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Richard & Linda Thompson - 'I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight'

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

Album: I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight

Artist: Richard & Linda Thompson

Release Date: April 30, 1974

Genre: Folk

Length: 0:36:55

Label: Island Records

Producer: Richard Thompson/John Wood

Rolling Stone Top 500 (2012): #471

Rolling Stone Top 500 (2020): #485

1,001 Album Book: Yes

A fantastic pairing of two musicians that thrive well with each other...

Singer songwriter Richard Thompson's second studio album, and first with Linda Peters. Linda was originally a session musician who married Richard, forming the duo of Richard and Linda Thompson. Upon release of their record, the mass public and critics ignored I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, but as time went on, the album rose to royal-like quality and is now a beloved masterpiece for the duo.

The moment you press play on this record you know it's going to be a hidden gem. Right off the bat, the first track "When I Get To The Border" introduces the audience to the unique style of the duo and truly shows off the clever lyrics of Richard Thompson. The song starts off with an acoustic guitar chord pattern followed by the swift introduction of drums and electric guitar playing small licks over the acoustic backbone. Richard is the lead singer throughout this track, but the contrast of Linda's voice during the chorus adds an entirely new sense of depth, especially along with all the instruments that come in over the three and half minute run-time. The chirpiness of the mandolin, the medieval sounding instrument towards the end (upon research this is called a krummhorn), and a slight accordion, are all sprinkled into this song providing a deep level of listening, and excitement for things to come further in the record.

The second track comes to be more bareboned than the first, but this is far from a negative observation. "The Calvary Cross" opens up with a tambourine rattle and a very Egyptian sounding guitar solo. This continues for the first fifty seconds of the song, then the song explodes with a piano, drums and bass guitar behind Richard Thompson's voice. The song features choral-like harmonies with the repeated piano chords to provide a sense of familiarity, while production of the song gives off a mysterious feel. The crisp sound of the snare fading out at the end gives this angelic ballad a perfect ending into the next track "Withered And Died".

"Withered and Died" provides Linda Thompson the opportunity to shine at lead vocals, which is the first song on the album that we truly get to hear her voice. The sorrow that exudes from her voice is evident in the lyrics, although written by Richard, she was the perfect person to sing lead on this track. With lyrical phrases such as "This cruel country has driven me down/Teased me and lied, teased me and lied/I've only sad stories to tell to this town/My dreams have withered and died", this song is a tear jerker, but it is also fantastic to hear her voice on her own and not backing up Richard Thompson.

Critically, the title song "I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight" is the most famous song on the record, and another one where Linda Thompson is lead. The layers that come and go across the song's entire length is the biggest strength among many other positives. The opening guitar pattern by the band truly complements Linda's soothing vocal style and provides for an excellent track. The slight country sound in the song is appealing and helped influence the genre. Throughout the song, horns fanfare in the background, harmonies crescendo into the chorus', and despite all the layers of the instruments and her voice, nothing ever overpowers each other to provide a beautiful listening experience across the whole length.

Although it's hard to follow-up a performance like "I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight", the entire back-half of the album is still just as solid as the beginning. Spearheaded by the slow ballad, "Down Where The Drunkards Roll" is another song led by Linda, but contrary to the previous two songs, there is an extremely deep vocal bass contrast to her vocal style. This song is more bare than the other tracks, but the strength of the guitar, vocals and dulcimer (which is the more vibrant guitar sound you hear in the middle) is all this duo needs to bring out emotion for the listener.

The wonderful part about I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight is the amount of contrasting feels throughout the whole record. You can go from a more upbeat track, to a slow ballad that features a tin whistle in "Has He Got A Friend For Me", to an almost Renaissance-fair feel in "The Little Beggar Girl" due to the melody provided by the mandolin, all the way to depressing personal family ballads in "The End Of The Rainbow".

What a fantastic hidden gem. Unfortunately, not widely known by most people for the most part, I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight was able to entertain me from the beginning to the end. Truly the only complaint I have with it is how the lyrics are structured throughout the entire album. The way the songs flow in terms of verses, the pre-chorus', and the chorus', as well as the other sections all seem to be somewhat similar to each other. This would typically make an album difficult to listen to but the amount of differences between each song to the next, the deep and vast sound from the instruments, and the jolly vocal style of the married couple keep the record exciting. I could not recommend listening to this album enough, especially if you have a large field to look out on during a sunset...

Favorite Songs: "I Want To See The Bright Lights", "The Calvary Cross", "When I Get To The Border"

Least Favorite Songs: Truly no BAD songs but the most goofy and out of place is "The Little Beggar Girl"

Production Quality:

  • Mix = 10/10 (Very deep instrumental arrangements with strong vocal performances that don't overpower one another)

  • Innovation = 8.5/10 (I have not heard an overall album like this but some songs definitely have other influences within them)

Songwriting Quality:

  • Arrangement = 4/10 (Instrument arrangement is fantastic but the song structure feels the same across the record)

  • Lyricism = 10/10 (Deep personal storytelling)

Instrumentation Quality:

  • Vocal Timbre = 7.5/10 (Linda Thompson's voice is much more tolerable than Richard's but his still fits in the style of the album)

  • Instrumental Timbre = 10/10

  • Group Chemistry = 10/10

Overall Likability:

  • My Personal Rating = 8.5/10

Overall Rating: 8.7/10

Any confusion on how the rating is weighted/calculated, please look at my "About" page.

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