The Alarm: Strength, and Walk Forever By My Side
In our heirloom series we feature under-appreciated classics that are deserving of a bit more recognition and adulation. Today, I take a look at The Alarm’s 1985 classic Strength, with a deeper look into my favorite song from the album “Walk Forever By My Side,” including thoughts from the man who wrote it, Mike Peters.
Make sure you check out our first Heirloom Album, Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story.
I’ve always loved rock music. And when I say “always” I’m not kidding. My first words were “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” from the Beatles’ “She Loves You,” and it has been a life filled with rock ‘n roll ever since. When I left Philadelphia and went to Virginia Tech in the 80’s, I quickly became a college DJ where I expected that I’d be playing the artists who dominated the airwaves on popular WMMR – rockers like Springsteen, Petty and Van Halen.
But thankfully, college radio was quite different than commercial radio. I quickly realized that I was going to be playing a lot of alternative rock if I wanted to keep my gig. I was nervous but fortunately, 1985 was loaded with fantastic alt-rock. Bands like Echo & The Bunnymen, The Cure, The Replacements and Husker Du were all making great music, but the most tantalizing band of that era was The Alarm, a talented foursome from Wales.
The Alarm were riding a roiling wave of Celtic Rock fervor along with soul mates like Big Country, Simple Minds, The Waterboys and a young band from Ireland… U2. The timing was perfect when these four Welshmen released a little slice of perfection with their album Strength.
It was their second album, after their punk-tinged 1983 release Declaration which featured their first single, the raucous “68 Guns.” The album later became a favorite, as well. It was a fantastic mix of grit and melodies, but my exploration of Declaration took place only after I experienced the near-perfection of Strength.
The four members, Mike Peters, guitarist David Sharp, bassist Eddie MacDonald and drummer Nigel Twist complemented each other masterfully and in a two month period churned out ten pristine tracks, despite a revolving door of producers.
The first single was the title track, which became the band’s first Top 40 US single. It was their breakthrough moment, and the song that drew me in, and despite a few hit-filled future releases, nothing was as compelling as what we were gifted with on Strength.
“‘Cause I’m a man of emotions, Who can’t hide the tears
I’m a man of feeling, Who can’t hide the pain” – Strength
The ten songs are real. They’re autobiographical, political gems delivered with pure passion from a band at the top of their game. And, it never got the respect it deserved. It”s not a concept album, but it’s an album damn it! All of these songs belong together and weave together majestically. The music was distinctive for the time, and became timeless – the songs laced with visceral harmonica and a comfortable folk rock vibe, interspersed with hypnotizing military drums.
As great as the music was, Mike Peters’ vocals dominated the album. His voice drifted through the speakers – a friend sharing intimate life experiences with his gritty, soulful voice. And the lyrics he shared? Poignant, intimate, captivating and creative – there’s even a recurring theme where lyrics in one song reference another. The lyrics throughout the album spill forth the same angst and rancor that we grew to love on early Clash albums.
When you ain’t got no-one in this world,
It makes you feel useless
It gives you nothing to live for nothing to die oh no no
But it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s a glimpse into the 1985 mind of Mike Peters, and there’s hope and love for friends and family mixed in, as well. “Spirit of ’76” is pure magic. It starts off with tender harmonica and pulls us into Mike Peters’ teen years. It’s a rollicking adventure, and one of the iconic songs of the Celtic rock era.
“We first met in Mathew Street
Where we heard something that would set us free
A sign stands over a door, it says
“Four lads who shook the world”
In the depths of those heady nights
We would dream of those bright lights” – Spirit of ’76
It’s a wonderful collection of tracks. Ten songs just brimming with passion, laced with meaningful, poignant lyrics and played with heart by four superb musicians. A pure slice of absolute reality – a priceless, timeless offering from four lads who we later learned were playing amidst a bit of angst in their own a tumultuous world.
The first nine tracks were enough to make this album a classic, but the final track on the album has a special place in my heart. “Walk Forever By My Side” is the song I walked down the aisle to with my wife 25 years ago.
I recently bumped into Peters and cornered him long enough to ask about this beautiful track. And we quickly realized we had something in common.
Mike Peters: On our new film Man With the Camo Jacket, we get into my wedding day, and I’m singing “Walk Forever By My Side” to my wife and we’re still married 30 years later. I didn’t write it as a song to be played at weddings at all, but it seemed so appropriate when I had it at my won wedding
I keep bumping into other people like you who have encountered our music and who played it at their own wedding. Now it has gotten a whole new life as a standard wedding song outside of my world. It’s kind of unusual, right?
It was written on a Sunday morning so it has a sort of hymn-like feel to it. It was a very different kind of Alarm song, but the band has to be able to grow and develop, and reflect the humanity that it is experiencing and that’s a bog part of our lives, to make a deep connection.
It wasn’t a ht song and it wasn’t meant to be played on the radio, but it found its way into the world in a way we never imagined.
For I alone can’t face the future
I need your strength
To help me make it through
Walk forever by my side
Grab their music online: The Alarm
Peters is one of the most generous and courageous entertainers around. He’s currently walking across cancer raising awareness for cancer as he and his wife Jules both continue to fight the insidious disease. Check out our full interview with Mike Peters here: Mike Peters is Love, Hope, Strength and then catch him as a special guest on this summer’s Vans Warped Tour.
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The Alarm: Strength Track Listing
“Knife Edge” – 5:06
“Strength” – 5:34
“Dawn Chorus” – 5:24
“Spirit of ’76” – 7:05
“Deeside” – 3:08
“Father to Son” – 4:04
“Only the Thunder” – 4:06
“The Day the Ravens Left the Tower” – 4:45
“Absolute Reality” – 3:24
“Walk Forever by My Side” – 3:32