Review Summary: Top Priority proves that Rory Gallagher wasn't just an incredible guitarist but also a superb song writer.
The late 1970’s was an interesting if somewhat turbulent period for the blues-rock scene. The ‘original’ Whitesnake had just emerged from the ashes of Deep Purple only to be told by their record label that they weren’t sure if there was even a market for a "hard-rocking blues band”. Guitarist Gary Moore was becoming further and further detached from his blues roots and would almost abandon them completely throughout the next decade. And the few remaining bands to come out of the so-called ‘British blues boom’ were either attempting to re-invent themselves or were on the cusp of breaking up.
However, one blues-rock musician, namely Rory Gallagher, was enjoying arguably the most successful period of his career. With the success of his 1978 album, Photo Finish, his current record label, Chrysalis, had promised to make the guitarist’s next album their “top priority”, hence the album’s title. The album was released less than a year after Photo Finish, which given his busy touring schedule, was quite remarkable considering the quality of the music on offer.
The tone of the album is set right from the off with the opening riff of the heavy rocker, Follow Me, which with it’s hook-laden chorus and powerful solo, harks back to Derek and the Dominos era Clapton except with a harder edge to it. Following track, Philby is another rocker and is one of Gallagher’s catchiest compositions and has since become a favourite among fans. The song is notable for featuring a rare 60’s Coral electric sitar, which Gallagher hired from Pete Townshend. The instrument gives the song a certain eastern flavour and shows that the guitarist was still willing to try different things more than a decade into his career. Songs like Keychain and Off The Handle have a more pure blues sound than is heard on the rest of the album but they still maintain that hard rock edge due to Rory’s energetic vocals and the intensity of his guitar playing.
One thing that Top Priority lacks is diversity, there are no acoustic-based numbers nor are there any lengthy slow-blues songs like Fuel to the Fire from Gallagher’s previous album, Photo Finish. The album is primarily made up of average length heavy blues-rock tracks, each of which show the singer/guitarist’s talent in the song writing department as well as his brilliant musicianship. The quality of the songs on Top Priority combined with the album’s consistency (there’s not one track that could be considered filler) more than make up for the lack of variation in style.
One of the album’s most memorable songs is the brilliant southern rocker, Bad Penny, which soon became a live favourite and is considered by fans as one of Rory’s finest songs. It’s songs like this that make Top Priority such an enjoyable listen, not only will it leave you in awe of his technical ability as a guitar player but it also shows just how good a song writer he was. Overall Top Priority is easily one of Rory Gallagher’s best albums and for someone looking to explore his back catalogue it should indeed be a ‘top priority’.