English folk-rock duo Richard and Linda Thompson’s career resembled a soap opera. Active as recording artists between 1974 and 1982, they married, released three albums in quick succession, then spent three years in a Sufi Muslim commune where Richard’s religious leader forbade him from playing music. Leaving the commune, their career faded and they were dropped from their record deal. 1982’s Shoot Out The Lights was a breakthrough and reignited their career, but the couple had already split up, and their subsequent tour of North America was famously tense and difficult. The coupling of Richard’s snappy Fender Stratocaster work and song-craft, and Linda’s clear contralto, left some great songs behind.
Richard and Linda Thompson Albums Ranked From Worst to Best
The joyful Richard and Linda Thompson of Sunnyvista isn’t convincing. This uncharacteristically perky album is often forced and hollow. Sunnyvista marks a return to the duo’s folk roots after the slick First Light, but their dalliance with funk on ‘Justice in the Streets’ is a failure. Thompson later dismissed his late 1970s output, saying “I just didn’t have my mind on the job”.
#5 First Light
My theory for the existence of First Light is that a creative record executive envied the success of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and decided that the closest British substitute would be to pair Richard and Linda Thompson with a slick and incongruous Californian rhythm section. The dabbling into disco works for the smooth and slinky ‘Don’t Let A Thief Steal Into Your Heart’, while the title track is pretty and unspoiled.
#4 Hokey Pokey
Hokey Pokey is cut from a similar cloth to I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, another very English record cut with folk musicians like Aly Bain and John Kirkpatrick. Many of these character studies of disturbed people, however, are second-tier pieces in the couples’ catalogue. There’s one superlative song in the gorgeous ‘A Heart Needs A Home’.
#3 Pour Down Like Silver
Their third album finds this often dour couple at their dourest, with sparse arrangements and songs based on Sufi scriptures. In fact, Pour Down Like The Silver might be the least fun album ever made by anyone – only ‘Hard Luck Stories’ presents a hint of levity. The songs are strong, however – ‘Dimming of the Day’ is a gorgeous closer, and ‘Beat The Retreat’ is a haunting folk workout. Following this album, Richard Thompson retired from music for three years, returning when he realised he wasn’t good at anything else.
#2 Shoot Out The Lights
There’s little folk music on the duo’s final album. Richard rocks through the title track, and Linda sings torch songs like the Sandy Denny speculation of ‘Did She Jump (Or Was She Pushed)?’ Its excellence was a pleasant surprise after a couple of weak albums. It could have reignited the couple’s career, but by the time it was released Richard and Linda had broken up.
#1 I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
The Thompsons’ debut album is their freshest and most engaging. It covers a lot of emotional ground. There’s joy on the opener ‘When I Get To The Border’ and the title track, contrasting with the soul-crushing advice to a newborn baby on ‘End of the Rainbow’ and the haunting ‘The Great Valerio’.
What’s your favourite Richard and Linda album?
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