Tuesday, March 10, 2015

1980 - Closing Thoughts


Before I move on to 1981 – I would like to give some final thoughts on 1980, and mention some things that I may have skipped.

Clearly the UK was the metal home in 1980 with 24 of the top 40 records hailing from the UK, including all of the top 11.

Also, 1980 was the year of the debut, with 21 of the top 40 being debuts and 2 more debut solo albums from otherwise experienced artists.

My favorite live album was Black Sabbath – Live at Last.  Not really a great live album, but not bad either.  There were a few noteworthy EP releases, but the only one that really stands out is Hellanbach.  They hail from the UK and their 1980 debut EP; Out to Get You, was a real scorcher.  If it were full length, it would have easily cracked the top 20.

My rookie of the year award goes to Randy Rhoads.  I could have given this to any number of rookies this year, but Rhoads performance on Blizzard of Ozz was legendary.

My MVP is Biff Byford.  Saxon had two albums in the top six, and his strong lead vocals have always been the driver for Saxon.

Finally, my biggest disappointment of the year was actually included in the top 40.  Clocking in at number 31 was the second album from Witchfynde.  It was very disappointing that they caved to the record executives so quickly and became so bland.

So that’s it for the year.  Thanks to my regular readers.  Even though you seem to disagree with me sometimes, your comments are always welcome.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

The Top 40 of 1980 (5-1)

5. Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard of Ozz

Ozzy Osbourne may be one of the luckiest people who ever lived.  I will give him some credit for being a charismatic singer and personality, and he has some ability to compose pieces of songs that with the help of more talented performers and writers become great songs.  He is also fortunate to have married a ruthless and evil woman who has helped further his career as his limited talent continues to dwindle.

Ozzy has been musically irrelevant for 20 years, but somehow he continues.  This is all not to mention that due to the abuse of drugs and alcohol; the man should be dead 12 times over.  Yes – he is a lucky man.

However, musically, Osbourne’s greatest fortune was when he completely stepped in shit and found Randy Rhoads.  The newly formed band put together two records in one session, and the first of those was Blizzard of Ozz.  Rhoads was an extraordinary talent and the rest of the band (Daisley, Kerslake and Airey) were seasoned pros.   While I am certain Ozzy composed most of the lyrics, the music here was all Rhoads and Daisley.

4. Motörhead – Ace of Spades

Coming off of two terrific 1979 albums, Motörhead was on a roll in 1980.  Enter, Ace of Spades, perhaps their finest hour.  No disrespect to Phil Campbell, but Motörhead was at their best with Fast Eddie Clarke.  Motörhead does not do ballads or epics, they aren’t pretty and they aren’t flashy. They just play good heavy metal with attitude. 

I am not going to say it was all downhill from here, as Motörhead has released many great albums and songs after this, but Ace of Spades is a must have, all time classic.

3. Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden

If the debut from Iron Maiden was all they ever did, they still would have been one of the more accomplished bands from the NWOBHM.  OF course Maiden went on to do much more, but this first album stands on its own quite well.  Produced by Wil Malone, this is one of the better produced albums from all of the rookie bands.  Steve Harris would later complain that the production was bad, but for the time I think it was quite good.

As for the songs, late arrivals Clive Burr on drums and Dennis Stratton on guitar were big upgrades and were the final pieces to making these songs fantastic.  I can only imagine how Phantom of the Opera would sound with only one guitar and Doug Sampson on drums.  This was a terrific beginning to a terrific career from Iron Maiden, and their story still has not been fully written.

2. Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell

Replacing a presence like Ozzy Osbourne was no easy task.  Despite all of his shortcomings (and there are many) he knows how to front a metal band, and while not a great singer, his distinctive voice was perfect for the music.  Ronnie James Dio was the perfect replacement.  Dio was beyond competent, maybe one of the best singers in metal history.  Furthermore Dio was a true professional.  He was above the childish nonsense spewing from the Osbourne camp (i.e. every show Sharon’s husband would hang a midget named Ronnie).

As for the music – as soon as you put on the record and hear the opening riff of Neon Knights, you know that Sabbath never lost it and this was an album to be reckoned with.  They lose it just a touch with the last track, but the other 7 are all classic metal tracks.

1. Saxon – Strong Arm of the Law

In 1980, Saxon was on a roll, and clearly the class of the NWOBHM.  On the heels of the brilliant Wheels of Steel, Saxon continued to produce the best metal of the year.  The history of this album is a little strange, as it was re-released in the US in 1982, with a different cover and different running order.  The original UK cover and running order is better, so I am unsure as to why Carrere did that.

All eight of the tracks here are great. Sixth Form Girls, Dallas 1PM, and the title track are timeless NWOBHM classics and the remaining tracks are also fantastic. Although the players here are all above proficient, the musicianship will not blow you away here.  The songs are all well written and put together and the sound great. A true gem, and the best album of 1980 as far as I am concerned.

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Top 40 of 1980 (10 - 6)

10. Witchfynde – Give ‘Em Hell

Witchfynde’s debut had it all (except for singing and production, but nothing new there).  The songs were epic and it had an acceptable level of heaviness for the day.  Sure, there are some weak spots, but overall it is very strong.  There are rare occasions where the rawness and underproduction actually works, and while I will not call it an asset, it does not bother me as much here as it does on other albums from 1980 (i.e. Sarcofagus).

It is disappointing that they changed direction so quickly, as they could have become a real metal band had they stayed the course.  They had the unique ability to combine great riffs and more epic pieces into a cohesive record.  They had better riffs than Fist, they were more epic than Diamond Head, and they were heavier than Samson.

Sure the beginning of Leaving Nadir is a bit slow, but the song picks up.  Unto the Ages of Ages is just short of 9 minutes, but it done so much better than many of the epics of the day.  Perhaps the spoken parts in the middle are a bit naff, but the song in its entirety is quite good.  The other 5 tracks are all great metal tracks.

9. Tygers of Pan Tang – Wild Cat

The Tygers were one of my favorite bands of the NWOBHM with three solid released before they went to pot.  This debut is my least favorite of the three, but it is still a classic release.  Jess Cox was certainly not the best singer, but he was at least competent.  The Tygers also had a decent producer in Chris Tsangarides.  I really like the drumming on this record too. I think Brian Dick was an underrated drummer.

The Tygers were not afraid to exceed five and six minutes with their songs and the risk pays off in Killers.  Not so much in Insanity or Slave to Freedom, but both are decent.  The best tracks here are Wild Catz, Suzie Smiled and the aforementioned Killers.

8. Girlschool – Demolition

As a kid, this was one of the many bands I always dismissed.  I guess I was a teenage sexist.  That was a big mistake.  This is an infectious record with lots of riffs, licks and hooks.  Granted, it is not as heavy as some other releases of the day, but it is certainly a metal album. 

Kelly Johnson was a competent guitarist and the rhythm section does a good job as well.  Good vocals and good production compliment a collection of great songs.  There are no epics here, but they don’t waste your time with sappy ballads either.  The best songs are Breakdown, Emergency, Nothing to Lose and the cover song, Race With the Devil.   

7. Judas Priest – British Steel

This album represents a change in style for Judas Priest.  It’s a little hard to describe, but any fan of Judas Priest will acknowledge the difference in sound in British Steel and the subsequent 3 records from the first 5 albums.  I think the change in drummer had a lot to do with it.  Dave Holland was a lot more straightforward and steady, where Les Binks was more creative and progressive in his style.  I am not sure why Binks never caught on elsewhere, especially with the explosion of metal bands in 1980.

Of course in 1980, Priest were veterans in a sea of metal rookies, and it showed as they outshined almost all of the rookies in the class of 1980.  Interestingly, this album spawned three singles.  In my book, those are the worst three songs on the record, and in fact it is those three songs that knock British Steel out of the top 5.  The other six tracks are all timeless metal classics.

6. Saxon – Wheels of Steel

The first of two brilliant Saxon albums to be released in 1980, Wheels of Steel was a giant leap forward from Saxon’s 1979 debut.  There is a great flow to this album and in the days of Side 1/Side 2, I think the 2 sides here are quite distinct, even in the age of CD’s and MP3’s.  Both sides have something to offer, but there is a clear difference.

Side 1 is the one most people will recall.  Motorcycle Man, Stand Up and be Counted, 747 and Wheels of Steel are all Saxon classics.  Side 2 is a little different with Suzie Hold On and See the Light Shining being stand out tracks, but the rest of the side is not as good with “filler” tracks, Freeway Mad, Machine Gun and Street Fighting Gang.

Saxon would continue an uphill climb that would temporarily put them at the top of the NWOBHM pack.  Wheels of Steel  is the beginning of that climb and an all-time great record.