Hey folks! Allow me to present my ten favorite hard rock/heavy metal albums of the glorious year 1980! Before we dig in, let’s be very clear on one thing, these are not the top ten albums of 1980. Nay, these are just my top ten. Very simply, these are the ten albums that I have listened to the most over the years. These are my favorites. Keep in mind, I am by no means a critic and my opinion, admittedly, is quite worthless. Who cares! These are the ones that kick my ass. Nothing more. Nothing less. Here’s the list:
10. Saxon – Wheels Of Steel
Saxon was one of the shining lights of the famous “New Wave Of British Heavy Metal”. In 1980, there were many NWOBHM full-length releases, including well-regarded LPs by Diamond Head, Angel Witch, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Samson. Of all these bands, it was Saxon that had the most straightforward, simple heavy metal songs (and that ain’t a bad thing). We often hear the adjective “blue-collar” used by writers to describe Saxon. Indeed, Saxon’s style of metal was not pretentious or flashy. The music was not complicated and the lyrics were genuine and grounded in real life. (Not so sure if I love those abrasive guitar tones, though.) Wheels Of Steel was the first of two albums released by Saxon in 1980, the other was Strong Arm Of The Law. I think Wheels Of Steel is a bit more well-rounded than Strong Arm Of The Law. My score: B+
Wheels Of Steel was originally released by Carrere Records in the U.K. (CAL 115) and in the U.S.A. (CAR 38126).
Tracks: Motorcycle Man, Stand Up And Be Counted, 747 (Strangers In The Night), Wheels Of Steel, Freeway Mad, See The Light Shining, Street Fighting Gang, Suzie Hold On, Machine Gun
9. Witchfynde – Stagefright
The second NWOBHM selection to crack my Top Ten is this curio by Witchfynde, a band so hopelessly ass-backwards in their approach to heavy metal that all you can do is grin and enjoy the ride. Recorded in what I can only assume was someone’s butt-hole, Stagefright is a low-budget, scrappy record that is as endearing as it is flawed. The production, terrible. The playing, marginal. But the songs are charming and mega catchy. On tracks such as Stagefright and Wake Up Screaming, Witchfynde stir the cauldron with brooding and lumbering heavy metal. But other tracks such as Doing The Right Thing and Would Not Be Seen Dead In Heaven are quirky and harmless, almost poppy. One of the best cuts is the well written melodic number Big Deal, which spins a tale about an amateur band looking for a break on the bar circuit. This was the second Witchfynde LP released in 1980. The first was Give ‘Em Hell, and album often regarded as the better of the two, but for my money, give me Stagefright. My score: A-
Stagefright was originally released by Rondelet Records in the U.K. (ABOUT 2). The original LP cover was rather unique, as it had a textured surface. The image on the cover depicts the “eyes” of the audience looking at an open stage door. The silhouette of a noose can be seen in the doorway.
Tracks: Stage Fight, Doing The Right Thing, Would Not Be Seen Dead In Heaven, Wake Up Screaming, Big Deal, Moon Magic, In The Stars, Trick Or Treat, Madeleine
8. Scorpions – Animal Magnetism
Ridiculous cover!Somehow Scorpions managed to sell a million copies of Animal Magnetism despite a comical depiction of bestiality on the album cover. Then again, Scorpions were no stranger to controversial covers (Virgin Killer anyone?). We get it guys, you were horny… no need to shove it down our throats! (Pun intended!) Highlights include The Zoo and Make It Real. My score: A-
Animal Magnetism was released by Mercury Records in the U.S.A. (822556), it went platinum in the States.
Tracks: Make It Real, Don’t Make No Promises (Your Body Can’t Keep), Hold Me Tight, Twentieth Century Man, Lady Starlight, Falling In Love, Only A Man, The Zoo, Animal Magnetism
7. White Spirit – White Spirit
White Spirit only released one album, but it was a real winner! This stirring hard rock banquet has really grown on me over the years. On the back of Bruce Ruff’s classy vocals, and the vintage keyboard work of Malcolm Pearson, White Spirit is a tasty dash of English rock in the spirit of Deep Purple. Though not exactly a head banger, White Spirit has quietly become one of my favorite NWOBHM offerings of all time. Personal favorites include Red Skies, No Reprieve, and the soaring High Upon High. My score: A-
White Spirit was originally released by MCA Records.
Tracks: Midnight Chaser, Red Skies, High Upon High, Way Of The Kings, No Reprieve, Don’t Be Fooled, Fool For The Gods
6. Judas Priest – British Steel
British Steel will always have a special place in my heart because it was my first Priest cassette. Naturally I became a huge fan of Priest because of British Steel and eventually devoured their entire back catalogue like Oprah devours a gallon of ice cream. Years later, I have come to realize that British Steel was a bit of a step backwards for the band music-wise (although it was their commercial breakthrough). Their five previous albums, Sad Wings Of Destiny, Sin After Sin, Stained Class, Hell Bent For Leather (a.k.a. Killing Machine), and Unleashed In The East were dark, creative, groundbreaking metal albums. British Steel, however, was a calculated attempt by Priest to make a more accessible, simple metal record (and it worked). Such was the beginning of Priest’s somewhat uneven ’80s run, a run that was commercially succesful yet not nearly as trailblazing (or consistent) as their ’70s masterworks. But I digress… taken for what it is, ignoring the context of their previous releases, British Steel is still a great heavy metal record, and one of the best of 1980 for sure. Indeed, without this album, I wouldn’t have been introduced to Sad Wings Of Destiny or Hell Bent For Leather, and for that I’m thankful. My score: A-
British Steel was originally released by CBS Records in the U.K. (84160), and by Columbia Records in the U.S.A. (JC 36443). British Steel went platinum in the States.
Tracks: Rapid Fire, Metal Gods, Breaking The Law, Grinder, United, Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise, Living After Midnight, The Rage, Steeler
5. Whitesnake – Ready An’ Willing
With a stellar line-up of talented but understated players behind him, David Coverdale’s 1980-era version of Whitesnake was a potent blues rock six-piece. Indeed, Ready An’ Willing feels more like a ’70s record than any of the other albums on this list. Incidentally, this is the second album on this list produced (superbly) by Martin Birch, who also produced Heaven And Hell. Keyboardist John Lord’s role on Ready An’ Willing was a prominent one. This is especially true on the mid-tempo blues rocker, Black And Blue, where Lord’s tickling of the ivories provides the intended saloon-like feel to the track. Of course it is David Coverdale who takes center stage on Ready An’ Willing. The man’s warm, rich voice is the main attraction for sure. Standout tracks include the well-known Fool For Your Loving (later re-recorded for 1989′s Slip Of The Tongue album) and the aforementioned Black And Blue, which contains the grin-inducing refrain, “Take your time, we can do some lines, ’cause it’s alright”. Yep, this is one of those records that you want to pop in and enjoy with a little bit of that sippin’ booze. My score: A-
Ready An’ Willing was originally released by United Artists Records in the U.K. (UAG 30302), and by Mirage Records in the U.S. (WTG 9276).
Tracks: Fool For Your Loving, Sweet Talker, Ready An’ Willing, Carry Your Load, Blindman, Ain’t Gonna Cry No More, Love Man, Black And Blue, She’s A Woman
4. Quartz – Stand Up And Fight
I previously posted a full review of Stand Up And Fight, soclick here for a more detailed work-up on the album. Stand Up And Fight is a killer set; magnificently produced with a robust, heavy bottom. Favorites include Rock ‘n’ Roll Child (drug song), Charlie Snow (drug song) and Wildfire (drug song). Incidentally, cheers to MCA Records for being on of the few major labels to dive headfirst into the emerging British heavy metal pool. MCA signed not only Quartz, but also Tygers Of Pan Tang, White Spirit and Fist. I don’t think it worked out financially for MCA, but you’ve got to appreciate their sack. My score: A
Stand Up And Fight was originally released by MCA Records in the U.K. (MCF 3080).
Tracks: Stand Up And Fight, Charlie Snow, Can’t Say No To You, Revenge, Stoking Up The Fires Of Hell, Rock ‘n’ Roll Child, Questions, Wildfire
3. Van Halen – Women And Children First
The Van Halen juggernaut just kept-a-rollin’ in 1980 with the release of their third album. Like the two that preceded it, Women And Children First was yet another ass-kicking hard rock album by VH. The party kicks off with the one-two punch of And The Cradle Will Rock… and Everybody Wants Some!!, both radio staples. There are also great deep cuts like the acoustic Could This Be Magic? and the surprisingly sincere In A Simple Rhyme. Big ups to Van Halen for carrying the torch for American hard rock in 1980, a year where almost all the hard rock worth a damn was coming from across the pond. My score: A+
Women And Children First was originally released by Warner Brothers Records in the U.S.A. (3415), and has reached 3 x platinum in the States.
Tracks: And The Cradle Will Rock…, Everybody Wants Some!!, Fools, Romeo Delight, Tora! Tora!, Loss Of Control, Take Your Whiskey Home, Could This Be Magic?, In A Simple Rhyme
2. Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard Of Ozz
The band originally known as “Blizzard Of Ozz” was comprised of Ozzy on vocals, Randy Rhoads on guitar, Bob Daisley on bass, and Lee Kerslake on drums. Unfortunately by the time the album was released, it was presented as more of a solo album than the work of a true band. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact, if anything, Osbourne could be seen as the band’s only weak link. It was the talented Rhoads and Daisley who did the lion’s share of the writing, but as has been the case throughout Ozzy’s career, he always gets writing credit for the songs on his albums even though the extent of his contributions are questionable. Unfortunately, Ozzy and his handlers have always been notorious for pissing all over the very people who were responsible for making his “solo” career a success. In 2002, Blizzard Of Ozz was re-released by Epic/Sony with the original bass and drum tracks of Daisley and Kerslake erased and replaced by new tracks laid down by scabs. This despicable act was a big middle finger to Daisley and Kerslake, with whom the Ozzy camp had been embroiled in a royalties dispute, royalties that no doubt Daisley and Kerslake deserved. Avoid the 2002 re-issue at all costs! (It is the one with the bonus track You Lookin’ At Me Lookin’ At You.) It is a disrespectful act of douche-baggery by an ungrateful and the increasingly pathetic Ozzy Osbourne camp. (Sorry! I had to get that off my chest!) All this crap is a travesty because Blizzard Of Ozz, in its original form, was an amazing heavy metal achievement. My score: A+
Blizzard Of Ozz was originally released by Jet Records in the U.K. in 1980 (JET 234), and in the U.S.A. in 1981 (36812). It has reached 4 x platinum in the States.
Tracks: I Don’t Know, Crazy Train, Goodbye To Romance, Dee, Suicide Solution, Mr. Crowley, No Bone Movies, Revelation (Mother Earth), Steal Away (The Night)
1. AC/DC – Back In Black
What? Were you expecting Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts? Sorry I couldn’t surprise you with some obscure lost nugget as my number one. Back In Black is such a classic! It is pretty much the reason I really started to get into heavy metal in the first place. I remember my older brother really loved KISS, and I was on the lookout for a band that I could call my favorite. After crunching the numbers and plowing through all the data, I finally decided on AC/DC as my very first favorite band! Sorry Hall and Oates. Although the title of “my favorite band” has changed hands many times over the years, AC/DC will always be my first! Can you blame me? What’s better than a little boy running around the house singing, “big licks, skin flicks, tricky dicks are my chemistr-eeeeeeee!“? My score: A+
Back In Black was originally released by Atlantic Records in the U.S.A. (16018). It has reached 22 x platinum in the States!
Tracks: Hell Bells, Shoot To Thrill, What Do You Do For Money Honey, Givin The Dog A Bone, Let Me Put My Love Into You, Back In Black, You Shook Me All Night Long, Have A Drink On Me, Shake A Leg, Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution
Continue to the Top Ten Albums of 1981