Album Reviews (May 4, 2017)

Time for a big stinky dump… of album reviews!

Green River – Dry As A Bone (1987)

Green River was an early grunge band from Seattle.  Their membership included future Pearl Jam members Jeff Ament (bass) and Stone Gossard (guitar), as well as future Mudhoney front-man Mark Arm (vocals).  Dry As A Bone was an EP released in 1987 on the influential Sub Pop label.

The early grunge sound of Green River was not nearly as commercially accessible as the nineties grunge music that garnered national attention.  Nay, this early grunge was much closer to punk and garage rock than the more refined nineties sound of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, or even Nirvana.  One of grunge’s primary directives was to hock a loogey in the face of the hair metal bands that were popular at the time.  Green River wanted no part of the over-produced, excess-driven, corporate rock landscape.  Instead, they and a few other bands in Washington created their own (regional) music scene of dirty, filthy, slacker rock.  Vocalist Mark Arm single-handedly assured that Green River maintained their all-important indie rock credentials.  He achieved this by sucking on vocals.  Arm’s performance sabotaged any chance Green River had of reaching an expanded audience.  I’m sure this was by design.  To sell-out would have been an unforgivable sin!

Dry As A Bone revels in being the antithesis of all that was “wrong” with popular hard rock and metal at the time.  Green River was buzz-worthy in Seattle but not really anywhere else.  I, for one, am glad Green River didn’t last.  If it had, we may never have been blessed with Gossard and Ament’s more ear-friendly ventures — Mother Love Bone, Temple Of The Dog, and Pearl Jam.  My score: C

Green River – Rehab Doll (1988)

Green River returned in 1988 with their last album Rehab Doll.  It was another series of sloppy-on-purpose, hunched-over, slouch rock tunes.  At times, Mark Arm delivered his vocals as if he had just swallowed a fistful of downers.  Rehab Doll is an uglier record than its predecessor and has a somewhat stoner-ish vibe.  Again, Arm’s performance is one of intentional commercial suicide.  You’ve got to wonder what was going through Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament’s minds at the time they made this record.  If they ever dreamed of making it big, they must have known that Mark Arm was not the guy that was going to get them there!  In 1990 Sub-Pop combined Rehab Doll with Dry As A Bone on a single album.  My score: C-

Soundgarden – Screaming Life (1987)

This is a rather odd and underwhelming debut from a band that would one day touch greatness.  Released on the fledgling Sub Pop label in 1987, this six track EP shows that Soundgarden took a very lax approach to songwriting and recording in their early days.  Those of us who identify Soundgarden with their angst-ridden nineties sound may be surprised at just how unserious (and unfocused?) Screaming Life is.  There really doesn’t seem to be a purpose or direction on the six songs presented here.  What we have is a few ideas that are only partially fleshed out.  Chris Cornell’s talents as a vocalist are evident (except on the awful Tears To Forget) — but it’s hard to believe that the band that made Screaming Life went on to make classics like Badmotorfinger (1991) and Superunknown (1994).  My score: C

Soundgarden – Fopp (1988)

File this one under “who gives a f*ck”.  Soundgarden followed up their sketchy debut with this even sketchier four-song EP.  Fopp showed that Soundgarden just didn’t give a damn as they delivered their second straight half-assed record.  Fopp is essentially no more than a throw-away, novelty release.  The title track is a heavy cover of an old funk/soul song.  There is also a useless remix of the same tune, a Green River cover, and a forgettable original called Kingdom Of Come.  In 1990 Sub Pop combined Fopp with Screaming Life on the same release.  My score: C-

Soundgarden – Louder Than Love (1989)

By 1989 Soundgarden had found their sound.  They got down to serious business with Louder Than Love — their major label debut for A&M Records.  The sonic blueprint on Louder Than Love is a heavy churn of grunge metal with lots of dropped tuning and weird time signatures.  And let’s not forget the all important angst!  While this album definitely has the trademark Soundgarden sound, it does not measure up to its follow-up Badmotorfinger.  That album was when all things really came together for Soundgarden (in my opinion).  Everything that was attempted on Louder Than Love was done better on Badmotorfinger!  The only song on Louder Than Love that is good enough to be on Badmotorfinger is the great Hands All Over.  My complaint with Louder Than Love is that Soundgarden were either unable or unwilling to write a legitimate chorus.  Furthermore, Chris Cornell’s lyrics left much to be desired.  In hindsight we can see that Soundgarden was on the rise with Louder Than Love.  Still, the jump in quality from this 1989 effort to their bad-ass 1991 breakthrough is tremendous.  My score: B- 

Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking (1988)

While grunge was gaining momentum in the late eighties as a rock alternative in Seattle (see above reviews), Jane’s Addiction was creating quite a stir of their own in Los Angeles.  After scoring a record deal with Warner Bros., Jane’s Addiction released their second album Nothing’s Shocking in 1988.  Led by bird-faced cook Perry Farrell, Jane’s Addiction helped usher in the alternative rock scene that would dominate the early nineties.  Lyrically, Nothing’s Shocking conveyed a broad range of emotions, from overly sensitive to dangerously volatile.  Combined with the music, songs come off in a variety of ways on Nothing’s Shocking.  Some songs are carefree and playful, others are angry, some are ethereal, while others are a bit pretentious.  Overall, there’s a loose quality to some of the jams on Nothing’s Shocking.  This works to nice effect on songs like Jane Says (the best song on the album) where the band works a bit of magic over a fairly simple, repeating chord progression.  Other times, the songs drift a bit too much.  For me, the middle part of the album (which includes Standing in the Shower… Thinking, Summertime Rolls, and Ted, Just Admit It…) does not hold my interest.  I usually skip these three to get to Mountain Song which has a killer bass riff!  (Side note: Judas Priest used a VERY similar riff on their song Revolution in 2005.  I believe this was just a coincidence.)

The album closes strong with the aforementioned Jane Says as the absolute highlight of side two.  Anchoring the album is Pig’s In Zen, a vibrant rocker that loses some points thanks to an idiotic spoken word section by Farrell.  (Pig’s In Zen did not appear on the original vinyl version of Nothing’s Shocking.)  Interestingly, the three best songs on the album that I’ve mentioned (Mountain Song, Jane Says, and Pig’s In Zen) were all re-recordings of previously released Jane’s Addiction material.  My score:

Dark Angel – Darkness Descends (1986)

California’s Dark Angel was one of the early extreme thrash bands.  As a subset of thrash, these extreme bands waged war on melody — instead opting for a shock and awe approach that pounded the listener to submission with dizzying speeds and walls of noise.  Vocals consisted of curt, atonal growling — an early precursor to the death metal vocal style.  I have always been pretty open about my low opinion for this style of music.  One of the major reason I don’t like these exaggerated, cartoon-style vocals is that they are just a cheap gimmick.  Don’t get me wrong, heavy metal has always relied heavily on gimmicks.  But the “death” style vocals is one of the gimmicks that just will not go away and I can’t understand why.  It’s so stupid!

Darkness Descends came out in the same year as Slayer’s Reign In BloodReign In Blood is widely acknowledged as a heavy metal classic.  Darkness Descends is not as universally well-known, but it is a cult fave among some thrash fans. The two albums do not differ greatly in their approach (both rely heavily on the aforementioned “shock and awe” factor).  However, the biggest disparity is that Reign In Blood has stellar production and a spot-on mix.  Darkness Descends has a far inferior sound and suffers greatly for it.  It sounds like it was recorded with a potato.  Only serious thrash-aholics will be able to decipher this album form the multitude of similar thrash albums that Dark Angel unfortunately influenced.  Bottom line is that I just don’t get it.  But I will concede that just because I don’t get it doesn’t mean there isn’t something to be got.  Points for trying?  My score: D

Morbid Saint – Spectrum Of Death (1990)

Trendsetters like Dark Angel (above) begat many an extreme thrash band in their wake.  Morbid Saint’s style was similar to Dark Angel’s.  In fact, you would have to be a real student of the genre to be able to differentiate these bands from one another.  I admit that I am not schooled enough to do so.  Like Darkness Descends, Spectrum Of Death is another cult favorite.  That is why I thought I would give it a try.  Not surprisingly, its appeal is lost on me.  I do try to keep an open mind (which is why I continue to listen to these extreme thrash records — hoping I will find something I like) but I guess I am not as open as I purport to be.  With close-minded incredulity, I dismiss this album with extreme prejudice!

Morbid Saint was from Wisconsin.  Though not known as a heavy metal stronghold, a few Wisconsin bands did get signed in the eighties.  Acrophet and Realm were two notables.

Morbid Saint’s Spectrum Of Death was actually originally released by a Mexican label called Avanzada Metálica in 1990.  Several bootlegs and official releases have come since.  The album consists of rapid-fire drumming (with almost constant snare hits), proto-death vocals, and spastic, random solos.  All pretty much staples of this genre.  All of it absurd to me, but the glowing reviews over at Encyclopaedia Metallum obviously opine otherwise.  Judge for yourself I guess.  My score: D

Acid Reign – Moshkinstein (1988)

After logging several hours listening to the two thrash albums presented above , I welcomed Moshkinstein with open arms and open ears.  No, it’s not the greatest thrash record around, but it’s much closer to my wheelhouse than the brutality of Darkness Descends and Spectrum Of Death.

The roots of thrash metal lie in British metal from the late seventies and early eighties.  Bands such as Motorhead, Venom, and Raven were the forerunners to the first true thrash bands of North America.  It has been said that Metallica’s debut Kill ‘Em All (1983) was a marriage of Motorhead and Diamond Head.  I agree with that assessment.  And so it was that thrash music was birthed in North America — and it really began to thrive in the mid-eighties.  Eventually the pendulum swung back to the U.K., and British bands started emulating the American thrash sound.  None of the British thrash bands ever saw significant success in the United States market, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any worthwhile British thrash albums to listen to.

Moshkinstein was the debut EP of Acid Reign (released on the Under One Flag label and licensed to Combat Record in the United States).  The cover looks like something we could expect from a crossover or hardcore act — what with the shorts and goofy ball cap on display.  But Moshkinstein is pretty much a straightforward thrash album in the vein of Anthrax, or some of the crisper Bay Area bands.  There are six songs on the short-player, including an instrumental facetiously titled Freedom Of Speech.  What I like above Moshkinstein is Acid Reign’s liberal use of mid-pace grooves to illicit a judicious head-bang.  The singer ain’t no world-beater, but he’s head and shoulders above the growlers and the screechers on the extreme fringes of the thrash spectrum.  Moshkinstein is highlighted by the seven minute track Motherly Love, which is about everyone’s favorite psychopath — Norman Bates!  My score: B-

Exodus – Fabulous Disaster (1989)

Now here is a thrash album that I can not only endure, but fully endorse!  Exodus bounced back from their rather disappointing sophomore album Pleasures Of The Flesh with their third release Fabulous Disaster.  As stated by my favorite heavy metal reviewer, Eduardo Rivadavia (of Allmusic.com), Exodus created “their most diverse and carefully conceived effort yet, while remaining faithful to their no-frills thrash ethic”.  The pacing and song sequence on this album is on-point, as Exodus expanded and contracted in all the right places to create a well-balanced album.  Steve “Zetro” Souza seems to have settled nicely into his role as lead vocalist on this, his second record with the band.  He and his band-mates’ output on Fabulous Disaster reminds me a lot of Overkill — a major compliment in my book!  The attitude is definitely there, and the songwriting has been elevated to a higher level.  Check out the nasty lead riff on Verbal Razors.  An additional highlight is Toxic Waltz — an ode to the mosh pit that has become one of Exodus’ most revered songs.

Exodus included two covers on Fabulous Disaster — War’s Low Rider and AC/DC’s Overdose (available as a CD bonus track).  Somehow and someway Exodus managed to make their version of Low Rider more than just a silly novelty.  It actually flows well with the rest of the album.  The choice of AC/DC’s Overdose is a very good one (coming from the oft-overlooked Powerage album).  These two covers help tie together a strong and interesting batch of tunes.  My score: B+

Hexx – No Escape (1984)

The Bay Area metal band Paradox changed their name over to Hexx before releasing the album No Escape in 1984.  It would be the first of a handful of releases from a band that started out as U.S. power metal and ended up as death metal by the time they called it a day in the early nineties.  Hexx’s run was not particularly storybook, as their albums never really sold well, but the mere fact that the band persevered long enough to release three full-length LPs and a couple of EPs is reason enough to tip the ol’ cap.  Hexx also endured many line-up changes on their rocky road through the heavy metal wastelands.

No Escape was released on Shrapnel Records.  Typical of a low-budget Shrapnel affair, the audio quality of No Escape leaves much to be desired.  The ramshackle recording puts Hexx’s power metal stylings on wobbly legs — and it doesn’t help that the band wasn’t particularly tight to begin with.  Nevertheless, there’s a certain charm to Hexx’s pure metal stance, and an underdog appeal starts to shine through towards the end of No Escape thanks to tracks like Live For The Night and Fear No Evil.  My score: C+

Hexx – Under The Spell (1986)

Hexx came back in 1986 with album number two.  Titled Under The Spell, this sophomore effort was released by the same label as their first album, Shrapnel Records.  This record was a little heavier than the debut, and featured a new singer named Dan Bryant.  While technically sound, Bryant’s vocals were a bit overdone — inching dangerously close to self-parody at times.  The songwriting did not improve to any significant degree with respect to the ’84 debut.  In fact, I actually prefer No Escape to Under The Spell simply because it feels a little less forced.

In 2016 Metal Blade re-released Under The Spell as part of a deluxe box set marking the 30th anniversary of its original release.  The box set also included No Escape and a bunch of other goodies, including a DVD of live performances and extensive liner notes.  It seems that Metal Blade finagled the rights to both Under The Spell and No Escape from Shrapnel Records in order to make this box set happen.  I’m not sure why Hexx was given such lavish treatment — seeing as how they never really broke through in the eighties.  But if there are any Hexx super fans out there, I guess you can rejoice.  My score: C

Black Sabbath – “Live Evil” (1982)

After Ozzy left Black Sabbath, the band recorded two studio albums with Ronnie James Dio at the helm.  Heaven And Hell came out in 1980, and Mob Rules followed in 1981.  At the tail end of the Mob Rules tour, a few shows were taped for a live album.  It was during the mixing of these tapes that the band split up.  By the time the resulting double album Live Evil arrived in 1982, Ronnie James Dio had left the band (and drummer Vinny Appice left with him).  The liner notes of the 2008 CD re-issue of Live Evil tells a tale of the turmoil and misunderstandings leading to the break-up.  At the time, Black Sabbath had split into two camps — with original members Geezer Butler (bass) and Tony Iommi (guitar) in one corner, and Dio and Appice in the other.  Disagreements over how Live Evil was to be mixed may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

If you listen to Live Evil, you’ll probably agree with me that no one member of Sabbath was short-changed in the mix.  However, you can also tell that Geezer and Tony got their way in the end (they are credited as producers).  The guitar and bass are very loud and in-your-face.  Live Evil starts off very strong.  After a short intro called E5150, Sabbath kick into high gear with a killer version of Neon Knights.  This is my favorite track off Live Evil.  As the album transpires, it is somewhat interesting to hear Dio’s interpretation of Ozzy-era classics like N.I.B., War Pigs, and Children Of The Grave.

Overall there are no real surprises on this set list.  Besides the obligatory Ozzy-era classics, the selections from Heaven And Hell and Mob Rules are good ones.  The only favorite of mine that is missing is Turn Up The Night.   I’m a little disappointed that some of the songs are extended unnecessarily, and that main riff to Voodoo (one of my favorite Sabbath riffs) sounds a little muddy live.  Dio, for his part, was in fine voice — but a bit of a ham on the microphone at times.

Given the material presented on Live Evil, as well as the talent in the band at the time, one might expect to be blown away by this double LP.  But I can’t say that’s the case with me.  In fact, I much prefer the live Ozzy Osbourne album from the same year called Speak Of The Devil (which consisted entirely of Black Sabbath material).  Speak Of The Devil featured Ozzy as high as a f*cking kite but still sounding great, while a then-unknown named Brad Gillis (later to become famous with Night Ranger) performed admirably on guitar.  My score: B

 

Keel – “The Right To Rock” (1985)

keelKeel was part of the first wave of glam metal bands coming out of L.A. in the eighties to a nationwide audience.  That glam-style metal of those primitive years (about 1982-1985) was relatively unrefined, brash, and loud.  You can actually call the really early stuff from Great White, Ratt, Motley Crue “heavy metal” without having to put an asterisk next to the term.  W.A.S.P. was another heavy band that came out at the time.  This was before the “hair” metal formula had been fully perfected (for better or worse, depending on your taste).  Keel’s second album The Right To Rock is one of those albums that personifies that uncultivated glam metal sound of the first wave — before everything became much more polished and homogeneous.

Keel was under the tutelage of Gene Simmons at the time of The Right To Rock.  Gene and Keel had a sort of mentor-to-protege relationship.  It seems odd (in hindsight) that someone would trust Simmons to make decisions about anyone other than himself.  To me, putting Gene Simmons in charge of your career would be like putting a dog in charge of sausage, but I guess Keel needed all the help they could get.  Gene Simmons produced The Right To Rock and did so with all the nuance of a fart in the face.  The Right To Rock features nine tracks of low-brow, gravy-brained anthems delivered proudly but clumsily by Ron Keel and crew.  As a singer, Ron reminds me of a poor man’s Kevin DuBrow.  All these years later, it seems so damn cartoon-ish, but to an adolescent in 1985 Keel’s music probably seemed like a righteous call to arms.  The ham-fisted title track is the band’s calling card — welcome to the decline of western civilization (part 2).

The Right To Rock is a fun, but stupid album.  Yes, it has a certain charm, but I don’t think The Right To Rock has stood the test of time as well as some of the other early glam metal albums of the day.  My favorite song on here is Easier Said Than Done.  My score: C+

Quiet Riot – “Quiet Riot” (1988)

quiet-riotWith the stunning success of their 1983 album Metal Health, Quiet Riot shot to the top of the music world.  Metal Health went all the way to number one on Billboard.  As such, Quiet Riot helped usher in the heavy metal craze that swept across America in the eighties.  But just a few short years later, Quiet Riot had crashed and burned.  1986’s QR III was a commercial failure and the band went into full-on desperation mode.  Quiet Riot did the unthinkable — they fired lead singer Kevin DuBrow.  He and his dollar-store wig were out on the street like yesterday’s trash!  Such a notion seemed like an impossibility just a few years earlier — when Quiet Riot was the toast of the town.  Kevin DuBrow had been with Quiet Riot since their earliest days way back in the seventies (when Randy Rhoads was also a member).  He was the face of the band — for better or worse.  His big mouth had gotten Quiet Riot some bad press, but in my mind his patented holler and goofy charisma defined Quiet Riot.  A Quiet Riot without DuBrow would be a totally different animal, that’s for sure.  Would the experiment work?  Would a new singer and a new sound bring Quiet Riot back from the dead?  The answer, of course, was a resounding no.

The album was called simply Quiet Riot (or QR).  The name implied a new beginning.  Indeed, a fresh start probably seemed like the only course of action for the ailing Quiet Riot brand.  Stepping in to replace Kevin DuBrow on vocals was Rough Cutt front-man Paul Shortino.  Paul brought with him a bluesy, pack-a-day voice.  This was a stark contrast to DuBrow’s raucous rebel yell.  Like I said before — a different animal.  Though a solid performer, Shortino lacked DuBrow’s “presence”.  Quiet Riot is a smoother and tamer Quiet Riot.  More “quiet” than “riot” I dare say.  Shades of Coverdale’s Whitesnake seem to be peeking through at times.  Overall, it’s obvious Quiet Riot were looking to garner some radio favor with what could be considered a more mature, bluesy, and milder sound.  Unfortunately, the results were rather mediocre, though not a total travesty.  What we have here are a few decent hooks and some okay tunes.  Quiet Riot doesn’t reek of desperation like QR III, but in the end it was no better or worse for the effort.  Quiet Riot had nothing left to lose with Quiet Riot because they had already lost it all.  They took one last shot… but it just wasn’t happening.  My score: C+

Vicious Rumors – “Vicious Rumors” (1990)

vicious-rumorsThough they hailed from the Bay Area of California where thrash was king, Vicious Rumors were not at all a thrash band.  Nay, they defied their neighbors in favor of a crystalline brand of power metal.  Vicious Rumors’ self-titled third album was their first on a major label — Atlantic Records.  The first two Vicious Rumors albums came out on the Shrapnel Records label.  Like Shrapnel label-mates Fifth Angel, Vicious Rumors were called up to the majors, though success did not greet them upon arrival (the same was unfortunately true for Fifth Angel).

With Vicious Rumors, a band with steel-hearted aspirations and pure metal purpose attempted to carry the power metal torch into the nineties.  This was to no avail, but not for a lack of a professional attempt that went against the grain of what was popular in metal at the time — that being thrash and “hair” metal.  Vicious Rumors was the follow-up to 1987’s Digital Dictator — an album I hold in quite high regard.  Though Vicious Rumors continues in the same vein as its predecessor (think somewhere between late-eighties Metal Church and heavy Queensryche), it lacks the killer hooks that really sunk their teeth into me with Digital Dictator.  Strange this is, since all the ingredients are the same, including twin guitar pyrotechnics and vocalist Carl Albert’s flair for the dramatic (ala Halford, Dickinson, and Tate before him), but this one doesn’t grab me by the short hairs quite as much.  Fans of Digital Dictator will find that Vicious Rumors traverses the same sonic plane — but I find the latter album to be a step behind in terms of overall song quality.  My score: B-

Night Ranger – “Greatest Hits” (1989)

night-rangerTechnically speaking, Night Ranger really doesn’t belong on this site because I only cover hard rock and heavy metal bands.  But what the heck, I’ll make an exception here.  Even though Night Ranger tried to keep one foot planted in the hard rock world (for a little street cred) they weren’t fooling anybody.  Night Ranger was your prototypical mainstream American rock band.  AOR would be the operative term — and there ain’t nothing wrong with that!  Who doesn’t love some Journey, Survivor, or Night Ranger every now and then?

I won’t review any of the five studio albums Night Ranger released in the eighties (from 1982-1988), but I’ll throw a bone to this 1989 Greatest Hits comp because I think it’s worth a mention.  Since Greatest Hits is composed of mostly radio singles, it’s not surprising that the album leans heavily on Night Ranger’s softer side.  Sing Me Away, When You Close Your Eyes, and Sentimental Street are the best of the softer tunes.  As for the more rockin’ Night Ranger, my choice cut is Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.  But I still haven’t mentioned the biggest and best song of them all!  Of course, I’m talking about the ever-enduring Sister Christian — one of those perfect eighties tunes that deserves its righteous place in the pantheon of rock classics.  Sister Christian starts off as a plaintive piano ballad before swelling up to an unforgettable chorus refrain.  The eighties at its eighties-est!  If I’m in the car with the stereo blasting and I get to the part that goes You’re motoring!  What’s your price for flight?, you better believe I’ll be banging my palm against the steering wheel and singing along!  If you don’t do the same, you better check your pulse bro — you might not be alive.  My score: B+

Top Twenty Hard Rock & Heavy Metal Albums of 1989

1989 was conspicuous for the absence of some of the biggest names in hard rock and heavy metal.  Here’s a list of some of the bands that DID NOT release a new album in 1989 — Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, Scorpions, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Ozzy, and Van Halen.  That’s almost all of the major bands.

Despite all the big names who sat out 1989, it was still a good year.  Hair metal was arguably at its peak.  There were tons of quality hair metal albums that came out in 1989.  Thus, it’s no surprise that my list below is loaded with more hair metal than usual.

Here are my personal favorite hard rock and heavy metal albums of 1989…

20. Enuff Z’nuff – Enuff Z’nuff

Enuff-ZnuffEnuff Z’nuff’s debut arrived in 1989 with one of the laziest attempts at an album cover you’ll ever see.  Not that I don’t like peace, but jeesh, they couldn’t have spent more than 0.2 seconds designing that album cover.  Then again, I guess we are lucky they didn’t put a band photo on the cover because these guys were REALLY dolled up.  Tons of makeup, lipstick, and bright colors.  Check out their video for lead single New Thing for a taste of Enuff Z’nuff’s “fashion” sense.

Sure, the look was really girlie and glam at the time (they shed that image soon thereafter), but the actual music is addictive, effervescent, power pop.  Big guitars, raspy vocals, and hooks for days is what you get with these Cheap Trick-influenced party boys.  Just take a listen to the aforementioned New Thing and you have to immediately respect Enuff Z’nuff’s songwriting abilities.  Infectious doesn’t even begin to describe New Thing.  You can get cavities just listening to this sweetness!

I read Howard Stern’s book Private Parts many years ago (lots of laughs), and he wrote quite a bit about Enuff Z’nuff as I recall.  They were one of Howard’s faves.  In this case, Howard knew what he was talking about.

Enuff Z’nuff also features the band’s best known cut, the melancholy Fly High Michelle.  Another great song with an awesomely awful video.  Oh well!  Deep tracks such as She Wants More, Little Indian Angel, and For Now sound great while driving around on a warm summer’s day.  My score: A-

19. Bonham – The Disregard Of Timekeeping

Let’s say it’s Sunday morning and your ears are still ringing from Saturday night.  Your head is pounding from all the booze you drank.  Obviously, you still need to listen to some rock while you to try to recover with a cup of coffee and some aspirin.  (You require rock whenever you are conscious.)  But Slayer’s Reign In Blood isn’t going to be apropos at this early hour given your condition.  You’re going to need something a little more chill and relaxing.  I’ve got just the album for you — Bonham’s The Disregard Of Timekeeping.

Bonham gets their name from their drummer Jason Bonham — the son of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham.  The Disregard Of Timekeeping is an excellent commercial hard rock album.  It cools like a breeze as it soothes your weary bones.  Tons of keyboards are used on the album, giving these songs a smooth (albeit corporate) touch.  Bonham hada little Zep in their step, which is not surprising given Jason’s lineage.  But The Disregard Of Timekeeping is hardly a wholesale copy of Led Zeppelin (like Kingdom Come).  Vocalist Daniel MacMaster (R.I.P.) was an excellent vocal talent that may remind some of Robert Plant just a bit.  Superb tracks such as Wait For You, Holding On Forever, and Dreams have outstanding hooks that ‘ll keep you coming back for more.  My score: A-

18. Kingdom Come – In Your Face

Kingdom Come was dogged by bad press upon the release of their debut album Kingdom Come in 1988.  Their critics blasted them for sounding too much like Led Zeppelin.  It was true, Kingdom Come sounded very much like Zep.  But what was so wrong about having a muscular, heavy metal Led Zeppelin for the eighties?  Lost in all the criticism of Kingdom Come sounding like Zep is that they were actually really damn good at it!  Apparently too much of a good thing was a problem for some people.

Kingdom Come’s second album, 1989’s In Your Face, found Lenny Wolf and his band of Zeppelin disciples unbowed and unbroken by all the hate.  In Your Face is another album of shameless Zep worship.  Compared to 1988’s Kingdom Come, In Your Face was not as successful.  It seems the bad press had hurt Kingdom Come’s reputation and, ultimately, their pocket books.  This is unfortunate because I actually believe In Your Face is the better album!

Consider Led Zeppelin’s more stately and bombastic tunes like Kashmir.  That is the sound I think Kingdom Come emulates on In Your Face.  Big eighties production values and just the right amount of keyboards help give these tracks a regal, almost epic feel.  All the while singer Lenny Wolf moans and purrs like Robert Plant o’er top.  Faves include Do You Like It, Who Do You Love, Highway 6, and Stargazer.  My score: A-

17. Extreme – Extreme

ExtremeExtreme was a fresh, exciting, and talented band that arrived on the scene at the tail end of the eighties.  As much as any band, Extreme deserved to survive the cultural sea change that killed almost all of the bands of their ilk in the nineties.  Unfortunately, Extreme didn’t make it to the new millennium intact.

Extreme’s debut album may sport a shitty-ass cover (nice shirt Gary!) but the music inside is a roller coaster ride of axe pyrotechnics and sing-along hooks.  Nuno Bettencourt was one of the best guitar talents to come along in the late eighties (maybe THE best).  Like Eddie Van Halen or Vito Bratta, Nuno’s rhythm guitar tracks alone were enough to electrify the ears.  Tons of tasty flourishes, nasty squeals, and creative licks peppered his rhythm tracks.  And the solos?  Perfection of course.  Nuno also provided backing vocals and harmony vocals to beef up the excellent work of lead vocalist Gary Cherone.  My favorite track is probably Mutha (Don’t Wanna Go To School Today) which features some mammoth riffing (in the Eddie Van Halen style) and an unforgettable chorus.  Other highlights include Teacher’s Pet, Big Boys Don’t Cry, and Play With Me (a song famously used in Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure).  Lyrically, Extreme is a loose concept album of sorts, because almost all the songs are centered around childhood.  The song Little Girls is a little creepy though, because as far as I can tell it is about statutory rape!  Anywayz, this album is a really strong beginning for Extreme.  Of course, Extreme’s second album, Pornograffitti (1990), was even better!  My score: A-

16. The Cult – Sonic Temple

The Cult reached their apex with 1989’s Sonic Temple.  This album was the follow-up to the successful Electric album of 1987.  Electric consisted of skeletal hard rock designed to appeal to the commercial masses.  Electric was produced by Rick Rubin.  Personally, I found Electric to be a rather weak and derivative album (with a couple of good songs).  Rubin always had a fondness for AC/DC’s bare bones approach and I think he pushed The Cult too far in that direction, resulting in a record that was little more than a second-rate AC/DC rip-off.  Sonic Temple, by contrast, was more original, more varied, and more powerful.  Bob Rock took care of production duties this time around.  The album spawned a handful of rock radio singles including album opener Sun King, the mighty Fire Woman, the elegant Edie (Ciao Baby), and the soaring Sweet Soul Sister.  Fine deep tracks like American Horse and Soldier Blue helped to make Sonic Temple a well-balanced album.  This disc can be played from start to finish without any need for the skip button.  If you don’t have it, GO GET IT!  My score: A-

15. Annihilator – Alice In Hell

Led by Canadian guitarist Jeff Waters, Annihilator arrived on the scene just as the thrash genre was reaching its short-lived crest as a commercially viable product.   Annihilator’s debut Alice In Hell appeared on Roadrunner Records in 1989.  They were the last of what I consider to be the “classic” thrash bands to arrive during the Golden Age.

Jeff Waters made a great case for himself as one of the best thrash guitarists alive with his amazing work on Alice In Hell.  He was a riff master with an almost O.C.D. level of precision to his playing.  Water’s choice for a vocalist was the wonderfully psychotic (and possibly drunk) Randy Rampage.  A great choice (IMO) because Randy’s rabid, off-the-chain vocals were a great counterpoint to Water’s highly disciplined, clinical guitar style.  Tremendous cuts include the maniacal Alison Hell and the phenomenal Word Salad.  My personal favorite track (and one of my ten favorite thrash tunes EVER) is the album’s crushing finale Human Insecticide!  Waters’ riffage is just insane here, as is the bass playing (also by Waters I believe), and ol’ Randy Rampage sounds ridiculously deranged on this face-melting thrashterpiece!  (Check it out here!)  If you don’t like Human Insecticide — you suck!  My score: A-

14. Dirty Looks – Turn Of The Screw

Here’s another irresistible gem from one of the best sleaze/glam/hair bands to never break big.  Dirty Looks’ main man was nasty boy Henrik Ostergaard (R.I.P.) — a man in possession of a rough ‘n raunchy voice, an alcohol fueled swagger, and a penchant for nonsensical lyrics.  Make no mistake, Dirty Looks’ style followed a definite formula, but it was a good one.  It was pretty much a three-chord approach wrapped around slippery blues-based riffs.  Honestly, many of the songs’ main riffs aren’t at all that different from each other.  Distinguishing one track from another is kind of like splitting hairs.  Again, pretty formulaic, but it worked to perfection.  (Look what it did for AC/DC!)  The rhythm section contributed a beefy backbone with grooves aplenty.  My personal favorite cuts are Nobody Rides For Free, Hot Flash Jelly Roll, and best of all, the awesome L.A. Anna!  My score: A

13. Victory – Culture Killed The Native

Operating out of Germany, Victory began their career as a rather generic metal band when they debuted with Victory in 1985.  Things started to improve with the addition of ex-Accept guitarist Herman Frank to the line-up for their second album in 1986.  By the time of their fourth studio album, 1989’s Culture Killed The Native, Victory had climbed to a whole new level.  With a new vocalist in tow (Fernando “el toro loco” Garcia), Victory went to combat with America’s hair band best with melodic tunes like Standing On The Edge and More And More.  The obligatory power ballad Lost In The Night also hits its mark.  But Culture Killed The Native also features some heavier, more metallic numbers like Power Strikes The Earth and The Warning.  This record was Victory’s heaviest to date, but also their most catchy!  Other highlights include Always The Same and On The Loose.  Any fan of eighties-style metal with great guitar work, strong vocals, and big ass hooks would do well to track down this forgotten nugget!  My score: A

12. Lord Tracy – Deaf Gods Of Babylon

Lord TracyLord Tracy released this little-known album in 1989 on Uni Records (a sub-label of MCA Records).  What distinguished Lord Tracy from their peers was their sense of humor and their experimental nature.  There are a lot of different styles attempted on Deaf Gods Of Babylon, with some working and some completely missing their mark.  The result is an album that is ridiculously inconsistent but a fun one nonetheless.  Hey, it is a bit refreshing to come across an original band like Lord Tracy in a sea of late ’80s wannabe-hair-bands.  In the end, they are no richer for it, but they should be commended for their independent spirit.

By the way, Lord Tracy’s singer was Terrence Lee Glaze, who was Pantera’s singer on their first three albums (as Terrence Lee).

I must say, the production on Deaf Gods Of Babylon is superb.  The album sounds very robust with a heavy bottom end.  The bass is boosted in the mix which is nice because the bass lines are very interesting at times.  The album opens on a plain note with a straightforward rocker called Out With The Boys.  The second track is a marked improvement — the funked up East Coast Rose.  Side one also features the crackin’ Watchadoin’ and the absolutely sublime mellow gem Chosen Ones.  Side two features two more well-crafted tunes — the pop-rocker In Your Eyes and the ballad Foolish Love.  Unfortunately the end of side two kind of falls apart with Lord Tracy dicking around with too many joke songs and half-assed stuff.  There is even a rap song.  I wish they had used their energy to come up with two or three more serious compositions.  Nevertheless, Deaf Gods Of Babylon is most definitely one to seek out!  My score: A

11. Reverend – Reverend

After two excellent albums with power thrash pioneers Metal Church, vocalist David Wayne split from the band (reportedly on very bitter terms).  He was eventually replaced in Metal Church by Mike Howe of the band Heretic.  Out on his ass, “Reverend” Wayne was looking for a new project when, ironically, the guys from Heretic contacted him.  In a weird switcharoo, Wayne joined forces with some of the remaining members of Heretic (three of whom had performed on 1988’s Breaking Point album with Howe).  This included guitarist and principal Heretic songwriter Brian Korban.

The band called themselves Reverend and debuted in 1989 with a four-song, self-titled EP on Caroline Records.  Few have heard this album, which is unfortunate because it kicks serious ass.  The album is heavier than a brick shit-house!  Korban and crew provide crushing riffs and rhythms for Wayne to spew his poisoned-tongued vocals over the top.  Whether you like his voice or not, there is no denying that Wayne was one of a kind on vocals.  No one sounded like him.  Every time he stepped to the microphone its was a psycho circus!  I’m not sure who wrote the album’s lyrics (all writing credits go to Reverend) but I am going to assume it was Wayne.  These lyrics express paranoia, rage, cynicism, and an overall bad f*cking mood!  Very smart lyrics, and Wayne just owns every last syllable.  I’m not sure if this is supposed to be some kind of revenge album, but it damn sure sounds like these guys are out for blood on this seething, jaded mini-masterpiece.  Check out the phenomenal Ritual.  My score: A

10. XYZ – XYZ

Imagine Dokken — but better!  That’s XYZ.  The reason that XYZ remind me of Dokken is because their guitarist Marc Diglio played very much in the style of Dokken’s George Lynch.  Furthermore, XYZ’s debut album XYZ was actually produced by Don Dokken — so there’s also a tangible connection between the two bands.

Complimenting Diglio nicely was XYZ’s singer Terry Ilous.  Dude had a set of powerful pipes!  The rhythm section of XYZ performed their role proficiently, too.  Their job was to keep a solid foundation, not f*ck up, and allow Ilous and Diglio to shine.

After the solid opening track Maggie (the most Dokken-esque tune on the album), things really get cooking with the tremendous Inside Out.  The main riff of this song is Diglio’s best offering, and the solo smokes, too.  Other standout cuts include Tied Up, Nice Day To Die, and the acoustic ballad After The Rain.  Ilous’ vocals on After The Rain are nothing short of masterful!  My score: A

9. Overkill – The Years Of Decay

OverkillAlmost every song on The Years Of Decay is the audio equivalent of an extended middle finger right in your ugly f*cking face!  Overkill may not have been the masters of riff writing like Metal Church, Metallica, or Annihilator, but they sure as hell knew how to put their own defiant stamp on their songs.  Instead of blowing you away with guitar pyrotechnics, Overkill liked to throttle your bones with bass-heavy grooves and percussive guitar playing.  The key, of course, was the ATTITUDE.  Few exuded as much piss and vinegar in their vocals as Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth.  He could run his mouth like a motor, scream with the best of ’em, or even carry a tune (he “sings” pretty well on the title track).  Blitz could do it all.  Overkill really came through with a well-rounded album when they unleashed The Years Of Decay!  Its got fast ones to wreck your neck, slower and sludgier numbers if you want to get stoned, and even a half-ballad/epic if you’re looking for something a little deeper.  Standout cuts include Elimination (a fast one — possibly about AIDS?), I Hate (another fast one, with hilariously venomous lyrics), Who Tends The Fire (an ominous cut with a nice mid-paced groove) and The Years Of Decay (a really cool song about the physical and emotional toll of being on the road — and how it’s all worth it).  Essential!  My score: A

8. Axxis – Kingdom Of The Night

Here’s a band that really gets me right in the cockles of my little ol’ heart!  Germany’s Axxis debuted with this strong album of high-end melodic metal in the tradition of German bands like Tyran’ Pace, Sinner, and Bonfire.  Throw in a little hair band flair, a sprinkle of cheese, and a dash of pomposity and you have yourself a tasty metal sauce!  The recording itself is (unfortunately) colder than a witch’s tit (thanks in large part to the electronic drum sound), but Kingdom Of The Night prevails because of its unapologetic adherence to melody above all else.  Vocalist Bernhard Weiss reaches for the high notes, and grabs them with ease.  Hardened metal heads will likely dismiss Axxis as too wimpy, but I am never one to shy away from this end of the metal spectrum.  In fact, I love this stuff — as long as it’s done with sincerity.  Faves include the glorious Living In A World, the charging steed that is Kings Made Of Steel, and the sappy ballad Fire And Ice.  My score: A

7. Attack – Destinies Of War

Attack’s Destinies Of War is one of the great unknown masterpieces of eighties heavy metal!  This album was the high water mark for a German power metal project that (unfortunately) toiled in obscurity during their run in the eighties and nineties.  Attack was the brainchild of Ricky van Helden — the band’s composer, bassist, and singer (as well as producer, sometimes drummer, and sometimes guitarist).  Ricky van Helden was a master of many trades musically, and he was in possession of an amazing ear for rich, melodic heavy metal.  Destinies Of War was the third Attack album.  Any fan of Iron Maiden, classic-era Helloween, or Blind Guardian owes it to themselves to check out this record!

The reasons I love Destinies Of War are many.  First, this is a true “album” in the sense that it is paced and sequenced for maximum enjoyment when played from start to finish.  The guitar work is excellent.  The duo of Gerd Sossnierz and Chreddy Riepert dish out ripping solos as well as tons of great harmony parts.  While impressive, the guitar playing never gives way to excess.  The same is also true for van Helden’s vocals.  There is a certain restraint to Destinies Of War — a trait not always practiced by eighties metal bands.  Ricky’s singing is never over-the-top, as he opts instead for a tuneful and understated delivery (with a heavy German accent).  There are a few times, however, that van Helden unleashes a ferocious scream.  This feature is used sparingly — but to great effect!

Ricky and Attack produced Destinies Of War themselves.  They did an excellent job of balancing all the instruments while maximizing the power of the big melodic hooks to the fullest.  The background vocals were particularly well done.  The production has definitely withstood the test of time.

The lyrics of Destinies Of War are fantasy based.  Each song feeds into the fantasy — creating a mystical and medieval atmosphere.  My interpretation is that Destinies Of War is a loose concept album.  Things start off with the lightning fast Wonderland — a song in the style of Helloween that sets the scene in some far-off utopian land.  However, that tranquility is summarily destroyed in the sequence of songs that follow.  In numbers such as Back To Attack, You’re Not Free, and Live Or Die, evil invaders shatter the peace as they bring war upon the land.  Warriors clash with evil on the battlefield.  Swords and shields collide as the body count mounts.  Attack does an excellent job of mixing up the tempos during this stretch so that each song has its own personality.  They utilize a classic staple of “epic” Euro-power metal — the galloping rhythm — to heighten the story-telling and really draw the listener in to a completely different time and place.  The album reaches its climax on the seventh song — the epic Death Rider.  This nine-minute opus is probably my favorite Attack song of all time!  It builds ominously and slowly, but eventually all hell breaks loose.  This is like Attack’s very own Hallowed Be Thy Name.  Listen for one of van Helden’s mighty screams around the five-minute mark.  The mysterious “death riders” decimate the evil but the war has come with a terrible price.  The next two songs, The Last Surviving Man and Destiny Of War are more somber and reflective numbers.  They represent the aftermath of war.  This is where the original vinyl LP (released on ZYX Metallic label) comes to a close, however the CD version adds an extra track called In This Night.  I think In This Night makes for a better ending to the “story”.  Unlike the mournful Destiny Of War, In This Night finishes the album on an optimistic note.  My score: A+

6. Badlands – Badlands

BadlandsWhen Jake E. Lee’s turn babysitting Ozzy Osbourne’s career came to an unceremonious end, he was free from his indentured servitude to the evil Sharon Osbourne and her bumbling stooge of a husband.  Jake turned around and formed Badlands — one of the great, unsung bands in all of eighties hard rock.

Jake joined forces with a star-in-the making named Ray Gillen.  As a vocalist, Gillen had been floating around the rock scene for a few years but hadn’t landed a steady gig.  He had short stints with Black Sabbath and Blue Murder but never made it onto their actual records.  Scoring Gillen as a singer for his new band was a real coupe for Lee.  Ray Gillen had one of the purest rock voices in the history of all things.  His voice was a perfect match for the high-octane, 150-proof hard rock that Badlands had in store.

Badlands features the kind of white-hot metallic blues that lesser artists would sell their soul to the devil for.  Like that guy at the crossroads.  The timeless quality of these tracks separates Badlands from the sea of hair bands with which they were lumped.

Side one of this album, also known as “East Side”, is damn near perfection.  The album opens with a furious metallic riff from Jake E. Lee, and the sparks continue to fly throughout the lead cut High WireDreams In The Dark and Winter’s Call are flawless as well — two of my all-time favorites!

Side two, also known as “West Side” is no slouch either.  Granted, Rumblin’ Train is kind of a formulaic heavy blues song, but it gives Gillen a chance to show off his voice, and Lee a chance to blow his pentatonic load with his extended soloing.  The only track on the album I don’t love is probably Devil’s Stomp, which starts off promising but never gets off the ground.  The original LP closes with the mellow genius of Seasons (which calls to mind Zep’s In The Light).  The cassette and CD adds another track, Ball And Chain, which is just an average tune.  The album should have ended with Seasons.

Despite the electric chemistry Badlands seemed to possess on this record, the guys actually didn’t get along very well.  Badlands wasn’t the major commercial success it deserved to be.  Badlands recorded another album called Voodoo Highway (1991) before Gillen left the band.  Ray Gillen died in 1993 (R.I.P.).

All told, Badlands is a great record from a sneaky year — 1989.  Just one of many commercial rock/metal albums from that forgotten year that I absolutely love — most of which were not big hits.  This might be the king.  Light a cigarette, sip on some moonshine, and let Badlands punch you square in the face with its stone-cold awesomeness!  My score: A+

5. Billy Squier – Hear & Now

Billy Squier may not be considered the greatest rock solo artist of his era, but he’s certainly my favorite.  The body of work Billy put together in the eighties is a testimony to the man’s prowess as a superb songwriter and an excellent (if not underrated) singer.  Squier was also a smart lyricist (though a bit ambiguous at times) and a competent guitarist.  I also suspect Billy Squier was a bit of a diva — but I have no definitive proof to give.  Even after Squier’s fame faded in the late eighties, he was still putting out quality material.  In fact, I think his 1989 effort Hear & Now was his best work since his 1981 breakthrough smash Don’t Say No.

If you have ever heard Billy Squier give an interview, you will find him to be a very intelligent and articulate individual.  These qualities obviously spilled over into Squier’s music.  When it comes to song arrangement, I don’t think anyone poured as much detail into his songs as Squier did.  On Hear & Now you will find each song is a meticulously woven tapestry of sounds.   Embellishments come from all angles.  Whether it be a tasty guitar lick, the flourish of a synthesizer, a carefully crafted backing vocal, or an unorthodox percussion passage, Hear & Now was obviously a laborious undertaking to complete.  It’s no wonder the album took so long to make.  Released in 1989, it had been three calendar years since Squier’s previous album Enough Is Enough (1986).

As mentioned above, I believe Billy Squier to be the king of solo rock acts from the eighties.  Hear & Now adds several shimmering jewels to Squier’s crown.  There are three songs in particular that I would put in the top ten of his catalog — StrongerG.O.D., and Don’t Say You Love Me.  I’ve found Stronger to be particularly irresistible.  Co-written by Desmond Child, the song has a pulsing beat that makes you want to move (cue the effeminate Billy Squier dance moves).  Stronger also adds a saxophone to great effect.  The snare drum is held back until the pre-chorus — which heightens the tension and gives way to a dramatic payoff when the chorus finally swoops in.  G.O.D. is one of the slickest arrangements on Hear & Now.  I’m just in awe of how many different parts Billy was able to work into this song in such a seamless way.  Brilliant song!  Don’t Say You Love Me was the one modest hit from Hear & Now.  It’s a quintessential Squier tune that will get you off your ass and rockin’ out.  Rounding out the album nicely are a couple more great cuts in the rousing album opener Rock Out/Punch Somebody and the soaring Don’t Let Me Go.  My score: A+

4. Junkyard – Junkyard

JunkyardYou don’t see this one making a lot of “best of” lists, but I’m not sure why!  Junkyard is an album that never gets old to me.   I’m always putting it into rotation — and I play it start to finish every time!

Junkyard was from Texas, and they found a nice little sonic niche that combined sleaze, punk, and southern rock.  All these ingredients made for a chunky bit of hot n’ spicy Texas chili — the kind that burns twice as much on the way out as it does on the way in!

Junkyard was a dusty leather boot crammed into Hollywood’s glittery corn hole.  As it turned out, they never became huge, but Junkyard garnered some modest exposure with this, their debut album.   Junkyard is jam-packed with killer tracks such as the greasy Blooze, the nasty Texas, and the snot-nosed Shot In The Dark.  Best of all is the incredible Simple Man.  Top-shelf production by the ever-dependable Tom Werman helped to boost these cuts in all the right places.  Singer David Roach exhibited a certain sly charm when he delivered his vocals — which often come with a dark sense of humor.  My score: A+

3. Warrant – Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich

Warrant wanted to go “where the down boys go”.  I don’t know where the down boys go.  I’m not sure I want to know where the down boys go!  But here we go — to where the down boys go!

Warrant took a lot of shit.  To many sneering music fans, Warrant represented the lowest common denominator of “poser” heavy metal.  A lot of folks hated glam metal and, as such, put Warrant in the cross-hairs of their disdain.  What I think people failed to realize was that glam/hair metal was a legitimately fun and entertaining genre!  You see, I believe there is a time and a place for hair metal — and that is ANYTIME and ANY PLACE!

Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich was a double-platinum success.  Warrant managed to separate themselves from literally hundreds of other bands that were making the same kind of music.  What was it that Warrant had that those other bands didn’t?  That’s easy — Jani Lane.

Lead singer and songwriter Jani Lane knew how to write concise, ear-friendly, “hits”.  He wasted no time getting to the song’s chorus, which was always ridiculously catchy, and most of the songs had a very strong bridge section, too.  Lyrically, he was no Bill Shakespeare (although his lyrics did improve greatly on Warrant’s sophomore album Cherry Pie), but his talent as a musician was beyond reproach (and I am dead serious when I say that).  Lane had one of the better voices in the genre, not so much for his range as for the character of his voice and a certain genuine charm that made you think he was having just as much fun singing these tunes as you were listening to them on the car stereo.

If you can’t find even the least bit of enjoyment from Warrant’s music, then you need to listen to Neil Diamond’s advice and turn on your f*cking heart-light, man.  There just isn’t a time that I can think of when songs like Down Boys and In The Sticks won’t have me smiling and singing along.  The way Warrant dressed and carried on was a little ridiculous, but the tunes were fun.  That’s for damn sure.  My score: A+

2. Tesla – The Great Radio Controversy

“You know I’m on a slick trip, I’m always ready to KICK ASS!”  A superb offering by Tesla, a band lumped in with the “hair” crowd, although their sound was more or less straightforward American hard rock/metal and their image was markedly less glam.  Tesla fans had to wait until 1989 for Tesla to follow-up their 1986 debut Mechanical Resonance (a near eternity between albums back in those days), and Tesla rewarded their fans’ patience with a robust set of thirteen songs, and (IMO) the best album of their (very solid) career.  Tesla displayed great depth on the album, mixing gritty blues-based hard rock and accessible heavy metal.  Tesla also used acoustic guitars liberally.  Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out) and Love Song are two absolutely essential tracks from this album.  The former, a great rocker that gets the juices flowing.  The latter, an exquisite (and unorthodox) ballad.  The Way It Is, Be A Man, and Lazy Days Crazy Nights are a few more of my favorites from The Great Radio Controversy.  Just a very cool band.  Tesla’s overarching message, it seems, was simply to enjoy life.  And The Great Radio Controversy provides a perfect soundtrack for just that.  My score: A+

1. Faith No More – The Real Thing

When Faith No More tapped Mike Patton to replace Chuck Mosley as their lead vocalist, they established their “classic” lineup.  Patton’s whiny, bratty vocals fit in nicely with Billy Gould’s teeth-rattling bass, Jim Martin’s gut-punching riffs, and Roddy Bottum’s spooky keyboards.  This version of Faith No More found immortality through alchemy.  The mystical union didn’t last long — Jim Martin bailed after 1992’s Angel Dust.

The Real Thing is best known for the smash hit Epic, as well as the minor hits From Out Of Nowhere and Falling To Pieces.  Digging deeper into the album, one will find Faith No More’s more twisted, psychotic side.  This is best exemplified by the unhinged Surprise! You’re Dead! and my personal fave — the schizophrenic Zombie Eaters.  The cassette and CD editions of The Real Thing added a special treat — a brilliant version of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs.

Faith No More has accumulated a very devoted and serious following over the years.  There’s really no consensus among hardcore fans as to which Faith No More album is their best.  Jim Martin has said that The Real Thing is the ideal Faith No More album, and I agree with him!  The Real Thing is definitely my favorite Faith No More album.  The bizarre and freakish Angel Dust comes in at a very close second.  For me, these are the two quintessential Faith No More albums that everyone must own!  My score: A+  

Go back to the Top Twenty Albums of 1988

Top 15 Hair Metal Albums of 1990

There were TONS of hair metal albums that came out in 1990.  Obviously, I haven’t heard them all, but I have heard a SHIT-LOAD!  And without further adieu, these are my personal favorites…

16. Spread Eagle – Spread Eagle

I dare say that the Spread Eagle album (MCA Records) was the heaviest of the “hair band” albums released in 1990.  These gutter rats came screaming out of NYC with some of the sleaziest, harshest stuff the genre had to offer.  Three of the band’s four members originally came out of Boston, but relocated to NYC to join up with vocalist Ray West.  These guys had a real street vibe that seemed genuinely dangerous.  Check out this rare footage of the Spread Eagle guys stomping around New York in the early nineties, and you tell me if these guys weren’t true street urchins.

If you have never heard Spread Eagle, I liken this album to Skid Row’s 1991 album Slave To The Grind.  Like that album, the tunes are not immediate or particularly radio friendly, but they are heavy and dark.  While many hail Slave To The Grind as an amazing album, few have ever heard Spread Eagle, which actually came out the year BEFORE Slave To The Grind!  Gotta respect that.

As far as I am concerned, Spread Eagle is a worthwhile addition to any old-school collection because of three particular tracks; Broken City, Thru These Eyes, and Switchblade SerenadeBroken City is the album opener, and features some sick, jacked-up blues riffage from guitarist Paul DiBartolo.  Ray West’s dumpster-baby shrieks put him somewhere in that coveted Axl Rose stratosphere.  The sense of inner-city decay is perfectly conveyed.  Thru These Eyes starts off quite mellow with some nice acoustic guitar playing by DiBartolo.  The track eventually swells into a monster.  This is the closet Spread Eagle gets to a power ballad.  A really great cut.  The album’s “Oh Shit!” moment, however, comes by way of the INCREDIBLE Switchblade Serenade.  Visions of bloodshot eyes and plunging needles dance disturbingly in my head as I listen to this epic sleaze-fest where West’s vocals rule and DiBartolo’s playing rips.  Why is this song not legendary?  (Note: The video version of Switchblade Serenade, seen and heard here, is not the same version that appears on the album; the album version is way better.)  My score: B+

15. Every Mother’s Nightmare – Every Mother’s Nightmare

Every Mother’s Nightmare was a shit-kicking band out of Tennessee.  Like Spread Eagle (above), they were one of the heavier bands on the hair metal scene in 1990.  Guitarist Steve Malone proved himself as a most worthy riff-maker.  His down n’ dirty tone and tasty riffs are a highlight of this debut offering (Arista Records).  Check out the bitchin’ chorus riff of Bad On Love for a fine taste of Malone’s sonic brew.

Overall, Every Mother’s Nightmare were something like the heavier side of Skid Row crossed with Dangerous Toys.  They also threw a bit of country flavoring into their sound — consistent with their Tennessee roots.  This is especially noticeable on the material on side two of Every Mother’s Nightmare.  Long Haired Country Boy is probably the best example (and one of the album’s best numbers).

Every Mother’s Nightmare is best known for the subdued ballad Love Can Make You Blind.  As far as ballads go, it’s a pretty good one.  My score: B+

14. Firehouse – Firehouse

FirehouseTo me, Firehouse’s first album reminds me a lot of Slaughter’s debut (which appears further down on this list).  The two albums were similar in both approach and presentation.  Both were undeniably corporate records, yet neither insult the listener’s intelligence with shameless pandering.  These were professionals at work, consciously trying to make each and every song on the album a potential radio single.  (Yes folks, in 1990 they actually played rock on the radio!  You could make money playing an instrument!)  This is good old fashion hard rock with a pop twist.  Just try to resist the effervescent sweetness of All She Wrote or (my favorite) Don’t Treat Me Bad.  And while Love Of A Lifetime isn’t one of my favorite power ballads, you’ve got to appreciate Firehouse’s foresight.  They must have known that Love Of A Lifetime would live on indefinitely — at wedding receptions.  My score: B+

13. Sweet F.A. – Stick To Your Guns

Another great slice of sweet ol’ American pie!  Sweet F.A.’s debut Stick To Your Guns (MCA Records) is yet another forgotten nugget from the jam-packed year of 1990.  The sound here is revved up, swampy southern rock mixed with old fashion sleaze metal.  With Stick To Your Guns, you don’t get the sense these guys were corporate puppets in any way.  They sounded young, hungry, and all about living the good life.  There’s a genuine love for the music that is downright infectious on these party rockin’ tunes.  The best hard rocker on this album is the first track Prince Of The City.  Love that down and dirty sound!  Another KILLER tune is the title track, Stick To Your Guns.  I get a little bit of a Tesla vibe on this one — and that’s a good thing.  Great lyrics on Stick To Your Guns, too.  The semi-ballad Heart Of Gold is another winner.  The album closes with a cool acoustic tune called Southern Comfort.  This is definitely a porch swing song.  Imagine yourself on a hot summer night, looking out over the bayou, sippin’ on some SoCo, and pickin’ on the gee-tar.  This song takes you there.  My score: B+

12. Damn Yankees – Damn Yankees

Terrible Ted Nugent joined forces with Jack Blades (Night Ranger), Tommy Shaw (Styx), and some other guy to form the “super group” Damn Yankees.  The three rock stars were all past their commercial prime, but the Damn Yankees album brought them back to the top with double platinum sales.

The success of Damn Yankees had a lot to do with the smash hit High Enough.  This gold-selling single was one of the quintessential power ballads of its day.  With High Enough, Damn Yankees gave a clinic on how to deliver a hit song.  From the bombast of the string orchestra, the acoustic opening, the two-part vocal harmonies of Blades and Shaw, the build-up of the pre-chorus to the soaring chorus, the bridge, the soulful guitar solo, and finally the “big finish” — High Enough was executed to perfection (and in textbook “monster ballad” fashion).  Flick that Bic baby!  I’ve got to tip my hat to the crafty songwriting these grizzled rock pigs pulled from their collective ass with High Enough.  They sure don’t make songs like this anymore!

Other highlights include the hard rockin’ Damn Yankees (love that pre-chorus!) as well as Coming Of Age (a hit single on rock radio).

The only problem I have with Damn Yankees is that the album kind of falls off the table towards the end.  The last four songs don’t do too much for me.  For example, Rock City devolves into an almost parody of the genre (lyrically speaking).  And the album ends lamely on a cookie-cutter “Ted song” called Piledriver.  This is Ted’s only lead vocal performance on the album.  Up to this point, Shaw and Blades had managed to keep Ted on a leash where he belonged (letting his guitar do the talking instead of his mouth) — but I guess they had to throw him at least one bone.  So we’re stuck with Piledriver as the album’s out-of-place send off.  The lesson learned is this — never let Ted go full retard.  My score: B+

11. Ratt – Detonator

For the Detonator album Ratt enlisted the help of an outside writer, the famous Desmond Child, to help pen the tunes.  Child is credited as co-writer on nine of the tracks on Detonator.  I’m not sure if Child’s presence was the band’s idea or if it was at the behest of their label, Atlantic Records.  Either way, it seems the pressure was on Ratt to produce more “hits” on this album in order to boost their sagging sales.  Ratt’s previous album Reach For The Sky (1988) was considered a minor disappointment, even though it eventually went platinum.  Little did Ratt know at the time that the hair metal bubble would soon burst in the early nineties.  By then, Ratt could only DREAM of “disappointing” platinum albums!  (By the way, Detonator went gold.)

Desmond Child brought along Sir Arthur Payson to produce Detonator — ending Ratt’s run of albums produced by Beau Hill.  The change in producers was not a drastic one to my ears.  This album sounds pretty good.

As for the songs on Detonator — this was Ratt’s tamest effort yet, but not enough to be called a wholesale departure in style.  For the most part, this was the same old Ratt — tight grooves, greasy riffs, and raspy vox.  Warren DeMartini’s sizzling main riff highlights Detonator‘s best tune Shame Shame Shame.  As per usual DeMartini provided plenty of tasty solos throughout the album.  Elsewhere, Ratt tinkered with a more pop metal sound on One Step Away and Givin’ Yourself Away.  The latter being the closest Ratt ever came to a ballad on their first four albums.

In summary, Detonator was another solid Ratt effort.  Yes, it’s obvious Ratt was trying to get a little more radio friendly with this album, but their identity remained intact.  My score: B+

10. Gypsy Rose – Prey

If you blinked, you missed ’em.  It’s too bad because Gypsy Rose’s Prey was a pretty fine piece of hair metal machinery.  Led by Canadian vocalist Michael Ross, Gypsy Rose were signed by none other than Gene Simmons and his Simmons Records label (part of RCA).  At the time the band was called Secret Affair.  After a name change to Gypsy Rose, the band released Prey in 1990.  They released just one video for the song Poisoned By Love before the rug was pulled out from under them.  According to this interview with Ross in 2012, RCA dropped Simmons Records about two months after Prey was released, which pretty much left Gypsy Rose and Prey to rot on the vine.

As mentioned above, Poisoned By Love was the band’s fist and only video single.  It’s a pretty good song but I would have picked Make Me Do Anything You Want as the lead single because, quite frankly, it rules.  Great song!  My other favorites include the hypnotic stomper Crawlin’, the driving rocker Highway-One-Way, and the sincere ballad Don’t Turn Your Back On Me Now.  In fact, except for the song Blood ‘N’ Sweat (which goes nowhere) every song on Prey is worthy of salute.  My score: A-

9. Slaughter – Stick It To Ya

Dana Strum and Mark Slaughter left Vinnie Vincent Invasion after the tour supporting 1988’s All Systems Go.  They started their own project — recruiting guitarist Tim Kelly and drummer Blas Elias to fill out the lineup.  Strum and Slaughter were wily veterans by this point, and they knew how to write and produce hits that MTV and radio would lap right up.  The band recorded their first album without ever having performed live.  This luxury was afforded to them because Strum and Slaughter had a publishing deal with Chrysalis Records already in place.  The foursome eventually called themselves Slaughter, and the album Stick It To Ya became an instant success.

The original Stick It To Ya CD (1990) had 15 tracks, about 10 of which could have been singles. Personal faves include the heavy opener Eye To Eye, the party rocker Up All Night, and of course the monster ballad Fly To The Angels.  Also check out the lyrics to Burnin’ Bridges whereby Mark and Dana tear a new asshole into their old band-mate Vinnie Vincent.

Stick It To Ya is a sugary little snack, full of empty calories.  Guaranteed to be waiting for you in the used CD section at your local record store.  Probably cost you less than $3.  My score: A-

8. Cry Wolf – Crunch

Cry Wolf was one of many quality hair bands that didn’t get a real chance to shine.  In 1990 Cry Wolf’s Crunch was released by Grand Slamm/I.R.S. Records.  Much of the album was comprised of songs previously heard on their 1989 Japan-only release Cry Wolf.  The Crunch album was their American debut.  Like many of rock’s great bands, Cry Wolf was bolstered by a top-notch singer/guitarist duo.  Singer Timmy Hall had a great voice and charisma that translated well to tape.  Guitarist Steve McKnight was another in a long list of expert axe-men vying for attention in a crowded market.  McKnight was a tasteful player who could unfurl a melodic solo with the best of ’em.  I like his guitar tone on the rhythm tracks — it has a little bit of fuzz but a real sharp bite, too.  A fine example of the dynamic duo of Hall and McKnight at their best can be heard on a gem called Pretender — the video single from the album and my personal fave of the lot.  Other highlights include Face Down In The Wishing Well, Long Hard Road, and one of the new songs exclusive to the American debut — Road To Ruin.  My score: A-

7. Lynch Mob – Wicked Sensation

I can’t help but compare Lynch Mob’s Wicked Sensation to Badland’s self-titled album (1989).  In both cases, a hot-shot guitarist (George Lynch/Jake E. Lee) broke from the band that made him famous (Dokken/Ozzy Osbourne) to form a whole new band (Lynch Mob/Badlands).  Both found themselves a relatively unknown but enormously talented lead singer (Oni Logan/Ray Gillen), and both expertly melded blues-based classic rock with hair metal on their classy debuts.

Like Badlands, Wicked Sensation is a kick-ass album featuring excellent guitar work and world-class vocals.  George Lynch really proved himself as a gifted songwriter here.  In my opinion, Wicked Sensation is better than any Dokken album, and Oni Logan rolls Don Dokken as a lead vocalist any day of the week.  What an incredible hard rock voice this guy possessed!  He, like Badland’s Ray Gillen, should have been a star!  Wicked Sensation was produced by the knob master himself, Max Norman, so you know it sounds perfect.  Highlights include the swaggering title track, the Aqua Net hairiness of Sweet Sister Mercy, and the burning hot For A Million Years.  But my personal favorite track on Wicked Sensation is the irresistible No Bed Of Roses — a song that should have been a hit single!  (I don’t think it was even released as a single.)  That sweet-ass chorus gets me every time — what a gem!  My score: A-

6. Thunder – Backstreet Symphony 

This album (the band’s debut) recalls older British rock bands like Bad Company, or the long forgotten Rage.  Thunder weren’t re-inventing metallic blues based rock and roll, but their entry into the tried and true “classic rock” genre has definitely grown on me over the years.  At first, I was a bit put off by the somewhat corporate production on this 1990 release (those drums!).  But despite the stiffness of the recording, Thunder were able to shine through the lacquer while unfolding an abundance of nice melodies.  All brought to you by the powerful rock pipes of singer Danny Bowes.  This guy could really take a tune and carry it on his back!  My favorite song is probably the rocking title track.  Again, Thunder were not doing anything cutting edge, they were basically dressing up classic rock with their own enthusiastic twist — and an extra helping of charisma.  Another fave is Until My Dying Day, which starts off with a very nice chord progression strummed on an acoustic guitar before breaking out into a full-on electric riff rocker.  In the U.S., Thunder never made more than a ripple on the charts, but in the U.K. they did enjoy some commercial success from around 1990-1995.

Backstreet Symphony was originally released by EMI Records in the U.K. with the cover shown above.  In the U.S., Backstreet Symphony was released by Geffen Records with a different cover.  My score: A-

5. Poison – Flesh & Blood

You’re probably thinking I’m going to tell you how much Poison sucks.  Sorry, but I can’t do such a thing.  You see, I like Poison.  They were shamelessly glam without trying to disguise themselves under any other pretense.  You don’t have to respect Poison, but you can certainly enjoy their tunes.  What I’m saying is — love ’em or hate ’em, you’ve gotta love ’em.

Poison’s third album was arguably their best yet.  They were older, richer, and in the case of Bret Michaels — balder.  By this point in their career Poison had softened the girlish looks they flaunted at the time of their debut (when they looked like almost bang-able chicks on the cover of their first album).  Anywayz, in a thematic sense Flesh & Blood takes stock of the previous few years of Poison’s ascent to the top.  They experienced, as Everlast would say, “the good side of bad and the down side of up and everything between”.  This album explores the bright and the dark side of Poison’s status as toast of the town in Hollywood.

Had Poison matured with Flesh & Blood?  They probably thought so, but the change was not significant.  Poison knew where their bread was buttered.  Glam rock was their game, and they wisely didn’t stray too far from a working formula.  The key here, I think, is the sticky sweet backing vocals.  Credit producer Bruce Fairbairn (and Poison themselves) with crafting perfect pop backing vocals that really bring out the “glam” in these preening poof pieces.  The quintessential bubble gum glam single on this album is Unskinny Bop — a brainless escape that goes down like a candy flavored shooter.  Another fine slice of hair-sprayed pop is the “deep track” Let It Play — one of the few really good Poison songs never released as a single.  I also think that the band’s ode to motorcycle culture Ride The Wind is one of their best songs.  If balladry is your guilty pleasure, Poison has two good ones on tap — Life Goes On and the smash hit Something To Believe In.  The latter is a great tune (IMO) with some heartfelt lyrics from Bret.  It tugs on the heart strings enough to almost bring a tear to my eye.  ALMOST.  My score: A

4. Killer Dwarfs – Dirty Weapons

Killer Dwarfs were a great Canadian band that should have been bigger (pun intended).  They started out rather humbly as a straightforward, no-frills hard rock/metal band on their debut album Killer Dwarfs (1983).  By the time their fourth album Dirty Weapons came along in 1990, Killer Dwarfs were writing some of the catchiest tunes in the commercial metal genre.  Not really glam, and certainly not sleaze, Killer Dwarfs were just a very kick-ass rockin’ band with great vocals and strong riffs.  If you haven’t discovered these guys yet, you’re missing out.  With 1988’s Big Deal and this slightly more sophisticated offering, Killer Dwarfs should have risen to the top of the “hair metal” world.  It’s not everyday that you find an album where you can just push play and enjoy every moment — but Dirty Weapons manages to be just that.  All ten songs are as solid as a rock, and the hooks will keep you coming back for more.  Choice cuts include Dirty Weapons and It Doesn’t Matter.  My score: A

3. Love/Hate – Blackout In The Red Room

Without Guns N’ Roses, a band like Love/Hate never happens.  They even had their own version of Slash — named “Skid”.  Bands with an appetite for destruction became a very hot commodity after Guns N’ Roses broke big.  Love/Hate came along and lit up the Hollywood club scene in the late ’80s.  Their sound was as decadent and nihilistic as they come.

All of Love/Hate’s songs were pretty much about getting wasted.  These guys were so blitzed they didn’t even bother to write actual songs.  What I mean by that is their songs (all written by bassist Skid) had very little in the way of structure — much like their lives I am sure.  The lyrics are so half-assed, it’s ridiculous.  It seems as if they were jotted down haphazardly at the last minute.  The lyrics are self-referential and very insular — as if Skid knew nothing of the world outside of his own inner circle.  But no worries, this album isn’t intended to be cerebral!  This is the boozed-up, party-till-ya-puke record.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

Blackout In The Red Room is jam-packed with energetic, rocking tunes.  The production is booming and the sleazy vocals of Jizzy Pearl are great.  Because of the unconventional song structures, this album may not find its way into your heart and soul upon first listen.  Call it a “grower”.  Give it some time to incubate.  Soon you’ll be infected by whatever the f*ck it is that Love/Hate was spreading.  My score: A

2. Warrant – Cherry Pie

Warrant’s Jani Lane died in 2011 alone in a hotel room with a bottle of alcohol.  An all too familiar end to another “rock star” life.  Though not credited as such by most way-too-serious types, Lane was an incredible talent who could write great songs, play guitar, and sing exceptionally well.  He will always be remembered first and foremost for the song Cherry Pie, a hasty bit of songwriting he threw together at the eleventh hour when the record company wanted a provocative “hit single” to be included on Warrant’s sophomore album.  Though the song is very cool, it’s not what Lane necessarily wanted to be his legacy, and he hated Cherry Pie for this.  He probably wanted more serious compositions like the exquisite Uncle Tom’s Cabin to be his legacy.  But to me, he is someone who should be remembered for delivering the goods on all fronts, whether it be the silliness of Cherry Pie, or the love-ballad-turned-on-its-head brilliance of I Saw Red, or the folksy storytelling of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Lane was Warrant, and Cherry Pie has a little bit of everything, showing that Jani Lane could pull off David Lee Roth style tomfoolery in one song, and sing with earnest conviction in the next.  It’s called charisma, and Jani Lane had it.

Anyone who thinks Warrant sucks should listen to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Warrant’s best song) before coming to such a hasty conclusion.  (Here’s a link.)  Also, if you can’t concede that Mr. Rainmaker is a fine piece of pop-metal songwriting then I guess there’s no hope for you.  R.I.P. Jani Lane.  Thanks for the kick-ass tunes.  My score: A+

1. Extreme – Pornograffitti

1990 was an amazing year for hard rock and metal.  Boston’s Extreme treated us to one of the best albums of the year with Pornograffitti.  To me, this is the very essence of what an album should be.  A complete package.  When you drop that hard-earned coin on a new CD, you can only hope for something as all-encompassing as Pornograffitti.  This album covers the full range of emotions.  All the while, Pornograffitti remains cohesive, and even tells a story.  You get humor, sadness, and excitement.  You can shake your ass, bang your head, or flick your Bic.  Pornograffitti is billed as “a funked up fairytale”.  Our protagonist is Francis — someone who manages to find (and eventually lose) love in a world where lust and gluttony has taken over.

Two enormous talents shine on Pornograffitti.  First, there’s guitar wiz Nuno Bettencourt.  The man could flat-out play!  Lots of cool riffs and licks.  And his tasteful acoustic work helped propel the album’s two radio hits: — More Than Words and Hole Hearted.  These two songs weren’t exactly the most representative tunes on the album, and they only showed a fraction of what Nuno could do, but they helped Pornograffitti reach double platinum sales.  The second prodigious talent in Extreme was singer Gary Cherone.  We all know that Gary’s stint in Van Halen was ill-fated, but if you listen to Pornograffitti, and put yourself back in time, you can understand why VH chose Cherone to replace Sammy Hagar.  The man could sing anything.  He made this album FUN.  I love his jibba-jabba on songs like When I’m President and Get The Funk Out.

I love this whole album, but my favorites are Decadent Dance, When I’m President, Money (In God We Trust), Get The Funk Out, and especially Hole Hearted.  As far as the song More Than Words is concerned, it may be a little played out, but you can’t deny its simple genius.  Are you entertained?  I am.  My score: A+

Go back to the Top 25 Hair Metal Albums of 1989

Album Reviews (Nov 5, 2016)

More album reviews…

Vain – No Respect (1989)

Vocalist and songwriter Davy Vain slithered into record stores in 1989 with his band Vain and their debut album No Respect (Island Records).  With teased hair, tight leather pants, and emaciated bodies, the boys of Vain looked like your prototypical sleaze outfit.  The only twist on the formula was Davy’s whiny, emotive vocal style.  As such, I refer to Vain as “emo-sleaze”.  This was a darker and more angst-ridden take on the well-worn late eighties sleaze genre.  Surprisingly, critics seemed to look upon the album favorably.  I personally do not consider No Respect an especially brilliant release, though I do concede it starts off with two very solid tracks in Secrets and Bite The Bullet.  Things cool off a bit after that — as many of the songs sound too much alike.  A low-light would have to be the lyrics to the song Laws Against Love — whereby ol’ Davy laments those pesky statutory rape laws keeping him from legally banging his underage lover.  Rape laws can be such a buzzkill!  My score: B-

Sammy Hagar – Danger Zone (1980)

Sammy Hagar had a pretty successful solo career before he famously joined Van Halen.  Between 1976 and 1980 he recorded five studio albums with Capitol Records.  But it wasn’t until he switched to Geffen Records, starting with 1981’s Standing Hampton, that his solo career really started to take off in terms of commercial success.  1980’s Danger Zone was his final studio album for Capitol.

Sammy had some good songs in his catalog, but you won’t find any of them on Danger Zone.  This is one unforgettable album — and by that I mean you can’t forget what you never remembered in the first place!  This listless and uninspired record goes in one ear and out the other.  It’ll never even take up space in your memory bank.  Except for the song In The Night (Entering The Danger Zone) and maybe Bad Reputation, Danger Zone is as generic as it gets.  My score: C

Vamp – The Rich Don’t Rock (1989)

I can’t pass up any eighties hair metal album.  When I saw the cover of Vamp’s The Rich Don’t Rock, you know I just had to get involved.  Will you look at those four magnificent bastards!  (That’s the U.S. cover on the left.  The cover on the German release is different.)  I expected cheese city, but to my surprise Vamp managed to side-step Velveeta (for the most part) and come through loud and proud!  Well… okay, maybe that drum solo in All Nite was a little much!

The Rich Don’t Rock is a pretty obscure album despite the fact it was released on a major label (Atlantic Records).  The band operated out of Germany, though their singer Tom Bellini was American (I believe).  Bellini could flat out wail!  Vamp gets points for consistency and for being a little heavier than the average hair band.  You can hear a little bit of that Euro-metal fire in their sound (like maybe some Pretty Maids).  The thing that The Rich Don’t Rock lacks is one or two real gems to put it on the radar.  Without any signature moments to capture the public’s short attention span, The Rich Don’t Rock was bound for the discount bins.  It also didn’t help that Atlantic did almost nothing to support this release.  My score: B-

Hericane Alice – Tear The House Down (1990)

Like Vamp (above), Hericane Alice were signed to Atlantic Records.  Like Vamp (still above), Hericane Alice are long forgotten.

Minnesota’s Hericane Alice brought absolutely nothing new to the hair metal genre on their second album Tear The House Down.  But I’m not going to turn my nose up at the album just because it’s as unoriginal as a Xerox print of my scrotum.  I’ve heard this brand of party metal a million times before, and I’ll hear it a million times more.  Honestly, it never gets old to me.  Is Tear The House Down great?  Not really.  But in the absence of anything else to listen to, I could probably survive on this album alone for a good five to seven days.  That’s quality sustenance!

Hericane Alice adhered so closely to the established hair metal formula that these songs practically wrote themselves in 1990.  All you needed was four or five guys with long hair and leather boots to get in the same room and POOF! — songs called Wild Young And Crazy and Crank The Heat Up were pooped out like soft-serve ice cream.  Get a spoon and dig in.  My score: B-

Child’s Play – Rat Race (1990)

Child’s Play was a popular band in and around the Baltimore area.  They landed a record deal with Chrysalis and released Rat Race in 1990.  Unfortunately, Child’s Play’s regional success didn’t translate to nation-wide popularity.

After hunting Rat Race down, I was a little disappointed with the album upon first listen.  However, something about the band’s sound, their attitude, and the crisp production of the album compelled me to keep trying.  Eventually I warmed up to Rat Race, though I can’t exactly call it a great record.  It has its moments.  Howard Benson did a helluva job producing Rat Race (as he had done previously on Bang Tango’s Psycho Cafe).  The album has a lively sound with good fidelity.  Child’s Play rocks out pretty hard throughout this album.  To their credit, they were able to balance finesse with street-wise nastiness quite well.  The first five songs are the best.  This includes the party rockin’ opener Good Ol’ Rock And Roll, the humorous My Bottle, and the mellow Wind.  After the first five songs, Rat Race takes a bit of a tumble.  These songs don’t stick with me after they’ve finished.

While researching Child’s Play for this review, I was saddened to find out that the vocalist on Rat Race (Brian Jack) passed away in 2012.  My score: B-

Queen – Greatest Hits (1981)

Oh the majesty!  1981 saw the release of Queen’s first greatest hits package.  Simply titled Greatest Hits, the track list of the album depended on the region of the world where it was released.  For example, the North American version of Greatest Hits is slightly different than the U.K. version.  This review pertains to the North American version released by Elektra Records.  Here’s the track list.

Greatest Hits compiles fourteen classic Queen cuts from 1973-1981.  All of Queen’s studio albums up to that point with the exception Queen II (1974) were represented.  This album was my introduction to Queen way back in my childhood.  I still have a tattered cassette copy that I borrowed/stole from my friend Steve displayed proudly on my book shelf.

Needless to say, Queen were one of the greatest rock bands of all time.  The fourteen tracks on Greatest Hits are merely a drop in the bucket of what Queen accomplished, but this album concerns itself only with the highest charting hits from Queen’s catalog from ’73-’81.  On a single album, you will be hard pressed to top the wall-to-wall brilliance exhibited on Greatest Hits.

Think about the legendary rock acts of the seventies like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Aerosmith.  All were great in their own right.  All spawned countless soundalikes.  The amazing thing about Queen is that they’ve never been copied.  Nobody has the balls to try.  Who could pull it off?  That was Queen’s unique gift.  Here were four fantastic beasts that came together to make some of the best rock music of the 20th century.  My score: A+

Queen – A Kind Of Magic (1986)

A Kind Of Magic is one of the worst Queen albums.  It contains several songs which were used in the movie Highlander, and another one used in Iron Eagle.  The albums finds Queen drifting into mediocrity, and it is another low point on their wildly inconsistent eighties run.  Once again, the band’s persistence on (over)using synthesizers and stubborn refusal to truly rock-out makes for a frustrating listen.  Sleepy tracks like One Year Of Love and Who Wants To Live Forever steer the listener into an “adult contemporary” frame of mind — a place no sane rock fan wants to be.  The best song is Princes Of The Universe — a hard rockin’ track penned by Freddie Mercury that served as the theme to Highlander.

The tour in support of A Kind Of Magic was Queen’s last with Freddie Mercury.  Though they didn’t come to the United States, their stadium shows in Europe were the stuff of legend — cementing Queen’s status as quite possibly THE quintessential stadium band of all time.  My score: C+

Queen – The Miracle (1989)

What a butt-ugly cover!  But it masks a pretty decent Queen album.

Artistically, I think The Miracle was a modest comeback for Queen after the dull and anemic A King Of Magic.  It is highlighted by the righteous anthem I Want It All — one of the hardest rocking songs Queen had recorded in years.  Freddie Mercury sounds a bit like Roger Daltrey in the verse sections of I Want It All — as he put a little more grit in his voice to give the song some extra muscle.  Another highlight is the poignant rocker Was It All Worth It.  This song, written by Mercury, was the final cut on the original LP version of The Miracle (CD versions added extra bonus tracks).  It’s quite possible that Mercury and Queen thought The Miracle could be the last Queen album due to Freddie Mercury’s terminal illness.  If so, Was It All Worth It served as a powerful and moving final message from Mr. Mercury — as he pondered whether everything he had experienced as a rock star was worth it in the end (SPOILER — he says it was).  It turns out that Queen would be able to make one more album with Freddie before he died of AIDS.  Innuendo came out in 1991 and featured another dramatic send-off message with its final song The Show Must Go On.  Note: During the recording of The Miracle, the members of Queen knew Freddie Mercury had AIDS — but the public did not find out until a day before his death in 1991.

Other highlights of The Miracle include the uplifting Breakthru and the guitar-driven stomper Khashoggi’s Ship.  The only song that I really don’t care for on The Miracle is the weak My Baby Does Me.  This track sounds like a collaboration between George Michael and Hall & Oates.  Not that there is anything wrong with either of those two artists, it’s just not what I’m looking for on a Queen album.

The Miracle was not a successful album in the United States.  Queen was not heavily promoted in the U.S. at the time, as they had not toured the U.S. since Hot Space.  My score: A-

D.R.I. – 4 Of A Kind (1988)

D.R.I. (Dirty Rotten Imbeciles) are considered one of the forefathers of crossover thrash — a mixture of hardcore punk and thrash metal.  By their fourth album, 4 Of A Kind (Metal Blade Records) is more or less thrash.  Bad thrash.

On 4 Of A Kind, the songs are dull, toneless, and tuneless.  Tracks rely solely on the rhythm guitar riffs of guitarist Spike Cassidy.  Lead guitar solo breaks are few and forgettable.  As such, the songs lack texture and direction.  There’s no story to tell with these songs.  It’s really just Cassidy running through his Rolodex of riffs for 35 minutes and then you’re done.  Vocalist Kurt Brecht’s plain, atonal yelling doesn’t add much to the equation, either.  To think that D.R.I. is sometimes lumped in with Suicidal Tendencies as one of the great, early crossover bands is kind of an insult to Suicidal Tendencies.  These guys couldn’t hold Mike Muir’s jock strap.  My score: C-

D.R.I. – Thrash Zone (1989)

I must admit, D.R.I. had a pretty cool logo.  I wouldn’t mind having that street sign on Thrash Zone to myself.  It would look good on the wall of the man cave, eh?  Of course, if I had my own “thrash zone” in my house, I wouldn’t be thrashing out to Thrash Zone — that’s for DAMN sure.  This one is pretty much a continuation of 1988’s 4 Of A KindThrash Zone is lifeless and boring.  The bad vocals are matched by equally bad lyrics.  But then again I guess these crossover bands are kind of impervious to criticism in a way, aren’t they?  Their whole identity was kind of based on a certain ‘I don’t care’ attitude.  My score: D

Smashed Gladys – “Social Intercourse” (1988)

smashed-gladysWith their jet-black hair and sunken cheeks, Smashed Gladys were livin’ hard and livin’ free in a world of decadent sleaze.  Smashed Gladys were fronted by a female singer named Sally Cato.  Ms. Cato had a raspy, tough-as-nails voice and an attitude to match.  She poured everything she had into her performance as Smashed Gladys clawed and scratched for a big break on their second album Social Intercourse (Elektra Records).  Cato’s lyrics were nasty, dirty, and chock full of sexual squalor.  Despite Cato and company’s fighting spirit, the songs rarely rise to the level of the competition (of which there was plenty).  Sub-potent hooks will kill ya every time.  Nevertheless, Smashed Gladys didn’t go down without delivering a memorable sleaze anthem in Sermonette.  Another fave is the low-class piece of smut called Legs Up.  That big break never came for Smashed Gladys and Social Intercourse ended up being their final album.  Oh well… sleazy come, sleazy go.  My score: B-