Saxon

Denim and Leather

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Saxon's third straight and ultimately last (mostly) universally acclaimed studio album, 1981's Denim and Leather capped off a stunningly prolific 18-month stretch for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal stars. If only Saxon had managed to stagger the amazing triumvirate of Wheels of Steel, Strong Arm of the Law, and Denim and Leather over a longer stretch of years, we might still be talking about the group today in the same hallowed tones reserved for fellow N.W.O.B.H.M. standouts Def Leppard and Iron Maiden. But perhaps the band's run at the top was simply fated to be short and sweet, and if that's the case, Saxon never concocted a more perfect pair of album bookends than Denim and Leather's infectiously anthemic opening statement, "Princess of the Night" (one of Saxon's biggest American "hits" and arguably the only love song ever written for a train!) and the title track's ode to heavy metal culture (featuring the core metallic philosophy: "Denim and leather; brought us all together; it was you that set the spirit free"). Bridging the distance between these two unqualified classics was another consistently strong to spectacular body of work, including memorable cuts like "Out of Control" and "Rough and Ready" (the strong), as well as (here come the spectacular) the speed metal workout "Fire in the Sky", the Allman Brothers-referencing road tale "Midnight Rider," and the fan favorite "And the Bands Played On," which used a guitar solo lick -- not a riff -- as its main theme and famously immortalized Saxon's appearance at the Donington Monsters of Rock Festival the previous year. In retrospect, neither "Never Surrender" nor "Play It Loud" quite measure up to the rest, but they are far from crap, and they hardly gave notice that Saxon's incredible run was in fact coming to an end. The following year would be spent on the road, capitalizing on this enormous success (to give you an idea, Saxon's opening band in Europe was Ozzy Osbourne's fledgling Blizzard of Ozz, featuring Randy Rhoads) and resulting in 1982's The Eagle Has Landed live document. But it was during the ensuing, well-deserved break from work, that Saxon's momentum faltered. Whether this was due to sheer creative exhaustion, the ousting of founding drummer Pete Gill (replaced by Nigel Glockler, Gill would go on to play in Motörhead), or other unknown factors, Saxon were about to encounter rough seas ahead. Yet, for at least one final, glorious moment, Denim and Leather made Saxon the New Wave of British Heavy Metal to beat.

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