Here we go again! I previously posted my ten favorite hard rock/heavy metal albums of 1980, and now it is time to continue on with the year 1981! Keep in mind, these are not the top ten albums of 1981, just my top ten. These are the ten albums that I have listened to the most over the years. I am by no means a critic, but just a plain ol’ fan, so I guess my opinion is pretty damn worthless. Who cares! Here’s the list:
Note: I updated this list to 20 albums in August 2016.
20. Riot – Fire Down Under
While heavy metal bands were spreading like an STD across the U.K., only a scant few American bands were dipping their toes in the dirty waters. New York’s Riot were there in the thick of it all. Early as shit, and rocking incredibly hard for ’81. Fire Down Under was Riot’s third album, and stands today as their best known release (although 1988’s Thundersteel also has a bit of a following). Album opener Swords And Tequila roars through the speakers, introducing the listener to the open air, live-sounding production of the record, as well as plenty of crunchy power chords, and Guy Speranza’s energetic, cooler-than-the-other-side-of-the-pillow voice. (They should have named the album Swords And Tequila in my opinion, how cool a name is that?) The speedy title track follows — two and a half minutes of early metal adrenaline. Track four, Outlaw, is easily my fave of this set. Outlaw is a great piece of hard rock storytelling with the most memorable chorus on the album. Riot did America proud with this LP. What the f*ck is with that “mascot” on the cover, though? My score: B+
Tracks: Swords And Tequila, Fire Down Under, Feel The Same, Outlaw, Don’t Bring Me Down, Don’t Hold Back, Altar Of The King, No Lies, Run For Your Life, Flashbacks
19. Hanoi Rocks – Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks
Hanoi Rocks! Emaciated, wasted, and Finnish… these garbage pail kids debuted in 1981 with Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks. The album was produced by the band members Andy McCoy (guitar) and Michael Monroe (vocals).
First the bad. The spoken word sections in the song Don’t Never Leave Me are just god awful! It’s like Hanoi Rocks pried open my ear canals and raped them mercilessly! I can’t express to you enough how mind-numbingly brutal this is. Hanoi Rocks later re-recorded this song (with a more grammatically correct, sans double-negative title: Don’t You Ever Leave Me) on their 1984 album Two Steps From The Move. They still included spoken word sections… much different… still awful… but not awful enough to make me want to blow my brains out like the original found here.
And now the good. Pretty much everything else! Pulling influences from all over; punk, glam, the Stones, and old timey rock n’ roll, Hanoi Rocks were able to fuse their influences into an eclectic and highly enjoyable debut. Though not particularly heavy, this album is just quality rock and roll all around. Highlights include Tragedy, Village Girl, and the exquisite Cheyenne. My score: B+
Tracks: Tragedy, Village Girl, Stop Cryin’, Don’t Never Leave Me, Lost In The City, First Timer, Cheyenne, 11th Street Kids, Walking With My Angel, Pretender
18. The Michael Schenker Group – MSG
The second album from The Michael Schenker Group, MSG, is better than the debut, The Michael Schenker Group, from 1980. This time around, Schenker has Paul Raymond (ex-UFO) on keyboards and rhythm guitar, and Cozy Powell on drums. Gary Barden returns on vocals. Raymond wrote my favorite track on the record, the great ballad Never Trust A Stranger (highlighted by a stellar vocal performance by Barden, and a smooth solo by Schenker). Other highlights include On And On and Looking For Love. Unfortunately, the great lineup Schenker put together for the MSG album was blown up by the time its follow-up, Assault Attack (1982) came ’round. Such would be the story of the enigmatic Schenker’s “build and destroy” career. My score: B+
Tracks: Are You Ready To Rock, Attack Of The Mad Axeman, On And On, Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, But I Want More, Never Trust A Stranger, Looking For Love, Secondary Motion
17. Accept – Breaker
Accept followed up their rather restrained sophomore LP, I’m A Rebel(1980), with this much weightier effort. Evidently, Accept were angry with their record label’s meddling on the I’m A Rebel recording and decided to make a statement with Breaker. Indeed, these German meisters o’ metal were full of piss and vinegar, and in the process appeared to have found their sonic identity, no longer content in being cast as a poor man’s AC/DC.
Breaker is the beginning of Accept’s ascent into near-godly status (an ascent that apexed with 1983’s Balls to The Wall in my opinion). Their defiance is embodied by the profanity-laced Son Of A Bitch, a middle finger to their record label and a rousing blast of sonic fury. The only stinker on the album is the ballad Breaking Up Again, sung by bassist Peter Baltes (Udo Derkschneider sings lead on all the other tracks). Baltes’ ordinary (boring) voice stands out like a fart in church next to Udo’s patented werewolf howling. My score: B+
Tracks: Starlight, Breaker, Run If You Can, Can’t Stand The Night, Son Of A Bitch, Burning, Feelings, Midnight Highway, Breaking Up Again, Down And Out
16. Y&T – Earthshaker
The band previously known as Yesterday And Today shortened their name to Y&T for the album Earthshaker. One album later they would debut their mega-cool logo, but for Earthshaker they have a sucky logo and crap cover. But don’t judge a book by its cover! In the (very) early eighties only a scant few American bands rocked as hard and mighty as Y&T (Van Halen and Riot for example). Earthshaker is a great collection of cocky, muscular tunes. Hurricane and Knock You Out are two prime examples. The album’s best moment, however, is the light-and-shade dynamo, Rescue Me. Y&T’s front man Dave Meniketti takes MVP honors for his powerful Sammy Hagar-ish vocals, and his tasty lead guitar work. My score: B+
Earthshaker was released by A&M Records in the U.S. (SP 4867).
Tracks: Hungry For Rock, Dirty Girl, Shake It Loose, Squeeze, Rescue Me, Young And Tough, Hurricane, Let Me Go, Knock You Out, I Believe In You
15. Thin Lizzy – Renegade
I have read some very negative reviews for Renegade, including the reviews by AllMusic and Rolling Stone. However, venerable heavy metal journalist Martin Popoff called Renegade “Thin Lizzy’s tour de force, an absolute masterpiece of deeply soulful and richly textured hard rock“. Personally, I enjoy the Renegade album very much, although I acknowledge it is far from a perfect album. Phil Lynott was not necessarily at the top of his game at the time (we now know that he was in the throes of addiction), yet he was still a charismatic force to be reckoned with. The title track portrays the simple tale of the misunderstood bad boy who cries on the inside. Though cliché, this ballad-esque yarn is quite potent in the hands of Lynott, whose tortured but gentle soul bleeds from the speakers. Other faves include The Pressure Will Blow and Hollywood (Down On Your Luck). Lynott deserves his place as one of the more beloved figures in hard rock history. A true renegade. My score: B+
Renegade was originally released by Vertigo Records in the U.K. and by Warner Brothers Records in the United States.
Tracks: Angel Of Death, Renegade, The Pressure Will Blow, Leave This Town, Hollywood (Down On Your Luck), No One Told Him, Fats, Mexican Blood, It’s Getting Dangerous
14. Blackfoot – Marauder
Marauder opens up with the scorching Good Morning — a fast and heavy number sure to get your lazy ass out of bed. With this bristling first track, it is immediately clear that Blackfoot were continuing to rock proud and rock hard — as they did on 1980’s Tomcattin’ release. This premium blend of southern rock and hard rock continues with strong cuts like the randy Dry County, the poignant Searchin’, and the soul-crushing Diary Of A Workingman. Marauder was co-written by Rick “Rattlesnake” Medlocke (vocals and guitar) and Jakson “Thunderfoot” Spires (drums). Medlocke is something to behold — a truly great singer and storyteller. If this guy sang the phone book, I would probably listen. My score: B+
Tracks: Good Morning, Payin’ For It, Diary Of A Workingman, Too Hard To Handle, Fly Away, Dry Country, Fire Of The Dragon, Rattlesnake Rock ‘n’ Roller, Searchin’
13. Black Sabbath – Mob Rules
Pull up a chair to the table round for a second helping of Dio-era Sabbath. Do tell us what dangers lurk around the corner, Ronnie. Dio, wizard sleeves dancing in the moonlight, was at the helm once again for another sacrilegious Sabbath feast much like 1980’s Heaven And Hell. Sabbath had a winning formula with Heaven And Hell and chose (wisely?) to not stray from it even the slightest with Mob Rules. Pick your poison, as the two albums are closely matched in terms of quality. Personally, I give the nod to Mob Rules. I really love the massive meat-plow riff that opens Voodoo. (Compare that riff to the one Jerry Cantrell used on Alice In Chains’ Died.) The Mob Rules is a great song, featuring Ronnie James at his most poisonous — a harbinger of doom, singing through clenched teeth, index finger wagging back and forth casting warnings… the embodiment of heavy metal cliché. (In 1981, Dio’s lyrics seemed somewhat fresh. He would return to the well countless times thereafter.) Even in his attempted love song, Country Girl, he sounds like he’s party to a crucifixion. The man could not help but sound evil. (Rest in peace Ronnie James Dio, to honor you I promise that I will NOT listen to fools.) Note: Find the devil’s face on the cover. My score: A-
Tracks: Turn Up The Night, Voodoo, The Sign Of The Southern Cross, E5150, The Mob Rules, Country Girl, Slipping Away, Falling Off The Edge Of The World, Over And Over
12. Rose Tattoo – Assault & Battery
Australia has a fine tradition of no-frills hard rock. AC/DC, The Angels (Angel City), and Kings Of The Sun come to mind. Of course, Rose Tattoo very much belongs in that mix as well. This band is (apparently) quite revered in the Land Down Under, though not exactly a household name here in the States.
Produced by the same duo (Vanda and Young) that worked on AC/DC’s early albums, Assault & Battery consists of tight arrangements with steady, driving beats, and crunchy power chords. Leading the charge was the hairless pate of one Angry Anderson, a tatted rogue with a tough-guy voice that perfectly suited Rose Tattoo’s blue-collar brand of hard rock. Faves here include the hellfire-spittin’ Magnum Maid, and the ode to Luciferian incest (seriously?) Chinese Dunkirk. Yet, my absolute favorite cut has to be the almost dance-able Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King. Here, Anderson summons a kind of (classic) Rod Stewart-like blend of melodicism and grit. A fine cruising anthem if there ever was one! Yes indeed, rock ‘n’ roll is KING. But you knew that already. My score: A-
Tracks: Out Of This Place, All The Lessons, Let It Go, Assault & Battery, Magnum Maid, Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King, Manzil Madness, Chinese Dunkirk, Sidewalk Sally, Suicide City
11. Viva – What The Hell Is Going On!
Here’s Viva. Who? Viva, a band out of Germany delivering coke-fueled melodic metal with some excellent guitar work, tasty keyboards, and nasty vocals.
What The Hell Is Going On! was Viva’s second album. It was released by CBS Records. The line-up on What The Hell Is Going On! included Barbara Schenker (sister of Michael and Rudolf Schenker) on keyboards. She was also the band’s principal songwriter. Viva’s vocalist was a Swiss/Italian named Marco Paganini, who later formed his own band called Paganini after leaving Viva in the mid-eighties.
When I think of German heavy metal in the early eighties, Scorpions and Accept immediately come to mind. But let us not forget about some of the lesser known contributions from bands such as Trance and Viva. Here in America, Viva are not well-known at all. I don’t think the Viva albums ever saw official release in America, so that probably has a lot to do with their obscurity.
There’s a lot to love about What The Hell Is Going On!. I love the crunchy guitar tones and some of the smooth, quality leads. (Viva had two guitarists, so I apologize but I’m not sure which guy was responsible for which guitar part.) Barbara’s keyboard embellishments are pretty cool, too. Marco Paganini sings with a very thick accent, and he has one of those raw, street urchin voices that so many German metal bands seemed to prefer in the ’80s. He’s not bad.
Killer tracks include What Next (nice melodic guitar lines throughout), Break Out (a very catchy chorus that seems to come out of nowhere) and a fine ballad called Screaming For Your Love. The album’s last track is an ode to cocaine called White Snow. This is another fave. It features a driving beat, great keyboards, and a some cool percussive riffage. My score: A-
Tracks: The Bitch, Little Rock Tonight, What Next, Break Out, What The Hell Is Going On, Give To Me, Screaming For Your Love, White Snow
10. Tygers Of Pan Tang – Spellbound
Spellbound was Tygers Of Pan Tang’s second album, and in my opinion a significant improvement over their rather adolescent debut. Lineup changes seemed to have contributed greatly to this progression, as Tygers replaced their singer with Jon Deverill, a very capable vocalist, and also added guitarist John Sykes to their ranks. To me this is the quintessential Tygers album, and as such one of the best NWOBHM offerings out there. Spellbound is a consistent effort, full of hook-laden tunes with enough balls to satiate your metal jones. Only the useless Minotaur (22 seconds of noise) and the average ballad Mirror leak piss into the punch bowl. My personal favorite track is the ultra-catchy Hellbound. My score: A-
Spellbound was released by MCA Records.
Tracks: Gangland, Take It, Minotaur, Hellbound, Mirror, Silver And Gold, Tyger Bay, The Story So Far, Blackjack, Don’t Stop By
9. April Wine – The Nature Of The Beast
This veteran Canadian band had been around for quite a while before breaking through to American audiences in the early eighties. Their seminal release, and the only April Wine album to go platinum in the United States, was this little gem, The Nature Of The Beast.
I have posted a full review of The Nature Of The Beast here. Check it out. The bottom line is that this album is brimming with catchy tunes. The Nature Of The Beast casts a wide net over an array of hard rock styles that includes old time rock n’ roll, heavy metal, and commercial hard rock. Oh, and let us not forgot a MONSTER ballad in the form of Just Between You And Me — the album’s biggest hit. My score: A
The Nature Of The Beast was released by Aquarius Records in Canada and Capitol Records in the United States.
Tracks: All Over Town, Tellin’ Me Lies, Sign Of The Gypsy Queen, Just Between You And Me, Wanna Rock, Caught In The Crossfire, Future Tense, Big City Girls, Crash And Burn, Bad Boys, One More Time
8. Demon – Night Of The Demon
The ill-monikered Demon debuted with Night Of The Demon on Carrere Records (the same French label that released some early Saxon wax). These NWOBHMers were not an overtly Satanic or “black” metal act as their name and album cover seem to infer. Rather, Night Of The Demon is a genuine hard rock record with a bluesy and boozy biker vibe. The songs are relatively simple and catchy as a hell. Night Of The Demon seems rooted in the ’70s style rock of Thin Lizzy, or maybe some other bands to which I only have a passing knowledge (Foghat? Free? Grand Funk?). The world-weary, low register voice of Dave Hill is the highlight of Night Of The Demon. He carries the songs with his rough rock voice. Killer tracks include Night Of The Demon and Into The Nightmare (the only two tracks where the lyrics seem to fit with the ghastly cover art). Decisions is a very upbeat rocker and Fool To Play The Hard Way is an excellent nugget of mellow gold. Chug a beer for these forgotten Brits will ya? My score: A
Tracks: Full Moon, Night Of The Demon, Into The Nightmare, Father Of Time, Decisions, Liar, Big Love, Ride The Wind, Fool To Play The Hard Way, One Helluva Night
7. Def Leppard – High ‘N’ Dry
The Lep’s second album, High ‘N’ Dry, was a marked improvement from their enjoyable but shaky debut On Through The Night (1980). No doubt that bringing in producer Mutt Lange was a major factor in Def Leppard’s progression into bona fide hard rock masters. Lange gave High ‘N’ Dry a full-on Highway To Hell treatment. Lange clearly pushed Def Leppard into tightening their arrangements and giving these songs a lean and mean crunch. Joe Elliot’s vocals are also stretched to his physical limits. Elliot does a great job, he sounds raw and raspy. Drummer Rick Allen provides a rare two-armed attack, keeping the grooves tight. For those who have never taken the opportunity to delve into Def Leppard’s pre-Pyromania catalog, get with it. This is Def Leppard at their heaviest and AC/DC-esque best. My score: A
On Through The Night was released by Vertigo Records in the U.K. and Mercury Records in the United States. It has reached double platinum in the States.
Tracks: Let It Go, Another Hit And Run, High ‘N’ Dry (Saturday Night), Bringin’ On The Heartbreak, Switch 625, You Got Me Runnin’, Lady Strange, On Through The Night, Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes), No No No
6. Triumph – Allied Forces
To my ears, Triumph were the preeminent rock generalists. Aside from their empowering lyrics, Triumph didn’t really have identifiable sonic characteristics to call their own. Instead, Triumph offered up a smorgasbord of different rock formulas for the listener to sift through. Within a single Triumph album you may hear a song that reminds you of Rush, Boston, Styx, U.F.O., or even Led Zeppelin. Some might say Triumph were a jack of many trades, yet a master of none. I don’t necessarily agree with that statement — especially when it comes to Triumph’s 1981 album Allied Forces. This album kicks ass!
When the rock and roll machine of Emmett, Moore, and Levine touched down in 1981 with Allied Forces, they delivered what would arguably become the album of their career. Allied Forces is packed wall-to-wall with crowd pleasing anthems that uplift the spirit and raise the heart rate. Triumph were known for their live show — which featured lots of pyro and lights. With arena-ready anthems like Fool For Your Love, Allied Forces, Fight The Good Fight, and (my favorite) Magic Power, Triumph knew how to keep their hockey-haired faithful smiling and rocking out. I’m sure the beers were flowing, too. I don’t have a mullet myself, but I wish I did so I could raise a cold one to Triumph while my Mississippi mud flaps blow in the wind. My score: A
Allied Forces is certified platinum in the United States.
Tracks: Fool For Your Love, Magic Power, Air Raid, Allied Forces, Hot Time (In This City Tonight), Fight The Good Fight, Ordinary Man, Petite Etude, Say Goodbye
5. Van Halen – Fair Warning
And the hits keep coming! Van Halen continue their undefeated streak by releasing a great album for the fourth consecutive year. Fair Warning, for me, is actually my least favorite of the first four but it is still amazing when it wants to be. You see, Van Halen were a bit haphazard about how they filled out their albums; often including joke tracks and underwritten songs, and in the case of Fair Warning, only putting out 30 minutes of music. But these were the days when your favorite bands released an album a year, so we can forgive them. Back then, when a band like Van Halen was in their absolute prime, and could do no wrong, you would have five or six albums in your collection that captured that magical apex. Nowadays bands release material every three years or so, and so much can change in three years that you may miss out; only getting one or two great albums before the perils of rock ‘n roll change the band. Well anyway, Fair Warning is another awesome VH album from that window of time where their chemistry was so damn electric that they could have gotten away with Roth doing a “bowsie-bowsie-bop” over the sound of Eddie dropping a deuce. My score: A
Fair Warning was released by Warner Bros. Records. It is certified 2x platinum in the United States.
Tracks: Mean Street, “Dirty Movies”, Sinner’s Swing!, Hear About It Later, Unchained, Push Comes To Shove, So This Is Love?, Sunday Afternoon In The Park, One Foot Out The Door
4. Saxon – Denim And Leather
The thing I really like about ol’ Saxon is that they didn’t try to show off too much or act as if they were rock gods needing to be worshiped. Saxon also didn’t try to pander to the masses (like ’80s Priest for example), which would have been an insult to intelligent fans. Saxon seemed to appreciate the heavy metal fans as their equal. They were a bunch of heavy metal guys lucky enough to be able to play their songs for their friends. That’s just the impression I get from their music, whether I am off-base or not I don’t know. Denim And Leather is prime Saxon. Lead singer Biff tells a simple story with each tune. Whether it be a song about a steam train or a song about touring the good ol’ U.S.A., there is a certain simple sincerity to Saxon that personifies the spirit of heavy metal. The title track, Denim And Leather, is a great example of Saxon’s spirit. The song is a dedication to the NWOBHM fans and shows Saxon’s appreciation and sense of brotherhood. It is a proud, honest anthem, and one of the best ever! I love the lyrics! (“Where were you in ’79 when the dam began to burst? … Denim and leather! Brought us all together…”) Speaking of lyrics, Play It Loud is another anthemic gem! (In case you care, this is the song that directly inspired the title of this website!) If you like your heavy metal simple, loud, and honest, Denim And Leather baby! My score: A
Denim And Leather was released by Carrere Records.
Tracks: Princess Of The Night, Never Surrender, Out Of Control, Rough And Ready, Play It Loud, And The Bands Played On, Midnight Rider, Fire In The Sky, Denim And Leather
3. AC/DC – For Those About To Rock
In the very same year that Saxon dropped their whopper of an anthem, Denim And Leather, AC/DC came out with a monster anthem of their own, For Those About To Rock (We Salute You). This song still gives me goose bumps to this day, especially at the end when the tempo picks up and cannons start firing all over the place! Amazing tune. For Those About To Rock is the second AC/DC album of the Brain Johnson era. Johnson would have just one more killer album in him after this before his voice shit the bed. That is why the triple set of Back In Black (1980), For Those About To Rock (1981), and Flick Of The Switch (1983) will always be my favorite Johnson era albums. He still had his banshee pipes back then, and the band sounded really heavy and energetic. Side two of this album contains two of my favorite AC/DC deep tracks. The first is Night Of The Long Knives, which is AC/DC at their evil best, and the other is the menacing slow burner Spellbound. Still hung over from Back In Black? Pop in this golden brown nugget and crank it up! That will cure ya! My score: A
For Those About To Rock was released by Atlantic Records in the United States. To date it has reached 4x platinum.
Tracks: For Those About To Rock (We Salute You), I Put The Finger On You, Let’s Get It Up, Inject The Venom, Snowballed, Evil Walks, C.O.D., Breaking The Rules, Night Of The Long Knives, Spellbound
2. Billy Squier – Don’t Say No
Billy Squier is my favorite solo artist of the eighties. He was a great songwriter and an exceptional singer. Unfortunately, he was a terrible dancer.
I love this album! Billy Squier churns out gem after gem on this record, mastering a kind of pop-meets-hard rock sound that I have never heard duplicated. The album starts of with the 1-2-3 punch of In The Dark, The Stroke, and My Kinda Lover. Anyone who has ever had a functioning radio has heard these songs. The Stroke has become an all-time classic. Lyrically, it takes the tried and true rock formula of the double entendre and turns it on its head. On the surface, the song seems overtly sexual, but in actuality The Stroke is about the shadiness and duplicity of the record industry. Great lyrics by Billy on that one! Lonely Is The Night is another FM radio staple, and my favorite Squier song of all time. To me, the opening riff is one of the most memorable in all music. Don’t Say No is an essential release! My score: A+
Don’t Say No was released by Capitol Records and is certified 3x platinum in the United States.
Tracks: In The Dark, The Stroke, My Kinda Lover, You Know What I Like, Too Daze Gone, Lonely Is The Night, Whadda You Want From Me, Nobody Knows, I Need You, Don’t Say No
1. Ozzy Osbourne – Diary Of A Madman
Evidently, Ozzy’s second album was recorded during the same sessions that produced his band’s first release, Blizzard Of Ozz. That’s a good thing because that lineup was jaw-dropping! Rhoads! Kerslake! Daisley! It was lightning in a bottle. Ozzy was lucky to have such talented writers and musicians propping up his urine-soaked hide. By the time the album came out, Ozzy had replaced Kerslake and Daisley (which is why they don’t appear in the band photo on the album insert). In fact, the 2002 re-issue of Diary Of A Madman actually has the original bass and drum tracks deleted and re-recorded by other musicians (in order to avoid paying Kerslake and Daisley their just royalties). Don’t buy that shit! Get the 1995 Epic remastered version (the one that says “Ozzy” in big letters down the right side of the cover). That version sounds absolutely amazing! I don’t think I have ever heard a better sounding heavy metal record!
Every single track on Diary Of A Madman is an absolute monster! The well-known classics are Over The Mountain and Flying High Again. Incredible deep tracks include Little Dolls and the monster ballad Tonight. The album closes with the haunting title track, an epic masterpiece that is a testament to Randy Rhoads’ prodigious talent. It is really sad that Rhoads died tragically during the tour for this album. He didn’t stick around long enough for Ozzy to screw him over. My score: A+
Diary Of A Madman was originally released by Jet Records. In the United States it has reached 2x platinum.
Tracks: Over The Mountain, Flying High Again, You Can’t Kill Rock And Roll, Believer, Little Dolls, Tonight, S.A.T.O., Diary Of A Madman
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