Tag Archives: Whitesnake

The Shadow Self & The Brightest Void

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Nightwish
Nightwish

I have previously outlined the history of Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish when discussing their excellent 2015 release “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”. Today I’m looking at the new album by their former vocalist Tarja Turunen, titled “The Shadow Self”.

Tarja Turunen
Tarja Turunen

Actually, there are two new albums from Turunen, as some weeks before “The Shadow Self” surfaced there was a prequel album titled “The Brightest Void” issued.

I feel that Turunen’s output has been of somewhat variable quality since her departure from her former band whilst their subsequent work has gone from strength to strength. Her first solo album “Henkäys Ikuisuudesta” (2006) was a purely classical Christmas-themed affair, and “My Winter Storm” (2007) and “What Lies Beneath” (2010) were as much classical as rock, though certainly listenable, with the possible exception of a dreadful cover of Whitesnake’s “Still If The Night” on the latter.

Mike Terrana & Tarja Turunen
Mike Terrana & Tarja Turunen

So it was only really with her fourth solo album “Colours In The Dark” (2013) that I think some more modern heavy rock sounds began to come to the fore. That good work was undone with 2014’s live album “Beauty And The Beat”. This was a classical collaboration between Turunen and American journeyman drummer Mike Terrana which sounds rather like Turunen performing with a symphony orchestra and some guy deciding to provide accompaniment by banging away on a drum kit. I get that it was an attempt to draw younger listeners into the world of classical music but is definitely one of those records that only gets listened to once or twice before being filed away for posterity!

Tarja Turunen
Tarja Turunen

That was followed in 2015 by “Ave Maria – En Plein Air”, a purely classical recording comprising of thirteen different compositions all titled “Ave Maria”. An interesting, but not essential, listen.

Of the new full album Turunen says “I am very excited to finally be able to share the first details of my new heavy rock album with all of you, ‘The Shadow Self’ is full of songs that are very dear to me. I cannot wait for you to hear the record that I believe is one of my heaviest albums to date.”

Tarja Turunen & Band
Tarja Turunen & Band

Well, following a delicate piano introduction to opener “Innocence” it’s not long before the drums kick in and are almost immediately joined by heavy detuned guitars providing a musical accompaniment with far more muscle than has been the case since the singer’s Nightwish days.

Alissa White-Gluz
Alissa White-Gluz

“Demons In You” features Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy with her trademark harsh vocal delivery and is a great number – although the funky guitar intro to the tune and the funky bass guitar break around half way through is best ignored!

Track three “No Bitter End” is one of two songs which feature on both of these albums. An edited version starts “The Brightest Void” and “Eagle Eye” has its longer version on the same release. Both decent songs but the duplication is really rather unnecessary.

Tarja Turunen
Tarja Turunen

“Supremacy” is a cover of the Muse track and is a definite improvement on the aforementioned Whitesnake cover! Other highpoints on “The Shadow Self” are “Undertaker” and “The Living End”. Quite what the idea with the hidden track tacked on to closer “Too Many” (following three minutes of silence) which goes from punk metal to techno and back again is frankly beyond me!

Overall, though, I would say that there are some very good musical performances, catchy choruses and, of course, impressive vocals from Turunen even if the arrangements themselves seem a little too contrived.

Tarja_TBV_Front_CD_webOnto “The Brightest Void” then. Maybe I should have tackled this one first? No matter. Turunen says “Surprise, surprise! I genuinely hope that ‘The Brightest Void is a pleasant surprise to each and every one of you. During the long process of recording the songs for my new studio album ‘The Shadow Self’, I realised that there were so many tracks, too many too dear to me, for just one album. So this time I decided to keep nothing for myself and to share all my favourite new songs with you, the fans, who have shown such passionate and constant support. ‘The Brightest Void’ gives more than a first taste of ‘The Shadow Self’; it is a full album filled with 9 songs! I am sure that everyone will immediately discover how much ‘The Brightest Void’ and ‘The Shadow Self’ are entwined with each other but, at the same time, are two independent records which stand on their own.”

Tarja Turunen & Within Temptation's Sharon Den Adel
Tarja Turunen & Within Temptation’s Sharon Den Adel

Given that we have already established that two of these nine tracks are on “The Shadow Self” and that the final track “Paradise (What About Us?)” is simply a new mix of a song originally on Within Temptation’s 2014 album “Hydra” that featured Turunen’s vocals and that only leaves six new songs.

Tarja Turunen & Michael Monroe
Tarja Turunen & Michael Monroe

“Your Heaven And Your Hell” features Michael Monroe, formerly of Hanoi Rocks and co-judge, with Turunen, on Finland’s version of TV show “The Voice”. Not sure about this one as the two voices are not particularly well suited to each other. Elsewhere, “House Of Wax” cover of Paul McCartney song and “Goldfinger” is a very good rendition of the famous James Bond theme song.

1000x1000“Witch Hunt” and “An Empty Dream” are much more restrained and quite dark in sound actually, but give the whole project a little more variation than it would otherwise have had.

Ultimately, then, these are good records. Worth a listen even though one could argue that dispensing with the duplications and new mix of older material would have enabled a single album release. I’m afraid that for all her bombast Turunen is still some way behind her former colleagues in terms of musical quality and progression…

tumblr_static_ca6e8aywl0ggcoosogc40wkgs_640_v2“The Shadow Self” tracklist:

1. Innocence / 2. Demons In You / 3. No Bitter End / 4. Love To Hate / 5. Supremacy / 6. The Living End / 7. Diva / 8. Eagle Eye / 9. Undertaker / 10. Calling From The Wild / 11. Too Many

“The Brightest Void” tracklist:

1. No Bitter End / 2. Your Heaven And Your Hell” / 3. Eagle Eye / 4. An Empty Dream / 5. Witch Hunt / 6. Shameless / 7. House Of Wax / 8. Goldfinger / 9. Paradise (What About Us?)

Totally Driven

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Uriah Heep In 1970
Uriah Heep In 1970

Originating from London, veteran progressive / hard rock band Uriah Heep were formed at the tail of end the Sixties. Guitarist Mick Box, lead vocalist David Byron, drummer Alex Napier and bassist Paul Newton were joined by keyboard player Ken Hensley  in time for the band’s debut album “…Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble” which was released in the summer of 1970.

Uriah Heep In 2015
Uriah Heep In 2015

The group are still going strong in 2015, and in the decades since 1970 there have been numerous line-up changes, over twenty studio albums and nearly as many live releases. As with many successful acts that have been around for this length of time there are far more compilation albums around than albums of original material.

Mick Box & Bernie Shaw In 2006
Mick Box & Bernie Shaw

Box is the sole remaining founder member and has been joined since 1986 by lead vocalist Bernie Shaw and keyboard player Phil Lanzon. All three appear on the band’s latest release, which is the double disc set “Totally Driven”.

Phil Lanzon
Phil Lanzon

The recordings on this album were actually made sometime around 2000 / 2001 by Box, Shaw and Lanzon together with drummer Lee Kerslake and bassist Trevor Bolder – a line-up that existed from 1986 until as recently as 2007 – and were actually released in October 2001 under the bizarre title of “Remasters : The Official Anthology”.

Uriah Heep In 2001
Uriah Heep In 2001

That release quickly disappeared from view – likely due at least in part to it appearing to be yet another compilation of old material. And in a sense that’s exactly what we’re dealing with here. The difference being, of course, that these are not the original recordings but re-recordings made by the aforementioned line-up.

Uriah Heep - Acoustically Driven
Uriah Heep – Acoustically Driven

According to Box the band recorded these versions “…while we were in preparation for the ‘Acoustically Driven’ and ‘Electrically Driven’ concerts…” The band’s website states that the recordings were made in 2001 but the “Acoustically Driven” live album was recorded in December 2000 and the “Electrically Driven” one in March 2001.

Uriah Heep - Electrically Driven
Uriah Heep – Electrically Driven

Given Box’s statement I guess it’s more likely that these tracks were committed to tape in 2000. Certainly all but six of the numbers recorded then featured across the two live albums, so I can see that it would be relatively easy to make this album whilst preparing for the relevant gigs, especially in terms of getting to know the acoustic-based versions. That said, one of the tracks from the acoustic gig / album, “Traveller In Time”, is definitely an electrically based version. 

Uriah Heep In 2009
Uriah Heep In 2009

I imagine that many listeners dislike re-recordings of earlier material, preferring the sound and magic of the originals. This is something I briefly touched on when discussing Whitesnake’s “Purple Album” earlier this year.

Uriah Heep - Celebration
Uriah Heep – Celebration

What makes this release slightly more perplexing I suppose is that although on the one hand I can see why the band may want to make these versions more widely available, on the other hand they have made further re-recordings since, on their 2009 “Celebration” album. That album was made by almost the same line-up (with current drummer Russell Gilbrook replacing Lee Kerslake who’d left in 2007 due to health issues) and duplicates 10 of the songs contained here within its 14 tracks.

Lee Kerslake
Lee Kerslake

Whilst the “Remasters…” version was sequenced with the tracks in chronological order in terms of their original incarnations, on “Totally Driven” they have been moved around, making the album feel less like a greatest hits record in some ways – which I feel is a benefit to the 2015 version. Where it falls down slightly is the inclusion of nine songs that were originally recorded by the line-up responsible for the re-recordings, making those seem rather superfluous.

Trevor Bolder
Trevor Bolder

None of those songs were re-re-recorded for “Celebration”, so of the remaining eighteen tracks, only eight are exclusive to this release. Having said all that, I believe that there is room in the band’s catalogue for both collections. “Totally Driven” gives a wider overview of the band’s whole career and, although it doesn’t contain any new material (“Celebration” has two new songs), the songs repeated in 2009 are different enough to stand up on their own merits.

Uriah Heep In 1999
Uriah Heep In 1999

There are a lot of classic songs here – “Gypsy”, “July Morning”, “Easy Livin'”, “Lady In Black”, “Sunrise” etc. etc. If you take the view that originals can’t be bettered and so bands shouldn’t try, then none of this will matter as you’ll stick with the source material. For a clean, audience free, collection by what was the band’s longest-serving line-up of many of the songs they performed in concert regularly, however, this ticks all the boxes.

Overall this isn’t an essential release, but still one that’s well worthy of investigation and a nice introduction to Box and gang’s lengthy career.51KjCFLCHzL

“Totally Driven” tracklist:

1. Gypsy / 2. Traveller In Time / 3. Bird Of Prey / 4. Sunrise / 5. Rain / 6. Come Away Melinda / 7. Return To Fantasy / 8. Look At Yourself / 9. Come Back To Me / 10. The Easy Road / 11. Sweet Freedom / 12. Why Did You Go? / 13. July Morning / 14. Easy Livin’ / 15. Between Two Worlds / 16. Only The Young / 17. Different World / 18. Love In Silence / 19. Blind Eye / 20. Wonderworld / 21. Stealin’ / 22. Time Of Revelation / 23. Cross That Line / 24. More Fool You / 25. Universal Wheels / 26. The Golden Palace / 27. Lady In Black

1 and 6 originally from “…Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble” (1970) / 2 and 14 originally from “Demons And Wizards” (1972) / 3 and 27 originally from “Salisbury” (1971) / 4, 5 and 19 originally from “The Magician’s Birthday” (1972) / 7 and 12 originally from “Return To Fantasy” (1975) / 8 and 13 originally from “Look At Yourself” (1971) / 9 originally from “Fallen Angel” (1978) / 10 and 20 originally from “Wonderworld” (1974) / 11 and 21 originally from “Sweet Freedom” (1973) / 15, 16 and 26 originally from “Sonic Origami” (1998) / 17 and 23 originally from “Different World” (1991) / 18, 22 and 25 originally from “Sea Of Light” (1995) / 24 originally from “Raging Silence” (1989)

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…

The Purple Album

Whitesnake - The Purple Album

Since their massive success in the late 1980s, legendary British hard rock band Whitesnake have released just three studio albums of new material. In 1997 an album originally slated to be a solo album from vocalist David Coverdale, “Restless Heart”, was released under the moniker David Coverdale & Whitesnake following record label pressure.

David Coverdale
David Coverdale

Further albums under the Whitesnake banner came to fruition with the excellent “Good To Be Bad” in 2008, followed by 2011’s equally good “Forevermore”. The release of a new Whitesnake studio record is now imminent, but rather than another set of cracking new hard rock tunes the band have instead chosen to follow the well-travelled “covers album” route.

“The Purple Album” is, however, a covers album with a difference. Rather than a collection of songs by a number of different artists, or a set of back catalogue songs re-recorded by the current line-up, Coverdale and his band have produced a record comprised entirely of songs from the Deep Purple back catalogue, specifically from the period when Coverdale himself was a member of that band.

Whitesnake
Whitesnake

Now, as a long time music fan myself I am aware that certain songs and albums will hold a special place in your heart and anyone’s attempt at re-inventing them is generally not very welcome, which is at least partially due to the nostalgia and emotional connection you feel for the original material.

Fans of a band as celebrated as Deep Purple are thus likely to approach an album such as this, even though it’s presented by a former lead singer, with great suspicion and reluctance – and I can understand that completely. In fact, before I heard this record I had read the review in Classic Rock magazine that gave the album 2 out of 10 and called it a “travesty” and a “stinker”. Fortunately, I did not let such an incredibly negative review put me off giving the album a chance myself.

Deep Purple In 1973
Deep Purple In 1973

The album apparently came about after a proposed project involving Coverdale and his old Deep Purple bandmate Ritchie Blackmore failed to gel. This, in addition to the death, in 2012, of former Deep Purple / Whitesnake keyboardist Jon Lord, gave Coverdale the impetus to embark on what would become “The Purple Album”. Coverdale himself has stated that “there was absolutely no intention to compete, or compare with the original recordings. We just wanted to play these songs the best we could and this is how we wanted to play them”, and it’s clear to me that this is exactly what they have achieved.

Coverdale has a solid, tight band supporting him on this album – guitarists Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra, veteran drummer Tommy Aldridge, bassist Michael Devin and keyboardist Brian Ruedy. None of these replicate the original parts of Blackmore, Tommy Bolin, Ian Paice, Glenn Hughes or Lord – but that’s clearly the point. This is not a recreation of the Coverdale era of Deep Purple, it’s a tribute, and very much in the style of latter-day Whitesnake.

David Coverdale
David Coverdale

The record begins with the classic “Burn” and instantly I loved what I heard. Clearly Coverdale’s voice has changed over the years, and in the live arena it is clear that he struggles these days. But then, at the age of 63 there aren’t likely to be many rock singers with the range and strength that they possessed some forty years previously. In the studio it’s still possible to get a powerful performance from the great man, and this album is full of such performances.

“Sail Away” sees the band in much more introspective mood, with some beautiful acoustic guitar work and harmony vocals.

Whitesnake
Whitesnake

“Stormbringer”, the first track released from the album is a truly epic tour de force, and probably the closest to the fare that we are used to hearing from Whitesnake. Other highlights here include the mighty “Mistreated”, “Lay Down Stay Down” and the always welcome “Soldier Of Fortune”.

This is most certainly not your typical covers album. If you are a huge fan of the Deep Purple originals this album may take some getting used to, but for the casual fan this could really be an all-new Whitesnake album. That said, I hope the band do get back into the studio and make at least one more original record before Coverdale decides to finally call it a day, but for the moment this is a worthy addition to the excellent Whitesnake legacy…

Def_Ws_ad_hr“The Purple Album” tracklist:

1. Burn / 2. You Fool No One / 3. Love Child / 4. Sail Away / 5. The Gypsy / 6. Lady Double Dealer / 7. Mistreated / 8. Holy Man / 9. Might Just Take Your Life / 10. You Keep On Moving / 11. Soldier Of Fortune / 12. Lay Down Stay Down / 13. Stormbringer

1, 2, 4, 7, 9 and 12 originally from “Burn” (1973) / 5, 6, 8, 11 and 13 originally from “Stormbringer” (1974) / 3 and 10 originally from “Come Taste The Band” (1975)

1982 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

It’s time for another in my occasional series concerning my top ten albums of the year and, having already covered 1987, 1995 and 2010, this time I’m looking way back to 1982.

This was about half way through my time at senior school, a time when BBC’s “Top Of The Pops” regularly had appearances from heavy metal bands as well as the latest chart entries from new romantic groups etc. I could have easily made this a top twenty or thirty as is was a year that I still have a great fondness for musically. So, without further ado, here they are (once again in alphabetical order)…

1. Dire Straits “Love Over Gold”

Dire Straits - Love Over Gold
Dire Straits – Love Over Gold

The fourth album from Mark Knopfler’s former band, this record had just five tracks when it was released. Starting with the epic fourteen minute “Telegraph Road” the album features two singles in the shape of the humorous “Industrial Disease” and the atmospheric classic “Private Investigations”, the latter of which remains my favourite Dire Straits track ever. Reportedly originally intended for the album were “Private Dancer” which went on to be a hit for Tina Turner and the tongue in cheek “Badges, Posters, Stickers, T-Shirts” which became the B-side on the “Private Investigations” single.

2. Duran Duran “Rio”

Duran Duran - Rio
Duran Duran – Rio

The first pop album on this list, Duran Duran’s second album and arguably their best ever, “Rio” produced four top twenty singles (three in the top ten) in “My Own Way” (which was re-recorded in much different form for the actual album), “Hungry Like The Wolf”, “Save A Prayer” and, of course, the title track.

Fittingly in the early days of MTV videos were made for six tracks – the singles plus “Lonely In Your Nightmare” and “The Chauffeur”. Of the remaining tracks, “New Religion” remains the highlight of the album for me. New Romantic pop music at it’s best.

3. Iron Maiden “The Number Of The Beast”

Iron Maiden - The Number Of The Beast
Iron Maiden – The Number Of The Beast

Although I loved Iron Maiden’s first two albums with Paul Di’Anno on vocals, following his departure the band undisputedly took a massive step forward with the addition of vocalist Bruce Dickinson for third album “The Number Of The Beast”.

Featuring another great Derek Riggs illustrated cover, the sleeve held a record chock full of great heavy metal tracks from a band that were firing on all cylinders, including the singles “Run To The Hills” and the title track. Although there isn’t a duff track here, other tracks of note are “The Prisoner” featuring a clip from the TV series leading into a great drum intro from Clive Burr, “22 Acacia Avenue” and the two epics “Children Of The Damned” and “Hallowed Be Thy Name”. Excellent stuff!

4. Judas Priest “Screaming For Vengeance”

Judas Priest - Screaming For Vengeance
Judas Priest – Screaming For Vengeance

Although often talked over as being part of the same movement as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest had actually been around for a while longer and their debut album had preceded Maiden’s by six years. Nonetheless, by 1982 both bands were becoming increasingly successful as evidenced by the chart placings both enjoyed.

“Screaming For Vengeance” was Priest’s eighth studio album and was ushered in by the brilliant one-two of introduction “The Hellion” squealing it’s way into the frenetic “Electric Eye”. Top tracks include the aforementioned duo plus “Bloodstone” the almost-ballad “(Take These) Chains”, the title track, “Devil’s Child” and the superb “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”. Another stone cold classic heavy metal album.

5. Michael Jackson “Thriller”

Michael Jackson - Thriller
Michael Jackson – Thriller

“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” opens Michael Jackson’s six studio album, and became of of the seven tracks (from an album containing just nine) to be a hit single, along with “The Girl Is Mine”, “Billie Jean”, “Human Nature”, “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”, the title track, not forgetting “Beat It” with it’s classic Eddie Van Halen guitar solo.

Released in late 1982, the album reached the number one spot in several countries, became one of the best selling albums of all time and remains a near perfect pop record.

6. Michael Schenker Group “Assault Attack”

Michael Schenker Group - Assault Attack
Michael Schenker Group – Assault Attack

German guitarist Michael Schenker, formerly a member of Scorpions and UFO, released the third album of his “solo” career in 1982 with “Assault Attack”. A number of line-up changes occured following Japanese dates the previous year, including vocalist Gary Barden being replaced by former Rainbow singer Graham Bonnet.

Bonnet’s performance on this album is superb, as is Schenker’s, and indeed the whole band are on top form – I would argue that this is Schenker’s most consistent studio recording – with excellent tracks like the title track, “Rock You To The Ground”, “Desert Song”, the single “Dancer” and “Broken Promises”. Sadly, following one gig Bonnet was fired and replaced by the returning Barden even before the album hit the shelves!

7. Rainbow “Straight Between The Eyes”

Rainbow - Straight Between The Eyes
Rainbow – Straight Between The Eyes

The sixth studio album from guitar maestro Ritchie Blackmore’s band, and the second the feature lead vocalist Joe Lynn Turner, “Straight Between The Eyes” featured a striking cover painting and saw the group continuing with the more commercial sound they had been developing.

Two singles were released from the album, up-tempo opening track “Death Alley Driver” and the more sedate “Stone Cold”. The best of the remaining tracks were “Bring On The Night (Dream Chaser)”, “Tite Squeeze” and the epic middle-eastern tinged “Eyes Of Fire”. A great commercial hard rock record.

8. Status Quo “1+9+8+2”

Status Quo - 1+9+8+2
Status Quo – 1+9+8+2

The fifteenth studio album from Status Quo saw the introduction of drummer Pete Kircher in place of the departed John Coghlan, and was titled “1+9+8+2” to reference both the year of release and the 20th anniversary of Francis Rossi and Alan Lancaster first meeting (though the band’s anniversary dates would subsequently be changed once Lancaster left the band in 1985).

Featuring a more poppy sound than previous albums, this one was nonetheless still very successful – if less popular with die-hard fans of the band – reaching number one in the UK and producing two hit singles in “Dear John” and “She Don’t Fool Me” (“Jealousy” was slated to be a third single but pulled at the last minute). My favourite non-single tracks were “Get Out And Walk”, “Resurrection”, “I Should Have Known” and “Doesn’t Matter”.

9. UFO “Mechanix”

UFO - Mechanix
UFO – Mechanix

The tenth studio album from British hard rock band UFO, “Mechanix” starts with the heavy “The Writer” followed by a cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Somethin’ Else” and then the ballad “Back Into My Life”.

Phil Mogg is in great voice throughout, Paul Chapman’s solid guitar parts are underpinned by the formidable rhythm section of bassist Pete Way and drummer Andy Parker, and Neil Carter provides additional guitars, keyboards, saxophone and backing vocals. The best of the rest of the album include “We Belong To The Night”, “Let It Rain” and “Dreaming”

10. Whitesnake “Saints & Sinners”

Whitesnake - Saints & Sinners
Whitesnake – Saints & Sinners

Before becoming the mega-selling MTV-friendly hard rock giants of “1987” and “Slip Of The Tongue” Whitesnake were known as a bluesy hard rock band whose main success came in the UK.

“Saints & Sinners” proved to be their least commercially successful album of the 1980s but is still one of my favourites of the early years. Sessions had started for this album with the same line-up as heard on 1981’s “Come An’ Get It”, but by the time the album was released in late November 1982 guitarist Bernie Marsden, bassist Neil Murray and drummer Ian Paice had all left and been replaced by Mel Galley, Colin Hodgkinson and Cozy Powell respectively. However, the departed trio’s parts remained on the finished product.

Alongside the original versions of “Here I Go Again” and “Crying In The Rain” which would be re-recorded for the massive “1987” album, the record features cracking tunes like “Young Blood”, “Rough An’ Ready”, “Love An’ Affection”, the brilliant “Dancing Girls” and the title track. Bigger things may have been coming for Whitesnake in the future, but this is still a great record.

That’s my top ten albums, then of 1982. That was the year of the Falklands War. Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Pearl Jubilee, Ronald Reagan was US President, Liverpool won the First Division title, Italy won the FIFA World Cup and top film releases included “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial”, “An Officer And A Gentleman” and “Rocky III”…

1987 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

Welcome to the second in my occasional series of posts on the subject of my favourite top ten albums from a particular year. This is not a reflection of the most successful releases of the year, simply my personal favourites.

1987 was a much, much harder year to choose a top ten from than my previous list, 1995. Don’t get me wrong, 1995 was a great year for me personally, not least as my first born made his appearance that summer, but I find myself going back to the mid-late ’80s more often when revisiting the music of years gone by. Is that because the music in 1987 was so much better, or is it a case of that year having more resonance for me in terms of nostalgia (after all, I was 19, working, earning money, able to drive, young, free and single…) I wonder?

Without further ado, then, here are my favourite ten albums of 1987 (in alphabetical order)…

1. Aerosmith “Permanent Vacation”

Aerosmith - Permanent Vacation
Aerosmith – Permanent Vacation

This album marked a turning point in Aerosmith’s career. Whether it was a positive thing or not depends on your point of view. With perhaps one eye on MTV and the singles charts, it was the first record on which the band had input from outside songwriters. On the plus side this meant that songs such as “Rag Doll”, “Angel” and “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” were the biggest hit singles of the band’s history up to that point, but conversely also lead indirectly to the band’s latter-day low point (in my view) of “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”.

Certainly the album marked a solid return of Aerosmith with Joe Perry back in the saddle after their false start with the underwhelming “Done With Mirrors” two years earlier, and had some great material in addition to the aforementioned singles, such as “Magic Touch” and “Hangman Jury”. Better was to come with the album “Pump” but that wouldn’t be until ’89.

2. Def Leppard “Hysteria”

Def Leppard - Hysteria
Def Leppard – Hysteria

Three years in the making, this was the album that many thought would never see the light of day. Drummer Rick Allen had lost his left arm in a car accident on New Year’s Eve in 1984 during early sessions for the album, the follow-up to 1983’s successful “Pyromania”. He subsequently developed a way of playing using electronic triggers and returned to recording and performing live with the band. Jim Steinman, famous for his work with Meat Loaf, was originally brought in the produce the album, but after this failed to produce the desired results, and the band were unable to produce the sound they were looking for themselves, they were able to persuade Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who had produced the previous album, to return to the producer’s chair.

When the album was finally released in August 1987, preceded in the UK by the hit single “Animal”, it was a triumph. Lange’s state of the art production together with superb material helped to spawn seven hit singles from the album’s twelve tracks, and the album itself went on to sell over 20 million copies. There simply isn’t a single duff track on this album – indeed for a while it was easily the most played record on my stereo – but my personal favourites would be “Rocket”, “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, “Hysteria” and the epic “Gods Of War”.

3. Fleetwood Mac “Tango In The Night”

Fleetwood Mac - Tango In The Night
Fleetwood Mac – Tango In The Night

Released five years after the band’s previous album “Mirage”, “Tango In The Night” became their second-biggest selling album (the classic “Rumours” being the biggest).

Featuring six hit singles, the album reached the number 1 spot in the UK on three separate occasions during 1987/88. The pressure of being largely responsible for the album coming to fruition lead to Lindsay Buckingham leaving the band shortly before the following world tour, which featured new members Rick Vito and Billy Burnette in his place.

My favourite tracks on the album include the hits “Big Love”, “Everywhere”, “Little Lies” and “Family Man”, as well as the distinctive Buckingham number “Caroline” and Christine McVie’s gentle “Mystified”.

4. Guns N’ Roses “Appetite For Destruction”

Guns N' Roses - Appetite For Destruction
Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction

The debut album from Los Angeles band Guns N’ Roses is a classic hard rock record, and the only album to feature the original line-up of singer Axl Rose, guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan and Steven Adler on drums. There was some controversy over the original cover art (shown here) by American artist Robert Williams showing a robot rapist which was replaced after some stores refused to stock the album.

The music speaks for itself. Although the band would reach their creative height with the ambitious “Use Your Illusion” albums, this was the sound of a band in full flight and all pulling together – something that sadly wouldn’t last. From the classic opener “Welcome To The Jungle” through “Paradise City”, the classic ballad “Sweet Child O’ Mine” through to the orgasmic “Rocket Queen” (listen closely to that one!) and every track in between, this is simply a brilliant album. Essential.

5. Jethro Tull “Crest Of A Knave”

Jethro Tull - Crest Of A Knave
Jethro Tull – Crest Of A Knave

Jethro Tull’s sixteenth studio album was their first for three years, and their most successful since 1971’s “Aqualung”. Bizarrely, the album was awarded a Grammy Award for “Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental” in 1989. This was the one and only time that this particular Grammy award was given, such was the controversy over Tull winning the award that many expected Metallica to win for their “…And Justice For All” album.

This was not an album that I warmed to immediately, unlike all the others on this list, as Tull were not a band I was familiar with at the time. In fact, when I first heard the single “She Said She Was A Dancer” I thought it was a new song by Dire Straits! However, with the benefit of time and an appreciation of the rich musical legacy of the band, this is an album that has really grown on me. This is definitely an album to immerse oneself in, and I particularly enjoy the longer tracks, “Farm On The Freeway”, “Mountain Men” and especially the superb ten minute long “Budapest”.

6. Level 42 “Running In The Family”

Level 42 - Running In The Family
Level 42 – Running In The Family

From their beginnings as a jazz-funk band, Level 42 had steadily refined their sound to encompass a much more accessible pop flavour, and the band reached the pinnacle of their success with the release of the “Running In The Family” album. Five hit singles (four of them reached the top ten) underlined this point. Guitarist Boon Gould and his drummer brother Phil Gould both left the band during 1987 leaving just singer/bassist Mark King and keyboardist Mike Lindup. This coincided with the start of the band’s decline and none of their subsequent records would reach the heights they managed with “Running In The Family”.

A solid pop record from start to finish, the best tracks were the first five (all of which were singles) – “Lessons In Love”, “Children Say”, “Running In The Family”, the brilliant ballad “It’s Over” and “To Be With You Again”, plus the funky “Fashion Fever”.

7. Prince “Sign O’ The Times”

Prince - Sign O' The Times
Prince – Sign O’ The Times

Following the release of “Parade” in 1986, Prince began recording new material for an album to be titled “Dream Factory”. Unhappy, Prince decided to hire his backing band, The Revolution, and begin new recordings on his own. Initially he intended to release an album titled “Camille”. A change of mind saw songs from both planned albums incorporated into a new project – a triple album to be called “Crystal Ball” – however, his record company were less than keen and persuaded Prince to trim the album. The resulting double album was given the title “Sign O’ The Times”.

Although it’s up against stiff competition from within his extensive catalogue of released and unreleased albums, “Sign O’ The Times” quickly became, and has remained, my favourite Prince album. Kicking off with the stark and brilliant title track, the quality keeps on coming. The songs feature a variety of moods and tempos, but my own favourite tracks are “Sign O’ The Times”, “Housequake”, “Hot Thing”, “U Got The Look”, “If I Was Your Girlfriend”, “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” and the excellent “The Cross”

8. Rush “Hold Your Fire”

Rush - Hold Your Fire
Rush – Hold Your Fire

The twelfth studio album from progressive rock band Rush, “Hold Your Fire” continued the synthesizer-heavy direction of the preceding album, “Power Windows”. A major attraction for me was the fantastic percussive performance of drummer Neil Peart, but all three band members excel on this record, and for the most part the songs are top notch too (with my only real reservation being over the track “Tai Shan”). Opener “Force Ten” is an up-tempo rock track. Singles “Time Stand Still” (featuring Aimee Mann) and “Prime Mover” showed the band’s musical chops within memorable song structures, my favourite track “Mission” is the proggiest track on the album with time changes aplenty and album closer “High Water” is also excellent.

9. U2 “The Joshua Tree”

U2 - The Joshua Tree
U2 – The Joshua Tree

Following the more experimental “The Unforgettable Fire” album in 1984, U2, and singer Bono in particular, found themselves inspired by all things American and a new-found interest in roots music, and so, despite the reservations of guitarist The Edge,  chose to pursue these themes and a more American bluesy sound for “The Joshua Tree”. The resulting album is, without doubt, the group’s most successful, with 25 million copies sold. More importantly though, the band’s music would in future struggle to have the same resonance and emotional impact found in the eleven tracks here.

Although the first three tracks are most well known (“Where The Streets Have No Name”, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With Or Without You”) having all been top ten singles, it’s the rest of the album that really shines for me. The sparse arrangements of “Running To Stand Still” and “Mothers Of The Disappeared”, the up-tempo “In God’s Country”, with the evocative “Bullet The Blue Sky” being the pick of the bunch.

10. Whitesnake “1987”

Whitesnake - 1987
Whitesnake – 1987

Following 1984’s “Slide It In” album, singer David Coverdale, new guitarist John Sykes and bassist Neil Murray recruited drummer Aynsley Dunbar and began sessions for the next Whitesnake album. When Coverdale suffered a sinus infection the resulting surgery meant that proceedings became severely delayed, and a rift began to form between Coverdale and Sykes. Thus, when the album was eventually finished, Coverdale fired the rest of the band and replaced them with guitarists Adrain Vandenberg and Vivian Campbell, bassist Rudy Sarzo and drummer Tommy Aldridge. It was this line-up that toured the world in support of the album and appeared in the band’s famous trilogy of MTV-friendly music videos (featuring actress and future Mrs. Coverdale, Tawny Kitaen) for singles “Still Of The Night”, “Here I Go Again” and “Is This Love”.

Also known as “Serpens Albus” and “Whitesnake”, this was the band’s seventh studio album, and the one that made the band hugely successful around the world. Moving further away from their blues rock sound and showcasing a new harder rock direction, the album featured radical re-workings of two tracks from their 1982 “Saints & Sinners” album in the form of “Here I Go Again” and”Crying In The Rain”. These, along with the very Led Zeppelin-like “Still Of The Night”, ballad “Looking For Love” and up-tempo rockers “Bad Boys” and “Children Of The Night” captured Coverdale as vocal rock god, perfectly matched by the incendiary fretwork of Sykes. A fabulous hard rock album.

There you go – my top ten albums of 1987. This was a year in which Margaret Thatcher was re-elected for her third term as British Prime Minister, Everton won the old First Division, “The Simpsons” appeared on TV for the first time, and top film releases included “Good Morning, Vietnam”, “The Secret Of My Success”, “The Living Daylights” and “Fatal Attraction”…