Tag Archives: Top Ten Albums Of The Year

2016 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

Entries on my blog have been rather sporadic thus far in 2017 and I have realised that there have so far been only two music-related posts – a look at a psychedelic compilation and a gig review. I’m not sure why I’ve not written much on the music front. It’s certainly not because there isn’t any good new (and old) music being discovered and listened to with over two hundred new releases already having been digested since January.

There will be a more gig posts coming up soon as I have shows by Iron Maiden and Hawkwind in my diary during the next week or so, and a few more over the coming months too, but for now I thought I’d return to my rather occasional series on “top ten albums of the year” and look back at my personal favourite ten releases of 2016.

These weren’t easy to choose – with over six hundred new albums passing across my desk to shift through – and the list will likely change as time goes by but here are my current favourite ten albums of 2016, some of which got an individual review last year…

1. Alter Bridge “The Last Hero”

Alter Bridge – The Last Hero

It’s not the first time that Alter Bridge have made my top ten, having achieved that with “AB III” for 2010’s list. I wouldn’t bet against them making the lists for the years that their other three albums hit the shelves either once I get around to looking back at those particular years. Back to 2016, however, and the band’s excellent fifth studio album “The Last Hero”.

A natural progression from previous record “Fortress”, the album is a little over an hour of top quality hard rock music. Kicking things off is lead single “Show Me A Leader”, which really tells you everything you need to know. Huge guitar riffs, thunderous bass and drums, face-melting soloing from guitar hero Mark Tremonti all topped off with majestic vocals from Myles Kennedy as he sings lyrics demonstrating discontent with today’s political leaders. If you like that you’ll love this record. Alter Bridge are a band that keep getting better and better.

2. David Bowie “Blackstar”

David Bowie – Black Star

“…the latest (and presumably last, unless there’s stuff in the vaults for future releases) album is, of course, the brand new “Blackstar”. So how does it stack up against his back catalogue? Well, to be honest, to begin with I found it hard going, especially after the fairly straight-forward sounds of “The Next Day”. Having given it repeated plays however, especially in the last twenty-four hours I have to say that it has really grown on me and I now think it’s fabulous!

Kicking off with the near-ten-minute title track, a fusion of drum ‘n’ bass percussion, jazz parts, ethereal vocals, progressive rock style changes and a fairly impenetrable lyric! It takes a few listens to get a handle on, but boy is it a great track… In the end this is a wonderful piece of music by a man who has for decades reinvented himself and his art, so makes for a fitting epitaph…”

3. Epica “The Holographic Principle”

Epica – The Holographic Principle

I’ve been an admirer of Dutch band Epica since hearing their debut album “The Phantom Agony” in 2003 and was fortunate enough to be able to witness the band performing live in Bristol in late 2015 when they were touring sixth studio record “The Quantum Enigma”.

September 2016 saw the release of the follow-up album, “The Holographic Principle”. As is usual with a band whose music is as layered and complex as Epica, it took a while to get into the album. When you’re dealing with orchestral instrumentation and choral vocals on top of the six band members contributions there’s a lot to take in. Add in the concept of the record, which is looking at “…the near future, where virtual reality allows people to create their own worlds which can’t be distinguished from ‘reality as we know it’. This raises the question whether our current reality could be a virtual reality in itself – a hologram. The lyrics challenge you to reconsider everything you took for granted and to be open-minded towards recent revolutions in science. Nothing appears to be what it seems in our holographic universe…” So that’s straightforward enough eh?

Leaving aside the lyrical concept, one can enjoy the album simply for the songs themselves. A super mix of classical themes and driving heavy metal riffs and solos with Simone Simons’ fabulous vocal delivery on top, as illustrated perfectly by the singles “Universal Death Squad” and “Edge Of The Blade”. Perhaps not the most immediate record to appreciate but one that is worth taking the time to get into for sure.

4. Ihsahn “Arktis”

Ihsahn – Arktis

If the Epica record demands some listening to really appreciate, then that applies possibly even more to “Arktis”, the sixth solo album from Ihsahn, guitarist / vocalist from Norwegian black metal band Emperor. That’s not because it’s inaccessible, however, but because it is a diverse platter indeed. Progressive metal riffs and black metal vocals dominate tracks such as “Mass Darkness” but suddenly electronics rear their head on “South Winds”. “Until I Too Dissolve” is almost hair metal in a way, “Crooked Red Line” has acoustic and jazzy elements and closing nine-minute bonus track “Til Tor Ulven (Soppelsolen)” is an ambient spoken-word piece that gradually morphs into glacial black metal vocal styling.

There are echoes of Opeth’s mix of progressive metal and 1970s rock sounds to be heard too. You never know quite what to expect next and despite the variations in style and singing style throughout it is both easy to listen to and challenging too. A simply awesome album from start to finish…

5. Joanne Shaw Taylor “Wild”

Joanne Shaw Taylor – Wild

“Sometimes I hear a record and it instantly connects, others take a while to kind of sink in and improve with repeated listens. Then there are the albums that somehow manage to do both – they’re immediately gratifying and yet continue to get better with each listen. English blues singer / guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor‘s latest album “Wild” is definitely one of the latter.

I believe that with this simply superb record Joanne Shaw Taylor – an inspired and inspiring musician – deserves her place amongst the greats…”

6. Joe Bonamassa “Blues Of Desperation”

Joe Bonamassa – Blues Of Desperation

There are surely few modern musicians as prolific as blues singer / guitarist Joe Bonamassa. Since his 2000 debut album “A New Day Yesterday” he has released, to date, a further eleven studio albums, thirteen live albums, three albums with singer Beth Hart, four as a member of Black Country Communion and three a part of Rock Candy Funk Party – so I make that thirty-five albums in sixteen years?! Anyway, Bonamassa’s most recent solo studio release is “Blues Of Desperation”. This followed 2014’s “Different Shades Of Blue” which was strong without quite reaching the heights of some of his other work such as “Dust Bowl” or “The Ballad Of John Henry”.

From the moment opener “This Train” comes steaming out of the speakers the suggestion is that this album is a step up from the last, and each successive track goes to confirm that to be correct.

There are the heavy blues numbers like “Mountain Climbing” and the laid back late night tracks like “Drive”, the Led Zeppelin-tinged title track and of course a good extended guitar workout in “No Good Place For The Lonely”. A simply brilliant guitar player and still-improving singer, Joe Bonamassa remains an artist to be reckoned with.

7. Marillion “F.E.A.R. (Fuck Everyone And Run)”

Marillion – F.E.A.R. (Fuck Everyone And Run)

Although there will always be folk who think of Marillion as being the band headed by singer Fish (who held that role from 1981-88), the band’s many fans have continued to follow and enjoy their evolution since current vocalist Steve “H” Hogarth took on the mantle in 1989. “F.E.A.R…” is the band’s fourteenth album with Hogarth at the mic, and carries on their strong catalogue from where 2012’s “Sounds That Can’t Be Made” left off, with excellent musicianship, great songs and thought-provoking lyrics.

This time around the themes of the record are inspired by the state of the country and the world today. Hogarth stated “…the title is adopted and sung tenderly, in sadness and resignation inspired by an England, and a world, which increasingly functions on an “Every man for himself” philosophy. There’s a sense of foreboding that permeates much of this record. I have a feeling that we’re approaching some kind of sea-change in the world – an irreversible political, financial, humanitarian and environmental storm…”

With a duration of over an hour the record comprises just six tracks, and is one of those that rewards total immersion to fully appreciate both the music and the message – the latter including greed and corruption (“The New Kings”), war (“Living In FEAR”), lost youth (“White Paper”) and even life on the road (“The Leavers”). Perhaps the most potent of all, though, is the opener “El Dorado” with lines including “…we all know about the wars that are raging, all the millions who just cannot see, there’s so much more that binds us than divides us but our fear denies it while the papers stir it, the colours of the flag we wave were and will become blood red again…”. The band do not preach and give us answers but ask plenty of questions and get us to think about what the answers might be.

For a group approaching forty years of age one could be forgiven for expecting something formulaic and so-so but this is surely one of Marillion’s strongest albums yet and a real tour de force from the whole band.

8. Myrkur “Mausoleum”

Myrkur – Mausoleum

“…not an acoustic album in the usual sense, the songs are recognisable from the original versions and yet the treatment given here means that they do stand up in their own right. In fairness, I find it impossible to point to any particular highlights on this record as all nine tracks are uniformly excellent. Despite not having the extremes in sound of the studio work this beautiful recording still enchants the listener. Best listened to late at night in the dark, or perhaps out in the forest or on a hill without modern civilisation breaking the spell, this is twenty-seven minutes of pure atmosphere. Utterly compelling listening…”

9. Opeth “Sorceress”

Opeth – Sorceress

“Sorceress” is the twelfth studio album from Swedish progressive metal band Opeth, recorded not far from here at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth. It all starts peacefully enough with the delicate acoustic guitar and piano intro of “Persephone”. The jazzy groove of the title track then starts up before a massively heavy guitar riff kicks in at around a minute in, ushering in Mikael Åkerfeldt’s clean vocals. Death metal vocals are heard less and less with Opeth as the years go by but amongst the lighter moments that adorn their material these days there are still plenty of crushingly heavy passages.

Although only two of the album’s thirteen tracks made the setlist for the band’s Wembley show last year – the title track and “The Wilde Flowers” – the rest of the record is certainly strong enough to be included alongside their classic material, with my favourites including “Chrysalis”, “Era” and the brilliant “Strange Brew”.

10. Skuggsjá “A Piece For Mind & Mirror”

Skuggsjá – A Piece For Mind & Mirror

“…you would perhaps expect Skuggsjá’s music to sound like a cross between Enslaved and Wardruna, given who the creative forces behind the project are. Bjørnson contributes vocals, guitars, bass and keyboards whilst Selvik provides vocals, taglharpa, Kravik-lyre, goat-horn, birch-bark lure, bone-flute, percussion and electronics.

This is a unique sounding album, taking the best of the two composers’ day jobs and coming up with something distinctively different, even from one track to the next. The running order is beautifully balanced and the whole thing is evocative and uplifting, a superb album from start to finish…”

So there we have it. My favourite ten albums released in 2016. Honourable mentions should be made to records that nearly made the grade, which include All Saints “Red Flag”), Big Big Train (“Folklore”), Seth Lakeman (“Ballads Of The Broken Few), Megadeth (“Dystopia”), Merry Hell (“Bloodlines) and Winterfylleth (“The Dark Hereafter”). A less than honourable mention, however, must go to Meat Loaf for his “Braver Than We Are” album which recycles old Jim Steinman numbers (including lines later used for Bonnie Tyler’s hit “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” which just sound odd re-used in this context) as sung by a legendary performer who just doesn’t seem to be able to sing anymore. Not one that will get many repeat plays around here I’m afraid, and this review sadly sums it up very well.

OK, I’ll get back to individual album reviews shortly, with releases from Wolcensmen, Thunder, Snakecharmer, Quinn Sullivan, Fen, Mostly Autumn and the lovely Imelda May on rotation at the moment…

1976 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

Continuing my countdown backwards through the Seventies today, with my personal favourite ten album releases of 1976…

1. Billy Joel “Turnstiles”

Billy Joel - Turnstiles
Billy Joel – Turnstiles

The singer’s fourth album, Joel actually recorded “Turnstiles” twice. Firstly with producer William James Guercio, known for his work with Chicago, and session musicians. Unhappy with the results, Joel fired the producer, relocated to New York and produced the final version himself, using his regular touring band to back him on the record.

Although not nearly as commercially successful as his subsequent album “The Stranger”, there are nonetheless some fantastic songs present here including the singles “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” and “James”.

Also included are the classic “New York State Of Mind” and live favourite “Prelude / Angry Young Man” as well as a trio of songs that I first discovered on the singer’s live album “Songs From The Attic” – “Summer, Highland Falls”, “I’ve Loved These Days” and the epic “Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)”.

2. Eagles “Hotel California”

Eagles - Hotel California
Eagles – Hotel California

A slightly odd one, this. The band’s fifth record, it was to become their best-selling studio album is undoubtedly a very good one, but does feel arguably somewhat front-loaded. By that I mean that the best-known tracks all come first and surely anyone would find it hard to maintain the momentum after having the stone-cold classic “Hotel California” itself, with the famous guitar solos, as the very first track.

Then again, if you can follow that one up with the sublime “New Kid In Town” and then “Life In The Fast Lane” things can’t be that hard! Even the less well-known songs, though, such as “Victim Of Love”, “The Last Resort” and “Pretty Maids All In A Row” are top-quality Eagles songs.

As usual with Eagles, superb vocals and excellent instrumentation abound throughout this record. A fabulous album from start to finish.

3. Kansas “Leftoverture”

Kansas - Leftoverture
Kansas – Leftoverture

Another record best known for its first track, “Leftoverture” was the fourth album from American band Kansas. In this case that first track was the classic “Carry On Wayward Son”, a song that I first discovered in 1984 on a compilation album titled “American Heartbeat” that also contained tracks from the likes of Survivor, Toto and REO Speedwagon. From that moment the song has held a special place in my affections with its complex yet brilliantly catchy and music.

The inclusion of other superb tracks like “Miracles Out Of Nowhere”, second single “What’s On My Mind” and the six-part epic “Magnum Opus” makes this a fantastic hard / progressive rock album.

4. KISS “Destroyer” / “Rock And Roll Over”

KISS - Destroyer
KISS – Destroyer

As I Noted with 1977’s “Love Gun”, KISS music isn’t designed to be a cerebral experience – it’s all about having a good time, and for KISS it doesn’t get much better than “Destroyer”, their fourth studio album.

Kicking off with the timeless “Detroit Rock City”, one of four singles issued from the record. The others were “Flaming Youth”, the anthem “Shout It Out Loud” and the unexpected hit ballad “Beth” that featured a lead vocal from drummer Peter Criss.

Also on “Destroyer” can be found “God Of Thunder” and “Do You Love Me?” In fact, with the exception of “Great Expectations” which lets the side down somewhat, there isn’t a duff track to be heard. A great remixed version of the record was issued in 2012 as “Destroyer : Resurrected”, remixed by original producer Bob Ezrin and adding some previously missing vocal and guitar parts.

KISS - Rock And Roll Over
KISS – Rock And Roll Over

The group’s second album of the year was “Rock ‘N’ Roll Over”, just eight months later. Again the album kicks off with a classic, this time “I Want You” which has always been one of my favourite early KISS songs. Two singles were released from this record – “Hard Luck Woman” and “Calling Dr. Love” – both of which would also be up there on a list of my all-time favourite KISS tracks.

Although not as strong overall as “Destroyer”, there were other decent tracks on “Rock ‘N’ Roll Over” like “Ladies Room” and “Makin’ Love”.

5. Led Zeppelin “Presence”

Led Zeppelin - Presence
Led Zeppelin – Presence

“Presence” was Led Zeppelin’s seventh studio album and came into being during a difficult time for the band as singer Robert Plant recovered from serious injuries suffered during a car accident in the summer of 1975 on the island of Rhodes, meaning that the group had to cancel a world tour due to start a matter of weeks later.

Nonetheless, it was he who, together with guitarist Jimmy Page, was responsible for six out of the album’s seven tracks, with only “Royal Orleans” being credited to the whole band.

This is very much a guitar-driven album, pointing to the dominant influence that Page had over proceedings, with little or nothing of keyboards or acoustic guitars in evidence.

The ten-minute “Achilles Last Stand” starts off the record is fine fashion. “For Your Life”, the psychedelic-tinged “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” (adapted from a song recorded in 1927 by Blind Willie Johnson) and the bluesy “Tea For One” are the other standout tracks on this, as usual, excellent Led Zeppelin album.

6. Rainbow “Rising”

Rainbow - Rising
Rainbow – Rising

The second album from Ritchie Blackmore’s post-Deep Purple band Rainbow saw the first of many line-up changes as he jettisoned everyone that had appeared on the previous year’s debut record except singer Ronnie James Dio, the most notable new member – in my eyes – being drummer extraordinaire Cozy Powell.

A haunting synthesizer intro ushers in opening track “Tarot Woman”, one of the highlights of the album. Also present is the single “Starstruck” which is a fine example of Blackmore’s fusion of classical influences with hard rock.  Without a doubt, however, the highpoint of this record is the majestic eight-minute “Stargazer” which begins with a perfect example of Powell’s formidable drumming skills and features the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, one of Dio’s best ever vocal performances and some of Blackmore’s most inspired soloing.

The album cover, too, is a classic. A perfect visual representation of the music contained within, the painting by fantasy artist Ken Kelly (who also produced the cover for “Destroyer” by KISS) evokes the epic scale of the band’s music and is possible one of the best-loved hard rock album covers ever. I even have a framed copy hanging on the wall of my study.

7. Rush “2112”

Rush - 2112
Rush – 2112

“2112” was Canadian trio Rush’s fourth studio record and, in common with other albums on this list, begins with one of the group’s most celebrated compositions – in this case the twenty-minute seven-part title track. The track was a concept piece set in the year 2112 when the priests of the temples of Syrinx have complete control over everyday life. It was apparently influenced to some degree by the novella “Anthem” by Russian author Ayn Rand.

“2112” took up the entire first side of the original vinyl release, and side two presented a further five tracks, not connected to the concept found in the title track. The first two, “A Passage To Bangkok” (a light-hearted look at drug use in the Seventies) and “The Twilight Zone” (inspired by the TV show), were issued as singles. In truth the remainder of the album is less essential but those three tracks are worth the price of admission alone. Oh, and another classic album cover – courtesy of long-time Rush collaborator Hugh Syme.

8. Slade “Nobody’s Fools”

Slade - Nobody's Fools
Slade – Nobody’s Fools

The sixth album from UK band Slade, this one was not as well received as those released during their initial early Seventies heyday. This was in part because the band had spent the previous year in the USA trying to break through there, leading to some UK fans to feel that Slade had sold out, which was reinforced by the change of sound on this album which showed the influence of American music with female backing singers and touches of soul, funk and country music evident.

For what it’s worth I reckon this is actually a very good, strong Slade album with some very good songs and a better sound than on some of their other albums.

Singles-wise (which is what the band were known for to many) the album produced “In For A Penny”, “Let’s Call It Quits” and the (almost) title track. The first two both reached number eleven in the UK but “Nobody’s Fool” itself failed to chart.

Of the non-single tracks, the highlights for me are “Get On Up”, the reggae-influenced “Did Ya Mama Ever Tell Ya” and “I’m A Talker” – and the CD reissue added the 1975 standalone single “Thanks For The Memory (Wham Bam Thank You Mam)”.

9. Status Quo “Blue For You”

Status Quo - Blue For You
Status Quo – Blue For You

Status Quo’s ninth studio album (and third UK number one) “Blue For You” begins in thunderous fashion with the heavy boogie of “Is There A Better Way” but, as with most of the band’s albums and contrary to the general public perception of the group, there was an element of light and shade on display on the record, with the slow gentle blues of “Blue For You” and the country-influenced “Ease Your Mind” a contrast to the uptempo shuffle of “Rolling Home” and the groovy “That’s A Fact”, one of the album’s highpoints.

Best of all, however, are the two singles. “Rain”, written solely by guitarist Parfitt will forever be one of my favourite of the band’s tracks, whilst “Mystery Song” – especially in its full six-plus-minutes version – is also up there with their best.

10. Thin Lizzy “Jailbreak” / “Johnny The Fox”

Thin Lizzy - Jailbreak
Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak

As with the KISS records above, and as I sometimes do, I’m bending the criteria slightly by including two albums by one artist under one entry. Irish rockers Thin Lizzy issued two studio records during 1976 – “Jailbreak” in March and “Johnny The Fox” in October.

I would say that it is “Jailbreak” that is the best-known of the two by virtue of the material contained on it. Two of the band’s most famous songs (both released in the UK as singles) are present in “The Boys Are Back In Town” and “Jailbreak” but also here are “Warriors”, “Cowboy Song” and “Emerald” which would all become Thin Lizzy classics – and all five of those tracks would appear on 1978’s classic live record “Live And Dangerous”.

Thin Lizzy - Johnny The Fox
Thin Lizzy – Johnny The Fox

The line-up of Lynott, Gorham, Downey and Robertson remained stable for long enough to record the follow-up “Johnny The Fox”, though the latter would be replaced more than once by Gary Moore in subsequent years. This second album of the year only had one track issued as a single in the UK – the number twelve hit “Don’t Believe A Word”.

Another couple of tracks destined to appear on “Live And Dangerous” also featured – the funky “Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed” and “Massacre” which echoes the earlier record’s “Emerald”. Further highlights here were “Fools Gold” and the drum-heavy “Boogie Woogie Dance”. One could argue that the two albums could have been distilled into one single killer record, but that would have meant losing some excellent, though lesser-known, material.

Elsewhere in 1976 Harold Wilson gave way to James Callaghan as British Prime Minister whilst over in the USA Gerald Ford held the office of President. In football Liverpool replaced Derby County as champions of the old first division into which Manchester United had been promoted following a season in the second division (1974-75). United lost to Southampton in the FA Cup final. The biggest film releases of the year included “Rocky”, “A Star Is Born” and the classic that is “The Omen”. Oh, and last but in no way least, 1976 was the year in which my lovely wife was born!

1975 coming up next in a week or two…

2015 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

At the end of the year time to break the current sequence of “top ten albums of the year” posts and review my favourite releases of the past twelve months. There have been a lot of quality albums issued this year, and it’s proven difficult to narrow my list down to just ten, but here (alphabetically, as per usual) we go…

1. Europe “War Of Kings”

Europe_War_of_Kings_album
Europe – War Of Kings

“…front man Joey Tempest’s vocals are as powerful and soaring now as they ever were and guitarist John Norum delivers some seriously tasty lead guitar solos. The highlights of this record, for me, are “War Of Kings”, “Nothin’ To Ya”, “California 405”, “Rainbow Bridge” and “Light Me Up”, but in truth this is a very good album from the opening sound effects through to the reprise of the title track at the end of closing instrumental number “Vasastan”…”

2. Grace Potter “Midnight”

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Grace Potter – Midnight

“…ultimately, whether you like this or not I think it’s good when an artist follows their heart musically rather than churning out similar sounding albums for fear of upsetting fans and losing sales.

Granted that approach doesn’t always make for consistently good music (see Metallica’s “St. Anger” and their collaboration with Lou Reed on “Lulu” for evidence of that!) but in the case of Potter she is, to my ears, managing to make the transition and still remain as entertaining and appealing as ever…”

3. Halestorm “Into The Wild Life”

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Halestorm – Into The Wild Life

“…I do feel that it’s easily the band’s best to date. That said, at this point in time I am really enjoying “I Am The Fire”, the delicate ballad “Dear Daughter”, the crushing “Mayhem”, “Sick Individual”, “Gonna Get Mine”, “What Sober Couldn’t Say” (with it’s lovely Procol Harum style organ work), the rock ‘n’ roll of “Jump The Gun” and “I Like It Heavy”. In truth, though, there isn’t a duff track to be found. Sure, there are different genres on display here – rock, metal, country, rock ‘n’ roll, etc. – but all put together and moulded into the unique sound of Halestorm…”

4. Iron Maiden “The Book Of Souls”

Book_of_Souls_Iron_Maiden
Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls

“…this is not only the best record that this line-up of Maiden have made, and all six members are bang on the money, but is right up there with the best of their entire output.

For a band now in their 40th year, and 15 years for this configuration, this is a staggering achievement. A 92 minute double album of consistent top quality…”

5. Luciferian Light Orchestra “Luciferian Light Orchestra”

Luciferian-Light-Orchestra-2015-Luciferian-Light-Orchestra
Luciferian Light Orchestra – Luciferian Light Orchestra

“…the album is steeped in a Seventies style vibe and is far more classic hard rock than one might expect given Johnsson’s background in death and symphonic metal. Opening track “Dr. Faust On Capri” sets out the project’s stall straight away. Catchy guitar riffs, Hammond organs, choral backing vocals in places, some fairly deep but perfectly understandable male vocals and all topped off with the a beautifully sweet female vocal.

…if all occult and / or satanic music was as melodic, catchy and, frankly, seductive as this then there would be a lot more people investigating that path!…”

6. Nightwish “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”

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Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful

“…designed to be listened to from start to end, as albums used to be, the record starts with a spoken piece from Professor Richard Dawkins introducing first track “Shudder Before The Beautiful”. Orchestration leads into some heavy guitar riffing before Jansen’s vocals kick in. Her voice is pure and clear, and the track’s melodies catchy. This is classic Nightwish but also the group sounding more accessible than ever…”

7. Steven Wilson “Hand. Cannot. Erase”

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Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase

“…anyone familiar with Wilson’s past work with Porcupine Tree, or his subsequent solo work will have an idea of what to expect with this record. This is not background music. It’s not easy listening. This is an album that challenges you. It needs and deserves to have your full attention. And with that attention you will discover what a rich and engaging album it is…”

8. Swallow The Sun “Songs From The North”

Swallow-The-Sun
Swallow The Sun – Songs From The North I, II & III

“…a truly great doom metal band that have incorporated a wide palette within their core sound. Now that winter is settling in and we are treated to rain, mist and dark skies I feel that it is the perfect time for something like “Songs From The North”. The fact that the project is on such a huge scale just makes it even better in my view. An ideal, and oddly uplifting, soundtrack to the melancholy and darkness of winter…”

9. Thunder “Wonder Days”

thunder-wonderdays
Thunder – Wonder Days

“…to my ears nothing quite matches the magic created when you mix his songs with Bowes’ voice in the band, underpinned by the rock solid James’ drumming, Matthews’ guitar and keyboard parts and Chris Childs’ bass playing and the magic is complete. Thunder are a fantastic band, whether on record or on stage, and it’s great to have them back with new songs!…”

10. The Unthanks “Mount The Air”

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The Unthanks – Mount The Air

“…the group have gradually moved from their more traditional folk sounds to more experimental waters. Taking folk as their starting point, they now often utilise strings and brass instruments, resulting in a unique and quite haunting sound. The sisters’ voices really do compliment each other beautifully.

As a whole, listening to the record from start to finish is to be taken on a wonderful musical journey. It’s hard to convey in words what The Unthanks sound like – so it’s probably best to listen and quite literally let the music do the talking…”

So there you have it – my favourite ten albums of this year. Back on course with the Seventies and 1976 soon…

1977 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

OK, so still gradually working back through the Seventies, and here are my top ten albums released back in 1977…

  1. AC/DC “Let There Be Rock”
AC/DC - Let There Be Rock
AC/DC – Let There Be Rock

The third album to be released world-wide by the band, and their fourth in Australia, “Let There Be Rock” was a big step forward in terms of the group’s sound and style with more guitar solos – and just guitar in general – than before.

The record contains a number of bonafide classic AC/DC songs, including “Whole Lotta Rosie”, “Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be”, “Bad Boy Boogie” and “Let There Be Rock” itself. The first and last of these were released as singles, along with “Dog Eat Dog”, though only “Whole Lotta Rosie” troubled the lower reaches of the charts in the UK.

An excellent AC/DC record, one of the best from not only the Bon Scott fronted era but the band’s entire history.

2. Billy Joel “The Stranger”

Billy Joel - The Stranger
Billy Joel – The Stranger

A much more restrained affair than the aforementioned AC/DC record, Billy Joel’s fifth studio album “The Stranger” is nonetheless also one of the very best in the artists’ entire catalogue.

Four tracks were released as successful singles in the US – “Just The Way You Are”, “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”, “She’s Always A Woman” and “Only The Good Die Young” – and the first three of those made the UK top forty too.

Those songs are timeless, and the album remains one of Joel’s best-selling efforts. For me, though, aside from the singles the best of the album can be found in the haunting “The Stranger” and the fantastic “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”, a real storyteller of a song, which was a highlight of his live set when I was lucky enough to catch it on the 1990 “Storm Front” tour.

3. Fleetwood Mac “Rumours”

Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

Surely one of the best known and most loved albums of the decade, Fleetwood Mac’s eleventh studio album was the one that saw their international success continue to build upon that achieved two years earlier with their self-titled album – which had introduced Stevie Nicks and Lyndsay Buckingham to the band’s ranks.

To date “Rumours” has sold in excess of forty million copies, taking it into the top ten best-selling albums of all time, actually at number eight. A number one album in the UK, the record spawned four hit singles – “Go Your Own Way“, “Dreams”, “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun” – and still had room for classic tracks such as “Songbird”, “The Chain” and “Gold Dust Woman”.

Most folk probably know all about the drama that surrounded the recording of this album, with marriages and relationships imploding, affairs going on and the songs being about (and aimed) each other. That they managed to make a record at all was a triumph over adversity. To have made such a timeless classic is remarkable. A simply brilliant album.

4. Heart “Little Queen”

Heart - Little Queen
Heart – Little Queen

Before they had huge melodic rock hits in the late Eighties, Seattle band Heart were sometimes compared to British legends Led Zeppelin in terms of their fusion of hard rock and acoustics and use of light and shade in their material.

This was only the group’s second studio album release, and appeared during a time of difficulty for the band. When their first album had reached a million sales the group’s record label took out an advertisement to celebrate that the Wilson sisters, Ann and Nancy, took offence to, finding it to be sexist and insulting. That lead to a stand-off between group and label over the recordings for their planned second album “Magazine” for which the group had recorded, but not finished, just five new songs.

The label nonetheless released those recordings, padded out with a b-side and some live tracks just a month before “Little Queen” hit the shelves before legal action meant that it was swiftly withdrawn. Eventually the band re-recorded and finished “Magazine” and it was released in 1978.

“Little Queen” meanwhile kicked off with the storming “Barracuda”, a song inspired by reactions to the advertisement that caused the furore in the first place. That song was the lead single from the album, followed by “Little Queen” and “Kick It Out”. Elsewhere the beautiful “Love Alive” and “Dream Of The Archer” were among the acoustic based numbers that would draw comparison with Led Zeppelin, as would the more bombastic closer “Go On Cry”.

Not the high point of the band’s career in terms of sales success, although it still managed triple platinum in the US, but one of their stronger albums artistically speaking. Great stuff.

5. Jethro Tull “Songs From The Wood”

Jethro Tull - Songs From The Wood
Jethro Tull – Songs From The Wood

As mentioned in my post on 1978, “Songs From The Wood” was the first in a loose trilogy of folk rock albums on themes surrounding nature and the changing world. It’s also probably my favourite of the three records.

Containing a trio of singles – “The Whistler”, “Songs From The Wood” and the winter-themed “Ring Out Solstice Bells”, none of which achieved much in the way of chart success – as well as other cracking tunes like “Jack-In-The-Green”, “Velvet Green” and the superb “Pibroch (Cap In Hand)” this is a great record best summed up by the text of an advertisement at the time, which read “…a new album of old magic… inspired by the thought that perhaps nature isn’t as gentle as we’d like to believe… takes as its theme the natural and supernatural inhabitants of the woodlands of old England… warm and friendly, harsh and bitter by turns. Find a quiet spot and listen to it soon.” An excellent album.

6. KISS “Love Gun”

KISS - Love Gun
KISS – Love Gun

From the depth of Jethro Tull to the shallowness of KISS! Let’s be honest, KISS songs are all about love and sex and having a great time, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

“Love Gun” was the American hard rock band’s sixth studio album. Released just a few months before “Alive II”, their second double live record, and with the folly of the four individual solo albums to come in 1978, this was the last great early albums before the slump leading up to concept album “Music From The Elder” in 1981.

While they were at the top of their game, however, KISS were excellent. “Christine Sixteen”, “Love Gun” and a cover of The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me” retitled as “Then She Kissed Me” were released as singles, and other classic tracks on the record include opener “I Stole Your Love”, “Shock Me” and “Tomorrow And Tonight”.

7. Meat Loaf “Bat Out Of Hell”

Meat Loaf - Bat Out Of Hell
Meat Loaf – Bat Out Of Hell

As with Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”, this one probably needs little introduction and is also in the top ten best-selling albums of all time, this time at number five.

The record was the first collaboration between Meat Loaf and songwriter Jim Steinman, which because of its enormous success has cast something of a shadow over Meat Loaf’s subsequent recording career.

Of the seven songs on the album four were issued as singles. In the US there were top forty placings for “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)”, the ever-brilliant “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” and “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad”, whilst here in the UK the first two of those, plus “Bat Out Of Hell” (albeit not until 1979), also made the top forty and all are live favourites to this day.

The remaining three songs, “Heaven Can Wait”, “All Revved Up With No Place To Go” and “For Crying Out Loud”, round out this definitive Meat Loaf album that still stands out as something very special nearly forty years later.

8. Motörhead “Motörhead”

Motörhead - Motörhead
Motörhead – Motörhead

The self-titled debut album from Lemmy’s band Motörhead wasn’t really their debut album at all. The record that they recorded first was 1976’s “On Parole” but the record company behind it, United Artists, shelved it and that album didn’t see the light of day until the tail end of 1979, by which time both “Overkill” and “Bomber” had brought the band chart success in the top thirty album chart.

“Motörhead” was recorded one weekend in early 1977, with the band about to call it a day and break up. Given a couple of days recording time by Chiswick label boss Ted Carroll they re-recorded the majority of “On Parole” (7 of the 9 original tracks) with the addition of a couple of additional numbers.

The song “Motörhead” was released as a single. Technically a cover version, the song was written by Lemmy during his time as a member of Hawkwind and appeared on the b-side to that band’s 1975 single “Kings Of Speed”.

The first recording by the legendary line-up of Lemmy, “Fast” Eddie Clarke and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor, the album isn’t blessed with the best production job or performances (“On Parole” may just edge it) but is an excellent snapshot of the band on their way to becoming one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all time.

9. Slade “Whatever Happened To Slade

Slade - Whatever Happened To Slade
Slade – Whatever Happened To Slade

Often viewed as a singles band, no doubt due to their extraordinary run of chart hits in the early Seventies, Slade made some very good albums in their time. One of the best, in my opinion, was this one although ironically it was their first album not to chart since their first flush of success. Even 1976’s “Nobody’s Fools” had managed number fourteen but by March 1977 when “Whatever Happened To…” was released the band’s popularity had declined markedly.

A more straight ahead rock album than much of their previous work, this album contains some great songs. Some of these – the tongue-tripping opener “Be” and “One Eyed Jacks With Moustaches” – I had been introduced to via a taped copy of the “Alive Vol. 2” album from a friend, whilst I first heard the single “Gypsy Roadhog” on the 1980 compilation “Slade Smashes”. Other cracking songs on the record included “When Fantasy Calls”, “She’s Got The Lot” and “It Ain’t Love But It Ain’t Bad”.

The reissued CD version from 2007 also included a number of non-album singles and b-sides from 1977/78 including “Give Us A Goal”, “Burning In The Heat Of Love” and the Elvis Presley tribute “My Baby Left Me / That’s Alright” to make a great album even better.

10. Status Quo “Rockin’ All Over The World”

Status Quo - Rockin' All Over The World
Status Quo – Rockin’ All Over The World

Released during November 1977,  “Rockin’ All Over The World” was Status Quo’s tenth studio album and reached number five in the UK album chart.

Two singles were issued – “Rockin’ All Over The World” which saw the infamous bass playing puppet used when Alan Lancaster was unable / unwilling to fly back from Australia to film the video for the song, and “Rockers Rollin'” – although the latter, a double a-side with “Hold You Back” was not released in the UK.

Recently a remixed version of the album has been issued, so I have already written at some length about this record. Suffice it to say that, despite the lightweight sound of the album, it has remained a much-loved album since I first discovered it around 1981/82 whilst amassing the band’s back catalogue after getting their 1981 album “Never Too Late”.

In the usual round-up of events in this year we find James Callaghan as British Prime Minister and Jimmy Carter becoming President of the USA (replacing Gerald Ford). Liverpool won the old First Division for the tenth time but lost to Manchester United in final of the FA Cup. Top film releases of 1977 included “Star Wars”, “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind”, “Saturday Night Fever” and the James Bond movie “The Spy Who Loved Me”.

Look out for 1976 in the (fairly) near future…

1978 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

No blog for a few days as I have been busy decorating and room moving, as the kids are getting bigger and wanting more space, leading to the wife and I converting our dining room into our new master bedroom. That part’s now achieved (more to do though…) so normal service now being resumed.

Continuing my trawl backwards through the Seventies, having examined my favourite albums of 1979, today I present to you my top ten albums of 1978…

  1. Bruce Springsteen “Darkness On The Edge Of Town”
Bruce Springsteen - Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Bruce Springsteen – Darkness On The Edge Of Town

Following the huge success of 1975’s breakthrough album “Born To Run” was never going to be easy, and enduring a legal battle with his former manager kept Springsteen out of the studio until late 1977.

With a huge number of songs written and recorded, the eventual album was pared down to ten tracks, including singles “Prove It All Night”, “Badlands” and “The Promised Land”. Twenty two further recordings would surface in 2010 on the album “The Promise” – a collection of outtakes from the “Darkness…” sessions.

Back in ’78 the original album also contained future classics in the shape of “Racing In The Street”, “Streets Of Fire”, “Adam Raised A Cain” and, of course, the title track.

A less epic, more immediate sounding album than its predecessor, “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” is the least accessible of the two, but arguably the better artistically. Regardless, it remains a cracking and indispensable Springsteen record.

2. Jeff Wayne “The War Of The Worlds”

Jeff Wayne - The War Of The Worlds
Jeff Wayne – The War Of The Worlds

I think it was in the early Eighties that I first heard “Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds” (to give it its full title). I loved it straight away and still listen to it quite often today.

A musical retelling of the famous 1897 science fiction novel from English author H.G. Wells, this double album featured a number of high-profile performers including actor Richard Burton, and singers Justin Hayward, Phil Lynott, David Essex and Julie Covington.

Unusually for a double concept album, which itself spent nearly 300 weeks in the UK charts, it also produced a hit single – “Forever Autumn”.

With great packaging, well told story, great performances and superb compositions – very catchy songs and motifs – this is a classic album beyond doubt.

3. Jethro Tull “Heavy Horses”

Jethro Tull - Heavy Horses
Jethro Tull – Heavy Horses

This is an album that I have got into quite recently. In fact, it’s fair to say that the album has only really resonated with me since moving to the countryside and connecting with the natural world more.

The band’s eleventh studio album, this one is the middle piece of a trilogy of folk rock albums looking at themes surrounding nature and the effects of the changing world – the others being “Songs From The Wood” (1977) and “Stormwatch” (1979).

Group leader Ian Anderson had himself moved onto a farm and this is likely to have influenced his thinking and songwriting at the time. Whilst “Songs…” celebrated the enduring quality of nature “Heavy Horses” concerned itself with increasing industrialisation at the expense of the natural world.

Although the record was released in April of ’78 many have remarked that it has an autumnal feeling, and certainly I would have to agree that it does seem to fit that time of year particularly well, but is an excellent listen at any time of year.

“Moths” was released as a single from this album, and is one of the more folky tracks here, along with the likes of “Rover” and “Weathercock”, but the band’s progressive leanings still show through on songs like “No Lullaby” and “Heavy Horses”.

A truly great Jethro Tull album.

4. Kate Bush “The Kick Inside” / “Lionheart”

Kate Bush - The Kick Inside
Kate Bush – The Kick Inside

The first of two albums released in 1978 by a nineteen year old Kate Bush, debut record “The Kick Inside” was followed within nine months by “Lionheart”, with both making the UK top ten.

“The Kick Inside” contained the number one hit single “Wuthering Heights” and the beautiful “The Man With The Child In His Eyes”, the latter written when Bush was just thirteen years old. Other great songs here include “James And The Cold Gun”, “Feel It” and “Them Heavy People”.

Kate Bush - Lionheart
Kate Bush – Lionheart

On “Lionheart”, meanwhile, can be found a further two singles – “Hammer Horror” and “Wow“. Other notable tracks are “Oh England My Lionheart”, “Symphony In Blue” and “In The Warm Room”.

Bush herself was unhappy with how the second album turned out, as she felt that it was rushed under pressure from the record company. However, these two records mark an incredible year for the young artist who was destined to go on and create much more marvellous and inspirational music.

5. Queen “Jazz”

Queen - Jazz
Queen – Jazz

This was the seventh album from Queen, and their last studio album of the Seventies.

Released in November, the album’s release had been preceded by the double A side single “Bicycle Race” / “Fat Bottomed Girls” in October.

The album also contains “Don’t Stop Me Now”, another hit single for the group, as well as highlights such as “Let Me Entertain You” and “Dreamers Ball”. “Fun It”, a funky track, showed the direction the band would embrace wholeheartedly for 1982’s controversial “Hot Space” record.

If only May and Taylor could follow Deacon’s lead and stop tarnishing the Queen name in the present day. The collaboration with Paul Rodgers was a worthy, if ill-advised, effort, but the tours etc. with Adam Lambert and any number of guest singers that they have insisted in inflicting on the public since Mercury’s death are lamentable. Both could produce decent solo work – indeed Taylor’s most recent solo album is rather good – and I am unconvinced by the regular mantra that “Freddie would have approved”.

Still, “Jazz” is one of the band’s best records, from a time when they embraced a whole variety of genres on their albums, and is as good to listen to today as ever.

6. Rainbow “Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll”

Rainbow - Long Live Rock 'N' Roll
Rainbow – Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll

The third album from Ritchie Blackmore’s band, and the last to feature the wonderful vocals of Ronnie James Dio.

The majority of the record was recorded by the trio of Blackmore, Dio and drummer Cozy Powell in 1977 before bassist Bob Daisley and keyboardist David Stone joined the line-up.

The album made number 6 in the UK, whilst two singles also charted – “L.A. Connection” at number 40 and “Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll” at number 33.

Hits aside, however, the best of the album included “Kill The King”, “The Shed (Subtle)”, “Rainbow Eyes” and the brilliant “Gates Of Babylon”. The band’s sound would take a turn towards more commercial territory by the time of their next album, leaving this as the last of their epic and expansive hard rock records. Essential listening.

7. Rush “Hemispheres”

Rush - Hemispheres
Rush – Hemispheres

Recorded just down the road from here, at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, “Hemispheres” was Canadian band Rush’s sixth studio album.

As with the group’s previous three albums, this one contains a lengthy track alongside some more concise tracks.

In the case of “Hemispheres”, the lengthy track is the sci-fi opener “Cygnus X-1 Book II : Hemispheres” which comes in at just over eighteen minutes. Book I had closed the group’s 1977 album “A Farewell To Kings” and was itself ten minutes in length.

“Circumstances”, at under four minutes, was the album’s shortest song, with single “The Trees” being next at nearly five. That just left closing instrumental track “La Villa Strangiato”, subtitled “An Exercise In Self-Indulgence” which is over nine and a half minutes long.

So, four tracks totalling thirty-six minutes. A fairly average length for a Rush record in the Seventies, but the music is of such quality that this is anything but an average album. Excellent.

8. Status Quo “If You Can’t Stand The Heat…”

Status Quo - If You Can't Stand The Heat...
Status Quo – If You Can’t Stand The Heat…

The eleventh studio album from the group saw Status Quo incorporating a brass section and female backing singers into their sound for the first time, resulting in a record that is very much of its time.

Featuring two hit singles – “Again And Again” and “Accident Prone” – this is quite a poppy sounding record from the band (perhaps indicating that Francis Rossi had the upper hand during recording sessions?), though thankfully much fuller sounding than the previous year’s “Rockin’ All Over The World”. Nonetheless it still makes for a good listen.

“I’m Givin’ Up My Worryin'”, “Oh! What A Night”, “Stones”, “Let Me Fly” are all great catchy songs and “Long Legged Linda” and “Like A Good Girl” up the tempo nicely.

Incidentally, the ballad “Someone Show Me Home” reappeared as “Someone Show Me” on Rossi’s 1996 solo album “King Of The Doghouse”, though I personally prefer the original version found here. The band would return in 1979 with the much harder rocking “Whatever You Want” album.

9. Van Halen “Van Halen”

Van Halen - Van Halen
Van Halen – Van Halen

Released in February ’78, this was the debut album from California band Van Halen.

One of the great debuts in hard rock history, “Van Halen” contains tracks that have become live staples for the group ever since, including two hit singles – “Runnin’ With The Devil” and “You Really Got Me”, as well as the likes of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and “Jamie’s Cryin'”.

And let’s not forget the revolutionary instrumental guitar extravaganza that is “Eruption”! It sounds as fresh and exciting today as the day I first heard it. Eddie Van Halen is on fire throughout this record and the rest of the band are non too shabby either. Classic!

10. Whitesnake “Trouble”

Whitesnake - Trouble
Whitesnake – Trouble

I remember buying a cheap reissue of this on a cassette in the early Eighties, probably around the time of “Saints & Sinners”, and not being too sure about it to begin with.

Over the years since then, however, I have grown to love this album, and probably enjoy it more than “Ready An’ Willing” and “Come An’ Get It” to be honest.

Released during the same year as David Coverdale’s second solo album “Northwinds”, “Trouble” was the first record credited to Whitesnake and features the same personnel as 1979 album “Lovehunter” – another favourite.

Both the excellent “Lie Down (A Modern Love Song)” (not so much suggestive as blatant lyrically!) and “The Time Is Right For Love” were released as singles, although neither charted, and the album itself only made number 50 in the UK. A slow-burn version of the Beatles’ “Day Tripper”, instrumental “Belgian Tom’s Hat Trick” and tracks like “Love To Keep You Warm”, “Nighthawk (Vampire Blues)” and the title track, together with stellar performances from all involved all contributed to a fabulous first record from this now legendary rock band.

The usual round-up of events in this year include James Callaghan as British Prime Minister and Jimmy Carter as President of the USA, Nottingham Forest winning the old First Division and Ipswich Town beating Arsenal for the FA Cup, and top film releases of the year included “Grease”, “Superman” and the powerful “The Deer Hunter”.

1977 will be up next in a week or two…

1979 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

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”

AC/DC - Highway To Hell
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”

The Clash - London Calling
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”

Cozy Powell - Over The Top
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”

Led Zeppelin - In Through The Out Door
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”

Motörhead - Overkill
Motörhead – Overkill

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”

Rainbow - Down To Earth
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”

Sky - Sky
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”

Status Quo - Whatever You Want
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”

Thin Lizzy - Black Rose : A Rock Legend
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”

Whitesnake - Lovehunter
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”.

OK, that’s it… look out for 1978 coming up soon…

1989 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

Just over a week ago I looked back at my favourite albums of 1988 and promised the final year of the Eighties would be up next.

Well, here it is. My list covering my personal top ten albums of the final year of that decade – 1989…

1. Aerosmith “Pump”

Aerosmith - Pump
Aerosmith – Pump

This was the year that I first got to see Boston hard rock legends Aerosmith live in concert, at the Birmingham N.E.C., and the year that they released what I believe to be their best ever album “Pump”.

This was the band’s tenth studio album, and their most successful to that point. In fact only “Get A Grip”, the follow-up from 1993, can match “Pump” in terms of chart performances and sales figures.

There were three chart singles in the UK from this record – “Janie’s Got A Gun”, “The Other Side” and “Love In An Elevator”, whilst the album contained other corkers such as “Young Lust”, “Monkey On My Back”, “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even” and my favourite “Hoodoo / Voodoo Medicine Man”.

The whole band were on fire, Steven Tyler’s vocals sounded great, Joe Perry looked like the guitar god that he was and this was one Aerosmith album that didn’t contain a single duff track.

2. Dan Reed Network “Slam”

Dan Reed Network - Slam
Dan Reed Network – Slam

This is a band that should have had a lot more success than they ultimately did. A multi-ethnic hard rock / funk group, Dan Reed Network’s second album “Slam” was produced by Nile Rodgers of Chic fame.

It was the single “Tiger In A Dress” that first brought the band to my attention, and I was a big fan of the album by the time they secured a slot opening for the Rolling Stones on their “Urban Jungle” tour.

The group would go on to have bigger chart success in the UK with 1991 album “The Heat” before disappearing, but for me “Slam” is the best of the band’s three albums, with superb tracks like “Doin’ The Love Thing”, “Come Back Baby”, “All My Lovin'”, “Make It Easy” and “Stronger Than Steel” ensuring that the album still gets regular airings on my system.

3. Eric Clapton “Journeyman”

Eric Clapton - Journeyman
Eric Clapton – Journeyman

I’d not been a particular fan of Eric Clapton’s work, big hits such as “Layla” and “Cocaine” aside, until his eleventh solo studio album “Journeyman” came out and changed that, making me go back and discover all his past treasures.

A number of singles were released to promote the record, including “Pretending”, the excellent “Bad Love” and “No Alibis”.

The album mixed bluesy material with harder rocking tracks but worked brilliantly from start to finish and remains my favourite Clapton album, probably followed by “24 Nights” – the live album that chronicled his stints at the Royal Albert Hall in 1990/91 (and the unofficial recordings from those dates) – as it (and they) capture Clapton at one of the peaks of his powers.

The Cream years and Derek & The Dominoes are hugely important too, not forgetting the John Mayall album from 1966, but for quality songs, superb guitar playing and a great polished sound “Journeyman” is the one for me.

4. FM “Tough It Out”

FM - Tough It Out
FM – Tough It Out

A band new to me in 1989 were British melodic rockers FM. First introduced to my ears by their single “Bad Luck”, the band boasted great catchy rock songs with singalong choruses and really good instrumentation, all topped off my the wonderful voice of Steve Overland.

So impressed was I that, together with a mate, I saw the band perform on their subsequent UK tour twice in a week – in Bristol and Manchester – and they were just as good live as on record (in fact drummer Pete Jupp was even better than I expected).

As well as “Bad Luck”, the album produced two more singles in “Someday (You’ll Come Running)” and “Everytime I Think Of You” and was crammed full of top tunes, any one of which could conceivably have been a hit. The band are still making really good music to this day, but “Tough It Out” will likely always be the best to me, as it was perfect for the time.

5. King’s X “Gretchen Goes To Nebraska”

King's X - Gretchen Goes To Nebraska
King’s X – Gretchen Goes To Nebraska

In all honesty I can’t remember for the life of me how I first discovered King’s X, though it was most likely from Tommy Vance’s brilliant radio show on BBC Radio 1, the Friday Rock Show, which was an invaluable resource in the days before the internet!

Regardless, I can recall picking up a vinyl copy of “Gretchen Goes To Nebraska”, the band’s second album, and being really impressed. The record contains different elements – Beatles-like vocal harmonies, heavy guitars, great melodies, psychedelic sounds, tight grooves, progressive passages etc.

Two singles were used to promote the record – “Over My Head” and “Summerland”, and other notable tracks include “Everybody Knows A Little Bit Of Something”, “Mission” and “Don’t Believe It (It’s Easier Said Than Done)”. Whilst not massively successful commercially the album is generally regarded as a highlight of the band’s catalogue.

6. Marillion “Season’s End”

Marillion - Season's End
Marillion – Season’s End

Tape cassettes were still popular in 1989 and it was an impulse purchase in a motorway service station on a late night drive towards the end of that year that saw me picking up “Seasons End”, the first post-Fish album from Aylesbury progressive rock band Marillion.

I had already heard the lead single “Hooks In You”, which was similar in sound to “Incommunicado” (my least favourite Marillion single) and was interested to see what the rest of the album would sound like, if not expecting great things.

The good news was that “Hooks In You” didn’t give a true flavour of things. Epic numbers like “The King Of Sunset Town”, “Seasons End”, “Berlin” and the sublime “Easter” all went to demonstrate that there was very definitely life after Fish.

“The Uninvited Guest” was also released as a single, as was “Easter”, albeit in edited form. The latter remains one of the most beautiful Marillion songs, and the album a marker that this was a band that would continue to grow and expand their musical vision and produce stunning music for years to come.

7. Mötley Crüe “Dr. Feelgood”

Motley Crue - Dr. Feelgood
Mötley Crüe – Dr. Feelgood

Although for some it is the “Girls, Girls, Girls” album from 1987 that best represents Los Angeles hard rock band Mötley Crüe, for me it has to be “Dr. Feelgood”.

Producing five hit singles in the US – just two, “Dr. Feelgood” and “Without You” would be UK hits – the album became the biggest selling album of the band’s career.

The group were at the peak of their commercial career and cemented the record’s success by appearing at the one-off Moscow Music Peace Festival in August ’89 along with Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osbourne, Scorpions and others and their own massive 154 date world tour from October ’89 through to August ’90.

Singer Vince Neil would leave the group before the next studio album and, although he was to return just a few years later, they would never recapture their former glories and sales successes and are currently undergoing their final world tour. But back in ’89 with albums tracks like “Rattlesnake Shake”, “Sticky Sweet”, “Kickstart My Heart” and “She Goes Down” the band were dynamite.

As an aside, I did feel at the time that if I was ever to have a tattoo on my bicep it would be of the dagger / snake motif on the album cover. It never happened but then never say never…

8. Paul McCartney “Flowers In The Dirt”

Paul McCartney - Flowers In The Dirt
Paul McCartney – Flowers In The Dirt

I am not a massive fan of the former Beatle’s solo work, it seems to be more miss than hit in terms of quality to my ears. However, in terms of a single body of work I do find his “Flowers In The Dirt” to be head and shoulders above anything else in his solo career.

His sixteenth studio album outside of the Beatles – therefore including solo and Wings albums – it was his most successful since “Tug Of War” in 1982 and produced four UK hit singles in “My Brave Face” (number 18), “This One” (18), “Put It There” (32) and “Figure Of Eight” (42).

McCartney collaborated with Elvis Costello on four of the album’s twelve tracks and Costello also sang on “You Want Her Too”. The album was released to great critical acclaim and was followed by McCartney’s first big tour in a decade, with 103 shows between September ’89 and July ’90. The tour was captured by the fantastic double live album “Tripping The Live Fantastic” in 1990.

“Flowers In The Dirt” meanwhile is a really good adult pop record, with at least the first ten tracks being of the highest quality, including my particular favourites “Distractions”, “You Want Her Too”, “This One” and “We Got Married”.

9. Rolling Stones “Steel Wheels”

Rolling Stones - Steel Wheels
Rolling Stones – Steel Wheels

“Steel Wheels” was the Rolling Stones nineteenth studio album (twenty-first in the US) and first since the patchy “Dirty Work” in 1986.

Preceded by the hit single “Mixed Emotions” the album saw the light of day in August, two days before their huge 115 date “Steel Wheels” / “Urban Jungle” world tour kicked off in the US. I was lucky enough to catch the band perform in Cardiff on that tour, and they were excellent.

“Steel Wheels” is my favourite Rolling Stones album from the eighties, feeling more consistent in quality than the others released during that particular decade. More singles were released from the record including “Rock And A Hard Place”, “Almost Hear You Sigh” and “Terrifying” and other great tracks on the album are “Can’t Be Seen”, “Sad Sad Sad”, “Slipping Away” and the unusual and brilliant Eastern-flavoured “Continental Drift”. Great stuff.

10. Whitesnake “Slip Of The Tongue”

Whitesnake - Slip Of The Tongue
Whitesnake – Slip Of The Tongue

Released in November ’89, “Slip Of The Tongue” was Whitesnake’s eighth studio album, and the follow-up to the hugely successful “1987” album which had seen David Coverdale’s band move away from the bluesy rock on the early albums into a pristine sounding hard rock band and made them big stars in the US.

None of the musicians who had appeared on “1987” were members of the band by the time Coverdale came to record “Slip Of The Tongue” as he had recruited new band members for the “1987” tour. Touring guitarist Vivian Campbell had subsequently quit, and due to a wrist injury the then-current sole remaining guitarist Adrian Vandenberg was unable to participate either.

As a result guitar maestro Steve Vai was brought on board to record all the guitar parts on the album and join Vandenberg in the line-up for the next world tour. Although at the time Coverdale was quoted as saying that Vai was “weaving sonic tapestries from hell” he was later to remark that “Slip Of The Tongue” was the least Whitesnake sounding record in his band’s catalogue.

There is much truth to that, and for many Vai’s playing (or over-playing, depending on your point of view) was the problem and I will admit that I wonder how much better the album might have sounded had Vandenberg performed on it instead of Vai.

Despite that, this is still a good record. As with the previous album, this one also had a re-recording of an older Whitesnake song present, and issued as a single, in “Fool For Your Loving” (originally recorded in 1980). The other UK singles, both hits in 1990, were “The Deeper The Love” and “Now You’re Gone”.

There is plenty of Coverdale’s trademark humour / sexism (delete as appropriate) on tracks like “Slow Poke Music”, “Cheap An’ Nasty” and “Kittens Got Claws” – sample lyric “…you wear those skin-tight dresses with your g-string tuned to A…”. In addition there are some brilliant epic sounding tunes, “Sailing Ships” and “Judgement Day” being the pick of the bunch. Not the best Whitesnake album perhaps, but still way better than most hard rock albums from the time.

Politics, football and movies is 1989? – Margaret Thatcher was in her third term as the Prime Minister of the UK, reaching a decade in the job in May, whilst George Bush became President of the USA in January. In football Arsenal won the old First Division and the FA Cup went to Liverpool. In cinemas, top films released included “Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade”, “Batman” and “Back To The Future Part II”.

Elsewhere, tragedy struck in April during the FA Cup match between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool when 96 died as a result of the Hillsborough Disaster, a fatwā was declared over Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel “The Satanic Verses”, the BBC dropped TV series “Doctor Who” after twenty-six years and Sky began broadcasting in the UK for the first time.

OK, so that all of the eighties done. So what’s next? Seventies? Nineties?… Time will tell…

1986 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

As promised a week or so ago, when I looked at my favourite albums of 1980, I’m now going to look at those from 1986. There was a lot of great music released in ’86 which meant that it wasn’t easy to narrow down my list to just ten records and a number of excellent ones slipped through the net, so honourable mention must be made of Black Sabbath “Seventh Star”, Bruce Hornsby & The Range “The Way It Is”, Europe “The Final Countdown”, Huey Lewis & The News “Fore!”, Judas Priest “Turbo”, Paul Simon “Graceland”, Peter Gabriel “So”, Slayer “Reign In Blood”, Toto “Fahrenheit” and Van Halen “5150” – another ten albums that could have made my list, were it not for the fact that the following ten are the ten that did make it to my personal top ten for the year…

  1. Bon Jovi “Slippery When Wet”
Bon Jovi - Slippery When Wet
Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet

US rock giants Bon Jovi were only moderately successful until their third album came along. “Slippery When Wet” broke the band into the big time. The bulk of the songs were written by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, with additional input from songwriter Desmond Child on four tracks, including the singles “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Livin’ On A Prayer”.

In addition to these, two further singles were issued in the UK. “Wanted Dead Or Alive”, which features one of my all-time favourite guitar solos, and the ballad “Never Say Goodbye”.

On top of those, there are some great hard rock tracks on this record including “Let It Rock”, “Raise Your Hands” and the rather excellent (if non-PC) “Social Disease”. Rightly regarded as a highpoint in Bon Jovi’s career, this is a superb album from start to finish.

2. Genesis “Invisible Touch”

Genesis - Invisible Touch
Genesis – Invisible Touch

The follow-up to the group’s self-titled album from 1983, “Invisible Touch” hit the streets in the summer of ’86 and went on to become one of their most successful albums ever, achieving the number one spot in the UK and number three (their highest album chart position) in the US.

To promote the album five of the record’s eight tracks were released as singles – the title track, “Throwing It All Away”, “Land Of Confusion” (the video for which featured puppets from the then popular “Spitting Image” TV show), “In Too Deep” and an edited version of “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”.

Of the remaining three tracks, “Domino” was a ten minute, two-part, epic, “The Brazilian” a great instrumental and “Anything She Does” the only track not performed by the band on their subsequent world tour. Despite not being released as a single there was a video made for the latter track which featured Page 3 model Maria Whittaker as well as Phil Collins’ fabulous mullet!

Musically this was the commercial side of Genesis at their best, and even though it sounds very much of its time with synth bass and electronic drums very much evident. Nonetheless, this is a classic record and one that I still play often.

3. Iron Maiden “Somewhere In Time”

Iron Maiden - Somewhere In Time
Iron Maiden – Somewhere In Time

This was something of a divisive album amongst fans of Iron Maiden when it was released in September of 1986. This was because of a marked change in sound which incorporates synth guitar and bass.

Two tracks were released as singles, both written by guitarist Adrian Smith, “Wasted Years” and “Stranger In A Strange Land”.

In addition to these, there are some standout tracks on this record including “Heaven Can Wait”, “Caught Somewhere In Time” and the superbly complex epic number “Alexander The Great”. Throughout the album the material is very good and the performances from all band members are typically on the money.

“Somewhere In Time” may not be a universally loved Iron Maiden album, but in my view it is a very underrated one, and actually one of the best from the first period with Bruce Dickinson as lead vocalist.

4. Kim Wilde “Another Step”

Kim Wilde - Another Step
Kim Wilde – Another Step

The first pop album on this list. I’d been vaguely aware of some of Kim Wilde’s early hits, like “Kids In America”, but it was her 1983 hit “Love Blonde” and its cool swagger that made me sit up and take notice.

One of my crushes of the era, Wilde really hit her stride in terms of commercial success and great catchy pop tunes with her late 80s albums – “Another Step” and the following “Close” from 1988.

Three singles came from this record. A cover of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”, “Another Step (Closer To You)” and “Say You Really Want Me”. The sound of this album was more rocky than her previous material, though still contains plenty of keyboards and 80s sounding drums etc.

I would personally have changed the running order, as the uptempo songs all come first with the latter part being given over to the more balladic numbers, and I think it would have perhaps flowed better if the songs had been mixed up a bit.

Despite that, and the limitations of Wilde’s voice – which actually add a charming vulnerability to much of the material – this is still, to my mind, a great 80s pop album.

5. Metallica “Master Of Puppets”

Metallica - Master Of Puppets
Metallica – Master Of Puppets

Without doubt, this is the heaviest record to make this list. Metallica’s third studio album, “Master Of Puppets” was their first release on a major label.

A real step up from “Ride The Lightning”, this album was to see the band begin to make it big. Although not a commercial success in the same league as 1991’s self-titled album (also known as “The Black Album”), this particular record has been very influential in the decades since it’s release.

Just one single was released to promote the album, “Master Of Puppets” itself, which failed to chart either in the UK or the US.

Regardless of chart positions etc., this album has rightly become regarded as one of the highlights of Metallica’s recording career because it is a splendidly cohesive record. The performances are tight and passionate, the songs classics of the genre and the production noticeably better than on their previous recordings.

The last record to feature bassist Cliff Burton, who was killed in a tour bus crash just six months after it’s release, there are a number of stone cold classic Metallica tracks present, including “Battery”, “Master Of Puppets”, “Disposable Heroes”, “Orion” and “Leper Messiah”.

6. Nik Kershaw “Radio Musicola”

Nik Kershaw - Radio Musicola
Nik Kershaw – Radio Musicola

Nik Kershaw’s first two albums were released within eleven months in 1984. There followed a gap of almost two years until third album “Radio Musicola” came out, which will have no doubt had an effect on its chart success given how fast things can change in the world of music, especially pop music.

Four singles were released. “When A Heart Beats” (which was bizarrely not included on the vinyl version of the album) reached number 27, whilst “Nobody Knows” and the title track narrowly missed top forty positions. Fourth single “James Cagney” failed to chart however.

There were some superb Kershaw compositions contained within the album. Not just the singles, but tracks like “Don’t Let Me Out Of My Cage” and “What The Papers Say” were further examples of his knack of writing a great, catchy and memorable melody.

7. Pallas “The Wedge”

Pallas - The Wedge
Pallas – The Wedge

Scottish progressive rock band Pallas had achieved some cult success with their first two releases “Arrive Alive” (1981) and “The Sentinel” (1984) and then lost their original singer.

Replacement vocalist Alan Reed’s arrival coincided with a streamlining of the group’s sound. Whilst still firmly rooted in progressive rock, there was more focus on melodies and shorter, more accessible songs. I hadn’t heard Pallas prior to “The Wedge”, however, and my introduction to the band was when they had supported rock legends UFO in November 1985.

Not as well known as the work by fellow progressive rock band Marillion in the mid 80s, this album is a cracker. A couple of ballads are present, of which the brilliantly evocative “Just A Memory” is by far the best, but it’s the rockier and proggier numbers that work best for me, like “The Executioner” and, “Throwing Stones At The Wind”.

Best of all is the eight minute epic “Rat Racing”, lots of time changes etc. The use of the Emulator sampling keyboard kind of dates the album, I suppose, but I still enjoy listening to this record as much now as I did when it first came out. An unheralded progressive rock classic.

8. Queen “A Kind Of Magic”

Queen - A Kind Of Magic
Queen – A Kind Of Magic

Another band that had progressive tendencies. At least, they did in their mid 70s work. By the mid 80s, however, the band really were firmly into commercial rock / pop territory.

The last Queen album to be promoted with a world tour, which I was fortunate enough to attend at Knebworth Park in August ’86, “A Kind Of Magic” was an unofficial soundtrack to the film “Highlander” (also released in 1986) with six of the record’s nine songs being featured in the film, albeit in different versions.

One of the band’s most successful albums, “A Kind Of Magic” saw an astonishing seven of it’s nine tracks released as singles. Four charted in the UK – “One Vision” (number 7), “A Kind Of Magic” (number 3), “Friends Will Be Friends” (number 14) and “Who Wants To Live Forever” (number 14) – whilst the remaining three, “Princes Of The Universe”, “Pain Is So Close To Pleasure” and “One Year Of Love” failed to do so.

Not the best Queen album, in truth, with the four hit singles representing the very best of the material on offer. The record as a whole suffers from a lack of consistency, perhaps as a result of much of it being written for the film. That said, it’s head and shoulders above the “Flash Gordon” album and does contain two of the very best Queen singles in “A Kind Of Magic” and “One Vision”.

9. Status Quo “In The Army Now”

Status Quo - In The Army Now
Status Quo – In The Army Now

This was the album that marked the start of the second real phase of Status Quo’s recording career. With founding bassist Alan Lancaster having fought and lost to guitarists Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt over ownership of the band’s name, Rossi and Parfitt reconvened with longterm keyboardist Andrew Bown and a new rhythm section – bassist John “Rhino” Edwards and drummer Jeff Rich to record “In The Army Now”.

The album was the band’s most successful for a while, and produced four UK top twenty hit singles – “Rollin’ Home”, “Red Sky”, “In The Army Now” and “Dreamin'”.

Alongside those numbers there are some really good album tracks like “Save Me”, “End Of The Line”, the country flavoured “Invitation” and my favourite “Overdose”.

Granted it all sounds a little dated now, with prominent 80s keyboards, but this is another album that still gets regular airings.

10. Tesla “Mechanical Resonance”

Tesla - Mechanical Resonance
Tesla – Mechanical Resonance

I discovered US hard rock band Tesla when they supported Def Leppard on the first UK leg of their mammoth world “Hysteria” tour in 1987, but their debut album “Mechanical Resonance” was released in December ’86, so it belongs on that year’s list.

Two tracks saw the light of day as singles, the brilliant “Modern Day Cowboy” and “Little Suzi”.

This is one of those rare albums, and a debut one at that, which contains absolutely no filler. Jeff Keith sings brilliantly throughout, Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch tear out some stonking great guitar riffs and facemelting solos, with bassist Brian Wheat and drummer Troy Luccketta underpinning the whole thing with solidity and power.

Personal highlights include “Cumin’ Atcha Live”, “Gettin’ Better”, “We’re No Good Together”, “Love Me” and “Cover Queen”, but in truth this is one of the best hard rock albums I’ve ever heard and is essential listening from beginning to end. Classic stuff.

1986 was also the year that I passed by driving test, so a lot of this music would have made it onto cassettes and been played on my car stereo, which could go some way to explaining the nostalgic appeal of lots of the music from this year and 1987.

Elsewhere in 1986 Margaret Thatcher was in her second term as the Prime Minister in the UK whilst Ronald Reagan was also in his second term, as President of the USA. In football Liverpool won the old First Division and the FA Cup, securing the Double. Cinema-wise, top films released included “Top Gun”, “Platoon” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.

The next eighties year to be looked at will be 1988…

1980 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

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…

  1. AC/DC “Back In Black”
AC/DC - Back In Black
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”

Adam And The Ants - Kings Of The Wild Frontier
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”

Black Sabbath - Heaven And Hell
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”

Dire Straits - Making Movies
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”

Gillan - Glory Road
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”

Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden
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”

The Police - Zenyatta Mondatta
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”

Saxon - Wheels Of Steel
Saxon – Wheels Of Steel

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”.

Saxon - Strong Arm Of The Law
Saxon – Strong Arm Of The Law

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’…”

Status Quo - Just Supposin'...
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”

Thin Lizzy - Chinatown
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!”.

Look out for my round-up for 1986, coming soon…

1981 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

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…

  1. AC/DC “For Those About To Rock”
AC/DC - For Those About To Rock
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”

Black Sabbath - Mob Rules
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”

Blackfoot - Marauder
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”

Def Leppard - High 'N' Dry
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 - Duran Duran
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”

Foreigner - 4
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”

Iron Maiden - Killers
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”

Rainbow - Difficult To Cure
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”

Saxon - Denim And Leather
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”

Status Quo - Never Too Late
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”.