"There is a compelling argument that with Goodnight L.A. Magnum temporarily lost their identity and became something they were not": Goodnight L.A. by Magnum

Goodnight L.A. was meant to be Magnum’s big chance to break America, but eventually wasn't released there at all

Magnum: Goodnight L.A. cover art
(Image: © Polydor)

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Magnum: Goodnight L.A.

Magnum: Goodnight L.A. cover art

(Image credit: Polydor)

Rockin' Chair
Only a Memory
Reckless Man
Matter of Survival
What Kind of Love Is This?
Heartbroke and Busted
No Way Out
Cry for You
Born to Be King

Goodnight L.A. was Magnum’s shot at breaking America. The band travelled to LA to work with Keith Olsen, who had produced hit albums for Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake and the Scorpions. Jim Vallance and Russ Ballard were also brought in to write with Clarkin. 

It was heavy artillery. But in trying to broaden their appeal the band ran the risk of diluting the things that made them different. Rockin’ Chair was a rambunctious start, Only A Memory and Heartbroke And Busted oozed melody, and much of the rest was lustrous, high-end radio rock, but it lacked the quaint twist of Englishness that made Magnum unique. 

There was also disagreement between Olsen’s management and Magnum's UK people about who would handle the band in the States. They couldn’t agree, so after all that it didn’t even come out in America at all, and a parting with record label Polydor soon followed.

"Which is a shame, because it’s a bloody good album," frontman Bob Catley told Classic Rock. "I’m sure the Americans would have lapped it up. A lot of people loved the album. Some thought we’d gone American. The following year we put out a live album, The Spirit, to say: ‘We’re Magnum, we’re English, really!’”

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Other albums released in July 1990

  • Armchair Theatre - Jeff Lynne
  • Smooth Noodle Maps - Devo
  • The Hard Way - Steve Earle
  • Lights...Camera...Revolution! - Suicidal Tendencies
  • Seven Turns - The Allman Brothers Band
  • Spirits Dancing in the Flesh - Santana
  • 10 Brick by Brick - Iggy Pop
  • Flesh and Blood - Poison
  • Naked Thunder - Ian Gillan
  • Tales from the Twilight World - Blind Guardian
  • Apple - Mother Love Bone
  • Cowboys from Hell - Pantera
  • Bellybutton - Jellyfish
  • In the Heart of the Young - Winger
  • Un-Led-Ed - Dread Zeppelin


What they said...

"Magnum completely lost their identity here. What did they do to Catley's voice? It is hardly recognizable on some songs. The other thing that gave Magnum what little identity they had was the strong presence of keyboards. But the keyboards here are almost completely buried under hard rocking guitar riffs. And this makes it very hard to believe that this is the same band that did Vigilante a few years earlier." (Prog Archives)

"Goodnight L.A. is a fine continuation of the style that brought us winners like Lonely Night, Need a Lot of Love and the monumental Vigilante (perhaps their greatest song ever). The attempt to appeal to the American market means that Stanway’s contribution is diverted somewhat, but the heavier guitars pick up a fair bit of the slack and make this one of the easier Magnum records to just break out and enjoy in isolation. Consider the electric Rockin’ Chair, which is a compelling first impression during which Catley takes account of the band members’ advancing age." (The Metal Observer)

"There are some outside songwriters present on this one, and it shows especially on the first track which is typical 80's arena rock. But this is still Magnum's "back to the roots" album, with the return of the warm sound that's been missing since the classic album On A Storytellers Night. Highlights on this one include Mama, Only A Memory and Heartbroke And Busted." (Heavy Harmonies)


What you said...

Alex Hayes: It's shocking, and more than a little disheartening, to see just how quickly things can turn sour. Around a month ago, a letter plopped onto the welcome mat at Casa Hayes. It was a ticket for Magnum's upcoming show at the Manchester Academy in May. I was delighted, looking forward to both that gig and Here Comes The Rain, the band's new studio album.

Here we are a month later, and instead I'm lamenting the passing of Tony Clarkin, Magnum's mercurial songwriter and guitarist. Missing out on a gig is nothing in the grand scheme of things, utterly trivial. The realisation that it's the end of the road for one of my all time favourite British rock bands, and a constant soundtrack to my life since the late 80s, is something else entirely, and I'm gutted. I'm not the only one. I'm a member of The Official Magnum Facebook Group, and the shock, sadness and sense of loss among that community has been quite palpable. Thank you for all your great music over the years Tony. You were one of a kind and will be greatly missed, RIP.

Something that needs to be pointed out with relation to Magnum is the fact that the group never got around to making a legitimately bad album. 22 studio albums into their illustrious career (23 if you include the acoustic covers album Keeping The Night Lite Burning), and the quality control was still ridiculously high, right up until the end. My copy of Here Comes The Rain hasn't arrived yet, but I highly doubt that I'll be proven wrong with that statement. Magnum's dependability was one of their strengths.

Of course, there will always be those personal highlights. That's just inevitable. For me, those are mainly the predictable ones. On A Storytellers Night (always and forever the bands pinnacle), Chase The Dragon, Vigilante (Lonely Night, that album's opening track, was particularly bittersweet to listen to the other night. God, I love that song) and Wings Of Heaven. Brilliant records one and all, in a way these albums help to keep some very happy memories of the 80s alive for me (nostalgic musings that I suspect Tony Clarkin himself would not necessarily concur with). Less predictably though, I'd also include 1990's Goodnight L.A. among that elite group.

Why less obvious? Well, the album is considered a bit of an outlier from that period. Goodnight L.A., was the point where Magnum's label, Polydor Records, decided that an assault on the American market was the logical next step for the band. Success over there had eluded them up to that point. To accommodate this, certain compromises needed to be made. For the first time in the band's career, Clarkin was persuaded to work with outside songwriters. This was standard practice at the time, and a move that had worked well for the likes of Aerosmith and Heart. The album was expensively recorded in Los Angeles, with big name producer Keith Olsen, and, with tracks like Rockin' Chair and Heartbroke And Busted, ended up becoming the closest that Magnum ever came to big, corporate U.S. rock.

I say closest because, despite all that, this is still very much a quintessential Magnum record. The band members themselves are all on top form, and the album benefits from another one of Magnum's eternal strengths, engaging deep cuts. In this case, the likes of Only A Memory, A Matter Of Survival and Born To Be King. You got bang for your buck with this album too, 48 minutes worth no less. Every time I listen to a new Magnum album, the commitment levels and attention to detail invested in the music never fails to impress me. A terrific band that are masters of their particular craft. I can't bring myself to use the past tense there.

All this for an album that, after all that fuss, didn't even secure a U.S. release. It was successful enough on this side of the Atlantic though, and gave Magnum another U.K. Top 10 hit here. I think many Magnum fans of a certain age will remember seeing the band miming to Rocking Chair on Top Of The Pops that year. I certainly can. And, apart from a period of inactivity between 1995 and 2001, we've been behind the band ever since, following them through a genuinely satisfying 'second spell' era that ended up lasting 23 years and blessed us with another dozen studio albums.

We've surely finally reached The Last Dance though. That's heartbreaking, but what a catalogue of music and memories have been left behind. I look forward to Here Comes The Rain, and strongly recommend Goodnight L.A. as an album. That's if you can find a copy of it that is. This album is notoriously difficult to track down, as is it's follow up, 1992's Sleepwalking. Luckily, I've got CD copies of both.

A typically strong album from a brilliant band. 9/10, and keep the night lite burning.

Gary Claydon: I must admit, Magnum are one of those bands that I've kind of taken for granted these past 40 odd years. The release of a new Magnum album was never an 'event'. I don't recall ever thinking along the lines of "I must go out and buy Magnum's latest". Yet I did, a surprising number of times, going back to the debut after first hearing it's title track. Equally, I don't know how many times I've seen them live but I reckon I'd probably be surprised again by the number. Thing is, it's only been in fairly recent years that I actually went specifically to see Magnum, thanks to the healthy 'heritage' circuit and venues such as Holmfirth Picturedrome. When I first used to see them live, from 1979 onwards, it was always because I was going to watch the band(s) they were on with, either as support or as headliners. Undoubtedly, though, over all that time, both on record and on stage, Magnum have always been reliably entertaining, consistently solid with a liberal sprinkling of genuine class here and there.

To be honest, I have a preference for their early output. Those first few albums had a palpable 'prog' vein running through them which helped give their music an appealing quirkiness. Some of their later work would sail a little too far into AOR waters for my taste and the culmination of that was Goodnight L.A..

I don't think Goodnight L.A. is a particularly good Magnum album. That's not to say it's bad. It isn't. It's just that, whatever you'd describe as quintessential Magnum isn't quite there. A bit too slick, a bit too polished. Much of it is too generic, on several tracks there is a distinct feeling of 'this could be anybody'. Any hint of the prog thread is missing, partly due to the keyboards being swamped by the guitars. It has it's moments – Rockin' Chair in particular – but not enough of them to make it any more than a 6/10.

Adrian Smith: OK, I'll admit it up front, I'm a huge Magnum fan. Have seen them many times and even had the pleasure of meeting Bob in the bar at the Wychwood in Ashton prior to a gig. I remember when this album came out - it was panned by the critics and generally held in low esteem by the fans. It's not to the standard of Storyteller's or Wings Of Heaven - but how many albums are? Taken in isolation this is a good album, and 30-plus years down the line probably stands up better than it did then. As other reviewers have said, less prog influenced, keyboards less in evidence, more commercial possibly - but still unmistakably Magnum. A band that really should have been huge, but were much loved by their fans nonetheless. Apart from on this album, virtually everything the played came from the pen of Tony Clarkin - RIP Tony and thanks for the memories. Rating 8/10.

Brian Carr: This is proving somewhat of a challenging album for me to review. Part of it is I’m out of practice, having not reviewed a Club selection since November. Typically, I won’t read reviews on an unfamiliar album until I listen so I’m not swayed by other opinions. I didn’t do that this time, so the info gleaned affected my initial thoughts.

The comments led me to hear Goodnight L.A. as a record from a skilled British band with a definite following in Europe that were pushed to modify their sound for an American audience in hopes of a breakthrough here. While the performances were solid, especially the guitar work, I often envisioned music from an 80s/90s movie as I listened - that cliched music often heard during a montage. To follow that musical path and ultimately not even get promoted in the U.S. had me heading toward outrage, ready to rant against the whore-ific nature of the American music business.

But then before I started writing, I listened back to a bit of the Club selection from 2020, On A Storyteller’s Night, an album that I liked very much at the time, added to my Apple Music playlist, but haven’t listened to since. In admittedly brief listens, it struck me that the two records didn’t sound light-years different to me. (Sorry to the avid Magnum fans that might be tempted to throw tomatoes at me for that comment.)

So today was educational. What did I learn? 1: Don’t read comments until after I listen. 2: Listen to the albums more than once. 3: Listen to Magnum more than just when they’re selected for our Club.

Chris Downie: When asked to cite bands who aged like fine wine, continuing to deliver several decades into a long, illustrious career, rock and metal fans revere usual suspects such as Iron Maiden, Rush and Judas Priest. Yet for every success story, some continued to thrive creatively and critically, but found mass commercial success (at least in later years) somewhat elusive, such as Motorhead. 

When evaluating Magnum's extensive catalogue, it's not hard to see parallels between them and Lemmy's crew, for while they sound poles apart, Motorhead produced latter-day classics like Inferno to critical acclaim but lukewarm success, overshadowed by their halcyon 1980's era. Magnum similarly watched late-career efforts like Brand New Morning suffer similar fates, with the most enthusiastic responses reserved only to diehards.

There's little that can be said about the iconic Kingdom of Madness debut, or indeed their 1982-88 golden period, which hasn't been adequately expressed before, but when revisiting the Goodnight L.A. album, its underperformance is no less a talking point now than when conceived in 1990, given it was initially billed as the album that would finally break them in the USA, a prediction that turned out to be a forlorn hope.

Coming hot on the heels of the seminal (but slightly dated, production-wise) Wings of Heaven, there was much optimism for the follow-up, so much so they had acclaimed producer Keith Olsen and famed outside songwriters such as Russ Ballard onboard, as well as a record deal with Polydor. Everything seemed to align, yet that next level proved elusive. 

In truth, it's far from a bad album; lead single Rockin' Chair and its follow-up Heartbroke and Busted are very strong offerings, as are album cuts like Mama. Yet the streamlined approach in general, combined with polished AOR production, put them firmly in territory associated with American radio. It was a far cry from their prog-tinged hard rock roots and many perceived the album as more Foreigner than Uriah Heep.

While far from a disaster – indeed, many fans make a strong case that they rarely, if ever, made a poor album – there is a compelling argument that with Goodnight L.A. they temporarily lost their identity and became something they were not. It is the cruellest of ironies that, for all their willing compromises for the US market, the album never saw the light of day there and has largely been consigned to history as a failed experiment. 6/10

Alexander Taylor: Not the best example. Don't get me wrong, Goodnight L.A. is a great album, just not a great Magnum album. All the oddities had been ironed out and sadly the quirky bits that made the early albums so original were left on the cutting room floor. If you wanna hear classic Magnum get Chase The Dragon or Wings Of Heaven. Footnote for nerds: despite making a brilliant commercial album for the American market, Magnum's management blew it by refusing to accept American representation. Polysnore canned the project, and Magnum went back to the theatres. Shame really, although Tony Clarkin was never happy chasing the Yankee dollar.

Uli Hassinger: Magnum have never made a bad album. All albums score 7/10. Tony Clarkin was a brilliant songwriter. Therefore this means it's definitely the end of the road concerning to new albums. I don't know whether they will keep on playing live with a new guitar player. I can imagine that this is what Tony would have wanted.

Tony Clarkin is a brilliant songwriter with a typical own style. With Bob Catley he found the perfect singer to implement his visions. My first encounter with the band was the album On A Storytellers Night which is a fantasy musical journey. I like his melancholic songs most, like Only A Moment and Cry For You, featured here. But he was able to write solid rockers like Rockin' Chair and Born To Be King. Overall, every song on this album is good, no stinkers.

In fact, this is one of the most mainstream albums of Clarkin's, but this doesn't mean it's no good. I prefer his early work, up to Vigilante, apart from that their last two albums The Serpent Rings and The Monster Roars which are absolute bangers. I have not listened to the just-released album but it should be great also. RIP Tony. This one is a 8/10 to me.

John Davidson: Of all the Magnum albums I've ever owned this is probably my least played.

Their first was a revelation of proggish keyboards and hard rocking riffs that totally hit the sweet spot for me. After their difficult second album they hit their stride with Chase The Dragon and while Eleventh Hour was a more of the same follow-up, the trilogy of On A Storytellers Night, Vigilante and Wings of Heaven showed them at their creative and commercial peak.

Goodnight LA, rather than being the breakthrough they deserved was something of a disappointment. It's not that it's a bad album, but it's Magnum with all the quirky charm buffed out and replaced with American faux shine. Final nail in the coffin is the curse of late 80s rock the effing saxophone.

Like Whitesnake's 1987, Goodnight LA is an example of why some British band's integrity doesn't survive the journey across the pond. Not the album I'll remember Tony Clarkin for. That said, Rockin' Chair is a nifty sing along and Only A Memory is suitably epic which satisfies the Magnum fan in me.

Keith Jenkin: Fantastic to see the band move to the next level of well deserved success, but being more of a fan of their harder edged moments, this is actually the album of their entire catalogue that I play the least.

Nigel Taylor: Probably as a tribute to Tony, the wrong album, as this is perhaps the only album in their career where they weren't really themselves and were pushed to follow fame and fortune. Outside writers and a big American production job didn't really work for me and while it has some great moments, it just lacked being Magnum, really.

Gary Claydon: It's ironic that the album designed to break Magnum in America, wasn't even deemed worthy of release Stateside by Polydor and that, despite being widely regarded as one of the band's weakest albums, it achieved better chart action elsewhere than their entire catalogue barring it's predecessor Wings of Heaven. Go figure.

Peter Thomas Webb: Goodnight L.A. is not a bad album on its own terms, reflecting the style of mainstream hard rock heard everywhere in 1990, before the tsunami of alternative rock swept most of it away. Rockin' Chair is a solid single, with one of Magnum's trademark big choruses, crafted with the help of former Argent frontman Russ Ballard.

Ballard also co-wrote Matter of Survival, a song so similar to Foreigner (right down to Bob Catley's affectation of Lou Gramm's vocal fry) that Magnum sounds too eager to court the masses under a new (and temporary) US deal with Polydor. Tellingly, Keith Olsen, who produced Foreigner's Double Vision and Whitesnake's commercialized late-eighties work, also produced Goodnight L.A..

What's missing here is Magnum's grander vision and more progressive instincts, familiar to fans on albums like 1978's Kingdom of Madness and 1982's Chase the Dragon. Recent news of the death of founding songwriter-guitarist Tony Clarkin got me revisiting those classics as well as spinning Here Comes The Rain, released in 2024 five days after Clarkin's death. For my Magnum fix, it is those albums, not Goodbye L.A., I am more likely to play. Rating 6/10.

Greg Schwepe: Until the announcement of this week’s Album Of The Week club title (and various music sites announcing the death of band member Tony Clarkin), I had never heard of Magnum. The interesting part of being in this club is how various bands and albums were really popular in the UK, with lots of club members cutting their teeth to these bands and knowing everything about them, to some of us here in the U.S. going “Um, who are these guys?” Radio and MTV airplay, touring in certain places but not others, some bands found their niche in one part of the world, and one place only. Besides never hearing anything on the radio from Magnum, can’t say I even saw anything in the album, cassette, or CD racks from them either.

So, after listening to Goodnight L.A., while I realised while I hadn’t heard THEM before, I had heard and liked every band that was similar to them during this timeframe. I immediately took a liking to Goodnight L.A. right off the bat. Swirling keyboards, layered harmonized vocals, and cool “singable” guitar solos.

During this time around 1990 I was on a bit of a “Genre Shift” and was very much into bands like this in the U.S., while I was on a bit of a hiatus from some of the real hard rock stuff I listened to. You’ve heard of the term “guilt by association”? Well, in a similar analogy this was “like by association” for me. After doing my post-review internet sleuthing and seeing the songwriters (the aforementioned Russ Ballard), and producers (Keith Olsen, Jeff Glixman) that they’ve been involved with over the years, I had an epiphany; “Ahh, no wonder you instantly liked that sound and style. You have every Foreigner, Kansas, and Asia album from that same era and played them over and over.”

I won’t do a song by song review of this as it was one of those that flowed nicely and each song had something that grabbed me. “Nice keyboard work in that one… fun sax break in that one… singalong chorus there…” Each one sunk its teeth into me in some way. Liked the entire album.

Now, the hard truth is while I liked Goodnight L.A. after a full on start to finish listen, I could also see how my initial interest would have died off. As with many other albums I’ve purchased over the years, I’ve could’ve seen myself buying this, playing the heck out of it for six weeks, then the cassette sitting in a big dusty pile to never be played again. That initial “Wow, I’ve found something new and cool” ends up losing some of its luster. Or with “like by association,” you find another similar band’s album to oogle over for six weeks, then that one hits the dusty pile too and the cycle continues.

7 out of 10 for me on this one. Similar vibe to bands I like, but no real staying power to keep that initial momentum.

John Howells: I listened to it for the first time in years last night. Never liked Rockin’ Chair or Mama. The rest of the album is good. A little too polished for my liking. I think they got it right with Wings Of Heaven.

Mike Canoe: I like Goodnight LA but I'm listening to it for the first time some 30 years after it was released. Additionally, my only other reference point for Magnum is the year three pick, ...Storyteller's Night. In general, Goodnight LA rocks harder than I remember that previous pick rocking, so much so that my brain got confused sometimes and thought it was listening to Thunder, another British rock band first introduced to me by this club.

Had I heard the album when it came out in 1990, I would have thought it an anachronism since the arena rock it resembles (Foreigner, Survivor, Night Ranger) had long been supplanted by hair metal as coin of the realm, at least in the States, which itself was losing ground to the sleaze rock of GN'R and alternative rock of Jane's Addiction.

But time flattens all curves and it's a pretty enjoyable listen. Bob Catley is a good rock singer and Tony Clarkin was a good rock songwriter. Favourites include the ballad, Matter of Survival (even with its sax solo that would have made more sense a decade earlier), Heartbroke And Busted and, especially, Born To Be King.

Again, only a very casual Magnum fan, but Goodnight LA is better than its reputation suggests.

David Cichocki: Despite not liking the cover- having vertigo I thought the weirdo was on stilts and poking through the clouds or with future jet packs. I hate jet packs. I love Rockin' Chair - it had everyone dancing the UK rock clubs of the early 90s. High level production and writing co-partnering from the West Coast still makes for a great Magnum album.

By this time I was big into the band and this love has only grown through Tony Clarkin's passing. If you weren’t aware of his incredible performance and songwriting skills you maybe have been allowed to label Tony underrated – if not you can only marvel at his skills for writing especially for one of the lest vocalist around, Sir Bob of Catley. I once saw them as Hard Rain in a Cheltenham club – no difference, still classy.

Their overall sound is always solid bandlike, the lyrics are always clever and intelligent. As a whole, Goodnight L.A. plays a US rock part in Magnums cannon, easily an 8.


Final score: 7.38 (84 votes cast, total score 620)

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