Great Metal Albums of 1981: Saxon- Denim and Leather


I know I’ve said this before, but Saxon didn’t fully come to my attention until 1985. I had heard of them before that and even remember liking one of their songs but I can never remember which one. I blame it on the booze. Their master song “Princess of the Night” appears on a compilation album I had bought in the above year but it would be more than another year until I saw this great album “Denim and Leather” on sale at my local record store for $3. I snapped it up without further thought and it is probably the wisest investment I ever made.

“Denim and Leather” is my all time favourite Saxon album and it is easy to understand why. But before I sing it’s praises, let me begin with the one minor flaw with the album, if you want to call it that. It is with the song “Rough and Ready,” which is about being a hard man. Now, in my mind, there is nothing more ridiculous than someone who is clearly not hard trying to sound like they are and sorry Biff, you’re not convincing here. Saying that, the song does redeem itself with some good musicianship equal to the rest of the album.

That leads nicely to the monster classics on this album, there are no fewer than five blockbusting songs on “Denim and Leather.” Of course,  I have to mention the track already mentioned “Princess of the Night.” It has such a killer intro that stays with you long after the song is done. Even now, I listen to it and say “wow!” Not taking anything away from the three songs that follow “Princess of the Night,” especially “Never Surrender,” but “Play It Loud” is definitely the “Wheels of Steel” of the album in the sense that it is the perfect song to play at full volume when driving in your car. I bought the album on cassette so I got to do a lot of that back in the day. Just when you’ve gotten over it, your ear drums are once again assaulted by another great one in the form of “And the Band Played On.” The guitar work in this song is completely amazing, my head just wants to keep banging away to it even when it’s over. “Midnight Rider” follows on and between this song and “Princess of the Night,” I get the impression that Saxon are into trains because that’s two songs about them. That doesn’t stop the former from also being a killer song. Then following “Fire in the Sky,” which like April Wine’s “Caught in the Crossfire” is about nuclear destruction, a relevant fear back in 1981 with Ronald Regan wanting to put cruise missiles everywhere, is one of the finest album closers of all time. The title track “Denim and Leather” is the best way to bring any album to a close. Like the other gems on the album, it has that memorable guitar crunch that aids Biff Byford’s vocals in creating history. For me, Saxon’s “Denim and Leather” is definitely my pick for one of the best albums of 1981.

Track Listing:

1. Princess of the Night

2. Never Surrender

3. Out of Control

4. Rough and Ready

5. Play it Loud

6. And the Band Played On

7. Midnight Rider

8. Fire in the Sky

9. Denim and Leather



Biff Byford- vocals

Graham Oliver- guitars

Paul Quinn- guitars

Steve Dawson- bass

Pete Gill- drums

When people mention NWOBHM, they are quick to say Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Def Leppard, but Saxon only gets mentioned as an after thought in many cases. I think the problem was that they put out their three greatest albums in rapid succession, sort of like Blackfoot. Furthermore, Oliver and Quinn often get left out when great guitar duos are mentioned. They are every bit as good a combo as Downing/Tipton and Smith/Murray. It is a shame that they didn’t make it as big as the the others but they’re every bit as good. “Denim and Leather” is proof in the pudding.

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13 Responses to “Great Metal Albums of 1981: Saxon- Denim and Leather”

  1. Great review. I absolutely love Saxon. Those early albums are just genius and a lot of their recent albums have been brilliant as well. More people need to know about Saxon!


  2. Yep for me my first Saxon purchased was The Eagle Has Landed. That version of Wheels Of Steel is wickedly good! Actually this one also is good but for some reason I really love the live album.


  3. Great review, but for my money Wheels and Strongarm just edge this one – just …


  4. This is my favourite of theirs. Great band, great album, no filler.


    • Also, I agree about the hard-man thing. Sometimes you see people acting tough and you just think, hmmm…

      90s Phil Anselmo, probably tough. Zack Wylde, probably tough. Biff…. I’m not so sure.


      • Agreed on all counts but if you want someone who is definitely hard, then it has to be Billy Milano from the Stormtroopers of Death.


      • I have the record, but I’ve never seen/heard him in any interviews. I don’t know him other than the voice on the record… but I’ll trust your assessment.

        I reckon the Sick Of It All/Biohazard/Madball guys are probably tough too, what with all the muscles and street attitude. Maybe its a hardcore thing. S.O.D’s Billy is from the Hardcore world isn’t he?


      • Yes he is. His other band was M.O.D. Method of Destruction. It is probably a hardcore thing.


  5. Biff Byford was handy with a sledgehammer if you want to know. He once said in an interview he liked nothing better than knocking down walls and knocking out old fireplaces in renovated houses!

    Saxon are a British institution alongside Iron Maiden, Motorhead, the miners’ union, crown green bowling and sunburn. I’ll go the grave wondering why they were never as big as Maiden. Their collection of songs are templates for rock. Maybe Biff cared too much for his sledghammer and what he could do with it at the weekends.


    • He was. I did read about him renovation old houses as a hobby but it doesn’t stop the lyrics from “Rough and Ready” from being a bit naff. I can’t understand why Saxon never made as far as they did because they were definitely good enough.


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