It’s hard to imagine becoming a respected band with the name ‘The Toilets.’ I’m sure the name belongs in the pantheon of hilarious names of bands that did not make it out of the cellar or the garage. And, as you can imagine, The Toilets were a punk rock band. But from the depths of good plumbing, a band with its origin as The Toilets in 1977 formed to become ‘The Alarm’ in 1981.
The Welsh band moved to London from North Wales to begin recording, and struggled to get picked up by any record labels. With his band, The Alarm’s main singer and songwriter, Mike Peters, embraced the rock format and became one of the most respected bands of the 1980s. They were especially respected as a great live performer. U2 and Bob Dylan were big supporters and asked The Alarm to open for them on tours.
The debut album, Declaration, in 1984 is a ready-made top 10 list. The album generates a flow meant for album-oriented music. Each song represents a dynamic representation of rebellion and harmony. Sixty-eight Guns was their first single released, and it reached the U.S. Mainstream Rock top 40.
The sound of the band was based around drums, guitars and keyboards, with one special instrument, the harmonica. The Alarm use the harmonica to make a soulful presence and to jazz up the harmonies. I would compare it best to how Huey Lewis integrates it with his music with The News.
The band’s follow up was an album named Strength in 1985, which continued their distinct rock sound and proved again the power of their music. Strength was a success built again on album-oriented music and memorable songs for the mainstream public, such as Spirit of ’76 and Absolute Reality.
They were part of the MTV era as their videos made their way onto some of the more obscure hours of the channel. Peters’ blondish grey locks garnered attention and he knew how to front a band. He used his raspy voice to rally his band and the public with passion for political purposes, romantic visions and commentary on the alienation of individuals in a complicated world.
This is an underrated band in the history of rock, which is why a top 10 list is necessary. Let’s get to it.
# 10 – Where Were You Hiding When the Storm Broke?
This is hot potato of a political song from the band’s debut album. The band is accusing someone of not being accountable during the rough times. I like how the chorus is a pure metaphor using weather to make their point. From the very beginning, ‘Where Were You Hiding When the Storm Broke’ is a rocking song. It pauses a couple of minutes in to recover from a slowdown to once again get revved up again. This is true rock n roll. “They say that all things come in threes, here comes the third degree.”
# 9 – Spirit of ‘76
Mike Peters sings of his times in 1976. Spirit of ’76, like a Bruce Springsteen song, tell of characters in story form with their particular heroism and fallacies. He sings fondly of the good times that have gotten away. His nostalgic lyrics brings the song 360 back to the listener, circling us while telling us a fond memory.
# 8 – Absolute Reality
The band explains right away their perceptions of absolute reality, and its effect on society. The drum beat gives us a good indication that this song is going to spit some knowledge. ‘Absolute Reality’ is a rocking song with lyrics that break down how to “find peace in our time.” The guitars rhythmically and blazingly rear alive to match the strength of the lyrics.
# 7 – Sold Me Down the River
From the 1989 album, The Change, one of the band’s last mainstream hits, and their biggest American hit is ‘Sold Me Down the River.’ The first time I heard this song I thought it was a cover. It is not a cover. It is completely original from the band. The group is really showing us a brand of soul with this song, but they bring the rock back to the song towards the end. As the song connotes with the title idiom, it is one more political expression from the band.
# 6 – The Stand
It’s hard to put a one-minute song on a top 10 list, but ‘The Stand’ from Declaration meets enough qualifications as a beautiful rhapsody with interesting mood changes that it can’t be ignored. Just as the title of the song suggests, the band is stating its feelings succinctly. They move from the harmonica quickly to definitive lyrical suggestions, and then back to the harmonica.
# 5 – Marching On
‘Marching On’ from Declaration presents the strength of how The Alarm used background singing to highlight a song. The chorus of ‘we’ll go marching on’ shows the band coming together congruently to set the tone of not just this song, but who they are as a band. Their presence is noted as a rock band, and their courage is noted in writing songs of a deeper meaning.
# 4 – Sixty Eight Guns
With ‘Sixty Eight Guns’, an anthem from Declaration was created. Many of the songs of The Alarm could be considered anthems, but this one stands out for the uses of words such as “forever young” and “battle cry”. And, the music matches the intensity of the lyrics because the band is measured in how they use the slowdowns and drums to rally us over and over. It’s a tremendous song, one that undoubtedly was written from tough upbringings as young Welshmen.
# 3 – Rescue Me
‘Rescue Me’ from the 1987 album Eye of the Hurricane is a fun song. Mike Peters starts with a deep voice and brings the listener to a soulful, upbeat, harmonic chorus very quickly. This is The Alarm’s attempt at a pop song, and they do a decent job. The song never charted very high (topping at 48), but it has all the elements of a mainstream hit, including strong backing higher pitched vocals from the band. The song is most noted for being part of the original soundtrack for the Tv show ‘21 Jump Street.’
# 2 – Rain In The Summertime
‘Rain in the Summertime’ for me is The Alarm stepping into a new dimension. The first single from their third album Eye of the Hurricane sees them expanding their horizons and realizing how they are changing as a band. They had been so rebellious and courageous in their songwriting that this song shows their abilities as musicians to adapt and make a beautiful song just for the sake of doing it.
# 1 – Blaze Of Glory
‘Blaze of Glory’ from the debut album, Declaration, is a defining song for the band, The Alarm. It is their greatest declaration of who they were at the time, and what their music represented. Poetry doesn’t mean as much as it does when great music is set with it as the background. You feel great when you hear this song, and it rings optimism, even though there could be serious repercussions. The final part of the song when the entire band comes in to sing together with some brass playing is spectacular.
Top 10 Top Songs From The Alarm article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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