JAG’s Albums of the Year (30 Years Ago)

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1984 was a great year for heavy metal and rock music in general. I’m come here, from thirty years in the past, to give you ten loud examples why. (Also see: midlife crisis.)

Accept – Balls to the Wall

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Technically Balls to the Wall was a late-1983 release in Accept’s homeland of Deutschland. Here in the States, however, it was released in early 1984 by it’s North American distributor Portrait Records. Accept’s fifth studio album solidified them as a major force in the world of heavy metal…and it’s a stone-cold classic that blows speakers to this day. The title track alone is a heavy metal anthem right up there with the likes of Metal Health. Not only is Balls to the Wall one of the best albums of 1984 it is one of the best heavy metal albums of all time.

W.A.S.P. – W.A.S.P.

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Yours truly owned this on cassette when it was released…and I knew of hardly anything heavier or nastier than W.A.S.P.’s self-titled debut  Just looking at the photos of Blackie Lawless, Chris Holmes, Tony Richards, and Randy Piper in the multi-panel J-card was enough to tell a young-JAG what he had in his hands. Playing the tape itself was a revelation. W.A.S.P. embodied the spirit of heavy metal in a way that few others of the era could…and they were the prime target for record-burning evangelical dickwads all over the U.S. Unlike many performers who sing and play an instrument, Blackie Lawless can do both live and still sound like a pro. His evil-rasp vocal style is immediately recognizable…and inimitable.

Quiet Riot – Condition Critical

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Known as the first heavy metal band to have an album chart at number one. Quiet Riot was also JAG’s first favorite band…and first ever concert in 1984. Condition Critical was for QR a critical faliure, but it was a worthy follow-up to 1983’s surpirse-Billboard-busting Metal Health. Chock full of party tunes…and yet another Slade-cover (Mama Weer All Crazee Now,) Condition Critical only moved a little over two million units…big disappointment, I guess. Career-wise it was all downhill from here for QR…but this album was nevertheless a great snapshot of them still at the top. Title track hits hard…turn it up.

Judas Priest – Defenders of the Faith

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I think I’m one of the few who thought Judas Priest’s 1982 album Screaming for Vengeance was mediocre even at its best. 1984’s Defenders of the Faith was, in my opinion, a true heavy metal masterpiece. I actually hate myself a little for not having an original pressing in my record collection. Essential traditional metal that holds up well three decades later. Anthems like The Sentinel are so metal that they can’t be out-metaled by any band of today…no matter how “brutal.”

Metallica – Ride the Lightning

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Before turning into a Load (of shit) in the nineties, Metallica pretty much ruled the eighties as the most formidable heavy metal band ever. My awareness of Ride the Lightning occurred sometime prior to the release of Master of Puppets in ‘86. I probably didn’t hear it until ’85 but I can’t be sure anymore. It doesn’t really matter what Metallica does these days…albums like Ride the Lightning can never be disrespected. Metallica made some of the greatest heavy metal albums ever put to 2 1/2 inch tape…Ride the Lightning is among the best of the very best ever.

Whitesnake – Slide It In

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Many people in The States weren’t even aware of Whitesnake’s existence prior to their self-titled 1987 album. Once a bluesy cock-rocking outfit, 1984’s Slide It In saw Whitesnake starting to slowly turn hair metal (especially so on the version released in the United States. John Sykes was brought in to overdub most of the guitar solos to make the album more marketable to a US audience.) Shit, I never even heard the original mix until recently. As a bloody Yank wanker, I still prefer the US-mix…but that’s what I’m used to. David Coverdale sure wrote an awful lot of songs about chasing poon but he was a terrific frontman with a distinctive voice. After seeing them open for Quiet Riot in ’84 I’ve been a believer ever since.

Dio – The Last in Line

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Who doesn’t like Dio? Get up and get the hell out right now. The Little Man with the Big Voice followed up his excellent solo-debut Holy Diver with the even better (IMO) The Last in Line. Not much needs to be said here. If you don’t own this album you are incredibly fucking wrong.

Iron Maiden – Powerslave

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…I think this was the first album my older brother ever bought and was likely my intro to Maiden. A sealed original pressing will run you at least $200 USD these days. Still worth it.

Van Halen – 1984

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Van Halen’s “MCMLXXXIV,” is probably one of my favorite summertime albums. Pretty much every song on here is designed to make someone feel good. And it does so for me to this very day.  VH kinda walked a thin (often blurry) line between hard rock and heavy metal. Sometimes they fit in better with Night Ranger and Aldo Nova than they did with most of the other bands in this post (and I’m ok with that.) Eddie’s pioneering guitar technique, in particular, is absolutely  quintessential to the history and evolution of heavy metal.

Slade – Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply

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(US/Japan release on left / Orig UK-World release on right)

This is admittedly an odd pick for me (over more metallic albums such as Scorpion’s Love at First Sting, Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry, Ratt’s Out of the Cellar, etc…) I was only familiar with a few songs off here as I never heard the entire album until much later. (K-Tel compilations, mix-tapes, dubbed tapes, etc. were the thing back then. Instant access to all of the music one wanted was a pipe-dream.) It was released the previous year in the UK and elsewhere, with a slightly different (better) track sequence and a couple different (better) songs, as The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome.” For some reason the North American and Japanese markets got the (inferior IMO) alternate version but I actually recommend the original; it opens with the barn burner “Slam the Hammer Down” and features the singles “Run Runaway” and “My Oh My.” Listen to Noddy Holder’s vocal delivery and compare it to the Slade-worshipping Kevin DuBrow’s…you’ll see why Quiet Riot did so many Slade covers. Eighties-Slade managed to stick to their original formula and sounded very much like a mature ’70s glam rock band in spite of the new decade. Essential listening.

There you have it: three decades have passed since these albums were released and there’s been a lot of great heavy metal since then. The genre has evolved and rock in general has seen the birth of a lot of new sub-genres and many stylistic changes. One thing that hasn’t changed is my love for heavy music…then and now. Heavy metal music belongs to every generation. (Don’t forget to tell me about all the Trve Real Metuhl™ shit I “forgot*” in the comments…the stuff you’d surely have been listening to, had you been around…and then evacuate my yard.)

*I’d have included Manowar’s excellent back-to-back 1984 records Hail to England and (especially) Sign of the Hammer but I honestly wasn’t listening to them at the time. My awareness of Manowar began with Fighting the World.

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