36 Years Ago: Triumph Finally Break Through in the U.S. With ‘Just a Game’
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The notion may seem a tad overdramatic in retrospect, but, in late March 1979, when Canadian hard rockers Triumph unleashed Just a Game – their second or third album, depending on which side of the 49th Parallel you were standing in – their career longevity was anything but certain.
Yes, the group were already bona fide stars in their homeland, with gold and platinum certifications awarded to both of their domestically released LPs and a prestigious headline performance at the Canada Jam Festival in August 1978. But they were still relative nobodies across the border, where, except for a few pockets of radio support, their long-term prospects looked sketchy, at best.
In other words, the time had come for Triumph to put up or shut up – especially in light of the recent, noteworthy success enjoyed by fellow Canuck trio, Rush, whose standard-setting achievements always served as simultaneous inspiration and an albatross around the necks of Triumph members, Rik Emmett (vocals/guitar), Michael Levine (bass) and Gil Moore (drums/vocals).
Yet, put up was just what Triumph did, in the shape of Just a Game, which delivered the group’s first Top 40 hit in the anthemic “Hold On,” and nearly a second with its gauntlet-tossing counterpart, “Lay It on the Line,” which struck a perfect balance between the band’s melodic instincts, progressive refinements and thunderous hard rock.
Equally impressive was the album’s rousing opener, “Movin’ On,” which tacked on audience applause behind a Gil Moore lead vocal while somehow resembling a tougher version of Styx, and its majestic title track, a thought-provoking commentary about materialism framed by similarly impressive arrangements. Both of them contributed to the album’s eventual Gold sales in the U.S.
In every other respect, Just a Game was really just another great Triumph album: rounded out by reliably direct Moore rockers (“Young Enough to Cry,” “American Girls”) and paradoxically highbrow Emmett showcases (the classical piece “Fantasy Serenade,” the bossa nova of “Suitcase Blues”). All of which proved that the band’s creative versatility had never been at fault to begin with, but simply in need of a little more fine-tuning and the broader exposure provided by incessant touring, back and forth across the continent. At last, Triumph was living up to their name and they would continue to do so, for years to come.
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