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A return to the early days of Saxon

By: Sjak

Together with Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, Saxon belongs to the biggest bands that have come out of the famous New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement and which even today are still very successful. Of course the bands sounded quite a bit rougher in their early days in comparison with today and in the case of Saxon that was shown most obviously on their first three albums. Record label BMG on March 30 will re-release precisely these albums in a very beautiful digi-pack version with lots of bonus material, which in my opinion makes it very worthwhile to add these to your personal collection, even if you already own the original versions.

band image


Saxon

The seed of what later was going to become the band Saxon was as a matter of fact already planted long before the start of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement, in the year 1974 to be exact when Peter Byford (at that time still as a bass player!) and guitar player Paul Quinn were jamming together in the band Coast. Both on a personal as well as a musical level these gentlemen had a real click and therefore they decided to start up a new band in 1976 called Son Of A Bitch, which especially in the local circuit got quite a following. Still they weren’t capable of creating a real break-through to a bigger audience and when drummer Pete Gill was introduced in 1977 they had to make the difficult decision to either call it a day or to try and increase the quality level to such an extent that they would be able to attract more people with their music. Luckily for the many current fans they decided to go for the latter option, but that certainly didn’t prove to be an easy road. First of all style-wise they had to make certain choices, because with their mix of Vardis-alike boogie rock and traditional metal they didn’t have the own identity yet that was needed to become really successful.

At the same time they decided to also drop the maybe somewhat offensive name Son Of A Bitch and to continue under the Saxon moniker. Completely unexpected in 1979 there was a French label called Carrere, which had a soft spot for this five-some and who provided them with the first record deal. That resulted a few months later in the eponymously entitled debut album ‘Saxon’, on which you could still clearly hear that they didn’t have a recognisable style yet and on which great metal tracks like ‘Backs To The Wall’ and (especially) ‘Stallions Of The Highway’ were alternated with more mainstream material like ‘Big Teaser’ and the two-part ‘Rainbow Theme’/’Frozen Rainbow’. Still quite a number of copies found their way to the upcoming crowd of metal fans and therefore Carrere decided to give the band the opportunity to record a second album. That record ‘Wheels Of Steel’ would provide the great break-through for Saxon and would really put them on the map.

The re-release of ‘Saxon’ of course contains the original album and is supplemented with the demo-recordings that they still had created under the Son Of A Bitch name and the Tommy Vance Friday Rock Show Session of February 15th 1980, as well as a couple of live-tunes from the August 16th 1980 Castle Donnington festival. Although you can still clearly hear that the band was looking for an own identity, the album showed that the band had lots of potential, which later would really lead to the well-deserved success.

Tracklist:

Original Album:
1. Rainbow Theme
2. Frozen Rainbow
3. Big Teaser
4. Judgement Day
5. Stallions Of The Highway
6. Backs To The Wall
7. Still Fit To Boogie
8. Militia Guard

Son Of A Bitch Demos – 1978:
9. Big Teaser
10. Stallions Of The Highway
11. Backs To The Wall
12. Rainbow Theme
13. Frozen Rainbow

Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show BBC Session 15th February 1980:
14. Backs To The Wall
15. Stallions Of The Highway
16. Motorcycle Man
17. Still Fit To Boogie
18. 747 (Strangers In The Night)
19. Judgement Day (Live B-side ‘Suzie Hold On’)

Live At The Monsters Of Rock Festival Castle Donnington 16th August 1980:
20. Still Fit To Boogie
21. Backs To The Wall
22. Stallions Of The Highway



Wheels Of Steel

The successor of ‘Saxon’, entitled ‘Wheels Of Steel’, was brought to market in the beginning of 1980 and would as said provide the real break-through for the band. On this album they had clearly chosen for no-nonsense heavy metal with a prominent role for the great guitar parts of the duo Graham ‘Oly’ Oliver and Paul ‘Blute’ Quinn, which even more than thirty-five years later still make a big impression with their brilliant riffs and lovely solos. Also the vocals of Peter ‘Biff’ Byford sounded more powerful than on the debut and this, combined with the much better song material, accounted for the fact that this record can be seen as a true classic in the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Tunes like ‘Motorcycle Man’, the somewhat more commercial sounding ‘747 (Strangers In The Night)’, the anthem ‘Wheels Of Steel’ and the very aggressive closing track ‘Machine Gun’ are nowadays still very well appreciated songs in the set list of this British five-some and have really stood the test of time.

Both the title track as well as ‘747 (Strangers In The Night)’ did very well as a single on the British islands and as such Saxon was rightfully seen as one of the prominent names within the at that time upcoming heavy metal movement. Still the second Saxon album doesn’t bring the consistent quality level that would be such an asset in their later career, because ‘See The Light Shining’, ‘Street Fighting Gang’ and the third, somewhat less successful single ‘Suzie Hold On’ certainly don’t possess the sheer class of the earlier mentioned tracks. That doesn’t take anything away from the fact that ‘Wheels Of Steel’ has provided the big break-through for Saxon and is an album that every metal fan should have in his collection.

This BMG re-release is supplemented with a number of demo-rehearsals from 1980 and a number of live-tracks from the August 16th 1980 Donnington festival, on which you can clearly hear that also on the stage they were becoming a real world-class act.

Tracklist:

Original Album:
1. Motorcycle Man
2. Stand Up And Be Counted
3. 747 (Strangers In The Night)
4. Wheels Of Steel
5. Freeway Mad
6. See The Light Shining
7. Street Fighting Gang
8. Suzie Hold On
9. Machine Gun

1980 Demo Rehearsals:
10. Suzie Hold On
11. Wheels Of Steel
12. Stallions Of The Highway (Live B-Side)

Live At The Monsters Of Rock Festival Castle Donnington 16th August 1980:
13. Motorcycle Man
14. Freeway Mad
15. Wheels Of Steel
16. 747 (Strangers In The Night)
17. Machine Gun



Strong Arm Of The Law

Despite of the fact that ‘Wheels Of Steel’ has provided the big break-through for Saxon their third album ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ is for me personally the best record in the long career of the band. Although ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ was already released six months after ‘Wheels Of Steel’, the album showed a more consistent quality level and they knew how to couple fantastic song material to the right dose of aggression and solid musicianship. That resulted in a number of fantastic tunes like ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’, title track ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ and the greatly built-up ‘Dallas 1PM’, but also the very underrated ‘To Hell And Back Again’ (which for me personally is one of the very best Saxon songs ever!) and ’20.000 Ft.’ sounded very impressive.

With respect to sales number the album didn’t do as well as ‘Wheels Of Steel’ and that might have been the consequence of the choice to only release one single with the title track. Another reason might be that ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ was released too soon after ‘Wheels Of Steel’ and that they couldn’t sufficiently promote the album with enough live dates. The exact cause will probably always remain guesswork, but the fact remains that for me ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ is and will remain the ultimate Saxon album, because the lovely combination of high-quality song material, the perfect execution thereof and the fantastic musicianship of the guys really make ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ another true classic within the genre.

As extra bonus material the April 25th 1982 BBC session is added as well as alternative versions of a number of ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ tracks and that certainly provides a big added value in comparison to the original album. Therefore lots of praise for BMG to re-release these first three Saxon albums and make them interesting enough to give even the people that have the original versions in their collection lots of reason to also get these newly released versions!

Tracklist:

Original Album:
1. Heavy Metal Thunder
2. To Hell And Back Again
3. Strong Arm Of The Law
4. Taking Your Chances
5. 20.000 Ft.
6. Hungry Years
7. Sixth Form Girls
8. Dallas 1 PM

Studio B15, BBC Session 25th April 1982:
9. 20.000 Ft.
10. Dallas 1 PM
11. The Eagle Has Landed
12. 747 (Strangers In The Night)

Alternative Versions:
13. To Hell And Back Again
14. 20.000 Ft. (Abbey Road Mix 2009)
15. Mandy (Early Version Of Sixth Form Girls)
16. Heavy Metal Thunder (Abbey Road Mix 2009)

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