Lizzy, Maiden, Priest, Leppard. Growing up with British Heavy Metal was one of the benefits of being a child of the 70s & 80s in Britain. Metal, make Britain great again!
LIVING AFTER BRITISH METAL
There were a couple of good things about growing up in the late 70s and 80s in northern Britain. One of those is British Metal. The other one will come to me if I think about it long enough. Being a northern metal fan was something a bit special - a tribal thing that has more or less disappeared now.
I was never a fully paid-up member of the tribe to be honest. I was far too young, but it was something to aspire to. Back in those days, metal was very much part of the mainstream. The charts blended the usual pop, soul (including the leftovers of Motown), punk of course, and metal. Much more metal tunes charted back then, I guess because a lot of it was good, melodic tuneage when it comes right down to it. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon and Thin Lizzy would all be regulars in the UK Top 20, and would be featured on all the daytime radio shows.
I remember the vinyl singles I bought, in particular Rainbow’s hit I Surrender (though that was actually sung not by Brit Graham Bonnet, but New Jersey born Joe Lynn Turner (who looked very cool in the video). The track is included here along with a classic Bonnet-led number of course.
My first ever proper gig was very metal too. Ozzy Osbourne (with the LA glam rockers Ratt as support) playing his home town Birmingham, at the time of Shot In The Dark (featured on this list with a couple of other Ozzy cuts). An exemplar of how to bring melody into metal, you can usually hear Beatles influences in most Ozzy tracks - for example No More Tears. His guitar player at that time was the virtuoso Jake E. Lee - another American. One of the thrills of the scene in the 80s was all of these charismatic, hell-raising guitar players, many of whom were breaking new ground in terms of what you could do with an axe.
Among this playlist is some truly impressive musicianship, none less than the twin guitars of Lizzy (Jailbreak, from the golden era of Brian Robertson & Scott Gorham, and two subsequent combinations: Scott with Snowy White (as Lizzy ventured heavier with the Renegade album), and then Scott again as ballast to the virtuoso John Sykes). Gorham was ever the constant, yet often lower-key partner in the revolving door Lizzy line-ups. Somewhat ironically, he ended up playing virtually all of the lead work on Bad Reputation, which is my favourite Lizzy album and fine specimen of a melodic metal record from this golden period.
Meanwhile Robertson, after one of many fallouts with Phil Lynott, left Lizzy to join Motorhead, of all bands, in 1982. The result was just one album: “Another Perfect Day” which is the only Motorhead album I’m familiar with, and featured an hilarious cartoon sleeve whereby ‘Robbo’ attempted to teach Lemmy and Phil ‘Animal’ Taylor minor 7th chords and Arpeggios. It’s Motorhead’s ‘musical’ album, or as close as they’ll ever come to making such a thing.
John Sykes became an obsession for me, though. Not only was he an extraordinarily thrilling player, but he was a good looking dude who wore cool clothes - drainpipe black leather trousers and converse shoes, always with shirt sleeves rolled up to reveal the bulging veins in his wrists as he played - fast and furious. Coolest of all were Sykes’s flowing blonde locks, which signalled him literally as the golden boy of the genre - at least for a short time. After a one-album career with Lizzy, Sykes joined David Coverdale’s Whitesnake, and rocked up their sound considerably - choice cuts from that collaboration are included here too. Sadly, Coverdale fired that line up in one fell swoop including Sykes, so noone ever saw him play live with the band.
With Lizzy, Sykes was recruited in for the last album outing Thunder & Lightening in 1981, as Lizzy ventured heavier still. It’s an album I still play a lot now - a fantastically listenable metal record that many hardcore fans continue to campaign for a remix - as the original production didn’t quite do the record full justice. I hope that happens.
Look at some of the other players featured: Iron Maiden’s magnificent guitar pairing of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Judas Priest’s long-term twin leads Glenn Tipton & K. K. Downing. Between them there are some great riffs and solos, and some banging tunes.
Now, I know that ACDC will have the purists among you raging that they are in fact an Aussie band, but Bryan Johnson is a Scot, so they’ve been co-opted onto this list - not least because along with the above mentioned bands, they seem an integral part of the hard rock scene in British music throughout the period, and indeed, still now. It’s incredible just how ACDC have continued to thrive and find an evergreen fan base. And of all bands here, as proven with the Iron Man movies, their music is so very soundtrack friendly.
In fact, amazingly and against the odds when you weigh it up, almost all of the bands featured on this list are still going, some even enjoying a real resurgence way beyond nostalgia trends. And so watch out for the companion playlist later with some more modern cuts.
Playback notes: The playlist starts with a track in which bar chords could not sound any punchier. What rolls from there are certified classics, followed by a round of other slightly later period bangers by the same bands. And we go around one more time with some ever so slightly deeper cuts. The playlist has been carefully sequenced vaguely (only vaguely) chronological. So best played in order, but it works great on shuffle too - especially in the gym or the car.
Sadly a few RIPs: Lemmy, Lynott, Gary Moore, Randy Rhoades, Steve Clarke and maybe some others I’ve missed. Talk about being immortal though, proof it can be done.