They came from Barnsley; they roared and sang of bikes, planes and locomotives; they wore tighter than skin-tight trousers that must have crippled their sperm count; they weren’t very complicated; ladies and gentlemen I give you … Saxon Strong Arm Of The Law.
Released only 4 months after their classic Wheels Of Steel album in 1980, way back when bands were real men who had to bloody work at it for a living, recording a full LP every quarter in between playing 30 nillion* gigs, Strong Arm Of The Law shows absolutely no dip in quality, which is no mean feat. This is proper blue-collar heavy metal, nothing fancy, this is music for, literally, letting your hair down to and mindlessly headbanging along with for hours on end. Sometimes I just crave something this whole-heartedly simple.
I say with some authority that Strong Arm Of The Law is Saxon’s heaviest LP**, for a chunks of the album they could easily match Motörhead beat-for-beat, mostly thanks to the astonishing drumming of Pete Gill^. Just listen to ‘20,000 FT’, their ode to the joys of flight. where Gill really gives it some welly while Biff gives it his best schoolboy poetry:
It’s just like making love
When you’re up above
Riding in my bird of silver steel
In what way is it like making love Biff? because you get to deploy your landing gear amidst much squealing? Maybe we’ll just leave that simile there and tiptoe away.
You want heavier? just wang on opener ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’, which does everything you could ever hope a track called ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ would do. Hell, it even opens with the sound of … thunder. Oh yes! It’s just straight up brilliant too, you don’t like this, you don’t like metal; simple. The guitars of Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver are just sheer perfection here, choppy and rocky, as Steve Dawson’s bass rumbles menacingly underneath it all. It’s the sound of a young band just revelling in their own power.
For all that I find ‘To Hell and Back Again’ a bit of a misstep, I’m just not very keen on the melody but I do like the riffy spiffy chorus and the excellent guitar solo/drum breakdown, I do confess though that it is my most skipped track. I just don’t think Biff’s voice can quite carry this one to where it needs to go. But that’s okay, my second favourite Saxon song is up next.
Being a pillar of the local community and a man of good character and unquestionable habits, I have never been able to get enough of songs about being hassled by the pigs, ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ is one such. Everything about it is just Saxfection, from the slow build to the massive chorus, Biff really owns this track too – giving it his all in this tale of a pointless police shakedown, there’s something about the line ‘Into the night came a blue flashing light’, that just electrifies me every time. Ha, take that authority figures!
Next track ‘Taking Your Chances’ is a real underrated gem, not just on Strong Arm Of The Law, but in Saxon’s repertoire period. Again it’s a great example of the band absolutely firing on all cylinders, smelting riffs of pure adamantine and just hitting it at 100mph. I think the change of pace in ‘Hungry Years’ works excellently too, the slower roll of it contrasting brilliantly with the belters that precede it, showing that Saxon had more than one arrow in their quiver. Speaking of quivering …
Sixth form can’t get out at night
They keep them in, it’s an awful sin
Should set them free and let them roam
Hmm, ‘Sixth Form Girls’. Tales of naughty 16 year-old schoolgirls, no less. Now I was 15 when I first heard this track and so I always interpreted as an ass-pirational^* song about the joys of older chicks, now as the parent of a soon-to-be sixth form girl my perspective has changed a little. All I’ll say Biff is that you’re a nice guy and all, but if I catch you and your be-Spandexed chums hanging around my daughter’s school again, I’ll have the law on you – now go and sing some more songs about transport, it’s what you do best.
Which brings us to the grand finale in a motorcade, ‘Dallas 1 PM’, another great Saxon song and so by definition another great metal song. It’s a pretty straight telling of JFK’s demise set to that great chugging back beat the band do so damned well, nobody ever chugged as good as Saxon. I particularly like the way it never lapses into histrionics, the big guitar solo is wonderfully restrained and elegiac and it gets big 1537 bonus points for including the conspiracy-tastic sound effects of three shots, rather than a single one.
The fact that the artwork is based on a British police badge is great but the band again score big by including an iron-on transfer patch of the logo with the original pressing of Strong Arm Of The Law. I love this. In 2018 record companies would be too worried about all the potential litigation from heavy metal Berserkers/cretins who had tried to iron it on to their own foreheads to go with a freebie like this; isn’t progress great?
I still fall for the decidedly proletarian charms of the classic Saxon line up every time I hear them. I’m not being sneery there either, there is something winningly naive and straight lined about this band at their best. I have a real sense that the band are just giving it their absolute all on every single track, a proper performance. Now if you’ll excuse me I have an appointment with a patch, an iron and a mirror.
*I’ve just invented the ‘nillion’ as a unit of imaginary yet highly exaggerated measurement.
**although I’ve only ever properly listened to four and a half of them.
^a fact not wasted on Lemmy who borrowed him between ’84 and ’87.
^*see what I did there? just give me a Pullitzer now, it’ll do as a stopgap until they can ready the Nobel Prize For Literature for me.