Tons of commercial metal albums (sleaze, glam, hair… whatever you wan to call ’em) flooded the market in 1989. It was a great thing. It’s hard to believe nowadays, but there was actually a time when well-produced, well-crafted hard rock/metal was played on the radio!! Actual SONGS were played on the radio! People who played INSTRUMENTS!! People with TALENT!! Unfortunately, most hair metal bands never amassed the loyal cult following that the more extreme metal genres did. Hair metal relied a lot on imagery, MTV airplay, and the casual fan. So when the mainstream turned its back on hair metal, most of the bands didn’t survive (or had to change their sound to remain relevant — like Bon Jovi). What’s my point? I guess I am saying that there was a shit load of bands that arrived on the scene just before the bubble burst and released some damn fine music! There is a treasure trove of CDs out there that you may have forgotten about. These were (mostly) major label releases with fat production values. Bands were making their play for the big time, and most of them had at least one rocking lead single and a big-ass power ballad in their pocket.
Here are my favorite hair metal albums of 1989…
27. Jailhouse – Alive In A Mad World
Jailhouse were an L.A. based five piece that played a benevolent brand of hair metal. This five track EP (on Restless Records) was their debut. The first four tracks were recorded live at the Roxy in Hollywood on June 30, 1989. The last track is a studio cut called Stand Up. According to the liner notes, proceeds of the EP were to be donated to runaway youth charities. Jailhouse’s principal songwriter was guitarist Michael Raphael. The band also included three ex-members of Rough Cutt.
The album starts off with the one and only Riki Rachtman introducing Jailhouse to the Roxy crowd. Opening number Land Of Today starts off real shaky with vocalist Danny Simon struggling to sing in key (maybe he couldn’t hear the guitar?). Once the song kicks into gear, Simon sounds just fine. The songs have nice-guy lyrics that seem a bit out-of-place on the sleazy Sunset Strip. As if the guys were gonna change the world? How cute! But its kind of endearing and though the lyrics are a bit cringe-worthy, the band delivers the goods live. The fourth track is a useless cover of Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak. I would have much preferred another original composition to this worn out tune. Closing the album is the acoustic Stand Up. More silly lyrics but a catchy song. These guys were not too heavy, maybe on par with Poison, but they knew their way around a melody and, it seems, the stage. Harmless stuff. I’m surprised how much I enjoyed this! My score: B+
26. Disneyland After Dark – No Fuel Left For The Pilgrims
Danish rockers Disneyland After Dark released No Fuel Left For The Pilgrims in their homeland via Medley Records in 1989. Later in the same year, Disneyland After Dark signed with Warner Bros. Records, and No Fuel Left For The Pilgrims was released internationally. Along with the big label contract came a name change to D.A.D. (for obvious legal reasons). This also meant a different cover for the Warner Bros. version of No Fuel Left For The Pilgrims (depicted here).
No Fuel Left For The Pilgrims opens with a pair of absolute gems in Sleeping My Day Away and Jihad. The former is a great hangover song with some tumbleweed twang thrown in for good effect. The latter is a tasty jolt of electric energy, and it has some cool lyrics to boot. D.A.D.’s sound was a nice little cocktail of sleaze and heavy boogie that reminds me of the underrated band, Dirty Looks. D.A.D. also threw in some cowboy stylin’ and punk for good measure. All in all a rather unique niche for this Danish band. (The bassist took to wearing a helmet and playing a 2-string bass. Cool!) No Fuel Left For The Pilgrims didn’t do much in the United States (but 1989 was a pretty loaded year, so some good albums slipped through the cracks). Those unfamiliar with this band may be surprised by the fun on tap. My score: B+
25. Blue Murder – Blue Murder
Guitarist John Sykes had quite an impressive resume in the 1980s. He was a veteran of the NWOBHM from his years with Tygers Of Pan Tang, and a member of Thin Lizzy for their final studio album, the excellent Thunder And Lightning LP. Most famously, he was a member of Whitesnake — helping make 1987’s Whitesnake album a blockbuster smash. After Sykes was unceremoniously canned from Whitesnake, he formed Blue Murder with Carmine Appice (drums) and Tony Franklin (bass). Sykes was the vocalist as well as the guitarist for the band. Though Sykes didn’t sing in any of his previous groups, he was actually a quite capable singer for Blue Murder (a pleasant surprise). The album itself was a guitar-centric blend of Zep swagger and aristocratic bombast. Faves here include the epic, grandiose Valley Of The Kings and the hard-edged Blue Murder. Also, Jelly Roll is a tasty jam that starts as an acoustic stomp, and ends in full-on power ballad mode. However, the album does slip in quality on side two (save for the aforementioned title track). The made-for-radio ballad Out Of Love is the biggest letdown. My score: B+
24. Dangerous Toys – Dangerous Toys
I guess you could say that Dangerous Toys were a little different from the typical hair band at the time, but these many years later that gap seems pretty infinitesimal. Some perceived “extra” heaviness comes courtesy of Jason McMaster’s wild-ish, street urchin vocals. (Yes, the same Jason McMaster who once fronted the well-respected, and hyper-complicated metal band, Watchtower.) Also, Dangerous Toys were from Texas, so they had a little bit of a Texas swagger, though they didn’t infuse it into their music as much as fellow Texans (and one of my personal faves) Junkyard. Dangerous Toys was produced by one of my favorite producers of the eighties, Max Norman, and this is another of his fine sounding products. The two MTV “singles” from Dangerous Toys were Teas’n, Pleas’n and Scared. Neither song strikes me as a real smash, but they are okay. My personal faves from the album are the rough and tumble Bones in The Gutter and the melodic Queen Of The Nile. Sportin’ A Woody is easily my least favorite! Dangerous Toys did okay, especially considering it did not have a legitimate standout single, or even the obligatory power ballad. Reached gold certification in the U.S. in 1994. Pretty cool album cover. My score: B+
23. TNT – Intuition
There are no two ways around it, TNT’s Intuition is unapologetic, 100% wimp metal. The thing is, it is EXTREMELY well done! Intuition is polished, elitist, saccharine, and glam to the extreme. Over-produced, overblown, and overdone. But because TNT deliver in such a genuine, non-contrived manner, I can’t help but get swept up in the fairy dust. If your tastes will allow for such things, Intuition can be a very uplifting and enjoyable listen. TNT fans (and I am one) already know that guitarist Ronni Le Tekro and singer Tony Harnell are two immense talents. But on Intuition it is Harnell who really steals the show (IMO). Yes, Le Tekro treats us to his tasteful, razor-sharp playing once again, but it is Harnell who takes the album on his back with his grandiloquent singing. In particular, it is Harnell’s carefully arranged, lush vocal harmonies that bring celestial tidings. The question is, are you willing to accept a two-inch thick coat of confection sugar in your ears? Those who are unnerved or embarrassed by such well-crafted wimpitude, run for your lives. Me? I’m going to ride a white unicorn straight into this pillow of rainbows. My score: B+
22. Great White – …Twice Shy
Upon first listen, I thought …Twice Shy was a bit toothless. For sure, the heavy metal leanings of the old Great White (circa 1984) were no more. By 1989, Great White had transitioned into a much more subtle, blues-based rock band. Happily, repeated listens of …Twice Shy allowed me to appreciate what Great White had accomplished with this record. They had mastered the art of the slow burn. As such, the songs on …Twice Shy have a way of growing on you. The pulsing bass lines, Mark Kendall’s soft touch, and Jack Russell’s cool delivery all combine for a laid back listening experience. Not one, but three ballads can be found hiding on …Twice Shy — proof positive that Great White wanted you to marinate in their simmering juices, rather than blast you with a garden hose.
One of my favorite tracks is Hiway Nights (the quintessential slow burner), a song that gave drummer Audie Desbrow the rare opportunity to blow his percussive load. This may be the only time on …Twice Shy that anyone in Great White actually breaks a sweat. The album’s stirring finale is Great White’s calling card, the cover of Once Bitten, Twice Shy. It’s a great song, and one perfectly executed by Jack and crew. My score: B+
21. Sleeze Beez – Screwed Blued & Tattooed
In the post Appetite For Destruction world, there was a growing faction of dirtier, sleazier, and grittier bands amongst the “hair” metal contingent. Instead of looking pretty in spandex and hairspray, these bands looked unwashed and unwanted. Bands like Dangerous Toys, Junkyard, Skid Row and Spread Eagle rocked torn jeans and sullied boots. And there would always be at least one guy in the band with a cigarette dangling from his lips (in Slash-like fashion). Case in point: Sleeze Beez!
Sleeze Beez weren’t doing anything special or ground breaking with Screwed Blued & Tattooed. The only thing that made Sleeze Beez mildly different is that they were Dutch. But if you didn’t know any better you could easily mistake them for another L.A. band on the Sunset Strip. They had a handful of good tunes in their arsenal, and that’s all that really matters. The party rocker Rock In The Western World is a great album opener, and Stranger Than Paradise is infectious beyond words!
Screwed Blued & Tattooed was first released in 1989 by Red Bullet Records in the Netherlands. In the States, Screwed Blued & Tattooed was released in 1990 on the Atlantic label. The U.S. version replaced We Do Rock ‘N Roll with Girls Girls, Nasty Nasty. My score: B+
20. Whitesnake – Slip Of The Tongue
If you liked 1987’s Whitesnake LP, you’ll probably also enjoy Slip Of The Tongue — though a little less so. However, if you prefer the warmer rhythm and blues hard rock of earlier Whitesnake, you’re not going to find that here. This is the slick and corporate “hair” era version of David Coverdale’s Whitesnake. As for me? I like both styles, so I’m all set.
Though Slip Of The Tongue was greeted with a lukewarm reception upon its arrival, I submit that it’s an album worth revisiting. Coverdale wrote this record with guitarist Adrian Vandenberg, but due to a wrist injury Adrian didn’t play on the album. Steve Vai filled in for Vandenberg — adding his own quirky, modern touches here and there. For the most part, Vai kept his eccentric weirdness in check, though I’m sure his mere presence ticked off many a Whitesnake purist. Rounding out the Whitesnake lineup was Tommy Aldridge on drums and Rudy Sarzo on bass (it’s worth noting that, at one time or another, Rudy Sarzo was a member of every single band that ever existed). Slip Of The Tongue is Whitesnake at its most cumbersome and overblown, but the album still houses some strong cuts such as Slip Of The Tongue, Kittens Got Claws, and one of Whitesnake’s heaviest tracks ever in Wings Of The Storm. This album closed out a fine decade for David Coverdale’s Whitesnake, leaving behind one hell of a discography for us to plunder. Coverdale and Whitesnake are still around today, though time has not necessarily been a friend to David’s face, as he looks more and more like Camilla Parker-Bowles with each passing year. My score: A-
19. Mötley Crüe – Dr. Feelgood
A supposedly sober(-ish) Crüe shat out this multi-platinum smash in 1989. It stands today as Motley Crüe’s best-selling album ever. And really, it couldn’t have happened to a worse bunch of fellas. I mean, these guys were just god-awful human beings! Did you ever read their autobiography The Dirt? I did, and these four dudes (especially Nikki) were just terrible, degenerate, miserable pieces of shit. (Even so, the book is a salacious read, and I plowed through it in like a day!) But just because the Crüe were a bunch of assholes doesn’t mean they didn’t rock. Let’s face it, Mötley Crüe were responsible for more strip-bar hits than any band in the history of the world. That alone should put them in the Hall of Fame. Yes, in many ways Mötley Crüe were style over substance (one critic calls them “the luckiest band in rock”), but they were always good for a couple of fun tunes per album. One can’t deny Dr. Feelgood had some pretty memorable tracks in Kickstart My Heart, Without You, Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.), Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away), and the title track. All of these, comprising half of the album, were MTV hits. The rest? Not so memorable. But, five very good tracks out of ten (proper) songs? I’ll take that every time. My score: A-
18. L.A. Guns – Cocked And Loaded
L.A. Guns crawled from the sewer and into the spotlight in the late eighties, along with many similar Sunset Strip acts thanks to Guns N’ Roses phenomenal success with 1987’s Appetite For Destruction. Because of Guns N’ Roses, the music industry was more willing to pay attention to gutter babies like L.A. Guns and Love/Hate.
Honestly, L.A. Guns didn’t sound as dangerous as they looked. In my mind a lot of that has to do with their vocalist, Phil Lewis, who did not have the typical “sleazy/dangerous” voice of an Axl Rose or a Sebastian Bach. Lewis was actually British (with roots back to the early eighties glam band, Girl), and had a pretty straightforward (slightly raspy) vocal delivery. A very solid, though not particularly unique, singer. Anyhoo, Cocked And Loaded (L.A. Gun’s second album) is a very strong effort with a handful of rockin’ tunes like Slap In The Face, Rip And Tear, and Never Enough. The Guns were no stranger to conventional song structures with memorable choruses and a party vibe. Biggest hit came by way of the terrific The Ballad Of Jane. Give A Little is another fave for me, with a fat-ass beat and a sticky chorus. Cocked And Loaded went platinum. It is L.A. Guns’ best-selling album, arriving at just the right time when the mainstream looked upon track marks, sunken cheeks, and eye-liner as a worthwhile endeavor. Sleazy come, sleazy go. My score: A-
17. Tora Tora – Surprise Attack
Another gem from the great lost year of 1989! By ’89 there were several different factions that comprised the expanding pop-metal genre. There was of course the glam bands and the sleaze bands (to name just two). There was also a small set of bands that I like to call the “dusty boots” bands. These were the bands that didn’t have the L.A. makeup or pink clothes of the glam bands, and they didn’t have the street urchin heroin vibe of the Guns N’ Roses type bands. Nay, the “dusty boots” bands let their regional influences bleed into their music and preferred denim to spandex to go along with their dusty ol’ boots. I’m talking about bands like Dangerous Toys (Texas), Junkyard (Texas), and of course Tora Tora (Memphis).
With thick and chunky guitars, Tora Tora tears through a set of infectious (pretty heavy) rockers on Surprise Attack that show a reverence to the blues, and a certain unique edge (that one can only assume comes from their relative isolation from the country’s heavy metal hot spots).
Riverside Drive and 28 Days are two particularly nasty cuts. The slow burning and dark Phantom Rider has always been my favorite. The album closes with an excellent acoustic based track called Being There. A tragically forgotten album. My score: A-
16. Shark Island – Law Of The Order
I’m sure many fans thought that Shark Island was just another Johnny-come-lately L.A. hair band when Law Of The Order dropped in 1989 on Epic Records. Actually this band had been around (in one form or another) for a whole decade before landing a record deal. (They were known as Sharks for several years before changing over to Shark Island.) Unfortunately, Law Of The Order wasn’t a big hit. There were simply too many hair albums to keep track of in 1989, and many quality bands and albums were lost in the shuffle. Law Of The Order, for example, is a VERY GOOD album! If you can get past the somewhat glossy production and stiff drum sound on Law Of The Order, you’re left with a really fun, melodic record with great songs. And really, that’s what Law Of The Order is all about — great songs. There wasn’t anything particularly original about these guys. Shark Island played to the formula of the day, but did it damn near perfectly. Heck, I like all ten songs on the album! What more could I ask for? Faves include the smoldering Paris Calling, the swaggering Shake For Me, and the mellow Why Should I Believe. The show closes on the surprisingly kick-ass cover of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain. Nice! If you see Law Of The Order collecting dust in a used bin, scoop it up! My score: A-
15. Skid Row – Skid Row
Propelled by three legit rock hits — 18 And Life, I Remember You, and Youth Gone Wild, Skid Row was a smash success for this band of New Jersey street urchins and their Canadian front man. Lead singer Sebastian Bach, with his six-foot frame and girlish mug, became a breakout star when Skid Row hit the scene. His face was plastered all over rock mags, as I recall. This, despite the fact that the songs on Skid Row were written predominantly by bassist Rachel Bolen and guitarist Dave “Snake” Sabo. The duo penned raunchy tunage in line with their band’s sleazy moniker. Perhaps a little heavier than the typical hair band, but still hair metal to the bone.
Producer Michael Wagener kind of botched the production on Skid Row. The mix is thin on guitars and heavy on vocals, all the while keeping that dreaded ’80s drum sound in full. Fact is, Skid Row should have received the Appetite For Destruction treatment, but instead ended up with the Look What The Cat Dragged In treatment thanks to Wagener.
On Skid Row, Bach’s vocals are the album’s focal point. Though I’m not sure the other boys in Skid Row would ever admit it, Sebastian Bach is the reason this album is a hair metal classic. I mean, Bach was an absolute tour de force on I Remember You – one of the better power ballads of the era. Of course, Bach never knew a syllable he couldn’t over-sing to the max. That is to say, I do roll my eyes quite a bit while listening to Skid Row, thanks to Bach’s insistence on chewing up every inch of tape.
I mentioned the three “hits” from Skid Row. All three are absolutely killer. However, I am actually a little surprised that the remainder of Skid Row doesn’t really measure up to those three big hits. There are a couple of decent deep tracks in Can’t Stand The Heartache and Big Guns, but overall the album cuts are a little disappointing. Nevertheless, a must-own for any self-respecting hair aficionado. My score: A-
14. Law And Order – Guilty Of Innocence
MCA Records was a notorious failure when it came to hard rock acts. The strange thing is, I think they had a great ear for talent regarding hair metal! MCA sought out talented bands that were just left-of-center enough to be considered outsiders in the genre. (Obviously, I’m splitting hairs here.) Truth is, MCA signed some damn good bands in the late eighties. Edgier bands like Lillian Axe, Bang Tango, Sweet F.A., and Spread Eagle all toiled on the MCA roster. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few others. Unfortunately, MCA Records’ PR department was not nearly as on-point as their talent scouts. None of these bands ever made more than a light ripple commercially in the lucrative hair band ocean. MCA did not do a good job of promoting their acts. Add Law And Order to the list of MCA casualties.
Law And Order’s debut Guilty Of Innocence is a strong album that checks in with a lusty fourteen songs. A robust package indeed. Herein lies the album’s one true flaw — there are too many songs. While fourteen songs seems like a good bargain (more songs!) I prefer consistent quality over quantity. Guilty Of Innocence would pack much more of a lasting punch if it included just the ten best songs. The first half of this album is stellar. Towards the end of the album, the song quality wanes and my attention fades. Fourteen songs may seem like a good idea, but sometimes too much just dilutes the impact. (The LP version leaves off the weak Whiskey — the overly long and soggy finale to the CD.)
Law And Order’s sonic blueprint is not easy to describe. I think of Law And Order as benevolent like Tesla, but with a little bit of that Guns N’ Roses swagger (yet without the sleaze factor). A little artsy, a little bluesy, a little street, and a little bohemian. There are lots of acoustic guitars, both in six and twelve string varieties, to add texture and warmth to the arrangements. Lead man “Shane” has a commanding presence, even if his voice isn’t exactly world-class. Much like a singer/songwriter-type, Shane injects plenty of meaning and passion into his vocal delivery.
Killer tunes include Dawg and Your Sister Does. Law And Order’s cover of Skynyrd’s The Needle And The Spoon is also a strong cut. Overall, the album is mature and sincere. Another hidden gem! My score: A-
13. Bang Tango – Psycho Café
If you’ve got a hankering for some funk-fortified sleaze, Bang Tango’s Psycho Café should scratch that itch. With groove-tastic bass lines and playful guitars, the pretty boys of Bang Tango gave us a fun, loose record that still sounds great blaring from the car stereo. It is a record that shows the band’s personality, and predilection for obtuse sleaze. Producer Howard Benson did a fine job by restraining himself from diluting the band’s edgy, lively sound. Take for example the performance of vocalist Joe Leste on the acoustic ballad Just For You. Certainly most producers would have been inclined to ask Leste to tone down his odd vocal stylings on this tune, but Benson wisely let Leste do his thing — making Just For You oddly endearing. Also notice how Just For You lacks the usual bells and whistles of the prototypical eighties power ballad. No drums, no keyboards, no orchestration, no electric guitar solo. The song exists solely on a few acoustic guitars and Leste’s shrieky vocals. Other kick-ass tunes include Attack Of Life, Someone Like You, and.. well, pretty much every tune is worth listening to. Solid album! My score: A-
12. Enuff Z’nuff – Enuff Z’nuff
Enuff 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-
11. Babylon A.D. – Babylon A.D.
True to the formula, Babylon A.D. had a rockin’ lead single in Bang Go The Bells, and a monster ballad in Desperate at the ready as they made their play for rock stardom. Some mild exposure ensued but platinum sales never materialized for this Oakland band. I popped this CD in the other day, and damn if I wasn’t enjoying the hell out of it! I am a big sucker for power ballads, and Desperate is right up there with the best. I ain’t ashamed! Back In Babylon is another of my favorites from this album. Hey… ain’t nothin’ but a good time, so why should I resist? My score: A
10. Bonham – The Disregard Of Timekeeping
For a band named for their drummer (Jason Bonham), I am surprised at the rather inorganic drum sound they came up with for this album. If they were trying to re-create Jason’s dad’s legendary drum sound from When The Levee Breaks, try again boys. Despite that minor quibble, I have to say The Disregard Of Timekeeping is an excellent commercial hard rock album. Jason Bonham’s drum style is fairly unorthodox (hence the album’s title I presume), but pretty interesting indeed. Tons of keyboards are used on the album, giving these songs a smooth, albeit corporate, touch. Kind of a relaxing, very chilled-out record. Sunday morning hard rock. Vocalist Daniel MacMaster (R.I.P.) was an excellent vocal talent that may remind some of Robert Plant just a bit. Excellent tracks such as Wait For You, Holding On Forever, and Dreams have outstanding hooks that keep me coming back to this record time and again. Just another great album from the hair era’s greatest year (IMO), 1989. Went gold in the States. My score: A
9. Lord Tracy – Deaf Gods Of Babylon
Lord 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 rather pedestrian note with an unoriginal 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, this is one to seek out! My score: A
8. 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 Look’s 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 non-sensical 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! This is another one of those late eighties Atlantic Records releases that has gone woefully out of print. For some odd reason I have collected Turn Of The Screw on tape, vinyl, and CD. One of the few trifectas in my music collection. My score: A
7. Extreme – Extreme
Nuno Bettencourt! 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. Bettencourt was one of the best guitar talents to arrive on the scene 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, the Extreme album is a bit curious. Perhaps Extreme is a loose concept album of sorts, because almost all the songs are centered around being a kid, or more specifically, growing up as a boy in America. The song Little Girls is a little creepy though, because as far as I can tell it is about statutory rape! (And that’s the very first song on their very first album — what a strange way to start off a career!) Anywayz, this album is a really strong beginning for Extreme, one of the very best bands to come out of the late eighties. Of course, Extreme’s second album, Pornograffitti (1990), was even better! As for Nuno, these days he can be found touring with… of all people… Rihanna! WTF! Why is he slumming with that no-talent hack? I don’t think I want to live in this world anymore. My score: A
6. Lillian Axe – Love And War
It took a while for this one to sink in, but once it did I was addicted to Love And War like it was crack-cocaine. Such great vocals by Ron Taylor! Taylor’s fine rock voice is just a bit more sinister than the average hair band singer. Lots of multi-tracked harmonies, too. Furthermore, there are also many great riffs and tons and interesting guitar parts. The only drawbacks to Love And War would be the lack of bass in the mix and the drum sound, which is a bit too polite.
Lead track All’s Fair In Love And War is a six minutes of awesomeness with a massive, soaring chorus. Brilliant track. Another killer track is the radio-friendly tune Show A Little Love. Elsewhere? No filler to be found. A must have. My score: A
5. Warrant – Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich
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 heartlight, 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.
Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich was Warrant’s double platinum debut. Warrant wanted to make it big… nay… KNEW they were going to make it big (just look at the album’s title). 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. My score: A
4. XYZ – XYZ
Nice! XYZ’s debut album really surprised me. I wasn’t expecting something quite this good. Maybe I underestimated these guys based on that bland cover photo. Just another collection of pretty boys, right? Wrong BITCH! First things first, XYZ’s guitarist absolutely smoked! The guy’s name was (and still is) Marc Diglio. Not exactly a household name, eh? Well maybe he should be. I love his tone, his riffs, and his solos. His style was similar to George Lynch’s (IMO). Let me give you an example of Diglio’s ownage. Check out the song Inside Out (here’s a link). What an awesome lead riff that is! Sometimes Marc spices it up with some cool harmonics (like at 0:43). But my favorite part of the song is when Diglio plays a variation of the same riff (at 3:05) by tapping it out with his fingers. This reminds me of Eddie Van Halen at the end of Little Guitars. Diglio dishes out plenty of tasty stuff like this all over the album. Adding to the XYZ package was singer Terry Ilous. He had a nice set of power lungs. He did a hell of a job on the beautiful acoustic ballad After The Rain (check it out here). XYZ is top-shelf hair metal. My score: A
3. Junkyard – Junkyard
With a masterful mish-mashing of blues rock, punk rock, and southern rock, Junkyard were a dusty Texas 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. For me, Junkyard remains one of the true gems of the so-called “sleaze” movement of the late eighties and early nineties (although I am not sure the “sleaze” label truly fits Junkyard). 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 (no, not a Skynryd cover). Junkyard has got it all — great production, great ballads, great rockers, great lyrics, and great performances. My score: A+
2. Badlands – Badlands
Badlands! Ya know, I make it a point when I review an album to stay away from the words “underrated” or “classic” as much as I can. These terms get thrown around way too liberally by fans and reviewers. It cheapens the meaning. I mean, I’m not afraid to call something like Back In Black a classic. That’s a universal fact. But, I’m not about to do the same for albums by Dum Dum Bullet or Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts just because they’re old. As far as “underrated”, I must admit I am genuinely tempted to break out the term for the Badlands album. Then again, it did sell a few hundred thousand copies, which ain’t too bad. Anyway, here’s the point I’m trying to make; if I were a record executive in 1989 and someone put an advanced copy of the Badlands album in my hands, I would have bet everything I had that this album was about to go multi-platinum. I just don’t understand why this wasn’t a huge hit! Badlands had all the makings of a bona fide smash, including a major label’s backing (Atlantic), a proven guitar hero (Jake E. Lee), and a singer (Ray Gillen) who could make Robert Plant sound like Biz Markie. They had the looks, they had the talent, and most of all THEY HAD THE SONGS! If I were that record exec, I would have been more excited than a pedophile at a playground! I mean, damn, side one of this album is pretty much perfection! This wasn’t trendy, glossy stuff. This was a kind of white-hot metallic blues that sounds just as good (and relevant) today as it did twenty years ago. Badlands was like Zeppelin on HGH. Timeless. So since I won’t call it “underrated”, I’ll call it “under-achieved”.
For many years I have been trying to upgrade my original cassette copy of Badlands to CD. Unfortunately, Atlantic Records allowed Badlands to become woefully out of print, so I was unable to get a CD copy at a decent price. (I refuse to pay $20 for a used CD.) Well, in 2010 Badlands was re-released in Europe by Rock Candy Records, so I was finally able to get a CD copy for a reasonable amount. This version is re-mastered (not that the original really needed it). It has quite a few pics in the booklet, and an essay about the band based on the recollections of Greg Chaisson (Badland’s bassist), who comes across as a bit bitter. What I realized when I read this essay (as well as some old magazine articles), was that the guys in Badlands really didn’t get along all that well. In fact, when the band dissolved after their second album, shit got down right ugly. This was kind of a surprise to me because the musical chemistry on the Badlands record seems so electric. What this tells me is that Badlands had enough talent to overcome this apparent lack of personal chemistry. Kind of like the ’77 Yankees.
As I mentioned above, 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 Wire. Dreams In The Dark and Winter’s Call are flawless as well; two of my all-time favorites. Ray Gillen, whose career up until this point had included a few false starts with bands such as Black Sabbath and Blue Murder (he never made it onto their records), makes me ask; “Where the hell had this guy been?”. I’m serious when I say that, in my opinion, he has the best pure “rock” voice I’ve ever heard! (Gillen passed away in 1993, R.I.P.) 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 end after Seasons. All told, 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 hits. This might be the king. My score: A+
1. 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+