of sorts the group’s sound took on a slightly more progressive element (which has really taken hold since Dickinson’s return for “Brave New World”), the album’s title was both a reference to the fact that it was their seventh record and also to the folklore idea of the seventh son of a seventh son having special powers.
Four singles came from the album – “Can I Play With Madness” (the video for which was filmed at Chepstow Castle), “The Evil That Men Do” and live versions of “The Clairvoyant” and “Infinite Dreams”.
My own favourite number on the record is “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son” itself, a near ten minute epic with time signature changes and plenty of texture. Superb.
5. Lita Ford “Lita”
Former lead guitarist with all-girl rock band The Runaways from 1975-1979, Lita Ford launched a solo career in 1983 with “Out For Blood” with a far more heavy metal orientated image.
Success finally came with her third album “Lita” and it’s four singles “Kiss Me Deadly”, “Back To The Cave”, “Falling In And Out Of Love” and the duet with Ozzy Osbourne “Close My Eyes Forever”.
Lita’s image certainly wouldn’t have harmed sales, particularly to young men (as I was at the time), and I fondly recall seeing her support Bon Jovi that year.
However, at the end of the day the record is a great commercial hard rock record with some really catchy songs and earns its place on this list on that basis!
6. Magnum “Wings Of Heaven”
Magnum were a band that had been treading the boards for quite a while by the time that their seventh album “Wings Of Heaven” came out in the summer of 1988, having been formed around 1972.
They had achieved some chart success previously but this would prove to be their most successful album, reaching number 5 in the UK. The record also produced three hit singles – “Days Of No Trust”, “Start Talking Love” and “It Must Have Been Love”.
All tracks were written by guitarist Tony Clarkin, who continues to pen excellent compositions to this day, and included in those on this album are my favourites “Wild Swan”, “Pray For The Day” and the anti-war epic “Don’t Wake The Lion (Too Old To Die Young)”. An excellent melodic rock album from start to finish.
7. Queensrÿche “Operation : Mindcrime”
This is the second concert album on this list, which may well say something about my fondness for more complex music over simple pop tunes. Even though it’s 1990 successor “Empire” would achieve greater chart and sales success, “Operation : Mindcrime” is probably the most celebrated album in American progressive metal band Queensrÿche’s catalogue, and even spawned a sequel in 2006’s “Operation : Mindcrime II”.
The record tells the story of Nikki, a recovering drug addict, who recalls how he was drawn into a revolutionary group, headed by Dr. X, and the events that followed. It was a big success for the band, both with fans and critics.
Four singles were released to promote the album – “Revolution Calling”, “Breaking The Silence”, “Eyes Of A Stranger” and “I Don’t Believe In Love”, and tracks like “Suite Sister Mary” and “Operation : Mindcrime” also help to make this such a strong record.
Queensrÿche may have become something of a farcical soap opera in recent years with claim and counter-claim between now ex-singer Geoff Tate and his former bandmates, but “Operation : Mindcrime” remains a high point in progressive metal.
8. Romeo’s Daughter “Romeo’s Daughter”
Romeo’s Daughter were managed by the then-wife of producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange who was apparently so impressed with their songs that he agreed to produce this, their self-titled debut album.
I can remember at the time being a tad dismissive of the group, perceiving them to be a female-fronted answer to the previous years’s massively successful “Hysteria” album by Def Leppard, which Lange also produced, and certainly the similarities are there to be heard.
In retrospect, although the production sheen and guitar / drum sounds are reminiscent of the Def Leppard record, that cannot detract from the fact that Romeo’s Daughter did have some great songs and, in Leigh Matty, a really good singer.
Three excellent singles came from the album. “Don’t Break My Heart”, “I Cry Myself To Sleep At Night” and “Heaven In The Back Seat” (which also featured on the soundtrack to the movie “A Nightmare On Elm Street 5”).
The album was further boosted by tracks such as “Wild Child” (covered by Heart in 1990), “Velvet Tongue” and “I Like What I See”. An often overlooked classic of the genre.
9. Status Quo “Ain’t Complaining”
“Ain’t Complaining” was studio album number eighteen from legendary British rock band Status Quo, and the most typically 80s sounding release in their history, taking them even further from their 70s heads-down no-nonsense boogie sound than 1986’s “In The Army Now”.
Although it was the group’s first album since 1971 not to make the UK top ten, reaching only number twelve, it nonetheless produced three hit singles. “Who Gets The Love” hit number 34, “Ain’t Complaining” made number 19 and “Burning Bridges” got all the way to number 5.
My favourite, easily, of the three albums released by the reformed Status Quo during the second half of the 80s, this record has some superb pop/rock material with tracks like “Everytime I Think Of You”, “Cream Of The Crop” and “One For The Money”.
Sure the album sounds very much of its time, but there are some great songs and superb melodies to be found here and it remains one of my favourite Status Quo albums.
10. Transvision Vamp “Pop Art”
Transvision Vamp’s “Pop Art” is the fourth debut album to make this year’s top ten, suggesting that it was a good year to find new bands, even if none of them have gone on the achieve major success.
Formed in 1986 by guitarist / songwriter Nick Sayer and singer / focal point Wendy James, the band had a pop/punk sound and aesthetic and, for a while, looked like they could be the next big thing. However, despite two top five albums and ten top fifty singles, it was all over by 1991.
While they were around, though, they were great. Four tracks from “Pop Art” were released as singles – “Revolution Baby” (twice, numbers 77 and 30), “Tell That Girl To Shut Up” (45), “Sister Moon” (41) and the brilliant “I Want Your Love” (5), and the rest of the album isn’t bad either.
Other notables from 1988 – Margaret Thatcher was in her third term as the Prime Minister of the UK whilst Ronald Reagan was nearing the end of his second term as President of the USA. In football Liverpool won the old First Division back from Everton, and the FA Cup went to Wimbledon. In cinemas, top films released included “Rain Man”, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Twins”.
So that’s nearly all of the eighties covered, next up will be 1989…
Recently I looked back at my favourite albums from 1981. Having previously also looked at 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1987, I guess it’s time to start filling in the missing years from that decade in music.
So, back to the beginning today with 1980. As with any other year previous to 1981, which is when my love of music really began, the majority of the music here was discovered in retrospect…
AC/DC “Back In Black”
The Australian band’s seventh studio album, released in the summer of 1980, this was the first record with Brian Johnson on vocals following the death of his predecessor Bon Scott in 1979.
Produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, the record was to be a massive success and is one of the highest selling albums in history. Two tracks were released as singles in the UK and US – “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Back In Black” itself – both of which were top 40 hits, whilst the album featured very strong material in the shape of “Hells Bells”, “Shoot To Thrill”, “Given The Dog A Bone” and “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”.
One of the best albums in the AC/DC catalogue, and an excellent hard rock record in anyone’s book.
2. Adam And The Ants “Kings Of The Wild Frontier”
Although “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” was the second album from Adam And The Ants, following 1979’s “Dirk Wears White Sox”, this was the record that saw the band gaining huge chart success.
The band’s manager Malcolm McLaren recruited Ant’s band members to a new band, Bow Wow Wow, at the start of 1980 leading to a completely new line-up being recruited including guitarist Marco Pirroni who co-wrote all the tracks on the new album with Ant.
The record, released towards the end of the year, showcased the band’s new tribal sound, heavily influenced by the presence of two drummers in the line-up, and spawned three singles that all made it into the UK top three – “Dog Eat Dog”, “Antmusic” and the title track.
Other great tracks on this unique and brilliant record are “Ants Invasion”, “Physical (You’re So)” and “The Human Beings”. An 80s classic.
3. Black Sabbath “Heaven And Hell”
Just like AC/DC, Black Sabbath in 1980 were effectively looking to re-launch themselves with a new singer, in this case following the dismissal of Ozzy Osbourne after eleven months of fruitless recording sessions. New singer Ronnie James Dio, who had previously been in the band Rainbow, brought a powerful and commanding vocal presence to the proceedings and was responsible for all the lyrics on the resulting “Heaven And Hell” album.
The record, which would become the band’s highest charting platter (making the top ten in the UK) was followed by two single releases in “Neon Knights” and “Die Young”, but it’s the album’s title track that is the real highlight here, and was usually extended beyond it’s initial seven minute duration when performed live in concert. Another classic heavy metal record.
4. Dire Straits “Making Movies”
Although vaguely aware of the single “Romeo And Juliet”, which was a hit in early 1981, I don’t think that Dire Straits really came across my radar until sometime around the release of their live 1984 album “Alchemy”.
Nonetheless, “Making Movies” now ranks at number three on my personal Dire Straits chart, behind “Brothers In Arms” and “Love Over Gold”.
A quite cinematic sounding record, “Making Movies” contains the excellent “Tunnel Of Love” and “Skateaway” (both also released as singles) as well as the delicate “Hand In Hand” and uptempo numbers “Expresso Love” and “Solid Rock”. Less vital, for me, is the closing “Les Boys”, a song about gay men performing cabaret in a German disco bar complete with “…leather straps… SS caps… a little S&M…”. That misstep aside, though, great album.
5. Gillan “Glory Road”
Former (and now-current) Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan’s band Gillan (which followed the more jazz rock flavoured Ian Gillan Band) released their third album “Glory Road” in October 1980.
The group had frequent appearances on BBC TV’s “Top Of The Pops” during the early 80s and this record featured two of their singles in “Sleeping On The Job” and “No Easy Way”.
The original vinyl release came with a free second record, titled “For Gillan Fans Only” which contained outtakes and specially recorded material and showcased the band’s humorous side.
On the album proper, my favourite tracks are “Time And Again”, “Nervous”, “On The Rocks”, “No Easy Way” and the brilliant “If You Believe Me”. With the free record this was superb value for money.
6. Iron Maiden “Iron Maiden”
The debut album from the Paul Di’Anno fronted Iron Maiden, this self-titled record contained a number of future classics.
Two top forty hit singles were present, “Sanctuary” and “Running Free”, whilst the title track would become a concert favourite.
“Phantom Of The Opera” – the band’s first long and complex number – was used for a time in advertisements for Duracell batteries and “Charlotte The Harlot” spawned a sequel on 1982’s breakthrough album “The Number Of The Beast”. Although only really hinting at the potential of this now legendary band, and not as good as follow-up “Killers”, this is still a very good debut album.
7. The Police “Zenyatta Mondatta”
Released a year and a day after previous album “Regatta De Blanc”, “Zenyatta Mondatta” was the third album by Sting’s former band The Police. The band, completed by guitarist Andy Summers and drummer extraordinaire Stewart Copeland, played a mixture of rock and reggae with some punk and jazz influences.
This particular album was recorded in Holland within four weeks, a period that also saw the band play concerts in Milton Keynes and Dublin, and they left for the next part of their 1980/1981 world tour on the same day that recording sessions finished!
Despite this, two of the band’s biggest hits came from this record, “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” and the teaching experience / Lolita-inspired “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”. Other great tracks on this album included “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around”, “Canary In A Coalmine” and “Shadows In The Rain”. One of The Police’s best albums.
8. Saxon “Wheels Of Steel” / “Strong Arm Of The Law”
Cheating slightly here, I suppose, by including two albums as one, but Yorkshire heavy metal band Saxon released their second album “Wheels Of Steel” in May 1980 and follow-up “Strong Arm Of The Law” at the beginning of September 1980. Both albums now form part of the band’s “holy trinity” of albums (together with 1981’s “Denim And Leather”).
“Wheels Of Steel” contained singles “747 (Strangers In The Night)”, “Suzie Hold On” and “Wheels Of Steel” as well as classic “Motorcycle Man” and “See The Light Shining”.
Of the two, however, “Strong Arm Of The Law” is the stronger. Although it only contains one single, the title track, amongst the album tracks there are numerous classics including “Heavy Metal Thunder”, “20,000 Ft.”, “Hungry Years”, “Sixth Form Girls” and the ever excellent “Dallas 1 PM”. A golden era for the band, that’s for sure.
9. Status Quo “Just Supposin’…”
The thirteenth studio album from British rock band Status Quo, “Just Supposin’…” was actually recorded at the same sessions that produced the follow-up, 1981’s “Never Too Late” album.
It was this record, though, that contained the stronger songs. UK top twenty hit singles “Lies”, “Don’t Drive My Car” (those two as a double A side), “What You’re Proposing” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll” (which was released after the “Never Too Late” album) are all present and correct.
In addition there are the quite brilliant album tracks “Run To Mummy”, “Over The Edge” and my personal favourite “The Wild Ones”. Taken together with the subsequent album and those recording sessions were seriously productive, and this is one of my favourite Status Quo albums to this day.
10. Thin Lizzy “Chinatown”
Following 1979’s classic “Black Rose (A Rock Legend)” album, which finally harnessed the excellent Gary Moore in the studio for the band, was never going to be an easy task for Thin Lizzy.
For many the band’s tenth studio outing “Chinatown” is something of a disappointment. Moore had left the band (again) and been replaced by former Pink Floyd touring guitarist Snowy White, whilst keyboards had also been added to the band’s sound.
Having got into the group via 1981’s compilation album “The Adventures Of…” I was already familiar with this album’s two hit singles “Chinatown” and “Killer On The Loose” before obtaining a copy of the album itself.
Although the latter stages of the record is pretty good, it’s probably fair to say that the record’s best material is on side one (as it was in those days) as that contained both singles, the anthemic “We Will Be Strong”, the catchy “Sweetheart” and “Sugar Blues” which featured some brilliant drum work from Brian Downey. So, not the band’s best work, but a Thin Lizzy album is always welcome on the turntable.
That’s my top ten albums of 1980 then. Margaret Thatcher was in her first full calendar year as the Prime Minister in the UK whilst Jimmy Carter was in his final year as President of the USA. In football Liverpool won the old First Division with the FA Cup going to West Ham. Cinema-wise, top films released included “The Empire Strikes Back”, “9 To 5” and “Airplane!”.
I’m returning today to my occasional top ten albums of the year posts, and to what is probably my favourite decade in music – a period of time that started a few months into my secondary school career and ended when I was a fully fledged grown up – the 1980s.
I’ve already covered five years (1982, 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1987) so, without further ado, listed alphabetically, these are my favourite ten albums of 1981…
AC/DC “For Those About To Rock”
Released late in the year, this was the first AC/DC album to make it into my collection, having heard the single “Let’s Get It Up”.
Following the monumentally successful “Back In Black” album (released in the summer of 1980) must have been some task, but the band certainly rose to the challenge.
The second single to come from the record was the title track, an epic number with thunderous final section featuring a twenty-one cannon salute – apparently inspired by cannons being fired during the televised wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana which occurred during the recording of the album – and has become a highlight of the band’s live shows.
Other favourites on the record are “Inject The Venom”, “Evil Walks” and “C.O.D.”. An excellent hard rock album.
2. Black Sabbath “Mob Rules”
“Mob Rules” was the second studio album to feature Ronnie James Dio as vocalist and the first to feature new drummer Vinny Appice.
A heavy sounding record than the preceding “Heaven And Hell”, the album contained two hit singles with “Turn Up The Night” making number 37 in the UK and the title track hitting number 46 along with other great tracks like “The Sign Of The Southern Cross” and “Voodoo”.
3. Blackfoot “Marauder”
Jacksonville, Florida based southern rock band Blackfoot came to my attention when they released a double pack 7″ featuring the “Dry County” single and a free live single recorded at the Monsters Of Rock festival at Castle Donington in August 1981.
The parent album “Marauder” was the last studio release to feature the classic line-up of Rickey Medlocke, Charlie Hargrett, Greg T. Walker and Jakson Spires.
Favourite tracks on this excellent record include “Good Morning”, “Diary Of A Workingman”, “Too Hard To Handle”, “Fly Away” and “Rattlesnake Rock ‘N’ Roller”. The classic live album “Highway Song – Live”, recorded in Europe and released in 1982 would be the last release before the band decided to change their sound to chase chart success, ironically leading to diminishing returns both commercially and artistically – but this album remains a classic of the genre.
4. Def Leppard “High ‘N’ Dry”
The second album from Sheffield hard rock band Def Leppard, “High ‘N’ Dry” saw the group team up with legendary producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange for the first time and start to show the qualities that would break the band into the big time with 1983’s “Pyromania” and 1987’s “Hysteria” albums.
Two singles were released to promote the album, “Let It Go” and “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” – the latter became a minor hit when issued in remixed form in 1984 and was covered in 2002 by pop singer Mariah Carey.
Also featured on “High ‘N’ Dry” are the great album tracks “Another Hit And Run”, “No No No”, “Lady Strange” and the instrumental “Switch 625”.
5. Duran Duran “Duran Duran”
Duran Duran’s self-titled debut album was released in the summer of 1981, having been preceded by singles “Planet Earth” and “Careless Memories”.
Something of a guilty pleasure at the time – my circle of mates at school were all heavily into rock music, with favourite bands being Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, The Sweet, Slade, Saxon and Iron Maiden – but this fantastic new romantic pop album remains one of my favourites of the era.
A further hit single followed in the form of “Girls On Film” and the band’s 12″ remixes, often known as “night versions”, and popular videos certainly helped the album’s success. My favourite non-single tracks on the record include “Friends Of Mine”, “Sound Of Thunder”, “Anyone Out There” and “Night Boat”. Excellent.
6. Foreigner “4”
The third album on this list produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange (AC/DC and Def Leppard being the other two), this particular record is probably best known for the hit single “Waiting For A Girl Like You” which reached number 3 in the UK.
Two other tracks were released as singles in the UK – “Urgent” and “Juke Box Hero” – and it was through hearing the latter of BBC Radio One’s “Friday Rock Show” that I got into the band. The best-selling album of the band’s career and an excellent melodic rock record.
7. Iron Maiden “Killers”
The band’s second album, “Killers” was to be the final one to feature original vocalist Paul Di’Anno before his sacking and replacement with Bruce Dickinson.
I’d say that this record also has my favourite cover, by Derek Riggs, of any of the Iron Maiden albums to date.
Musically, the album built on the strengths of the previous year’s debut and was written almost solely by bassist and founder Steve Harris (the exception being the title track, co-written with Di’Anno).
There are two singles from the album in “Purgatory” and “Twilight Zone” – the latter of which was not originally included on the record, being included on the US version and later CD reissue. Other great tracks here include two instrumentals “The Ides Of March” and “Genghis Khan” as well as songs like “Wrathchild”, “Innocent Exile” and “Murders In The Rue Morgue”.
8. Rainbow “Difficult To Cure”
The fifth studio album from Ritchie Blackmore’s band, this one was the first to feature third lead vocalist Joe Lynn Turner, saw the band’s sound continue to become more commercial in approach.
There were two singles from the record – “Can’t Happen Here” and “I Surrender” – to hit the UK top twenty, and this was an album that spent a lot of time in my Sony Walkman.
Hits aside, my favourite tracks are “No Release”, “Spotlight Kid” and “Difficult To Cure” itself, which was a fabulous reworking of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
9. Saxon “Denim And Leather”
“Denim And Leather” was Saxon’s fourth album, and the third of their “holy trinity” to hit the shelves in just eighteen months.
Three singles were issued – “Princess Of The Night”, “Never Surrender” and “And The Bands Played On”. The latter became the band’s most successful single to date and describes their experiences when playing at the inaugural Monsters Of Rock festival the previous year.
“Play It Loud” and “Midnight Rider” are great album tracks, but the title track is one of the best and a firm live favourite through the years since.
10. Status Quo “Never Too Late”
The first Status Quo album that I owned – received instead of a chocolate egg for Easter ’81 – I had been introduced to the band by hit single “Something ‘Bout You Baby I LIke”.
Apparently recorded during the same sessions that spawned 1980’s “Just Supposin'” album, “Never Too Late” is often regarded as the weaker of the two – indeed the follow-up single to “Something…” was taken from “Just Supposin'”! This was also the last album to be recorded featuring the “frantic four” of Rossi, Parfitt, Lancaster and Coghlan.
Nevertheless, with material like “Riverside”, “Long Ago”, “Mountain Lady” and my personal favourite “Take Me Away” this is still a very good Status Quo album.
In the wider world, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister in the UK and Ronald Reagan became President of the USA – replacing Jimmy Carter. In football the old first division champions were Aston Villa, with Tottenham Hotspur winning the FA Cup. On the big screen the top films of the year were “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”, “On Golden Pond” and “Superman II”.
Teignmouth rock band Muse have just released their seventh studio album “Drones”, a concept album based around the theme of the dehumanization of modern warfare.
Matt Bellamy (vocals / guitars / keyboards), Christopher Wolstenholme (bass / keyboards / backing vocals) and Dominic Howard (drums / percussion / synthesizers), having produced the last two albums themselves, decided this time to produce alongside legendary producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange (Def Leppard, Shania Twain).
The album traces the story of a soldier trained to essentially become an unthinking killing machine who gradually becomes disillusioned with the unseeing brutality of warfare, rebels and eventually rises to power himself.
Often thought of as the band most likely to take the place of Queen, with Bellamy’s soaring vocals, hugely layered backing vocals and the progressive and evolving sound that the band have developed throughout their career, it’s fair to say that this album is another step to achieving that – if indeed they haven’t already surpassed Queen in some ways. Certainly theirs is big, bombastic and multi-layered music, and often just as catchy as some of Queen’s greats. To me the difference is that Muse take a bit more listening to – in a good way – and aren’t so “pop” as Queen often were.
Bellamy himself stated that “To me “Drones” are metaphorical psychopaths which enable psychopathic behaviour with no recourse. The world is run by Drones utilizing Drones to turn us all into Drones. This album explores the journey of a human, from their abandonment and loss of hope, to their indoctrination by the system to be a human drone, to their eventual defection from their oppressors”. Sounds complex eh? Add to that suggestions of a second layer of meaning that may, or may not, have something to do with the breakup of Bellamy’s relationship with his fiancée, Hollywood star Kate Hudson, and there’s a lot to digest here.
The record opens with first single “Dead Inside”, a great track that is reminiscent of “The 2nd Law”, and soon up is anthemic second single “Mercy” which follows the more guitar based “Psycho”.
Despite the subject matter and potential sub-plot tackled here, many reviews have criticised Bellamy’s lyrics as being too simple and sub-standard. Why do so many folk seem to think that something only has real value if it’s highbrow and intellectual? There is nothing wrong with using simple words to tell your story, and at the end of the day if the listener enjoys what they hear, who cares what anyone (including me) thinks?
Musically “Drones” is very easy to get in to, despite the progressive and sometimes demanding nature of the music. This is in some way due to the recognisability of Muse’s sound, despite their evolution, together with some familiar sounding passages. For example, “Psycho” has reminders of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” in its guitar riff, “Reapers” has an uncanny echo of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and the massively epic “The Globalist” loosely uses (I think) Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathétique”. That said, this isn’t spot-the-influence like you might find with Oasis records.
Simply put, this is a superb Muse album. “The Resistance” was brilliant, “The 2nd Law” took a left turn and needed a bit of time to appreciate, but “Drones” is fantastic straight out of the box…