A Richard Thompson Chronology: All the Albums 1968 – 2013

RTChronElectricRTChronFCAs I was drafting an overview of two Richard Thompson albums for an upcoming Album of the Week feature, I pondered my strategy for writing the FURTHER LISTENING section at the end of the post. With a career spanning five decades, RT has a large, rich catalog; as a look at one of my favorite performers, simply noting a title or two didn’t seem feasible.

Instead, here is a single-feature overview of the many albums credited to – or significantly featuring – the incomparable Richard Thompson.

A Note on Grading: The grades assigned to each album are (of course) my personal estimates of how each work stacks up in RT’s catalog. Frankly, other than a couple of the side projects, even a C+ by Richard Thompson holds up pretty well against most of the music of the past five decades. Your mileage may vary.

The Fairport Years: 1967 – 1970
albums recorded as an active member of Fairport Convention; all credited to the band

  • Fairport Convention (1968, Polydor) A solid, if tentative, debut from a talented young band. [B-]
  • What We Did On Our Holidays (1969, Island) A quantum leap forward; one of the finest folk-pop albums of the era. [A+]
  • Unhalfbricking (1969, Island) Critically lauded but a bit uneven, with some moments of true brilliance, notably Who Knows Where the Time Goes? [A-]
  • Liege and Lief (1969, Island) One of the cornerstones of traditional folk rock and a powerful disc that stands the test of time. [A+]
  • Full House (1970, Island) RT’s last disc with the group on a solid set that presaged the all-male trad/cover blend that would serve Fairport well for most of the next four decades. [B+]
  • House Full (1986, Hannibal) Recorded in 1970, the only official live Fairport album with RT as a member of the band; a good overview of the powerful live sound, notable for a stunning version of the Thompson/Swarbrick song Sloth [B]

The Linda Years: 1972 – 1984
albums recorded from his Fairport departure up to his return to the major label;
mostly recorded with wife Linda Thompson unless otherwise noted

  • starring as Henry the Human Fly – Richard Thompson (reprise, 1972) A fine solo debut that shows RT’s skill at blending the uniquely English with rock traditions. [A]
  • I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (Island, 1974) A luminous gem with RT’s writing leaping forward and Linda’s vocals adding just the right note. [A+]
  • Hokey Pokey (Island, 1975) A fun mixed bag with a few real delights. [B+]
  • Pour Down Like Silver (Island, 1975) Dark meditations and songs of quiet power as the Thompsons prepared to retreat into a Sufi commune. [A]
  • First Light (Chrysalis, 1978) Overproduced and cluttered in spots, but a fine return with a handful of great songs. [B]
  • SunnyVista (Chrysalis, 1979) Trying too hard to shove the Thompsons into 70s pop, well-meaning producer Gerry Rafferty created their weakest disc of the decade. [B-]
  • Strict Tempo! – Richard Thompson (Elixir, 1981) A fun side project between labels, an all-instrumental set of mostly traditional favorites. [B]
  • Shoot Out the Lights (Hannibal, 1982) Simply one of the finest albums ever made. Harrowing yet hopeful. [A+]
  • Hand of Kindness – Richard Thompson (1983, Hannibal) RT becomes comfortable as a solo act and bandleader, presenting one of his most consistent and often fun sets. [A-]
  • Small Town Romance – Richard Thompson (1984, Hannibal) A flawed live album of solo acoustic sets that shows off some rare tracks but was eventually pulled. [B-]

The Major Label Years: 1985 – 1999
albums recorded for Polydor and Capitol as he emerged from cult status and received some alternative radio airplay

  • Across A Crowded Room (1985, Polydor) A stirring set of songs that set the stage for RT’s growing fame. Wonderful songs, great music, strong band. [A-]
  • Daring Adventures (1986, Polydor) The first of RT’s albums with mixed-bag producer Mitchell Froom; a more subdued outing with some fine moments. [B+]
  • Amnesia (1988, Capitol) The least Froom-y of the series, ten songs without a dud but also without a strong standout. [B]
  • Rumor and Sigh (1991, Capitol) Some of RT’s best writing of the 90s and his commercial breakthrough (such as it was); the best songs worked better live and stripped down. [B+]
  • Mirror Blue (1994, Capitol) A few great songs, some ideas that don’t quite click, and the most intrusive Froom bag of tricks. A couple of gems, but arguably his weakest regular solo album. [B-]
  • You? Me? Us? (1996, Capitol) A fun two-disc set split between acoustic and electric songs. Edited down to one disc, it might have been brilliant; as it is, a very fine release. [B+]
  • Mock Tudor (1999, Capitol) Three mini-suites of strong songs about life in the post-industrial age, bracketing this period with his finest outing in years. [A-]

The Recent Years: 2000 – 2014
albums recorded since leaving Capitol, building on his reputation as an eclectic veteran musician and musical historian

  • The Old Kit Bag (2003, Cooking Vinyl) Unbound by big label expectations, RT’s work feels looser and more direct, with a nice set of songs. [B+]
  • 1000 Years of Popular Music (2003, Beeswing) A delightful concert disc showcasing his approach to the “Best songs of the past Millennium” challenge. Smart, funny, and brilliantly played, a great showcase of RT the music historian. [B+]
  • Live From Austin, Texas (2005, New West) A decent glimpse at the power of a live RT show. [B]
  • Front Parlour Ballads (2005, Cooking Vinyl) One of his finest sets of songs, very English folk rock with a smart, dark edge. [A]
  • Sweet Warrior (2007, Shout! Factory) Another set without a dud but without a strong standout. [B]
  • Dream Attic (2010, Shout! Factory) Continuing the trend, some fine work. [B]
  • Electric (2013, New West) New life and energy, taking the lead from the last two discs but moving with renewed passion. [A-]

Side Projects, Soundtracks, and Collaborations
albums from all of Thompson’s career that feature him as a part of a special project or in partnership with other musicians

  • Rock On – The Bunch (1970, Island) Fairport alumni and friends cover hits of the 50s; fun all around and a few magical moments. [B]
  • Morris On – Morris On (1970, Island) Former Fairport bassist and trad folk guru Ashley Hutchings’ all-star tribute to Morris music. Not for everyone, but brilliantly selected, sequenced, and played. [A-]
  • Live, Love, Larf, Loaf – French, Frith, Kaiser, Thompson (1987, Rhino) Four musical friends with little obviously in common turning out an eclectic, delightful outing with some real highs and a couple of clunkers. [B+]
  • The Marksman (music from the BBC series) – Richard Thompson and Peter Filleul (1987, BBC) A great showcase for the more subtle side of RT as he creates a strong musical backdrop for the TV program, just not a very strong Thompson sampler. [B-]
  • Invisible Means – French, Frith, Kaiser, Thompson (1990, Windham Hill) Lightning didn’t strike twice. Some fine moments, but not as magical as their first disc together. [B-]
  • Hard Cash – various artists (1990, Special Delivery) Modern work songs crafted for a BBC documentary series on the British working class. Co-produced by RT with Peter Filleul, featuring two strong RT performances and 12 other powerful songs by his friends and colleagues. [A-]
  • Sweet Talker – Richard Thompson (1991, Capitol) The disc that made him swear never to do another soundtrack, a very mixed bag of mostly mediocre mood music with one track that turned into something special later, the Tim Finn collaboration Persuasion. [C-]
  • Drunk With Passion – The Golden Palominos (1991, Restless) RT’s one outing with Anton Fier’s revolving door superstar experiment, a solid and predictably unpredictable journey. [B]
  • Live at Crawley – Richard Thompson with Danny Thompson (1995, Flypaper) The first of RT’s efforts to stave off bootlegs by releasing live work through his website. Of particular note since it’s all acoustic renderings by a brilliant duo that shows off some of the Rumor and Sigh material to its best advantage.
  • Industry – Richard Thompson and Danny Thompson (1997, Hannibal) A concept album about the end of the industrial age, nicely carried off and lovingly crafted. [B]
  • The Bones of All Men – Mr. Phillip Pickett with Mr. Richard Thompson and the Fairport Rhythm Section (1998, Rykodisc) An instrumental outing featuring two musical historians on an eclectic set of tunes compiled by Pickett. Intriguing and often dazzling. [B]
  • Grizzly Man – Richard Thompson (2005, Cooking Vinyl) Working with Werner Herzog got RT to do another soundtrack, and this one is his best, a truly evocative set of soundscapes. [B+]
  • Richard Thompson’s Cabaret of Souls (2012, Beeswing) A fascinating long-term project with compelling narratives and unexpected music. [B]

Compilations, Retrospectives & Tributes
albums compiling previous material, unreleased gems, and cover collections

  • (guitar, vocal) (1976, Island) Some lost gems, alternate versions, and live performances from Fairport through Pour Down Like Silver; a mixed bag with some must-have material. [B+]
  • Heyday: The BBC Radio Sessions – Fairport Convention (1987, Hannibal) 12 tracks recorded by the classic 1968 lineup, featuring some lovely covers and a transcendent take on Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne. [B]
  • Watching the Dark (1993, Hannibal) Three discs providing a full career retrospective (up to that point), with some alternate versions, unreleased material, and live tracks. A decent summation and a nice source of rare material for fans. [A-]
  • The World Is A Wonderful Place: The Songs of Richard Thompson (1994, Green Linnet) The quirky tribute album with offerings from less famous acts and some fairly daring reinterpretations, plus a lost Richard and Linda track. More solid than most of the mid-90s tribute fare and worth the price of admission. [B+]
  • Beat the Retreat: Songs by Richard Thompson (1994, Capitol) The big guns tribute disc, with R.E.M., Bonnie Raitt, and others. Much less consistent but better produced than its oddball colleague. June Tabor, Maddy Prior, and Martin Carthy shine, as do Raitt and Bob Mould. Most of the rest is curious filler. [C+]
  • The Best of Richard and Linda Thompson: The Island Records Years (2000, Island) More a quick introduction to four albums with one alternate and one live version. Buy the originals. [A for content, C for usefulness]
  • Action Packed (2001, Capitol) A great overview of RT’s Capitol years, with a handful of worthwhile outtakes to boot. [A-]
  • RT, the Life and Music of Richard Thompson (2006, Free Reed) RT gets the five-disc Free Reed treatment in a loving, exhaustive box that is loaded with alternate and live versions. Too many poor recordings and not enough material from the source albums make this a collection for completists. [B]
  • Live at the BBC (2011, Universal) A stunning three-disc, career-spanning set of live-in-the-studio performances, showing off the RT’s diversity and the flexibility of some of his best songs. [A]
  • Walking On A Wire (2009, Shout! Factory) A four-disc overview of all of RT’s career from the first Fairport release through Sweet Warrior. Somewhat scorned for having no unreleased content, it is in fact a stunning retrospective and a great collection for casual fans. [A]

Note: This list does not include most of the many boutique releases (mostly live) available through Thompson’s fan club or website, nor does it include the dozens of albums on which he has provided session work. A reasonably complete list with these and a few other additions is available on Wikipedia.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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