With this post we start a new series, that focuses on specific years in the history of melodic hard rock.
For each year there will be two sections. One for the albums that made it big. These ‘essential’ albums, in the sense that aspirant fans should know them, are the high roads of rock history. The second section will cover albums that should have made it big on the basis of their quality, but didn’t. These albums, that clearly deserve a wider audience, present the roads less travelled. This section will bring you music that remained hidden for too long. You’re guaranteed to be surprised with some stunning melodies.
In this post the first part of section 1, the essential albums of 1980.
Episode 1: The Next Step for some Established Bands
At the end of the 1970s quite few bands already had established themselves as main representatives of the hard rock. Some had their big commercial breakthrough in 1980, which paved the way for Heavy Metal and Arena Rock.
In 1980 AC/DC had just lost their charismatic frontman Bon Scott. Their next album Back In Black, with new singer Brian Johnson, is a classic hard rock album that became one of the best-selling albums of all time. It was also critically appraised in the main press (Rolling Stone, The Guardian, All Music Guide), which wasn’t that common at the time. However, opinions usually follow the money very quickly, which stresses the need for an extra value system that can act a countervailing power to market considerations. But that a different story, where our second section, with less known albums that should have made it big, moves in. Anyway, the reception of public and critics of this album stressed that heavy rock really was here to stay. More about it can be found in this track-by-track review and this article about ‘10 things you might not know about the album‘.
Another firmly established act, Black Sabbath, had already shown traditional blues inspired heavy rock new directions, especially with their classic 1970 album Paranoid, a paradigm shift in the history of rock. Like AC/DC they also had a new singer in 1980 when Ozzy Osbourne was replaced by Ronnie James Dio, who’s now generally regarded as one of the best heavy metal singers of all time. The pairing of Dio and main man Tony Iommi was a match made in heaven. Not unjustly, some have stated that the band should’ve changed their name (as they later actually did) because it became a totally different beast. Anyway, the two utterly brilliant albums this formation came up with in the early 80s remain among their best work, with Heaven And Hell firm atop. Read more at: Encyclopaedia Metallum, Metal Storm, Drowned In Sound and an article by Martin Leedham.
Judas Priest‘s 6th album British Steel has fantastic art work and a classic opening song, Breaking The Law (read a painstakingly analysis of the clip here). British metal at its finest for sure, complete with early metal’s defining twin guitar attack and metal god Rob Halford, far before he could think of revealing his secret (Much has changed since. Has it?). They fitted in very well with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM, more about that in the next episode) that arrived at the world’s shores at that time. But they were already around since the beginning of the 1970’s. With the more simplified and heavy sound of this album the band hit the commercial jackpot without selling out artistically (although the BBC doesn’t seem to have made up its mind on this yet, or al least has changed its for the better: 2007 vs 2010). Read more about it in the reviews of Blabbermouth, All Music Guide, Pop Matters, Classic Rock Review, Ultimate Classic Rock and Edge of the World.
The last essential album of an established band we cover here is AOR (a brief overview of this genre can be read here) band REO Speedwagon‘s 9th album Hi Infidelty. By 1980 this band could almost be considered somewhat of a rock dinosaur already, given the fact that they started out as early as 1967. However, this didn’t seem to bothrt to the record buying public because this is their commercial breakthrough album that spanned four US top 40 hits and turned out to be their best selling album. That can be contributed totally to the quality of the goods they deliver. Read more about it in reviews of All Music Guide, Vintage Rock, Icon Fetch, the Rolling Stone interview had with the band in 1981 and Steven Hyden’s well written article about the album.
In the next episode of The year 1980 in Rock History: Essential Albums we’ll look in more detail at some NWOBH albums that saw the light of day in this year. A year that proofs to be quitessential in the transition of blues based hard rock to heavy metal and 1980s arena rock.