What is left to be said about Richard & Linda Thompson’s swan song and masterpiece Shoot Out The Lights? It has garnered all kinds of honors in the nearly 30 years since its 1982 release, landing on more “best of” lists than you can count. Books, and probably more than one thesis, have been written about it. It is one of the best folk-rock albums ever recorded, and an essential part of the record or CD collections of anybody with functioning auditory organs.
It is entirely appropriate that Rhino Handmade, Ryko and Hannibal Records have collaborated on this special deluxe two-disc edition. The first disc is the original eight-song album, recorded pretty much live in the studio over a period of about three days. The second has 12 tracks recorded on the couple’s first, last and only tour of the U.S., which took place in 1982 after the couple had announced their breakup.
At just eight tracks, there is no wasted time or energy on the Shoot Out The Lights album. (A ninth track, the forgettable “Living In Luxury” was added to the original release of the album on CD in the early ’90s.) It opens with the galloping “Don’t Renege On Our Love,” the plea of a man who fears his lover is leaving and doesn’t know what to do but plead. As sung by Linda and wrung from the Telecaster by Richard, “Walking On A Wire” is one of the most devastating songs of dying love ever written or performed. Richard convincingly sings the part of a man leaving his family because of a heart filled with unmet but nebulous desires in “A Man In Need.” Linda sings convincingly of someone drifting in a haze of abject surrender in the eerily melancholy “Just The Motion.” The second half opens with the proto-metal thunder of “Shoot Out The Lights,” followed by the Celtic-tribal stomp of “Back Street Slide.” Linda sings the blood-curdling “Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed?” and things come to an ambiguous conclusion with the upbeat-sounding “Wall Of Death,” a carnivalesque song about living life on the edge.
Richard still regularly performs six of the eight songs in his live sets, probably the highest percentage of songs from any of his albums to get that treatment. The fans would be highly disappointed if they didn’t get at least two, maybe three of them every time. It is, in short, a true example of that overworked term, the classic album.
The live disc, comprising 12 songs recorded on the last two nights of the SOTL United States tour in 1982, is a treat and a revelation. I hardly know where to start.
Roughly half of the songs were recorded on the penultimate night, June 4, in Santa Cruz, California, a show that Linda didn’t make it to; the other half are from June 6 in San Francisco. It was the end of a spectacularly fraught series of performances across the U.S., the first and last for Richard & Linda and band — Simon Nicol, Pete Zorn and Dave Mattacks.
One very special track, though, was from an unnoted night on that 1982 tour. It is a cover of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine,” radically rearranged as a slow-burning soul song. Linda sings lead, and Richard joins in on the choruses. Nicol strums an acoustic guitar, Richard plays electric and Zorn and Mattacks bass and drums, all in an understated arrangement that lets the emotion of the lyrics and the vocals shine through. We’re all lucky that front-of-house soundman Simon Tassano was taping it and the tape survived. (It was Tassano’s first tour with Thompson, by the way, and he’s still filling the soundman’s seat for RT.)
The disc starts with the instrumental “Dargai.” It’s a bagpipe tune of the style known as pibroch, I believe. (It originally was played as the second part of a medley with “Dimming Of The Day” on Pour Down Like Silver.) I wondered why it would be placed at the top of the set, until I heard Richard’s guitar work on the next track, “Back Street Slide” from Shoot Out The Lights, and recognized similarly pipe-inspired guitar work. Great backing vocals from Nicol and Zorn, by the way.
On the rest of the album, Linda performs beautiful renditions of “Pavanne,” one of their oddest songs, about a female assassin (from First Light); Sandy Denny’s “I’m A Dreamer” “For Shame Of Doing Wrong” (from Pour Down Like Silver); and the sublime “Dimming Of The Day” (also from Pour Down Like Silver). Because Linda was absent at the Santa Cruz show, we get a rarity, Richard singing on “Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed?” He also sings on “Borrowed Time” from Sunnyvista, “Shoot Out The Lights” and Hank Williams’s “Honky Tonk Blues.”
An unlisted and uncredited bonus track is a rollicking take on the Everly Brothers’ “The Price Of Love.” From the way it ends, I’d guess it was a final encore song. The recording quality is poor, sounding almost like an audience bootleg recording. The song itself could, of course, be the theme song of the entire 1982 R< tour.
Part of what makes this edition of SOTL “deluxe” is the book that it comes with. It’s a hardcover book, about 6×6 inches, with the two discs nesting inside the front and back covers. Those hard covers enclose a 40-page booklet with a slew of great photos, including outtakes from the session for the album’s original cover, color and b&w shots of Richard and Linda, live shots from the tour and more. It also has interviews or written material from pretty much all of the participants and then some, including producer Joe Boyd, American Fairport insider Frank Kornelussen, and a few words from Mattacks, Zorn, Pegg and Tassano, as well as reissue co-producer Ed Haber. And a facsimile of Hannibal’s original one-sheet press release for SOTL, a 1982 interview with Richard and some 2010 quotes from Linda about the making of the album and the live tracks.
Among Linda’s notes on the songs:
“Don’t Renege On Our Love”: “I was supposed to sing this, but my dysphonia was full blown and I couldn’t. Luckily, Richard did a great job.”
“For Shame Of Doing Wrong (live)”: “I wasn’t going to mention my drunkenness on these tracks, but oh my God! For the sticklers amongst you, the backing vocals are relentlessly in tune. I kept kicking Richard during the solo, hence the sense of urgency … “
All kinds of records from the past 50 years have received reissue after reissue. This is one of the finest I’ve ever seen, and at a decent price. It honors in an entirely appropriate way an album that is truly deserving. Even if you already have one or more versions of Shoot Out The Lights, this one is definitely worth having.
Here’s a video of an audience recording of “Dimming Of The Day” that purports to be from that 1982 tour.