That 70’s Guy : RIOT – Narita (Retro Review)

For this fogottem gem of the 70’s, I’m time warping you back to the final year of the decade (1979) for what I call the lesser known or “forgotten” album of Riot’s big three with Guy Speranza.  Sandwiched in between Rock City and Fire Down Under was their second release Narita.  It was released initially in Japan and available as an import only in the USA at first.

Officially released on October 5th 1979, Narita was quickly added to my album collection and its rotation was one of the busiest I have ever had.  Riot was still an unknown band at this time and I felt that they were all mine. No FM airplay, no Top 40 material, no local tours, no MTV, no videos, just the Number 1 album in Brian Ronald’s basement – perfect!

This album consisted of 4 of the 5 members from Rock City.  Guy (one of the greatest of all time) Speranza on vocals, Mark (completely underrated) Reale on lead guitar, Rick Ventura (replacing LA Kouvaris) on guitar, Peter Bitelli on drums and Jimmy Iommi on bass.

Anyone who follows Riot knows the early story of this band, including member changes, record company issues and the lack of promotion.  Riot was about to call it quits when DJ Neal Kay spread the word throughout Britain. Unlike Rock City, that was fighting its way through the disco era, Narita was released just as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was emerging. The timing couldn’t have been better.                                    

Meanwhile back in my boy cave, I knew none of this. I just knew that I had a second album from a band that just friggin’ rocked. I also wasn’t quite sure about another album cover that contained some kind of man/seal. This time it contained a low flying plane, explosions, a bunch of skulls and the man/seal looking like a sumo wrestler. Maybe it had something to do with the 70’s and the “things” that were available at the time.

OK – let’s do this!

RIOT – Narita (released October 5th 1979 on Fire Sign Records)

       Side One

  1. Waiting for the Taking – one second in, Guy puts that pure voice in action. Not long after, the guitars are kicking in with that dual power with Reale putting his “mark” on the album right away. Guy and Mark blend so well together. A voice as melodic as you can get, mixed with some of the heaviest and finest guitar work you can find. This song just sets the tone for what will come next. Guy singing over Mark’s ending guitar is just a marriage that will never be heard again in rock, in my opinion.
  2. 49er – Fabulous heavy beat, with Bitelli just smashing on the skins from start to finish. Heavy guitar bridges and soloing galore. I’m only halfway through the second song and the air-guitaring is hurting my hands.
  3. Kick Down the Wall – an instant Riot Fantastic guitar intro, with one of the best choruses in any rock song. Forget air-guitars, it’s head-banging time!! Ventura is just pounding that Gibson! Can I hear that one again?
  4. Born to Be Wild – OK, somebody has to do it, but remember, back in ’79, this was probably the first cover of the “original” heavy metal song…and why not? Van Halen struck gold a year earlier with “You Really Got Me”. As for this, great job and true to the original – short, fast and heavy! Of course, Mark turns it up a notch too.
  5. Narita – Fantastic instrumental, with a great beat and flow, not to mention a guitar solo lover’s dream. When I went back and played this album for this review, I completely forgot about this one. Boy, did it bring back those basement days with the old hockey stick out. Shivers and all!

Side Two

  1. Here We Come Again – I’ll admit it now, this is my album fav and one of the best Riot songs of all time; just magical. Guy at the top of his game, fabulous chorus, guitars crashing in from all sides and Mark just absolutely ripping it up with what is like one big giant solo from start to finish. Who is this guy? “Find me a way to get out of here”!!
  2. Do It Up – A perfectly named fast paced little rocker with attitude. “Do It Up, Rip It Up” they sure do. Oh yeah, did I mention another solo to die for?
  3. Hot For Love – A slow intro that just rips into what is one of the heaviest Riot songs on record. I bet you can’t listen without singing out loud. Go ahead try it. I always wondered why they didn’t use those amazing background harmonies more often. It just sounds so good and still fresh as ever. Another album highlight for sure. Faster, faster she says!
  4. White Rock – A pure rock song that was as good as a 70’s rock song could be.
  5. Road Racin’ – the signature song that is still played live to this day. This was the song featured on the 1980 Monsters of Rock Castle Donington album, alongside Rainbow, Scorpions, Saxon, April Wine and Touch. A masterclass from Mark Reale. A follow up to Overdrive possibly? There really isn’t a lot to say other than just turn it up loud, put yourself behind the wheel and sink yourself in.

Of the first three Riot albums, Narita is the rawest, cleanest and, in my opinion, the heaviest of them. Depending on my mood and the day, I switch between all of them getting top spot as my favourite. That’s a good problem to have, as they are all desert island classics from a time gone by where heavy music had a real place in the mainstream. Narita has no fillers. Every song is great. No lifting the needle or fast forwarding needed here.  It truly is a shame that Mark and Guy were only together for these three, but man oh man, what a three.

The NWOBHM was the rage of heavy rock music but it was an American band from New York City that grabbed my attention first!

Road Racin’
Movin’ on down the line
Shiftin’ gears, racin’ through space and time
Move so fast I can’t explain
Hands on the wheel I’m on the road again
Baby only time to my lovin’ machine
Radio’s blastin’
Rockin’ all night
Rolling down the highway through the dead of night
Road racin’

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