With the welcome upswing in appreciation of Britain’s great history of cutting-edge folk-rock in the 1960s and ’70s, it might come as a shock for modern converts to learn that the great duo of Richard & Linda Thompson never made the UK charts.
Thankfully, the first album to bill them together, I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight — released on 30 April 1974 — has belatedly achieved the recognition it richly deserves. In 2003, it was listed in Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All Time, chosen by critics and artists, at No. 332, just one place below The Beatles’ Help!. In July 2014, the record made its proud return to vinyl, the format in which it was first released, as part of Universal Music Catalogue’s Back 2 Black series.
Listen to I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight right now.
The album was a superb showcase both for Richard’s spectacularly nimble and inventive guitar work, on songs like ‘When I Get To The Border’; his distinctive vocals, such as on ‘The Calvary Cross’ and the doom-laden ‘The End Of The Rainbow’; and the wonderful, pure voice of his then wife, the former folk singer Linda Peters, on pieces such as ‘Has He Got A Friend For Me,’ ‘Withered & Died’ and the title track. ‘Bright Lights’ was released as a single and seemed set fair for a chart position, but wasn’t able to convert airplay into sales.
The couple had recorded the album almost a year before it was released, in a London studio in May 1973. Just after its belated appearance, Richard Thompson answered the NME’s observation that it was full of world-weary sentiment.
“It is a bit of a down record,” he admitted, “but that was accidental. We tried to balance it, but something obviously went wrong somewhere…there are a lot of slow numbers. But I don’t think that’s bad – it’s still enjoyable, there are some optimistic songs. We’re not a doomy band – we try to cover aspects of our experience.”
As a duo, the Thompsons may never have turned the huge critical acclaim for their albums, and their live shows, to their true commercial benefit, but ‘Bright Lights’ stands today as a real jewel in the English folk-rock crown.