Just for fun, here are some quick, half-assed reviews for 10 albums that came out from 1980-1990 that one might call “hair” metal. I use the “hair” term VERY loosely. I am referring to ’80s style commercial hard rock/metal in a general sense. You know what I mean. I chose 10 albums to review for my first edition of this series. Some good. Some fair. I gave each album a fresh listen and here is my worthless opinion of each. Enjoy.
Cinderella – Long Cold Winter (1988)
Thankfully, no band photo on the cover. The cover of Night Songs was a monstrosity! There are a few really good tunes on Long Cold Winter. Gypsy Road and Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone) bring back some great memories. Coming Home and Fallin’ Apart At The Seams are also very good. The rest? Nothing special. Cinderella went for a definite blues-rock twist on this album that didn’t really match up with their mega-glam appearance. With that in mind, one can’t help but feel a lack of authenticity with Cinderella. If they wanted to be taken seriously as heavy blues musicians, why dress up like drag queens? The faux-raspy croaks of Tom Keifer are particularly distracting. Listening to a whole album’s worth of Keifer faking it can become very tiresome. This is a band best taken in small doses. Certified triple platinum. My score: B
Danger Danger – Danger Danger (1989)
Here is an example of a fully competent, but somewhat soulless AOR record. Danger Danger is an unabashed commercial venture that features perfect playing and glossy production. The result is an album scrubbed clean of any edge and polished to a faceless nub.
If you don’t like keyboards in your rock music, then don’t bother with Danger Danger. Keyboards play an important role in most of the tunes. I don’t mind. A few tunes stand out; I’m particularly fond of Boys Will Be Boys. The better known tracks are Naughty Naughty, Bang Bang, and Scrotum Scrotum. (Okay, I made one of those names up.) Anyhoo, Danger Danger is serviceable AOR that is fairly tasty, but full of empty calories. My score: B
Dokken – Breaking The Chains (1983)
First, a bit of a backstory. In 1981 a Don Dokken “solo” album called Breakin’ The Chains was released in Europe by Carrere Records. (I have also seen some versions of this album with just the “Dokken” name.) The cover of Breakin’ The Chains looked like this. The album caught on, an Elektra/Asylum came calling. In 1983 Elektra/Asylum released Breaking The Chains by Dokken (notice they dropped the contraction). That is the version I am referring to in this review (and the cover is shown on the left). This album is different from the 1981 version in several ways. It is remixed and features some different vocal and instrument parts. Some song titles are different. The track order is different. The song Paris Is Burning is a completely different recording of the ’81 version (called simply Paris). The song Live To Rock (Rock To Live) has different lyrics than its ’81 counterpart (a song called We’re Illegal).
Now that I have brought you up to speed, what can I say about Breaking The Chains? Well, it ain’t anything to get excited about. The title track is awesome, yes indeed, but the remainder of the album fails to really deliver thanks to lame lyrics and weak choruses. Element by element, Dokken had the tools (great voice, great harmonies, great guitar work and a solid rhythm section), but their debut doesn’t have the quality songwriting to complete the package. Breaking The Chains is the only Dokken album from the ’80s that didn’t reach Gold certification in the United States. My score: C+
Europe – The Final Countdown (1986)
The Final Countdown was Europe’s third album, and their first to see wide release in the United States (they are from Sweden). To date it is certified triple platinum.
I always liked The Final Countdown (though not as much as Europe’s first album!), but I gained a new appreciation for this album after I watched the movie Hot Rod (2007). In the movie, almost all of the songs from The Final Countdown were used to great effect. The movie is a comedy (a pretty funny one, too) and the use of Europe’s music is intended to be ironic and sarcastic, but it still fired me up big time. Hearing those tunes in the context of the film made me realize just what a glorious slice of ’80s cheese The Final Countdown is!
Let’s face it, The Final Countdown was pretty much a sell-out album for Europe. Their first two albums were more of a galloping hard rock that was very (for lack of a better term) European. For The Final Countdown however, Europe poofed up their locks and cranked up the keyboards as they made a move towards Americanized hair metal. But something got lost in translation, and the result was an album that encompasses all that was ridiculous and all that was awesome about ’80s rock music.
The iconic title track opens the album. Oh the majesty! Say what you will, but I think the track is brilliant. Joey Tempest has one of the smoothest voices around. It seems effortless for him. I’ve seen video of Europe performing live during their tour for this album, and Tempest sounds exactly like he does on the record. He always stays comfortably within his range and delivers the goods. Other favorites include Cherokee, On The Loose, and The Time Has Come. Really, the only stinky tune would have to be Carrie. I usually love ballads, but this one is just too melodramatic. Speaking of Carrie, ever notice that nobody names their kid “Carrie” anymore? When I was in school there was like a dozen of ’em in my class. My score: A-
Kix – Midnite Dynamite (1986)
Stupid cover. Shouldn’t it be Midnight Dynamite and not Midnite Dynamite? Why not use the American spelling guys?
I love Kix, yes I do. Well let me clarify, I really love Blow My Fuse (1988) and Hot Wire (1991). Midnite Dynamite? Well, I consider this to be an okay Kix album but not their best work. One of the things that bugs me about Midnite Dynamite is the production. The drums are mixed way too loud, and the overall sound of the final product is just too poppy. Kix were a renown live “party” band, so I don’t understand why the album was produced this way.
Some of the tunes are pretty good. The title track is probably my favorite. The ballad Walking Away, though well-written, is carried by keyboards rather than guitars, which I think was a mistake. Some of the tunes are stinkers. The last half of the album is a bit weak. Another observation: there seems to be an abundance of sing-songy, schoolyard-esque chants. Weird. My score: B-
Lillian Axe – Love And War (1989)
1989 is probably my favorite year for hair metal. It was a year that saw the release of many overlooked gems by bands such as Babylon A.D., Badlands, and Junkyard. Add Lillian Axe’s Love And War to that list. It is yet another underrated jewel from good ol’ 1989.
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. As I write this, I’m listening to it on my headphones for like the fifth straight time today while I’m at work. 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-
Quiet Riot – QR III (1986)
On QR III, Quiet Riot changed direction sonically by including synthesizers in their songs. This seemed to be a bit of a trend in 1986, as bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Europe released albums in ’86 featuring copious amounts of synth work. For Quiet Riot, the new direction may have been a desperation move to resurrect their career after their 1984 misfire Condition Critical (which saw a steep sales drop compared to its predecessor, 1983’s Metal Health). Unfortunately, sales of QR III were even worse than Condition Critical.
I must say, the amount of synthesizers used on this album is striking. Those of us use to Metal Health and its twin after-birth Condition Critical may not recognize this “modern” version of Quiet Riot. The guitars take a back seat, and Kevin DuBow has dropped most of his clown antics and gets “serious”. Don’t fear, the big dumb drum sound is still there; the calling card of producer Spencer Proffer (see also Kick Axe’s Vices). One song really delivers; The Wild And The Young. This is one of Quiet Riot’s best songs. I believe it was the lead single and video (and I think our introduction to DuBrow’s wig). While I would describe The Wild And The Young as excellent, and two other tracks as pretty good (Main Attraction and Slave To Love), I think the rest of the album is mediocre; the songs are victim to too much synthesizer and not enough guts. My score: C+
Ratt – Out Of The Cellar (1984)
L.A. scumbags Ratt crawled from the sewer and into fame and fortune with Out Of The Cellar. The big hit was Round And Round, and indeed it may be one of the best songs in the history of the hair/glam/sleaze genre. Just a brilliant track. However, as I dig deeper into the album I can’t help but feel a little detached from this band. There isn’t a sense of fun or personality. Stephen Pearcy’s one-dimensional vocals become tiresome song after song. One track bleeds into another. Nothing touching the genius of Round And Round. I guess Ratt is just one of those bands that I never got into. Oh well. To date, Out Of The Cellar is certified triple platinum in the United States. My score: B
Update: Okay, so it’s a couple of years later now. I’ve been on a Ratt kick lately. I’ve actually been listening to and enjoying Reach For The Sky (1988), and it has opened my ears to Ratt a little more. So I have revisited Out of The Cellar. I have definitely softened on this album a bit. I have to remind myself that it was 1984 when this came out. American fans were hungry for something new, and Ratt definitely came along at the right time. Good stuff. I think I was too harsh in my original assessment.
Tora Tora – Surprise Attack (1989)
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-
Winger – Winger (1988)
When hair metal became ridiculously uncool in the mid ’90s, Winger’s reputation was (unfortunately) forever stained. They suffered a terrible backlash thanks to the abuse they took on the show Beavis and Butthead. Just a few years prior, Winger was on top of the music world with this, their platinum selling debut.
Lead track Madalaine is an infectious heavy rocker, and my favorite tune on Winger. The album’s other highlight in my opinion is the hit Seventeen, another brilliant slice of hair heaven. Great performances and slick production help raise the Winger album a slight notch above the average hair band album. However, some of the songs aren’t at all that great. Nevertheless, those who only know Winger as a punchline might be surprised by the power on display. My score: B-