Given that Thunder, my most favouritest band… EVER are to split up in the summer after one last final tour, I figured I would pay tribute to them in my own little way. I’m going to take a look back over their 20 odd years together and review their studio albums for your (and my own) pleasure.
Where better to start than at the very beginning?
BACKSTREET SYMPHONY (1990)
From the ashes of Terraplane came Thunder, and EMI released their debut record in 1990. Now, even given that I’m slightly (ha!) biased towards the band, this to me remains one of the finest ever debut records by a rock band, right up there with Van Halen and Led Zeppelin. Seriously, folks!
The record opens with She’s So Fine, and it sets the tone, not just for the record, but for the band’s entire career. An almighty opening riff courtesy of Luke Morely – the writing force behind the band – kicks things off and sets up the introduction of the best kept secret in rock music – the incredible voice of Danny Bowes. Now, by no means are the rest of the band any slouches either, but Danny’s voice is just a thing of beauty, especially on this record.
Second track in, and we’re into classic territory already. For my money, there are 3 genuine classic rock songs on this record – Dirty Love is the first. A tale of love gone wrong, and not in the usual way, it’s very much a song to be played if your relationship went badly wrong… but most of all it’s nigh on perfect and probably sums up the Thunder live experience like no other song in their repertoire. Still the finalé to their gigs to this very day, it makes you want to move your feet and sing along to the “na na naaa, na na na naa” parts. And yes, that’s a technical term.
Slowing things down slightly comes Don’t Wait For Me, a ballad given extra depth with the addition of Ben Matthews and his organ. Hammond organ, that is, you filthy minded buggers! Again, not a mind blowing choice of subject, but most great rock songs are about love in some form. Danny’s vocals again just blow the speakers out, and Luke’s solo is amazing.
Higher Ground would be regarded as a high point on any other record, but the strength of this album is such that it’s not even regarded as one of the classic tracks on here by many people, me included! Don’t get me wrong, it is truly an awesome song, and to be honest, means a lot to me for various reasons I’m not going into here! On their first ccompilation record, this would be slightly rejigged as Higher Ground ’95, but this remains the definitive version for me.
Showcasing Luke’s songwriting skills next comes Until My Dying Day. Using the now familiar acoustic-into-electric formula that Thunder have perfected, this is another example of the power ballad style that Thunder have done as well as anyone over the past 19 years. Another supreme song and just shows how hot they were during the making of this record.
Things kick up another notch with the second genuine classic on this album – the title track Backstreet Symphony. Words can’t express how awesome this song is live, despite Danny’s tendencies to attempt to row with his mic stand. This to me remains the single greatest riff Luke ever committed to record, and one of Danny’s finest vocal performances. A song made to perfect your air guitar moves!
How do you follow that? With Love Walked In, that’s how. If any band today released this as their own song, they’d be hailed as geniuses. You’ll find this song popping up on rock compilation albums right up to this very day. This, my friends, is one of the finest, most carefully crafted, beautifully executed songs you will ever hear. Seriously, this is just a stone cold classic. Hasn’t aged and sounds as good today as it did all those years ago.
By contrast, An Englishman On Holiday can best be described as a decent middle of the road song. It’s decent enough and still delivers some fine riffing, but suffers from the high quality of the rest of this record. The ‘Here We Go’ singalong at the end still raises a smile though!
As we approach the end of the album, Girl’s Going Out Of Her Head comes and goes. Again, on any other album, by any other band, this would be a stand out track… it does kind of get lost in the mix here though. Probably the weakest song on the record for me.
Ah, and the intensity is kicked back up a notch with a great choice of cover – the old Spencer Davis Group rocker Gimme Some Lovin’ and it still remains a favourite of fans to this day. Hey, it’s not ground breaking or innovative, but rock music doesn’t have to be. It’s sometimes just about having a good time… and this song delivers that in spades.
Last song on the record is Distant Thunder and I have to say, this song does tend to be dismissed, but it’s one of my favourites. I think it’s got a great contemporary blues feel to it, and as per usual, Danny delivers the goods with the vocals. By no means a filler to close out the album, or a cheap gimmick to work the band name into a song.
All in all, this album still sounds great and relevant today. Only one track for me strays into filler territory and even that is very listenable. This is just such a great rock record, and for my money hasn’t aged one little bit. A stupendous debut record, and one that Thunder would struggle to top. Some would say they never really did, but we’ll get to that over the next few weeks…
To sum up, if you don’t own this record, why not? It’s right up there with the classics and remains one of the best records ever to come out of Britain. An absolute must have.