Being that there are so many fine detailed reviews focusing on RIOT-"Narita" already, I'm going to take a slightly different approach and examine RIOT as a phenomenon. Particularly, as a phenomenon that could and should have been so much larger.
RIOT has brought me SO many years of pure joy. Yet, everytime I pull out one of their masterpieces I can't help but get a little angry, sad, and begin to think about how unfair things can turn out. It's almost like somehow RIOT were cursed. They were cursed with playing hard rock with proto-metal(or flat out heavy metal) leanings in mid-70's America. Now certainly, America in the mid-late 70's wasn't adverse to hard rock, one need only listen to AEROSMITH-"Rocks" LP '76 and '77's "Draw The Line" LP(by far that band's heaviest and at times VERY hard rockin' releases), '78's amazing "Struck Down" LP by YESTERDAY & TODAY(better-known as Y&T), STARZ '76 debut and "Violation" LP from '77, TED NUGENT's way-underated "State Of Shock" LP from '79, and others. Also, remember that in the 70's metal underground there were god-like bands like PENTAGRAM and by the late-70's legit-metal bands like CIRITH UNGOL and MANILLA ROAD were already toiling away in obscurity, readying themselves for the decade to come. But RIOT were different...They were just a little too ahead of their time. Many of the songs were fast("Road Racin'", "Do It Up", "Narita", etc.), some were straight up proto-metal("Warrior", "Overdrive", with its monstrous riffage and blaze-out finale, and if you include tunes off RIOT's undisputed masterpiece "Fire Down Under" LP from '81, nearly EVERY song), and others were maybe a bit too risque in the sex and drugs department("Hot For Love", "White Rock", etc.). But one would think this would be an ASSET!!! Also, RIOT were from freakin' NEW YORK CITY!!! Yet for all intensive purposes, their strongest 70's fanbases resided in San Antonio, Texas and Japan. Following their '80 appearance at the first "Monster's Of Rock" fest in the UK during which they thoroughly blew the minds of tens of thousands of NWOBHM-primed Brits(just listen to RIOT-"Live '80") and then the release of "Fire Down Under" in '81 their fanbase grew substantially. But by '82 it was over....Well, not quite, but the magical original line-up with Guy Speranza at the mic was done as he was quickly whisked away and replaced by Rhett Forrester(another equally doomed soul).
So here's this group of New Yorkers called RIOT. Killer frontman with good looks, great stage-prescence, and a perfectly saleable and unique voice named Guy Speranza. Two flat-out awesome guitarist in Mark Reale(who to his credit would keep the RIOT flame burning until his recent death in January 2012) and Rick Ventura(Louis Kouvaris played on "Rock City" LP, but Ventura would tear-things up with Mark Reale on "Narita" through "Born In America"), killer bassists Jimmy Iommi(on "Rock City" and "Narita"), Kip Leming(on "Fire Down Under" through "Born In America"), rock-solid drummers Pete Bitelli(on "Rock City" and "Narita") and Sandy Slavin(on "Fire Down Under" through "Born In America").
They release three flawless masterpieces: 1977's "Rock City", '79's "Narita", and '81's "Fire Down Under". All three receive great press(with "Fire Down Under" being recognized upon its release as an instant masterpiece). The band tours and opens for AC/DC, BLACK SABBATH, KISS, etc., and the English debut was at the first "Monsters Of Rock" fest where they opened for SAXON, JUDAS PRIEST, SCORPIONS, and RAINBOW. Many to this day still readily admit that RIOT(and SAXON, at that point a very young band) stole the show from the heavy-weights atop the bill. So all the ingredients were there...RIOT should have been super-stars on the top-tier of hard rock/heavy metal. But it didn't happen.
Yes, RIOT is beloved by probably millions of fans worldwide(and since Reale's death a new generation has seemed to discover the band). But they were saddled with bad contracts and completely screwed overed by Capitol Records(who made the band literally jump through hoops, almost preventing the release of "Fire Down Under"). They received little if any promotion via Capitol Records and therefore the all-important DJ culture of the day were often never sent promo copies of RIOT to play on the radio. If it weren't for RIOT guru/manager Billy Arnell and producer-engineer Steve Loeb RIOT may never have even gotten the pittance of support from their labels that they received. Loeb even went so far as releasing "Born In America" with his own money on his own label(thankfully it was picked up and eventually released worldwide)when Elektra would not renew RIOT's contract because they were "commercially unacceptable". WHAT A JOKE!!!!! Ya, tunes like "Warrior", "Rock City", "Overdrive", "Gypsy", "This Is What I Get(For Loving You"), "Here We Come Again", "Do It Up", "Hot For Love", "Road Racin'", "Swords & Tequila", "Fire Down Under", "Outlaw", "Don't Hold Back", "Run For Your Life", etc., had NO commercial potential....whatever!!! If the idiots at Capitol(and to a slightly lesser extent Elektra) would have just put some money into the band and got them radio play I KNOW that RIOT had the potential to take America and the UK by storm!!!! They'd already done it in Japan! But no, instead RIOT never achieved the level of fame(and its perks) that they truly deserved. And this is where I get angry. To think that Guy Speranza, one of in my opinion the greatest voices in rock history ended up spraying for bugs as an exterminator following his departure from RIOT in '82, and died of pancreatic cancer(almost certainly due to his exposure to chemicals)at the age of 47 in 2003 just makes me sick and livid!
But like the title of this "review" states, in some other dimension RIOT DID make it to the top and receive all that they deserved. Here on this Earth we're left with a glorious musical legacy. RIOT is a band that spreads like a disease...They were just so infectious that once you heard them you couldn't resist getting sucked in. This is a testament to their greatness as songwriters and musicians. So if you have never heard RIOT before but love 70's hard rock, early heavy metal, NWOBHM, classic 80's American metal, or just simple kick-ass rock and roll then RIOT is an ESSENTIAL addition! Probably the best starting point is 81's "Fire Down Under" LP, but both '77's "Rock City" LP and '79's "Narita" LP are also flawless gems. Once you've explored this Speranza-era RIOT then you can decide if you wish to move on to the Rhett Forrester-era(I have a feeling you will, cause "Born In America" from '83 was one hell of a killer record). If you already have RIOT's albums play 'em for your friends or a younger family member. And if you're a young metalhead who heard one RIOT tune somewhere and thought it sucked I offer you a challenge: pick any of the first three RIOT LPs("Rock City", "Narita", "Fire Down Under"), if it's your thing crack a beer or three or take a few puffs, put the headphones on, crank it up, sit back, and when the album's over tell me with a straight face that RIOT still sucks. I dare you...
In conclusion, with Guy Speranza, Mark Reale, and Rhett Forrester now all departed from this Earth it's our honorable duty as RIOT fans to keep kickin down the walls of people's minds and helping them to discover maybe the most under-rated hard rock/metal band of all-time: RIOT.