Let’s face it, nothing beats good ol’ 80’s rock. Whether you’re cruising down the freeway
with the moon roof open in your 2002 Honda Accord with the top down in your convertible or just jamming in your friend’s garage with a 12 pack, the 80’s take of us back to a place where we feel serene, carefree or maybe just ready for a good party (or in the case of us born at the tail end of the 80’s, a time we would have loved to experience). Whatever the case is, 80’s rock will always hold a special place in our hearts. After all, without 80’s rock, most of us Generation Y Southern folks probably would have never been conceived and karaoke would be pointless! (I shudder to think of a dinky bar that does not have “don’t stop believing” in it’s set list).
In this list, I’m going to highlight 5 albums that are either super obscure treasures or albums by names you may have heard of that just don’t get much attention.
For full disclosure, some of these albums are rightfully classified as “NWOBHM” (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) yet have a sound that is more in line with what we generally call Hard Rock. Also, I will not be posting YouTube links to any of these albums due to piracy and DMCA concerns (links to where you can purchase the albums will be included though). Also, I steered away from making this a metal collection due to the fact that metal is usually a lot more complicated and for me personally, is harder to judge than just plain ol’ hard rock albums. So when you read, take the aforementioned into consideration.
Let’s get to it!
5. “Run For Cover” by Chinawhite (1984)
I first heard this album 4 years ago while exploring numerous NWOBHM acts and instantly fell in love with it. The album follows a simple formula; low-fi party rock laden with addictive hooks, catchy guitar riffs and the occasional occasional synthesizer/keyboard compliment (such as the case of track number 5 – “The Operator”).
I don’t know too much about Chinawhite but according to Encyclopaedia Metallum they were originally founded in Sheffield, England in 1981 under the name “No Escape.” They released two albums; an EP entitled “Blood On The Streets” (1983) and “Run For Cover” (1984). As of today, they are inactive but I don’t know when they split up. You can find more about them on the enclosed link to Encyclopaedia Metallum.
“Run For Cover” to me is the perfect embodiment 80’s party rock and it’s rather unapologetic about it. Every 80’s party rock cliche you can imagine is lovingly included in their tracks from fighting to partying to walking the streets looking for tail! In fact, my favorite track is track number 4, “Lookin’ for Action”, which is a no frills track that blatantly talks about the latter. The chorus of “Lookin’ for Action”, in case you’re curious, is the following:
“Lookin’ for love (lookin’ for love) out in the hot night. . .I’m looking for action!”
While not the most poetic chorus one could write, it’s quite fun to sing along to.
The most charming aspect of this album to me though is its feel. The feel of the album is something that I would personally describe as “Troma Rock” or “80’s B-Movie Rock” because the feelings it invokes are the same feelings that such movies as The Toxic Avenger and the Angel series do, largely due to that genre of film containing similar sounding music. When I listen to this album, part of me can’t help but to envision long, drawn out and poorly produced fight scenes in dark alleys or the protagonist of a B-movie amping himself up to take on the world.
I also included this album because it captures the essence of the carefree and decadent 80’s perfectly, yet among a sea of similar efforts, it’s never talked about largely because it is so obscure. While I’ll allow that there is little originality to the album, I find it to be so damn enjoyable simply due to the fact that’s it’s catchy as hell.
A review of can be found here on Encyclopaedia Metallium by DeathRiderDoom (albeit weren’t struck the exact same way by the album).
Finding the album may be a bit of a task as it is pretty rare and you’ll probably have to import it. However, a quick Google search shows it is averaging around the €13-15 range ($14-16), with the lowest I’ve found being €12.99.
4. “Zero Four One” by Glasgow (1987)
Another entry from the NWOBHM genre that screams 80’s melodic hard rock and for good reason. While Glasgow’s “Secrets in the Dark” is less suitable for the “party rock” typecasting that would better fit a band like Chinawhite, their sound incorporates a lot of different elements to it from nice (even deep at times) lyrics, good storytelling, terrific instrumental variety and crisp delivery. It’s terrifically produced as well, which can be a rarity for obscure rock/metal.
According to Glasband 80, a website devoted to the Glasgow, Scotland Pub Rock scene in the 80’s, Glasgow was originally named “Wildcat” but changed their named after an epiphany of sorts. Neil Russell, the band’s bassist, changed the name to Glasgow to fit the maxim of the era, probably thinking along the same lines as bands like Chicago and Boston.
The best way to describe this album would be one part Journey with one part Whitesnake with elements of Deep Purple’s “Perfect Strangers” and Van Halen-esque energy thrown into mix. Much like Chinawhite’s “Run For Cover”, there’s nothing really new under the sun with this entry, but for what it was (80’s era pop-metal) it does the job perfectly (perhaps even better than some the better known rock albums of its day).
“Zero-Four-One” only boasts 8 tracks, but it has a fairly long runtime of 41 minutes (giving it an average of 5:12 per track) and most of the tracks are dramatic from start-to-finish. The latter to some may actually be a turn off, given that some of the tracks are really drawn out with long guitar solos and borderline exhaustive vocal holds. I, however, find the tracks riveting enough to hold my attention.
My personal favorites on this album are “Secrets in the Dark” and “Running With The Night”, which admittedly have a similar feel but I find the tasteful and haunting keyboard in “Running With The Night” to be irresistible.
An original pressing of Glasgow’s “Zero Four One” is a very rare find (rarer than Chinawhite’s “Run For Cover”), but if you don’t mind shelling out a fistful of dollars ($38-80) you can try your luck on Ebay. As of the time of writing (December 2016) it is currently unavailable on Amazon.
3. “You Make The Heat” by The Producers (1982)
Before I even start with this one, I want to specify three things:
1.) I’m partially biased because these guys are from the great state of Georgia (like your’s truly).
2.) This album is more bubble gum than Bazooka Joe.
3.) I admittedly have the urge to rock a pair of Zubaz and secretly wish I was C. Thomas Howell whenever I listen to this album (no clue why. . .I just do).
While mentioning the band usually draws a “who are they?” or the classic “Hmmm. . .they sound familiar. . .what did they sing?” response from most, their most popular hit, “She Sheila”, is one that many have at least heard in passing. “She Sheila” just happens to be on this album and while it’s definitely my favorite track, there are others such as “Operation” and “Dear John” that are more than worthy of checking out.
What can I say? If you’re looking for a testosterone fueled rock album that will inspire you to fight your crush’s boyfriend, then this one isn’t for you. It’s not that gritty, attitude driven rock that you’d hear from the likes of Billy Idol or Nazareth. It does, however, feature a good bit of variety and a fun, catchy, pop rock sound. Within “You Make The Heat” you’ll hear different types of influences from good ol’ fashioned rock to new wave and even ska-like rythym at times. Instrumentally you’ll probably notice hints of Rush (especially the guitar riffs and bass), The Knack, The Police and The Talking Heads depending on which track you listen to. Also, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably find vocalist Van Temple’s voice to be quite palatable, especially in combination with the backup vocals of Bryan Holmes and Kyle Henderson.
At first I was a bit hesitant to put this album on the list, but due simply to the fact that I rarely hear anyone talk about it (nor come across many people who remember the album), I thought it would only be appropriate to include it on a Top 5 style list of obscure rock albums. Given the quality of the album and the fact that it produced a Billboard Top 100 Hit (“She Sheila” which peaked at 48), I’m actually quite shocked that I rarely come across people who’ve heard it.
Luckily for this entry, scoring a copy of the album isn’t hard at all. You can find it on Amazon in its entirety for $6.99 in MP3 format and it is listed as low as $3 USD used! If you would like to preview each track before buying the album, just head on over to to the (unofficial) The Producers Website and give it a listen.
T-1. “Maximum Security” by Tony McAlpine
THIS. . .ALBUM. . .KICKS. . .ASS!
I first heard Tony McAlpine when I was about 16 years old. At the time, I was a huge fan of Japanese Pro Wrestling and there was a wrestler by the name of Shoji Nakamaki who used Tony McApline’s track “Autumn Lords” as his theme music. Honestly though, I didn’t know too much about Tony McAlpine at the time nor did I have any clue that he was an accomplished and incredibly taltented musician. That all changed when about 2 years later, when at 18 years old I found this album while rummaging through a $.50 cassette tape basket at a local thrift store. Upon popping it into the cassette deck, I was instantly able to see that McAlpine was more than just “that dude that made Nakamaki’s theme song” as I had thought in the years before that.
This album was some what of a “gateway drug” for me into the niche of “Savant Rock” as I like to call it, a genre comprised of such artists as Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Michael Angelo Batio and a slew of others who can play guitar quicker than The Clintons can cash a Saudi check. “Savant Rock” is usually a niche that only guitar/instrumental enthusiasts flock to though because of it’s technicality and lack of catchy hooks. However, even as a mediocre/casual bass player I can respect the quality of these artists and for the sake of this list, McAlpine in particular.
Everything you could imagine in an instrumental rock album is here – from incredible guitar riffs and solos to exquisite execution of the surrounding instruments. Impressively, McAlpine is a jack of all trades on this album providing guitar, bass and keyboard, but that’s not to exclude some brilliant cameo appearances by other accomplished artists: Guitarists George Lynch (of Dokken fame) and Jeff Watson (Night Ranger) as well drummer Deen Castronovo (who’s played with a laundry list of bands) lend their talents to different tracks of Maximum Security, providing yet more depth to an already profound album.
There’s really nothing to nitpick about this album, but if you’re craving party rock or something with a lot of catchy hooks and choruses or exquisite lyric writing, this album is probably not one that will tickle your fancy (note: INSTRUMENTAL). Vocals are about as common on this album as an air conditioner in Norilsk and it’s best digested without distractions, so outside of a chill get together with a handful of buds I don’t think it’s conducive to a party.
It’s worth noting that unlike the other albums on this list, I cannot pinpoint a particular track for you to check out nor even a handful of tracks to check out because everything on this album is sweeter than yoo-hoo (to steal a line from Kingpin). Ultimately, this was one of the deciding factors in having this album tied for first place, as I couldn’t find a single track that the listener could live without. Every single piece fits in place and when enjoyed in a single listen through, you can see how they all come together and provide a great experience.
If you would like to snag a copy of “Maximum Security”, it’s not hard to find. It’s available at a steal on Amazon for $5.99 (MP3) or $7.93 (CD). Whichever format you decide to choose is up to you but JUST BUY THE DAMN THING ALREADY! IF YOU DON’T WE WILL ALL PERISH IN FLAMES FROM THE WRATH OF THE ROCK GODS!
Ok, I digress.
Seriously though, it’s an amazing treat for even the most ardent rock lover and a brilliant display of technicality so I seriously recommend giving it a listen. A quick google search of reviews will show that I’m not alone in this sentiment as there are a slew of 4.5/5 and 9/10 ratings out there to support the case.
T-1. “Against All Odds” by Quartz (1983)
According to the band’s Wikipedia page, Quartz first debuted in 1974 under the name “Bandy Legs” before changing it to the much less Disney Channel sounding Quartz in 1977. They enjoyed a fair bit of success in the late 70’s and early 80’s in England, releasing three albums before disbanding in 1983 before reuniting with a new lead singer in 2011.
The first thing I want to comment on is the fact that the cover art on this album kicks ass. Yes, I know that sci-fi themed albums were en vogue at the time, but that doesn’t make this album cover any less awesome. To the album cover is more 80’s than Hulk Hogan in an American Flag Speedo chugging a case of Tab. Not only does it give you the impression that it’s an awesome album, it also gives you an incredible desire to play Asteroids, which leads me to believe that Quartz may have been marketing plants for Atari.
*tightens tin-foil hat*
Anyways. . .
If you’re a huge fan of hard rock, this album contains all of your recommended daily allowance of grinding guitar riffs, songwriting, variety and melodic vocals. You can easily find traces of such bands as Deep Purple, Styx, The Sweet and Black Sabbath contained within this album, but the combination of all of these influences makes it distinguishable from any one in particular. In fact, an interesting aspect of this album is the way many of the tracks tread back and forth between hard rock and metal. Unlike some of artists of the time, they seemingly were non-commital in terms of their sound, opting instead to remain in “Rock Limbo” than conform to one niche or another. A great example of this is track #2 entitled “Madman”, which blurs the line of hard rock and metal by switching from grinding guitar to power rock leads frequently, teasing the listener into staying attentive. Other tracks have similar teasing as well, with some even opting for an anachronist feel, the likes of which you would’ve heard 10 years before this album.
The variety of this album is one I cannot stress enough as they are able to evoke an array of moods ranging from rock-out-with-your-cock-out (“Madman”) to bluesey (“Tell Me Why”) to downright haunting (“Avalon” and “Buried Alive”). There’s really no monotony in the album and much like McAlpine’s “Maximum Security” (which this album is tied with) there are really no throwaway or fillers to mention either.
Perhaps the most charming aspect of this entry is how every song feels familiar. When you listen to the album even for the first time, you’ll swear that you’ve heard it before yet you’ll know that you never did. In fact the first time I ever listened to it, my first thought was “This had to have been a huge hit.” Well, my first thought was wrong as this album is usually only featured in the depths of obscure metal and rock boards, with no popular mention whatsoever. Hopefully with this entry I can retroactively correct this grave historical injustice and make it a hit (among my 20 or so readers at least!).
Adding the album to your collection shouldn’t be too much of a task as you can find the album on Amazon at a steal – about $19. It’s definitely worth checking out.
For a more in depth write up of the album, check out DeathRiderDoom’s review on Encyclopaedia Metallum, as he sums up the album quite brilliantly and goes into a lot more detail than I ever could in this article.
There you have it, my picks for Top 5 Albums You’ve Probably Never Heard. Drop me a comment and let me know your feedback. Are there any that I missed? Leaved your thoughts below!
– The Damn Messenger