Albums of my life #1
Albums shape a lifelong love of music. My daughter has one favourite album that she plays almost non-stop.
And so it was for me when I was a teenager.
Back in those days, it was popular to tape your vinyl albums onto tape, and typically it was pick-and-mix as to what went onto each tape. A C-90 (I favoured the TDK ADX, but they did not appear until the nineties) would normally hold two albums (45 minutes on each side). I was lucky that Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell” ( I really should sort out my Amazon associate links to earn from the dozens of viewers/readers I have) combined with Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” on the same tape. For one hot summer (and the following autumn, and sporadically afterwards,) this was my musical poison. I’m sure that I didn’t get these albums until the early eighties, as they were released in 1976 and 1977 respectively, but they ended up on the same tape, sometime in the early eighties.
For a young lad living in central Scotland, these were, to a great extent, the taste of something foreign, exotic, and unattainable. Thin Lizzy were big in the USA, and wrote of it. Songs like “The Boys are Back in Town” spoke of a freedom (I was not yet a teenager) that couldn’t even think about. Similarly, Meat Loaf sang about girls, getting to the fourth base, breathless nights, and so on, with a similar effect on me.
Musically, Bat Out of Hell is outstanding. Much of it is shaped by songwriter im Steinman’s piano and Todd Rundgren’s guitar, and the production allows them space to flourish and (especially in Rundgren’s case) show off. I’m pretty sure that no album of that time sounded like this one, it was a true ground breaker, and I’m also sue that they set a precedent of power-rock followed by power-ballad that is still emulated today, influencing bands such as Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and Guns ‘n’ Roses.
Musically, the Thin Lizzy album was a revelation to me. I’d grown up on punk (distorted guitars) and then onto heavy metal (distorted guitars). It was strange to find the clean and intricate guitars of Gorham and Robertson counterposed with distorted riffs, clean reverb-tinged solos and (shock) space for the rest of the song to breathe. Songs like “Angel From the Coast” and “Romeo and the Loney Girl” show this. Of course, the Meat Loaf album also left space, but the piano is a semi-percusive instrument that tends to fill space, and, of course, requires a rhythm to drive it. And remember that I heard all this through the ears of a wannabe guitarist. Even today I realise that these albums, especially the Thin Lizzy one, remind me that there’s more than one way to make a great song, and subtlety is an important tool. I hope that the current production mores, where the sound is compressed to fill all space, resulting in *everything* sounding good, and yet leaving the listener tired after an hour or so, will pass, and we will once again learn to listen to a huge dynamic range and enjoy what the composers and producers intended us to hear, instead of mastering an album to compete with ever other “in your face” mix that abounds.
Both albums have their hits, of course, I’m not backing losers here, even though 30-35 years have passed. Two of Thin Lizzy’s most memorable songs, “The Boys are Back in Town” and “Cowboy Song”, plus, of course, the concert favourite “Emerald,” featuring duelling guitars are on this album. The trademark harmony guitars are in evidence, of course.
“Bat Out Of Hell” spawned singles too – in fact, according to Wikipedia, just about every track was a single, somewhere. Most did not make the top ten, as the singles were not radio-friendly (back in those days, at least, they were not radio freindly; I’m sure they helped to mold the consequent radio-friendly Bon Jovi/G’n’R/Starship type of radio-oriented rock that we get nowadays, and if released again, would all hit the charts hard).
When I listen to these albums now, I’m transported back to my carefree (in retrospect) youth, my easily excited early-teen stage. I can still recall the smells, sights and sounds of that first summer I spent with these albums, falling asleep to the cassettes waking up and switching them back on, and I am reminded of many other memories that are linked to that time – Tom Russel’s Rock Show on Radio Clyde, Tommy Vance on the Friday Rock Show, seeing great bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden, time spent with my friends in their houses, listening to music, driving around in their cars, and many, many more.