Album Reviews (1980)

A handful of album reviews.  All from 1980.

Tygers Of Pan Tang – Wild Cat

One of the few NWOBHM rounders to appear on a major label (MCA Records) in 1980.  This Tygers debut offers up ten tracks of rough stuff, baring its fangs with a consistent street-wise bludgeon.  For sonic variety, look elsewhere.  There’s no light and shade, no peaks and valleys.  Just straightforward British metal with raw energy.  Can’t say there are any true standout tracks to speak of though.  This was to be the one and only Tygers album featuring the unremarkable vocal “talents” of  Jess Cox.  From what I’ve read he seems like an interesting and fine fellow (and he has attained a certain level of NWOBHM street-cred), but he stinks.  This is something I think he and the Tygers were fully aware of, as they kept his microphone time to a minimum.  A decent album, but it pales in comparison to Tygers’ sophomore release Spellbound.  My score: B-

Thin Lizzy – Chinatown

Its Lizzy, man, so you know its good.  The formula just works, period.  Lynott, as always, was cooler than the other side of the pillow.  Storyteller.  Rico Suave.  John Holmes lookalike.  Dude had more charisma in his taint than I will ever have in a million lives.  This was Snowy White’s first LP with Thin Lizzy.  He joined ranks with Scott Gorham for that patented Lizzy dual guitar attack.  Harmonizing up the kazoo.  Good mix of tunes.  We Will Be Strong is a positive anthem.  Chinatown has a definitive groove and a cool main riff (not much of a chorus though).  Having A Good Time tries to bring back those glory days down at ol’ Dino’s.  Personal fave: Genocide (The Killing Of The Buffalo).  Maybe not their best work of the ’80s (Thunder And Lightning owns that honor IMO), but worth an earful.  My score: B

Rush – Permanent Waves

This album contains just what might be the best song of 1980, The Spirit Of Radio!  It is just a perfect, radio-friendly hard rock song!  The lyrics touch home, too.  This is an example of Rush taking a break from their progressive tendencies and delivering a more straightforward, concise tune.  Similarly, Freewill is another exceptional hard rock single.  Both are essential cuts.  This pair of tunes helps Permanent Waves appeal to the casual fan (like me), while fans of their patented 1970s progressive rock will find plenty to splooge over with Jacob’s Ladder and the 9-minute long Natural Science.  I personally find those particular tracks to be snoozers.  Not my cup of tea, but that’s just me.  We all know at least one or two hardcore Rush fanatics that just love these more complex, sprawling Rush songs.  (Maybe you are one?)  Rush fans: the Star Trek fans of rock n’ roll.  My score: B

 The Michael Schenker Group – The Michael Schenker Group

Schenker (ex-Scorpions and ex- UFO) launched his own band, The Michael Schenker Group, with this eponymous debut.  Despite the man’s cemented status as a Gibson Flying V wielding guitar wizard, The Michael Schenker Group was not an album fueled by overwrought six-string wankery.  To his credit, the album is very much a song-oriented affair.  Gary Barden, previously an unknown, was tapped for vocal duties.  He’s solid, but a tad restrained.  Lead cut Armed And Ready is a tidy rocker with a simple, but mighty, lead riff.  Without a doubt, this is my favorite song on the album, and one of Schenker’s all-time best cuts.  For me, side two seems to wane a bit (not rockin’ enough), but all in all this is a solid debut.  I think The Michael Schenker Group was surpassed by the albums that followed it; MSG (1981), Assault Attack (1982), and Built To Destroy (1983).  A discography worth digging up.  My score:

UFO – No Place To Run

Paul Chapman stepped into the fray to replace the departed Michael Schenker on guitar.  This was UFO’s first post-Schenker studio release.  Interestingly, No Place To Run was produced by famed Beatles producer George Martin.  While the album contains a few choice cuts, I can’t help but feel that No Place To Run lacks edge.  Overall, the album seems a bit too business-like and serious.  Phil Mogg must have been listening to tons of Springsteen, or maybe Seger, or maybe Bad Company.  He channels these artists a bit both lyrically and vocally.  No Place To Run does, however, house an enormous gem in the perfect Youngblood.  Not surprisingly, this cut was co-written by bassist Pete Way.  He only has three credits on the album, and they happen to be the album’s most rockin’ songs.  Seems Way was trying to keep the rock ‘n roll fire burning while Mogg was moving in a different, more “adult” direction.  Don’t get me wrong, I can listen to No Place To Run from start to finish without a problem, I just feel it’s a little too “polite” for UFO.  My score: B

Accept – I’m A Rebel

This was Accept’s second album.  Some versions were simply titled Accept (and had a different cover).  That’s confusing because Accept’s first album (1979) was also called Accept.  Anyway, I’m A Rebel pre-dates Accept’s “signature” sound which, IMO, began with 1981’s Breaker.  What we have here is a mixed lot.  The album’s best track is the title cut; a song that wasn’t even written by Accept, but rather by the older brother of AC/DC’s Angus and Malcolm Young.  Evidently, AC/DC actually worked on this song a few years earlier but never used it on an album.  It’s a simple tune, with a driving beat and Udo’s best vocal on the LP.  Bassist Peter Baltes provided vocals on two of the eight cuts on I’m A Rebel.  The two songs, No Time To Lose and The King are both mellow and ballad-like.  Baltes’ voice is clean and ordinary, a stark contrast to the trollish shriek of Udo.  No Time To Lose is pretty good, while The King is simply average.  I would recommend the I’m A Rebel album only to curious Accept fans interested in hearing the band search for direction.  My score: C+

Motorhead – Ace Of Spades

Did you ever look at someone and think to yourself “I bet that person’s breath really f*cking stinks”?  Well, that’s what I think when I look at Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead.  I bet his breath is just rancid.  Well, anyway Lemmy the wart-faced scumbag, along with Fast Eddie (guitar) and Philthy Phil (drums) gave us Motorhead’s most famous album in 1980, Ace Of Spades.  Motorhead may well have been the word’s heaviest band in 1980.  The LP deals cut after cut of fast, loud, rudimentary heavy metal from a loaded deck of twelve songs.  Lemmy’s distorted bass and signature voice are essential to the patented Motorhead sound.  And though Lemmy has almost no vocal range, he is surprisingly melodic in his vocal delivery.  Choice cuts include the classic title cut, Love Me Like A Reptile, and the ultra-heavy album finale The Hammer.  Furthermore, (We Are) The Road Crew is a very cool homage to roadies with the album’s best lyrics.  Honestly, I’m surprised there aren’t more heavy metal songs about roadies.  It seems part and parcel to heavy metal lifestyle and lore.  Seems there is a lot of untapped lyrical potential in the life of a roadie!  The Chase Is Better Than The Catch is another fave.  This track is not as fast as the rest, and has a mean, pulsating groove.  This album is good, filthy fun.  My score: B+

Ted Nugent – Scream Dream

Call him The Nuge.  Call him Uncle Ted.  Call him The Motor City Madman.  I shall call him “asshole”.  Having seen Ted Nugent multiple times on various VH1 shows in the 2000’s reinforced my belief that too much exposure to rock and roll stars is always a bad thing.  So many of these rock stars are just complete douches once you “get to know them”, whether it be by reality TV, or tell-all books, or what have you.  Ignorance is bliss, I say.  I guess that’s why, despite worshiping hard rock and heavy metal music for my entire life, I have never had any interest in actually meeting a rock star.

Scream Dream was the last Ted album to reach gold status, as the eighties saw his career take a commercial downturn.  Many consider Scream Dream to be the last album of Ted Nugent’s glory years.  There are ten tracks, and Ted provides vocals on all but a few.  Drummer Cliff Davies sings one cut, and guitarist Charlie Huhn pitches in for a deuce.  Needless to say, the album is a pretty fun ride, steeped in seventies style hard rock, with nods to rhythm and blues and old-style rock n’ roll.  Wango Tango is the album’s best known cut; and its pretty good except for the spoken word part which finds Ted acting borderline retarded.  Other faves include Hard As Nails and Spit It Out.  I have Scream Dream on cassette, but still haven’t got around it to updating to CD.  I guess you could say Scream Dream falls just shy of essential.  My score: B

Quartz – Satan’s Serenade

Here we have a 12″, 3-song EP by Quartz.  This 45-rpm rounder came out on Reddingtons Rare Records (and was licensed to Logo records).  It appeared on black, blue, and red wax.  (Here’s a link featuring pics of the blue vinyl release.)  The record included two spanking new Quartz cuts in Satan’s Serenade and Bloody Fool.  The third track was a remix of Roll Over Beethoven taken from the Live Quartz album (1980).

The two new cuts are worth seeking out for Quartz fans.  Quartz’s 1980 LP Stand Up And Fight (reviewed here) was a tremendous album, featuring Quartz in their all-too-brief prime, so its nice to have some extra material from that same time period.  The production is lacking a bit, especially compared to the exceptional production of Stand Up And Fight (which was on a major label, M.C.A. Records), but it is not a significant deterrent to accessing these solid chunks o’ granite.  My score: B

Samson – Head On

This band gets its name from their guitarist Paul Samson, an old-school player with a sweaty, barroom style.  Despite being the band’s namesake, Paul Samson had to take a backseat to two limelight-stealing characters within the band’s ranks; Thunderstick (the mask-wearing drummer) and “Bruce Bruce” Dickinson (the charismatic vocalist).  Head On was Samson’s second full-length LP.  It is one of the better-known NWOBHM offerings from 1980.  The album’s opener, Hard Times, is one my favorite NWOBHM songs of 1980, highlighted by Bruce’s self-harmonized vocal “solo” near the song’s conclusion.  Though certainly listenable and accessible, the Head On album is not without its weaknesses.  I think Thunderstick overplays quite a bit, and his snare drum sounds like a trash can (in fact, the drum sound as a whole is pretty poor).  In addition, “Bruce Bruce” acts a fool, all too often going over-the-top with his vocals.  The bizarre lyrics don’t help matters either.  In my (worthless) opinion,  “Bruce Bruce” and Thunderstick combined to make Head On a more frantic record than it needed to be.  But one can postulate why Paul Samson didn’t reign these two guys in… they were his meal ticket after all.  Samson’s follow-up to Head On, 1981’s Shock Tactics is much better.  My score: B-

Billy Squier – The Tale Of The Tape (1980)

Ex-Piper front man Billy Squier signed a record deal with Capitol Records and debuted as a solo artist with 1980’s The Tale Of The Tape.  Squier would eventually reward Capitol for their faith by delivering three platinum albums.  But The Tale Of The Tape wasn’t one of them.  While this album lacked any true hits, it was a consistent effort, and one can definitely hear a star in the making.  Though it was Eric Clapton that first influenced Billy to take up the guitar seriously, you’re more likely to hear cues from Led Zeppelin in Squier’s music — especially in the Robert Plant vocal stylings.  Squier liked to mix lusty drum beats with ragged, open chords — all of it crafted with an eye towards radio airplay.  As mentioned above, this particular Billy Squier platter didn’t give birth to any hit singles, but if you spend some time with the album you’ll really start to take The Tale Of The Tape close to your heart.  The album is probably best known for the song The Big Beat — which has been sampled countless times by rappers (thanks to its pounding drum intro).  Other notables include the breezy Calley Oh, the plaintive Like I’m Loving You, and the catchy Who Knows What Love Can Do.

In the end, The Tale Of The Tape has been vastly overshadowed by the successful albums that proceeded it.  In fact, it is positively dwarfed by its mammoth follow-up Don’t Say No — a triple platinum smash from 1981.  But if you’re a Squier fan (and why wouldn’t you be?) you’ll eventually get around to The Tale Of The Tape, and to a time when Billy was just getting warmed up!  My score: B+

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