Top '80s Songs of The Alarm

At times, Mike Peters and the other members of Welsh college rock band The Alarm suffered from too many comparisons to '80s contemporaries U2, but the former group certainly produced an array of worthy mainstream rock songs that stand on their own. Influenced by the energy and passion of punk rock but committed to the creation of workmanlike arena rock, the group should have experienced more success than it did among both mainstream and alternative audiences. Nevertheless, here's a chronological look at the finest songs produced by The Alarm during its solid '80s career.

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"Unsafe Building"

The Alarm
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Though not widely released until 1990's retrospective collection , this track initially appeared as The Alarm's debut self-produced single in 1981. Taken as two sides of the band's decade-long career coin, in fact, it's a song that represents the full circle of The Alarm's consistent sound and raw emotional approach. Featuring a stirring, arpeggiated acoustic guitar opening, the track eventually brings in electric guitars to match Peters' pleading introspective lyrics: "I have declared myself unsafe, unsound, unknown, unwanted, unnecessary... I've been condemned... Who cares?" Listening, it's hard not to.
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"The Stand"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of IRS Records

Having gorged on Stephen King books as a pre-teen, perhaps I'm a bit biased in selecting this track inspired by the writer's epic 1978 novel of the same name. Of course, the classic track from 1983's The Alarm EP stands on its own quite competently as well - if you'll forgive the pun. Buoyed by some raw harmonica playing, the song actually cuts a largely upbeat swath that contrasts intriguingly with the dark, apocalyptic subject matter of the lyrics. Plus, "Hey Trashcan, where you goin' boy, your eyes are feet apart" has always ranked among my favorite mash-ups of popular music and literature.

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"68 Guns"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of IRS Records
The band brings out the horns for this track, which is an appropriate move for a tune whose lyrics accurately and directly label itself as a "battle cry." This type of anthemic approach quickly became emblematic of The Alarm's developing catalogue, as 1983's full-length debut Declaration routinely shows. However, Peters & Co. manage to prevent their stirring, fist-pumping approach from sounding or feeling gimmicky, even if some critics accused the band of this very offense. Overly earnest The Alarm may sometimes get, but the quartet never betrays authenticity.
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"Where Were You Hiding When the Storm Broke?"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of IRS Records

Members of The Alarm had bigger, perhaps more stylishly obnoxious hair than renowned '80s offenders from A Flock of Seagulls to Poison, and it's certainly worth considering if that visual aspect of the band caused some damage at the critical level. After all, musically speaking, a song like this one is built on pure substance and rock guitar sinew with nary a fragment of obscuring fluff. This is driving rock music that resists categorization but absolutely requires passion, and that's a pretty decent legacy for an '80s band to leave no matter its disposable image.

A band like The Alarm deserves to be examined for more than its top tracks that populate numerous best-of CDs, and this deep track from Declaration is a fully worthy one to find its way onto this list. The song's extended length and slowed-down tempo allow Peters and the band to stretch out musically, showcasing the former's committed delivery and the ensemble's penchant for roots rock-oriented wide-open riffing. Even better, the call-and-response nature of this tune's backing vocals accurately capture the genuinely exposed raw nerve at the core of The Alarm's appeal. More »
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"Absolute Reality"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of IRS Records

It's probably true that The Alarm occasionally displayed a tendency to get too self-indulgent (the well-regarded but heavy-handed "Spirit of '76" comes to mind), which is why the leaner cuts from 1985's particularly impress. That album's title track certainly crystallizes The Alarm's raucous emotional intensity, but "Absolute Reality" takes that crowd-pleasing quality to another level. Peters' apparent understanding of the threat faced by everyday folks who "stand in judgment with the rest of the clowns" helps the song's unfiltered vulnerability work wonders.

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"Rain in the Summertime"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of IRS Records
The Alarm could also exercise restraint when necessary, which qualifies the sequencing and single chronology for the group's next LP, 1987's , as meaningful choices indeed. This lead-off track and single shines for its slow-burn tempo and languid, subtle arrangement, but the brief, rising bridge ("My love is a flame that keeps on burning") leads brilliantly into one of the band's most soaring choruses yet. The Alarm's ability to capture and incite listeners' most primal emotions somehow remains unheralded, and that's a significant and disappointing oversight.
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"Rescue Me"

As the opening track of the same LP's side two, "Rescue Me" acts somehow as the melodic sing-along peak of the band's career. The introductory guitar riffs here are tremendous, but the soaring bridge ("Running all my life, Running all my day, Running through the night, Seems like forever") threatens to blow the roof off your car or audio system. It's hard to believe some listeners and critics could find themselves unmoved by quintessential anthem rock such as this, but fans of The Alarm probably tend to see this as evidence of such detractors' own shortcomings. I have a hard time disagreeing.