I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight

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I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (Richard Thompson album - cover art).jpg
Studio album by
Released30 April 1974
RecordedMay 1973
StudioSound Techniques, Chelsea, London
GenreFolk rock[1]
Length36:55 (original)
53:26 (2004 reissue)
ProducerRichard Thompson, John Wood
Richard and Linda Thompson chronology
Henry the Human Fly
I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
Hokey Pokey

I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight is the second album released by Richard Thompson and the first including and credited with his then wife, Linda Thompson as Richard and Linda Thompson. It was released by Island Records in the UK in 1974. Although never commercially successful and critically ignored upon its release, it is now considered by a number of critics to be a masterpiece and one of the finest works of both Richard and Linda singularly or together.

The album has been included on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.


After the marked lack of success achieved by his first album, Henry the Human Fly, British singer/songwriter/guitarist Richard Thompson started a personal and professional relationship with Linda Peters, a session singer. I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight was the first album by the duo of Richard and Linda Thompson.

Sessions for the album took place in Spring 1973 at the Sound Techniques studio, in Chelsea, London with house engineer John Wood co-producing with Thompson; the album, provisionally titled Hokey Pokey, was recorded on a shoestring budget in a matter of days, but because of vinyl shortages, the album was not released until 1974.[2]

Where his first album was treated harshly by the critics, the second was eventually hailed as a masterpiece, it is now regarded as a classic of English folk rock and one of the Thompsons' finest achievements.

In the sleeve notes for the 2004 CD re-release, David Suff writes: "Throughout the album Richard's sombre, dark songs are driven by his masterful understated guitar and Linda's haunting spiritual vocals; the songs detail a beautiful yet desolate world of life before the fall, the lives of the homeless, the thief and the inebriate. The songs are thoroughly English in their mood and responsibility, wry observations of the hopelessness of the human condition."[2] Considering the song "End of the Rainbow", Suff writes:

Richard denies that the song is totally pessimistic, "there's always hope in the third verse of my songs" yet the overall effect is a magnificent evocation of disillusionment. Thompson's songs are despairing but not self-pitying, leaving the listener with an abiding sense of peace and, paradoxically hope.[2]


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic5/5 stars [3]
Robert ChristgauA− [4]
Q5/5 stars[5]
Rolling Stone4.5/5 stars [6]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4.5/5 stars [7]
Spin Alternative Record Guide(10/10) [8]

Initially ignored by reviewers, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight later came to be highly regarded. Robert Christgau rated it highly when it was re-released as one-half of Live! (More or Less) noting that "[they] don't sentimentalize about time gone—they simply encompass it in an endless present."[4] When it was re-released in 1984, along with other albums in the Thompsons' catalogue, Kurt Loder writing in Rolling Stone described it as a "timeless masterpiece" with "not a single track that's less than luminous".[6]

More recent reviews are equally complimentary. AllMusic notes that the album is "nothing short of a masterpiece" and calls it "music of striking and unmistakable beauty".[3] Q (May 2007, p. 135): "After his 1971 departure from Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson found his ideal foil in recent bride Linda. A hugely inventive guitarist, he gives full vent to his talent on this dark, brooding album. Indeed, he never quite recaptured the murky demons inside the likes of 'Withered and Died' ever again."

In 2003 the album was placed at number 479 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time;[9] the album also appeared in the Mojo "100 Greatest Albums Ever Made".[2]

Cover versions and cultural references[edit]

The title track has been covered by, among others, Lucy Kaplansky, Dori Freeman, Weddings Parties Anything, Arlo Guthrie, Matt Pond PA, Ocean Colour Scene, Julie Covington and Sleater-Kinney.

Caitlin Cary, Kate Rusby and Elvis Costello have all covered "Withered and Died". Kelly Willis has sung an acapella version in concert.

Costello has also covered "The End of the Rainbow," as has Barbara Manning.

Maria McKee covered "Has He Got a Friend for Me" on her first solo album Maria McKee (1989).

The Fatima Mansions covered "The Great Valerio" on their 1991 mini-album Bertie's Brochures.

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Richard Thompson (except for "Together Again", by Buck Owens).

Side one
1."When I Get to the Border"3:26
2."The Calvary Cross"3:51
3."Withered and Died"3:24
4."I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight"3:07
5."Down Where the Drunkards Roll"4:05
Side two
6."We Sing Hallelujah"2:49
7."Has He Got a Friend for Me"3:32
8."The Little Beggar Girl"3:24
9."The End of the Rainbow"3:55
10."The Great Valerio"5:22
2004 CD bonus tracks (previously unreleased)
11."I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight" (live)3:04
12."Together Again" (live)2:46
13."Calvary Cross" (live)9:54

Bonus tracks were recorded at the Roundhouse, London, on 7 September 1975.



Bonus tracks: Richard and Linda Thompson with John Kirkpatrick, Dave Pegg (bass guitar) and Dave Mattacks (drums).


2004 CD re-release:

  • Tim Chacksfield - research and project co-ordination
  • Joe Black - project co-ordination for Universal
  • David Suff - sleeve note and archive assistance
  • Phil Smee - CD package design


  1. ^ Fielder, Hugh (19 September 2016). "The 10 Essential Folk Rock Albums". Classic Rock. TeamRock. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d Suff, David (2004), Sleeve notes for I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight CD re-release, Island Records, IMCD 304/ 981 790-7
  3. ^ a b Deming, Mark. I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight at AllMusic. Retrieved 28 March 2006.
  4. ^ a b Christgau, Robert. "Richard Thompson: Live (More or Less)". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 14 November 2011. (I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight was included as half of this release, which the review notes as more significant.)
  5. ^ Q, May 2007, Issue 250.
  6. ^ a b Loder, Kurt (29 March 1984). "Henry the Human Fly / Hokey Pokey / I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight / Pour Down like Silver / Sunnyvista > Hannibal Reissues Review". Rolling Stone (419). Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  7. ^ Considine, J.D. (2004). "Richard and Linda Thompson". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. London: Fireside. pp. 812–813. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  8. ^ Weisbard, Eric; Marks, Craig, eds. (1995). Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. p. 405. ISBN 0-679-75574-8.
  9. ^ Levy, Joe; Steven Van Zandt (2006) [2005]. "479 | I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight – Richard and Linda Thompson". Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (3rd ed.). London: Turnaround. ISBN 1-932958-61-4. OCLC 70672814. Archived from the original on 17 November 2007.


  • Richard Thompson – The Biography by Patrick Humphries. Schirmer Books. 0-02-864752-1
  • The Great Valerio – A Study of the Songs of Richard Thompson by Dave Smith.
  • 1001 Albums by Robert Dimery and Michael Lydon