Over time I have often cited what the source of my inspiration for a particular post was. Most often I think I’m prone to writing about what inspired me when I do a playlist, like the one I recently did about songs that can only be found on soundtracks. A few weeks ago I put Canadian power-trio Triumph’s LP Allied Forces on the stereo and thought to myself, I’ve got to write about this sensational album. It’s a record that will always hold a special place in my rock n roll heart… After that initial thought, like magic (or perhaps more appropriately like “Magic Power”) almost immediately I started seeing posts that 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of Allied Forces and there’s an anniversary box set coming out. I never made that 40-year connection… Dylan is right, “Time is a jet plane, it moves so fast.” Also, and I thought this was weird, the day I started writing this post someone on the music forum I’m a member of started a Triumph thread. I couldn’t help but think maybe I was right and the time to write about this album was at last at hand. This was inspiration in reverse. The universe was telling me, “Crank the Triumph, son.” Why argue with that?
In the early 80s rock n roll dominated the radio. Well, it dominated the radio in any room or car I was in. Unlike today there were so many rock bands to choose from. I guess looking back pundits or critics would classify certain bands as “top tier” or “tier 1.” I’m not sure I ever really thought about it like that. I don’t know if people consider Triumph a top tier band or not but I always really liked them. I’m guessing they were huge in Canada. And let’s all admit, Canada has produced some fantastic rock bands. Everybody talks about Rush but Triumph was a great band and frankly I always liked April Wine. I’m not even getting into the Neil Young, Bryan Adams, Joni Mitchell thing. Triumph was Rik Emmett on guitar/vocals, Mike Levine bass/keyboards and Gil Moore on drums and vocals. They were a power trio like Rush and they had a singing drummer like Genesis… what’s not to love here? Although I will admit right up front I preferred the songs when guitarist Rik Emmett was the lead singer. Emmett also wrote most of their bigger songs.
As soon as I got into rock n roll I feel like I was always aware of Triumph. They got airplay on KY/102 my local rock station. The first thing I really remember hearing from them was a great cover of Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way,” from their LP Rock N Roll Machine. I always thought that was a weird choice of a tune to cover but they pulled it off. My old roommate Stormin’ loved that album, or so I seem to remember him telling me he did. Triumph were indeed a power trio and they played powerful, hard rock. I’ve seen them characterized as heavy metal, but I always thought they were too melodic to be thought of as strictly metal. I also think they had just a touch of prog rock in their sound. Any band with a song title divided by Roman numerals checks the prog rock box for me… They just played great, straight up rock n roll. They really started to take off and to pierce my teenage consciousness in 1979 with Just A Game. There were two stellar tunes on that LP that got a lot of airplay in KC, “Hold On” and my personal favorite “Lay It On the Line.” “Hold On” starts off acoustic, almost a ballad, and then builds to a soaring rock song. “Lay It On the Line” is just straight up riff rock. Emmett’s playing on that song was exceptional.
It was fall of 1981 that I started hear about “this new Triumph album,” Allied Forces. I was fairly new to collecting albums and back then I was never completely sure what songs were on what albums until I was holding the record in my hand in the record store. I was under the impression that “Lay It On the Line,” which was still getting heavy airplay, was on Allied Forces a mistake I continue to make to this day. The song had been around for 2 years, I’m not sure how that mistake got written in stone in my mind. The title track was the first single, but I don’t remember ever hearing that on the radio. It was the second single “Magic Power” that grabbed me and sent me to the record store to buy this album on vinyl. I always loved the silver flying-V guitar on the cover. When I play air-guitar, that’s the guitar I’m playing. And yes, I still air guitar, much to the Rock Chick’s disgust and amusement.
I not only bought the vinyl, I put this thing on cassette so I could listen to it in the car. I was about to leave high school and start that difficult transition to adulthood and college. When you’re a senior in high school you’re at the top of the food chain. When you become a freshman in college – or you start a new job out of high school – you’re the low man on the totem pole. It’s a narrow, slippery bridge we cross to transition to adulthood. Its a transition many people struggle with and I was no exception. In fact, I struggled so mightily my freshman year you might say, I was the prime example of failing to launch. It was my own damn fault. By the end of my freshman year I was pretty demoralized. I remember getting in my car to head home from college, ready to turn the page and move on when I spotted that Triumph cassette. I plugged it in and as cheesy as this sounds, the “Magic Power” lyric, “I’m young, I’m wild and I’m free” really hit me. The song transported me away from my despair. I was indeed young and if you were to ask my mother she’d probably testify to how wild I was back then. She probably did have to testify for me, but uh, those records are sealed… Little did she know… Most importantly, I was free. Free from all the self-inflicted pain and heartbreak I’d caused myself. I still smile when I hear that great, great rock song. It’s one of those moments in life when certain rock and roll comes along and can not only lift you up, it can literally save you. I know Allied Forces helped lift me out of a dreadful mindset.
There’s so much more on this record beyond “Magic Power.” Side 1 (on vinyl anyway) not only had that song, it had a great rocker as an opening track “Fool For Your Love,” which is an apt description of me at the time. Drummer Gil Moore sings on that track and it reminds me of “Lay It On the Line” in that it’s straight up riff-rock. The title track was also on the first side of the record. It’s preceded by a sound effects/keyboard thing, “Air Raid” which again is evidence of a little bit of prog rock in the wood pile. “Allied Forces” was a great rock n roll statement of purpose. Lets band together international rockers and “take control.” The first side concludes with another big rocker in “Hot Time (In The City Tonight)” that starts with a riff that is reminiscent of Chuck Berry. It quickly turns to a heavy rock thing but man is Rik Emmett ever nimble on guitar. And yet we never talk about Emmett when discussing great guitar players?
The second side kicks off with “Fight The Good Fight” which was another song that resonated with me. It’s probably one of the most encouraging rock songs ever recorded. It became my roommate’s and my pre-exam tune. After cramming for a test, no matter what subject, when it was time to leave and head to campus, we’d crank “Fight The Good Fight” for luck. I love Emmett’s vocal on this song. Its followed by the quasi-politcal epic “Ordinary Man” that starts with what sounds like a choir. I’m telling you, these guys were more prog than I realized. “Ordinary Man” had lyrics I could really relate to, “You want to think you’re different, but you know you never can, You’re just another ordinary man.” God knows I never wanted to be “ordinary.” It goes on to get topical, calling out politicians and the media. After a brief acoustic guitar solo a’la Eddie Van Halen (“Petit Etude”), comes my other favorite track, “Say Goodbye.” It’s a classic, babe you’ve done me wrong and I’m leaving song. While I had actually gone through a brutal break up, for me “Say Goodbye” was more about leaving behind some bad circumstance than an actual person. Although, I won’t lie the lyric “but now the party’s over… and you just don’t sound the same,” certainly resonated on a more visceral level back then… but all of that is a foggy, distant memory. It’s a big strummer type of a tune. The chorus is almost a sing along. It’s the most upbeat break up song of all time and the perfect ending for this album.
I got to see these guys on the tour for this album. They played Arrowhead Stadium at a very rainy Summer Jam that featured Foreigner, 38 Special and yes, Loverboy. They killed it and were by far my favorite performer of the day. I saw them again on the tour for the follow up LP, Never Surrender. That LP didn’t grab me in the same way as Allied Forces but a few years later I was back on the bandwagon for The Sport of Kings. I don’t know if Rik Emmett or Triumph ever got their due praise and attention. But for almost a year I listened to this album virtually non-stop. If you haven’t checked out Triumph, I urge you to start with this album. Any track of Triumph I mentioned in this post is definitely worth a spin. The world needs more solid hard rock bands like Triumph these days…
Turn this one up loud! Cheers!