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6 Degrees Entertainment

Title - 'Samson - Bright Lights: The Albums 1979-81'
Artist - Samson

For those not in the know, Samson were a British rock band formed in 1977 by guitarist and vocalist Paul Samson (.d).

They are best known for their first three albums with future Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson, then known as "Bruce Bruce", and drummer Thunderstick (real name Barry Graham Purkis), who wore a leather mask and performed on stage in a metal cage!

As for other drummer's associated with the band, Clive Burr was with them both before and after his tenure with Iron Maiden along with Mel Gaynor, who had a successful music career being a member of Simple Minds for over 20 years.

Dickinson's replacement on vocals, Nicky Moore, performed with Samson throughout the mid-1980s and again from the late 1990s onwards and was also a member of the bands Mammoth and Nicky Moore and the Blues Corporation.

Also named as a part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, alongside Iron Maiden, Angel Witch, Def Leppard and Saxon, to name but a handful, Samson - Bright Lights: The Albums 1979-81 is a wondrous 5CD box-set that collects together the three albums released by the influential classic hard rock and NWOBHM band.

All featuring lead guitarist Paul Samson, we also get a disc entitled Head On: Tony Platt Alternative Mix (an 11-track CD of, well, alternative versions of the tracks from their Head On album - previously unavailable) as well as a disc of their Live At Reading show in 1981.

CD 1 - Survivors (1979)
1. 'It's Not As Easy As It Seems'
2. 'I Wish I Was the Saddle of a Schoolgirl's Bike'
3. 'Big Brother'
4. 'Tomorrow or Yesterday'
5. 'Koz'
6. 'Six Foot Under'
7. 'Inside Out'
8. 'Wrong Side of Time'
9. 'Mr Rock 'N' Roll' (Bonus Track)
10. 'Primrose Shuffle' (Bonus Track)
Alternative Recordings with Bruce Dickinson on Vocals
11. 'It's Not As Easy As It Seems'
12. 'I Wish I Was the Saddle of a Schoolgirl's Bike'
13. 'Big Brother'
14. 'Tomorrow or Yesterday'
15. 'Six Foot Under'
16. 'Inside Out'
17. 'Wrong Side of Time'

Produced by Gillan's John McCoy, Samson released their debut Survivors in 1979 and it was around the time the band had coalesced around lead guitarist Paul, drummer Thunderstick, and bass guitarist Chris Aylmer.

The then unknown singer going by the Monty Python inspired name "Bruce Bruce", now much better known as simply Bruce Dickinson joined after the album had been put to tape.

Back in those days there were plenty fuzzy and obscure releases, mingling various elements of Rock, Jazz and Blues into mesmerizing monstrosities.

However, Samson's music and sound seemed to have taken the harder edge of Rock and encrusted it with a decent amount of psychedelia and Blues, sounding like earlier versions of Deep Purple and even Led Zeppelin.

In truth, here on Survivors the songwriting is varied, at times memorable, sometimes hooking, but never magnificent. 'Tomorrow or Yesterday' is this album's treasure piece, noting the change of seasons in Rock, between the subtly of the old dreamy gloom and right into the crunchier twists of Rock 'N' Roll and Heavy Rock.

'Wrong Side of Time' maintains a moderately spacey vibe, enticing with its sorrowful balladry nature, living up to be a well-made Rock venture sharing nostalgic moments.

Both 'Big Brother' and 'Inside Out' continue the slick slides of the boogie fame, contagious Bluesy Hard Rock tunes right on the edge of the upcoming heaviness and melody.

'Mr Rock 'N' Roll', one of this new version's bonus cuts, is a solid ball of Rock, straight to the point glitter and rather hook-laden with its riffs and chorus.

As well as the aforemention 'Mr Rock 'N' Roll' single, bonus tracks included here now are some interesting alternative versions of seven tracks from the album featuring the aforementioned Dickinson.

These special alternative versions of the albums songs with Dickinson at the helm of the vocals just means, in my humble opinion, that his distinctive voice upgraded the songs to new levels.

I mean, come on now, how could they not given that he is renowned as having one of the greatest voices in Metal music!

CD 2 - Head On (1980)
1. 'Hard Times'
2. 'Take It Like a Man'
3. 'Vice Versa'
4. 'Manwatcher'
5. 'Too Close to Rock'
6. 'Thunderburst'
7. 'Hammerhead'
8. 'Hunted'
9. 'Take Me to Your Leader'
10. 'Walking Out on You'
11. 'Angel with a Machine Gun' (7" B-Side) (Bonus Track)
12. 'Kingsway Jam' (Bonus Track)
13. 'Vice Versa' (7" Edit) (Bonus Track)

In 1980 Samson released Head On, featuring the NWOBHM classic single 'Vice Versa', and the first full album to feature Bruce Dickinson's vocals. This sophomore album is, essentially, Bruce Dickinson's first foray into the serious world of music and for all his freshman status, it doesn't show at all.

Simply put, Head On may even feature some of the greatest performances by Dickinson throughout his career. Around a minute and a half into the final track of the album, 'Kingsway Jam' he even manages to hit a note that seems to be gone from him by the time of Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast!

The album is filled with vocal sections that range from the straightforward and expected, but yet still mighty proficient to the hurried, fluctuating, and at times, almost out of place; such as the aforementioned 'Kingsway Jam.'

But they are always interestingly, passionately, and energetically sung. 'Hammerhead' feels like a precursor to a Power Metal epic, while the track 'Angel With a Machine Gun' is a pure joy hard rock fantasy.if there were to be any downside to Head On, it would possibly be the fact that 'Thunderburst' also happens to be the Iron Maiden song 'The Ides of March' (due in most part to the fact that it was co-written by Paul Samson and Steve Harris!)

CD 3 - Head On: Tony Platt Alternative Mix (1980)
1. 'Hard Times'
2. 'Take It Like a Man'
3. 'Vice Versa'
4. 'Manwatcher'
5. 'Too Close to Rock'
6. 'Thunderburst'
7. 'Hammerhead'
8. 'Hunted'
9. 'Take Me to Your Leader'
10. 'Walking Out on You'
11. 'Hard Times' (7" Version) (Bonus Track)

Next up us the entire Head On album remixed by Tony Platt and available on CD for the very first time.

Nothing much more to add here for the tracks save for they sound crisper, louder in places and definitely punched and less fuzzy, so to speak.

CD 4 - Shock Tactics (1981)
1. 'Riding with the Angels'
2. 'Earth Mother'
3. 'Nice Girl'
4. 'Blood Lust'
5. 'Go to Hell'
6. 'Bright Lights'
7. 'Once Bitten'
8. 'Grime Crime'
9. 'Communion'
10. 'Little Big Man' (7" B-Side) (Bonus Track)
11. 'Pyramid to the Stars' (Bonus Track)
12. 'Losing My Grip' (Bonus Track)

Samson looked poised to enter the big time with 1981's Shock Tactics on the next disc. Kicking off with the Russ Ballard penned rocker Riding With The Angels, the album includes the classic Earth Mother and features the bonus tracks Little Big Man, Pyramid To The Stars and Losing My Grip.

For my money, Shock Tactics can be thought of as the most metal album that Samson has ever released! I mean, sure, Head On had its metal tendencies, but all in all it was not as nearly as consistent.

Virtually all of the work to follow would not be metal as well, but rather Blues-oriented rock. Dickinson's vocals on Shock Tactics is still not quite what it would go on to be known for in Iron Maiden, but it is definitely getting much closer than with Head On.

The opening track, 'Riding With the Angels' could definitely be an Iron Maiden song with Bruce's slick and raunchy vocal stylings blending seamlessly with a bevy of power chords from Paul Samson making this a straight up NWOBHM masterpiece.

There is not exactly much of a solo to this song, which is its only downfall, but then again, Paul Samson happened to be the band's only guitarist; therefore not able to pull off the twin axe attack of Iron Maiden.

'Nice Girl' is just one of the many metal songs I have heard about a lust for women and if you listen closely, oddly enough half of this album has a considerable amount of sexually oriented lyrics!

'Blood Lust' and 'Grime Crime' have a considerable amount of shrieking in them and 'Communion' (which is probably my favorite non-screamed track) is also the lone ballad.

CD 5 - Live at Reading (1981)
1. 'Big Brother'
2. 'Take It Like a Man'
3. 'Nice Girl'
4. 'Earth Mother'
5. 'Vice Versa'
6. 'Bright Lights'
7. 'Walking Out on You'
8. 'Hammerhead'
9. 'Riding with the Angels'
10. 'Gravy Train'
11. 'Red Skies' - Rehearsals (Bonus Track)
12. 'Turn Out the Lights' - Rehearsals (Bonus Track)
13. 'Firing Line' - Rehearsals (Bonus Track)

This 5CD set finishes with their triumphant show at the 1981 Reading Festival when they played on a bill featuring Gillan, Rose Tattoo and Billy Squier.

In what sounds like an immensely strong live vocal and performance outing, both Dickinson and Paul Samson were at their Samson peak here.

The former shows his signature captivating hold of the audience combined with his utmost charisma as a front man (and man, those pipes!), the latter the energies associated with his guitar work that swarm the stage as he prowls it taking his guitar playing to new heights.

In a show kicking off with 'Big Brother' and featuring 'Nice Girl', 'Earth Mother', 'Vice Versa', and 'Riding With The Angels', it remains a fitting tribute to this early era of Samson.

Indeed, the set list for the show crossed the first three albums discography and is, overall, a good set to have seen live, one imagines.

Less of the past obscurity and more into the tough Hard Rock / NWOBHM edge most of the songs were from Head On and Shock Tactics, but sadly missing is one of my favorites from them, 'Tomorrow Or Yesterday.'

Following the 1981 Reading show, Bruce Dickinson left for worldwide success with Iron Maiden, joining ex-Samson drummer Clive Burr for 1982's The Number Of The Beast LP.

Paul would carry on with various line-ups of Samson, most notably with powerhouse vocalist Nicky Moore, where the band took a much more blues orientated direction, until his sad and untimely death in 2002.

Capturing the halcyon days of the band's career, and produced in conjunction with NWOBHM expert John Tucker, and Samson's archive curator Rob Grain, Bright Lights: The Albums 1979-1981 is essential for fans of quality Classic Hard Rock & NWOBHM.

Official 5CD Box-Set Purchase Link