How Triumph Finally Broke Through in the U.S. With ‘Just a Game’
The notion may seem a tad overdramatic in retrospect: When Triumph unleashed Just a Game on March 30, 1979, their career longevity was anything but certain.
Yes, this was the Canadian hard-rock band's second or third album, depending on which side of the 49th Parallel you were standing. And yes, they were already bona fide stars in their homeland, with gold and platinum certifications awarded to both of Triumph's 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 Triumph's long-term prospects looked sketchy, except for a few areas where there were pockets of radio support.
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 a certain fellow Canuck trio. Rush's 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).
Put up was just what Triumph did: Just a Game 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." The latter 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. The majestic title track was a thought-provoking commentary about materialism framed by similarly impressive arrangements. Both contributed to eventual gold sales in the U.S.
Elsewhere, 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"). In the end, Just a Game 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.