Saxon – Strong Arm of the Law

Saxon - Strong Arm of the Law (1980)
Saxon – Strong Arm of the Law (1980)

It’s a pretty big deal for a band to land a hit album and an even bigger deal for a hairy-arsed Heavy Metal band to land some hit singles. But Heavy Metal was a big deal in 1980 and that’s exactly what Saxon did with Wheels of Steel, their second studio album. Keen to capitalise on their success and to keep the band in the public eye while they (and Heavy Metal) were “hot”, the band’s managers rushed Saxon back into the studio to write and record the follow-up Strong Arm of the Law. It was released in the UK only four months after its predecessor.

What could have been a rush-job recipe for disaster turned out to be a masterstroke. The enforced haste of the album’s creation meant Strong Arm of the Law would be a no-frills affair, crackling with street-level energy and vitality: exactly what the Metal-loving public of 1980 wanted to hear. The opening peal of thunder is one of the few production flourishes on an album that is as bare-boned as it gets. Heavy Metal Thunder is a blazing opener, the atmosphere of a Metal gig expressed in song. “Pull your heads back, hold your hands high, shake your body”. Most of the album follows in this pedal-to-the-Metal vein: 20,000ft is relentlessly kinetic (even if the feet to miles conversion is a bit suspect), To Hell and Back Again alternates melodic verses with a fierce, charging chorus, Taking No Chances has a big Dick Dale open string chug, irresistible blocky chords and a snotty vocal from Biff Byford. It was recorded in a hurry and the band sound like they are wasting no time. This album does not hang about.

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Most of the songs charge by in breathless chunky rhythms or, like the title-track and Hungry Years, rely on shuffling Blues riffs. There are very few Wheels of Steel-style money riffs and there’s little of the compositional sophistication evident in past tracks like 747(Strangers in the Night). And while the ideas and songwriting could be considered spartan in comparison to Wheels of Steel, the steamrollering performance and Biff Byford’s vocal hooks obliterate any such doubts and sell the album in remarkable fashion.

The album’s most triumphant compositions are saved for the end. Sixth Form Girls is a working-class vignette with a fat, bouncy riff and more intelligent lyrics than the title would suggest and Dallas 1PM ends the album with its true classic: the tale of JFK’s assassination begins with a tense, Faith Healer-esque intro before opening out with ringing AC/DC chords and climaxing with another of the album’s rare production touches as the haunting clean notes and radio reports build into a scorching guitar solo from Graham Oliver. A breathless conclusion to a blast of an album.

With their third album Saxon continued their run of success, performing an incredible feat by releasing two albums this good in the space of a year. It’s hard to separate them. Wheels of Steel has the hits and the flair but Strong Arm of the Law hangs together as a more consistent, more lovable album: Saxon at the top of their game and brimming with confidence. The label decided to name the album after its lead single but, before that, it was going to be called Heavy Metal Thunder. It’s such a shame they went with the other title as Heavy Metal Thunder would have been perfect for this. It’s exactly what you get here. Heavy Metal Thunder. And if that doesn’t make you want to run out and buy it right now then this is not the blog for you.

[Saxon – Dallas 1PM]

My personal copy!
My personal copy!
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67 thoughts on “Saxon – Strong Arm of the Law”

  1. Damn! So this is not the blog for me then? Curses!

    Actually I bought this last year and you’re right it is ace. The title track is the one for me – over and over again. Plus I love the cover!

    Not sure about Sixth Form Girls in our post-Operation Yewtree days!

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    1. No. The blog for you is Mrs Ladano’s Favourites! Hie thee there this instant!

      I would probably mistrust anyone that didn’t like this. And Sixth Form Girls just sneaks a pass cause it’s the titular girls that are the instigators. Not the dudes for once.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re in for a treat then. I’m almost as excited about seeing them as I am Saxon. Both their albums have been brilliant and they look like they’ll put on a great show too. It’s cool when the support act is actually worth seeing!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Stop! Get Out We Are The Strong Arm Of The Law!…great review buddy did not know about the rush release on this and they pulled it off!
    I still remember hearing Dallas 1pm for the first time and actually I guess u could say Saxon was the first band to ever sample another audio source(JFK )onto there track …..these guys were the pioneers of sampling !!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha maybe they were! Hadn’t really thought about that Deke. Wonder if anyone else had any thoughts on that? It’s a really cool moment of the album. Listening to it recently, it brought Master of Puppets to mind. The clean part and build up… Maybe there was a Saxon influence in there?

      Also, was there a song with “Heavy Metal” in the song title before “Heavy Metal Thunder”?

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      1. Well I’m not sure. Just wondering what might have been the first song to have the phrase Heavy Metal in the title. I think this might have just pipped the film and Sammy Hagar by a year or so, what do you reckon?

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      2. Yeah I think the movie came out in 81 or maybe 80 cuz Sabbath had Mob Rules on it and there Mob Rules album came out in 81 as well…..by the way great layout with the Saxon cd!

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      3. “Just wondering what might have been the first song to have the phrase Heavy Metal in the title. “

        Not in the title, but I think the first rock reference to “heavy metal” is Steppenwolf’s “heavy metal thunder” in “Born to Be Wild”. Of course, the song itself is (hard) rock but not heavy metal. (The question of the first heavy-metal song is a different one. Early contenders like “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks (leave now if you thought it was a Van Halen original) have some but not all of the aspects. Maybe something (everything?) on the first Sabbath album?

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      4. “Just wondering what might have been the first song to have the phrase Heavy Metal in the title. “

        Not in the title, but I think the first rock reference to “heavy metal” is Steppenwolf’s “heavy metal thunder” in “Born to Be Wild”. Of course, the song itself is (hard) rock but not heavy metal. (The question of the first heavy-metal song is a different one. Early contenders like “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks (leave now if you thought it was a Van Halen original) have some but not all of the aspects. Maybe something (everything?) on the first Sabbath album?
        .

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    2. I saw Saxon about a year ago (in a club with maybe 300 people) but was disappointed. I think Magnum (seen in the same club about the same time) were better! Being a recent Maiden convert, many said that Saxon were fellow NWOBHM folks so I should like them. But I don’t. I don’t like Def Leppard either. Nor Judas Priest.

      Maybe it is possible that the first 4 Saxon albums are good, and just the recent live show wasn’t, or maybe I don’t like any of their stuff. Will have to check out early studio albums.

      Basically, Saxon reminded me of Nazareth: I like hard rock (looking forward to Heep soon; recently seen Scorpions, Michael Schenker, Maiden, various little known and/or cover bands etc.) but they just don’t do it for me.

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      1. Hi Philip, fair enough. We can’t all like the same stuff I suppose. To be honest, Saxon did take many years to find their way into my listening. Maybe they’re an acquired taste? But at any rate, they have become one of my very favourite bands. These days I would probably rate them over all the bands you mentioned, even Maiden and Priest.

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  3. I want this. Because your excellent (as always) write-up A) told me I do, and B) it sounds like something I would want anyway! It’s available on our Amazons from a secondary sellers by the name of BonnieScotland (I hear she’s a beautiful lass) for very cheap. There’s very little reason for me to NOT get this.

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      1. I know – but waiting for parts is worse! It’s a 25 year old Technics hifi system love it but when something goes you have to wait and wait! Get a new hifi? I know I should but the sound on this one is fantastic! Even plays tapes – who would have guessed, lol!

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      2. Hehe my relic from days gone by! It actually came with the better-half and it’s killer if you want to play really loud music to piss off the neighbours. Yes, I do that – I can’t stand them.

        I’ve noticed turntables in some shops here but alas, the music stores don’t stock many records. Long life charity shops and pre-loved music stores!

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      3. Bonus discs are of course always welcome – do you get many extras with some new LP releases? As I’ve mentioned before new LPs aren’t easy to find then they are normal editions, bleg at sometimes double the price!

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  4. Not sure why they didnt hit bigger in the US. They were around but not real big??? I love their sound… music might not be as quality as others Priest, Sabbath, Def Leppard first 3 albums, Maiden…

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    1. It’ll probably become more apparent in later reviews but I think they just made lots of bad decisions. And it shouldn’t matter but they had a crap image, which in the 80s probably counted against them too.

      As far as quality of music I think they were ahead of Maiden and definitely Leppard in 1980… but maybe not for much longer!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ill buy that, although I love the sound and music on On Through the Night. Thanks for keeping Saxon on the front burners!…and Metal in general!

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    1. Thanks Mike! I’m a big fan of On Through the Night myself but it’s just not as fully formed as the Saxon albums from that period.

      But then, I think Maiden and Leppard were more innovative. Saxon always seemed a bit dated by comparison. Saxon always had to just get by on being “good”. They were never cutting-edge or star material.

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      1. All good points. I am not sure the singer has the same chops as the more popular bands..at least from what Ive heard…Been listening to Saxon the last few days since your blog its refreshing and takes me back to being 10,11,12, 13ish getting into metal…

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      2. That’s cool. Glad you’re enjoying it Mike. I understand what you mean about Biff’s vocal chops but I think he’s got a great voice, he delivers the songs. He’s the star player on the album I reviewed here that’s for sure. And his voice has agreed extremely well. Much better than some more renowned and well regarded singers I could mention!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I really wish I had these albums, before your series. Damn. Well Christmas IS coming. I’ll have to go back, and re-read after I get some albums. Damn you make this sound good. Why the fuck didn’t they catch on over here?

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    1. Yeah that would be great. I’d love to know your take on these. I review pretty slow so you’ve got plenty of time to catch up!

      See my chat with Mike S. I guess there’s lots of factors. Being good isn’t always enough. They made some bad decisions and had bad management.

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      1. You bet! I’ve taken that on as a catchphrase of late. Finger pointed skywards like Danger Mouse as I shout it out, too.

        Strangely enough I was chatting with a fella I work with today about my quest to buy a Saxon record and Wheels of Steel was his recommendation. I believe he used the words brilliant and really (not in that order). Also happens to be a wee record fair happening locally on Friday and Saturday, so I imagine shekels will be spent …

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      2. Excellent! Where’s the record fair this weekend? (I’ll stay out of its way to preserve my funds!) Wheels of Steel is a good recommendation. If you don’t like it then you probably don’t like Saxon!

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      3. It’s in the Rutherglen Exchange Friday and Saturday. I’ll drop in and have a flick through the rock and metal section. Failing that I’ll take a trip to the Record Fayre. I will have Saxon record before the month is out!

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  7. Good news! The record player’s new needle arrived and the lp sounds fantastic! I love that peculiar-to-old-records-and-players sound! Now to find some more LPs.

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      1. Yup yup – next time I’m in the CBD I’ll pop into this weird little store – they only sell vinyl! The catch is, there is no method in their madness. You need lots of time to go through all the shelves – even if you asked them, they don’t know. Probably all the green stuff they grow in the back 😉

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