Monday, March 5, 2012

Axe Attack

 Whatever happened to K Tel? There was a time when TV commercial breaks were full of adverts for compilations with names like Disco Power, Keep on Truckin' and Music Machine. These were as ubiquitous as chimps sipping tea or martian robots mocking earthlings for eating fresh vegetables instead of dehydrated starch. Then, like Prize yoghurts and Just Juice, they disappeared from view, and are presumably now only seen in the great Woolworth's record racks in the sky.

Axe Attack was K Tel's attempt to cash in on the burst of interest in all things Heavy Metal at the start of the 80s. It used the same template as other K Tel records: it sported a cheesy cover, had cheap flimsy packaging and crammed lots of tracks onto the vinyl, sacrificing sound quality for perceived value for money. It ought to have been awful. Instead, it's arguably the best metal compilation ever, and may have done more than any other record at the time to introduce impressionable youngsters to the dark joy of spending your disposable income on records with devils on the cover.

Whoever compiled the songs played pretty safely: Paranoid, Bomber, Highway to Hell, All Night Long, Running Free and Breaking the Law were all present and accounted for (mind you, there was so much metal reaching the Top 30 in 1980 that there's a case for saying that even a tea-sipping chimpanzee could have compiled a great metal compilation). Aside from Maiden, the NWOBHM was represented by Girlschool's excellent cover of Race with the Devil, and the rest of the album was completed by some well-chosen Heavy Rock songs by folk like UFO, Aerosmith and Ted Nugent (whose Cat Scratch Fever contained the line "well I make a pussy purr with a stroke of my hand" which flew right over the head of your 10-year old author).

The album was advertised on TV and sold well, in fact well enough for K-Tel to come up with Axe Attack Vol II, which had a cover even worse than the first one but which kept pretty much to the same template. Anyway, it's exposure and sales meant that this was one of the most common entry points to metal at the time, and if anyone around the age of 40 tries telling you that their first metal album was Highway to Hell or British Steel, the chances are that in reality, it was this cheap devil. It was probably the first metal album I owned, and I'm not ashamed to say it.

One last point. A glance at the tracklisting of Axe Attack reveals the Achilles Heel of the NWOBHM, in the sense that it's full of songs by older bands like Sabbath, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Rainbow etc. Girlschool and Iron Maiden were probably the only acts under 30. And there's the sad thing about the Heavy Metal revival of 79-80: what it really did was revive the careers of the old acts. Only Iron Maiden and Def Leppard went on to really make it big, while acts like Girlschool and Angel Witch never really won the battle for pocket money against folk like Judas Priest or Whitesnake. It's all there, on the back cover. Available in all good record shops. While stocks last.