Gothic Slam – “Just A Face In The Crowd” (1989)

Gothic SlamA tip of the cap to these ol’ boys for covering the overlooked Thunder And Lightning by Thin Lizzy!

Gothic Slam was an east coast thrash band that lived long enough to release two albums in the late eighties.  Just A Face In The Crowd was their second and final.  Gothic Slam were easy to like — mostly because they came off as genuine and wholly committed to thrash.  At times, I’m reminded of east coast thrash legends Overkill — especially regarding the vocal style of Daniel Gomez (which is similar to the punk-ish spew of Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth.)  These guys were young, enthusiastic, and (judging by the lyrics), socio-politically conscious.  It’s clear that Gothic Slam had heart.  That is something that goes a long way with me.  I think “heart” is one of those intangible things that finds its way into the finished product.  You can just tell when a band is giving their all rather than just phoning it in for a pay day.  Even when the songs aren’t the greatest, that sense of heart keeps me interested.

Is Just A Face In The Crowd a lost classic?  Not exactly.  But if it had more songs like Who Died And Made You God, we might have a different story on our hands!  Raise a glass to Gothic Slam anyway.  Yes, Just A Face In The Crowd is a forgotten album, but one that might be worthy of a second look.  My score: B-

Top 25 Hair Metal Albums of 1989

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

Blue MurderGuitarist 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 NileSportin’ 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

TNTThere 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

Great WhiteUpon 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

Sleeze BeezIn 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

WhitesnakeIf 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 JaneGive 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

Tora ToraAnother 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

Shark IslandI’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

Skid RowPropelled 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

Law And OrderMCA 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

Bang TangoIf 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-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-

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 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 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

ExtremeNuno 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

XYZNice!  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

JunkyardWith 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

BadlandsBadlands!  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 WireDreams 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+

Top Twenty Albums of 1988

Hell yeah!  Another big ass list!  Allow me to present my favorite hard rock and heavy metal albums from 1988…

20. Sword – Sweet Dreams

Sword’s Sweet Dreams is metal in its purest form — gimmick-free and unpretentious.  They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.  Sweet Dreams was a testimony to Sword’s no bullshit style of straightforward metal.  A standout performance by vocalist Rick Hughes provides a testosterone blast to every tune.  Even though a few cuts are only average in terms of songwriting, Hughes’ vocals elevate the songs into fist-pumpers through the force of his metal conviction and the strength of his rusty wail.  The two killer tracks that standout for me are the churning title track, and the ball-smashing Life On The Sharp Edge (my favorite Sword song of all).  My score: A-

19. Cacophony – Go Off!

Cacophony!  Featuring not one, but TWO fierce six-string shredders in Jason Becker and Marty Friedman, Cacophony’s Go Off! album showcases the pair’s ridiculous fret board skills, all the while not forgetting to give you actual songs in the process.  Go Off! was the second (and last) Cacophony album (Shrapnel Records).  The line-up also included journeyman Deen Castronovo on the skins (giving a pretty psycho performance himself) and Frank Marinno (Le Mans) on vocals.  Six of the eight tracks contained vocals.  Two were instrumentals.  The album doled out doses of speed, shred, and neo-classical metal.  Favorites include the mid-paced monster Black Cat, the ultra-catchy Stranger, and the dark sorcery of Floating World.  After Cacophony, Friedman went on to join Megadeth and Becker joined David Lee Roth’s band.  Unfortunately, Becker was diagnosed with ALS soon thereafter.  Against all odds, Becker continues to battle the disease to this very day, despite being paralyzed and unable to speak.  There’s even a documentary about Jason called Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet.  Here’s a link to the trailer.  Pretty inspirational stuff!  My score: A-

18. Danzig – Danzig

Glenn Danzig had previously made his name with the low-brow horror punk band Misfits, and the sloppy whatever-you-call-it Samhain before he signed on to Rick Rubin’s Def American record label.  Soon thereafter, the Danzig band was formed.  Though there was some carryover from Samhain (including that kick-ass skull logo), Danzig took a new musical direction — a stripped down brand of evil blues-metal.

With Rubin as producer, Danzig became an ultra-tight war machine on their 1988 debut.  Rubin’s production on Danzig is one of the driest you may ever hear.  It’s completely devoid of oxygen.  This was in stark contrast to Danzig’s previous bands, Misfits and Samhain — both which sounded loose and unrefined.

As a songwriter, Glenn Danzig kept things simple, with entry-level riffs and lots of hanging power chords.  John Christ took care of the guitar duties on Danzig, and his less-is-more approach suited the songs well.  After all, nobody wanted to get in the way of Glenn’s “Satanic Jim Morrison on steroids” vocals, which was the center-point of Danzig.  It’s hard to tell whether Glenn Danzig was (is) completely serious or not with his whole ego-maniacal, tough guy persona.  If it’s a joke, kudos to Glenn for delivering it with a straight face for years and years.  If he’s for real… well, that’s both scary and hilarious.

Obviously, Mother is the standout here.  Just a stone cold classic in my book!  An absolute masterwork by Danzig, and one that proves simple ideas can have a devastating impact.  Other faves include Am I Demon, End Of Time, and Twist Of Cain.  But the whole album is really quite special.  There’s nothing quite like a Danzig album.  Their second, 1990’s Danzig II: Lucifuge, was even better.  My score: A-

17. QueensrÿcheOperation: Mindcrime

Operation: Mindcrime will forever be Queensrÿche’s defining moment.  Back in the late 80s, it sure looked as if Queensrÿche were going to be the newest legacy band of metal.  The buzz surrounding Queensrÿche at the time had them pegged as the next Judas Priest or Iron Maiden.  Unfortunately, Queensrÿche never really delivered on the promise of the Operation: Mindcrime — and the band saw their following drop precipitously by the end of the millennium.

Queensrÿche made a bold and ambitious move with Operation: Mindcrime.  They delivered one of the few concept albums of the decade in the world of metal — a sociopolitical drama with strong character development and a legitimately interesting plot.  I won’t get into the story, but for those interested, here is a very thorough and thought-provoking analysis by Russell Glasser.

Though Operation: Mindcrime has its share of bloat and pretentiousness (typical of most concept albums), it still manages to keep a pretty steady pace and never gets overly bogged down.  It is clear that Queensrÿche were a very inspired band at the time of Operation: Mindcrime.  That feeling of “importance” really shines through on the final product.  My score: A-

16. Meliah Rage – Kill To Survive

Boston’s Meliah Rage were lucky/good enough to debut on a major label (Epic Records).  There are only seven songs on Kill To Survive, one of which is an instrumental.  Of the remaining six cuts, I would consider three of them to be excellent – Beginning Of The End, Bates Motel, and Enter The Darkness.  The other three tracks, though not as intoxicating as the aforementioned gems, certainly do not suck in the least.  Very solid.  All in all, Kill Survive is a really worthwhile power/thrash metal album to have in your collection.  Trust me!  By the way, the production is excellent — with a meaty guitar tone driving home the band’s neck-wrecking message.  Meliah Rage wrote heavy and (relatively) straightforward songs that were surprisingly catchy.  Fans of bands such as Sword or Metal Church will lap this up.  I sure did.  Bates Motel is particularly memorable – sashaying its way to a violent climax that’ll leave you thirsty for more.  My score: A-

15. Ratt – Reach For The Sky

Years ago, I just couldn’t fully commit to calling myself a bona fide Ratt fan.  The biggest reason is because Stephen Pearcy is such an asshole.  I mean, in the sea of rock star assholes from the eighties, Pearcy’s butt-star always shone the brownest!

I still say that Pearcy had the emotional range of a cigar store Indian, but hey… slippery tracks like City To City and What I’m After astutely combine infectious hooks with sleazy ‘tude.  You gotta tip your cap to the boyz.  Incidentally, this album marked the beginning of Ratt’s decline in popularity (though Reach For The Sky did go platinum), so maybe some fans out there never gave Reach For The Sky a fair shake.  Time to revisit, I say.  With all the crap passing as music these days, old Ratt is sounding sweeter than ever!  My score: A-

14. Dirty Looks – Cool From The Wire

After a handful of indie releases, Dirty Looks finally appeared on a major label when Atlantic Records released Cool From The Wire in 1988.  I consider this album, and Dirty Looks’ 1989 follow-up Turn Of The Screw to be two sorely overlooked sleaze metal triumphs.  The heart and soul of Dirty Looks was Danish born Henrik Ostergaard.  He formed the band in the mid-eighties and continued to record music under the Dirty Looks banner up until his early demise in 2011.  The formula was a simple one; greasy blues-based riffing and palm-muted chugging over palatable, pulse-pounding beats.  Henrik’s raspy voice was tinged with a bit of that Bon Scott magic, and the result was sleaze city.  The incomparable Max Norman (best in the biz) produced Cool From The Wire.  Norman was a genius producer, and this record sounds perfect, as it grooves like a son-of-a-bitch.  Ostergaard’s lyrics of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll were delivered with a conviction that only a man who lived and breathed the lifestyle could do.  And it seems Henrick was the genuine article, hence his unfortunate death at an early age.  Check out Ostergaard’s spot-on Bon Scott impression during the middle part of Oh Ruby.  Highlights of the album include Cool From The Wire, Tokyo, and (my favorite) It’s A Bitch.  R.I.P. Henrik Ostergaard.  Thanks for the awesome tunes.  My score:

13. Overkill – Under The Influence

Staying the course, Overkill continued to roll like a tank over the rotting corpses of poseurs with their third full-length release, Under The Influence.  The damage begins with Shred, in which a manic Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth shouts; “make no bones about it — I came to SHRED!”  Bobby was just letting you know that Overkill had returned once again to shove a fistful of thrash into your whiny gob.  Never Say Never and Hello From The Gutter follow in a similar vein, both carrying big hooks and Overkill’s trademark “f*ck you” attitude.  Highlights of side two include End Of The Line, and the album’s stirring finale Overkill III (Under The Influence).  My score: A-

12. Virgin Steele – Age Of Consent

A famous cheetah on TV once said “it’s not easy being cheesy”.  He was wearing sunglasses at the time so I know he was legit.  But for Virgin Steele, being cheesy was all too easy.  David DeFeis and Virgin Steele were no strangers to the lactose way of life.  When you press play on a Virgin Steele album you can expect cringe-worthy cheesiness sitting right alongside epic awesomeness.  It’s this odd dichotomy that makes for an entertaining journey whenever you saddle up your steed and ride with the Steele.

Age Of Consent delivers the parmesan straight to your pathetic suck-hole with the creepy Seventeen — an ode to under age girls.  But that moment of ineptitude is more than made up for by two absolutely AMAZING epic power metal numbers in The Burning Of Rome (Cry For Pompeii) and Lion In Winter!  DeFeis’ lyrical imagery and vocal work is sublime on these two gems.  He also keeps his histrionic, high-pitched squealing to a minimum here.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, DeFeis could spin a vocal melody with the best of them.  The man knew how to write an EPIC song.  My score: A-

11. Kings Of The Sun – Kings Of The Sun

Bow to the Kings!  This Australian band was led by two brothers, Jeffrey Hoad (vocals and guitar) and Clifford Hoad (drums).  The sound was fun, energetic, “rootsy” hard rock.  Kings Of The Sun debuted in 1988 with this self-titled album.  It appeared on Mushroom Records in Australia and RCA Records in the United States.

Let me just say that this is a truly great album!  I originally had this on cassette, and it was a mainstay in the tape deck of my ol’ Ford Escort for many years.  Summer time was a particularly perfect time to listen to this little chestnut.  Expert production from Eddie Kramer helped to propel these bright and ultra-catchy rockers through the car stereo speakersNearly every song would have made for a worthwhile single (in a perfect world).  No filler here.  Get on the highway and press play!  Simple song structures and palatable riffs abound.  Clifford Hoad opens a can of kick-ass on the drum kit.  An absolute beast!  As a vocalist, Jeffrey Hoad delivers his quirky lyrics with a bad-ass charm.  Favorites include the swampy Serpentine, as well as tidy rockers Tom Boy and Black Leather.  Let’s not forget the cool ballad Cry 4 Love.  The CD version of Kings Of The Sun added a great bonus track called Wildcat that was not included on my ol’ cassette version.  Ear candy.  My score: A  

10. Seduce – Too Much, Ain’t Enough

Seduce!  Those searching for the holy grails of American glam/sleaze metal, here’s one for ya!  Seduce was a Motor City trio that never broke through to mainstream success despite kicking some serious ass.  Too Much, Ain’t Enough (I.R.S.) was a gritty, heavy offering that flew in the face of conventional glam metal at the time by forgoing the typical over-polished approach for a raw, loose n’ lethal sound.  Too Much, Ain’t Enough features down-tuned, heavy riffing courtesy of David Black, erratic drumming from Chuck Burns, and excellent vocals by Mark Andrews (also bass).  Side one of this album is damn near perfection!  Seduce painted a picture of a somewhat sad Detroit existence in a world of junkies and fast-fading dreams.  Check out Watchin’, and No Use if you want your tits toasted.  If I had one complaint about Too Much, Ain’t Enough (besides the weak cover art), I would say that Chuck Burns made some really unorthodox choices with his drumming.  At times his drumming can be a bit distracting, and he doesn’t always keep time.  Then again, I much prefer this wild style to the boring and over-produced drum sound found on so many late eighties glam/sleaze banquets.  Side two drops off just a hair from the insane awesomeness of side one.  Accusations is probably the least godly track on the album.  The finale of Too Much, Ain’t Enough is The Slider, a T. Rex cover.  My score: A

9. Guns N’ Roses – G N’ R Lies

Eight songs graced this Guns N’ Roses platter.  G N’ R Lies was released in 1988 while Appetite For Destruction was still selling like hot cakes.

The first four songs were from the 1986 Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide EP, which was a pretty rare release (so most fans hadn’t heard the songs).  These cuts were studio tracks with crowd noise dubbed in to make them sound as if they were “live” recordings.  Reckless Life is the highlight of side one.

The last four songs (side two) are the real reason that G N’ R Lies is an essential album.  Patience is probably the best known (as it was a hit single).  This beauty features one of the best uses of whistling I can remember in a rock song (Scorpions’ Wind Of Change came out two years later to challenge the title).  The acoustic version of You’re Crazy included here trumps the faster, electric version on Appetite For Destruction (IMO).  As for the controversial One In A Million?  What can I say?  Axl had humongous balls of steel, that’s for sure.  There is no way in hell that Geffen would ever release a song with such incendiary lyrics today.  No way.  Times have changed.  We live in a world where everyone is just waiting to be offended.  The G ‘N R Lies album shows that, in 1988, Guns N’ Roses were so insanely popular that they could do whatever the f*ck they wanted.  That’s rock ‘n’ roll!  My score: A

8. Manowar – Kings Of Metal 

In my opinion, Kings Of Metal is the best collection of Manowar tunes since their debut, Battle Hymns.  Manowar used their major-label budget to the fullest; the recording is grandiose and epic.  A full men’s choir is used on a few tracks to great effect.  Additionally, Kings Of Metal was Manowar’s most diverse album to date.  The speed-laced Wheels Of Fire starts off the album with face-melting fury.  The title track follows, swinging a mighty battle-axe at the direction of wimps and poseurs, demanding that they leave the hall.  (Here’s where Manowar made their famous decree; “Other bands play…  Manowar KILLS!”.)  More Manowar “classics” ensue.  Heart Of Steel is a surprisingly superb ballad.  The Crown And The Ring features Eric Adams trading majestic vocal lines with a full men’s choir.  Side two contains a trio of warrior hymns that pour forth from Valhalla’s hall with ferocious, testicle crushing might.  Kingdom Come, Hail And Kill and Blood Of The Kings are essential Manowar!  My score: A

7. Ozzy Osbourne – No Rest For The Wicked

Enter Zakk Wylde.  Before settling on his current persona as some kind of biker/tough guy/steroid monster/booze guzzler/long-lost Allman Brother/foul-mouthed redneck, Wylde was just a young six-string whiz kid plucked from nowhere to replace Jake. E. Lee in Ozzy’s band.  And he absolutely smoked on the No Rest For The Wicked album, helping the addled Osbourne construct another standout record.  Wylde delivered a masterful performance, unleashing searing riffs and blistering licks, all sprinkled with his trademark squealing harmonics.  Osbourne himself was the same crazed madman we all remember fondly.  I’m sure there were plenty of puppeteers helping Ozzy get through the writing/recording process (chief among them, the great Bob Daisley), but the end result was still a glorious metal feast.  Rolling Stone bashed No Rest For The Wicked (giving it one star out of five), which is all the more reason for you to buy it!  Faves include Miracle Man (great lyrics), Fire In The Sky, Tattooed Dancer, and Demon Alcohol.  The original U.S. LP version of No Rest For The Wicked did not include Hero, another killer track.  The Japanese version of No Rest For The Wicked included the bonus track The Liar.  My score: A

6. Tarot – Follow Me Into Madness

Tarot!  This Finnish band is still around today — having retained most of their original members throughout the years.  That’s really quite a testimony to the band’s perseverance, eh?  Well, way back in 1988 Tarot released their second album Follow Me Into Madness (Flamingo Records), and GOD DAMN this album smokes!  Sometimes brooding, other times jacked up on speed, Follow Me Into Madness pretty much embodies everything I could want in an ’80s metal album.  The songs are melodic yet heavy, technically impressive yet ultra-accessible, with incredible vocals and sing along choruses.  Descendents Of Power opens the album with high energy and a fast tempo, a perfect song to whet the appetite for some METAL.  This song is followed by Rose On The Grave, a slow pounder showing off Tarot’s versatility.  After two songs, it seems promising that we are in store for a well-rounded album.  Happily, this is indeed the case.  Check out Follow Me Into Madness, a slow burner that stirs a bubbly cauldron of evil, or the driving hard rock of No Return.  My personal favorite cut is the album’s second-to-last track, the wicked I Spit Venom.  When all has been said and done, I’m having a hard time finding a band to compare with Tarot.  Usually I can throw around a band like Accept, Priest, or Maiden as a point of reference, but I don’t think I can really do that here.  I guess that’s a great compliment!  Oh well, there’s only one thing left to do… PLAY IT LOUD!  My score: A

5. Riot – Thundersteel

Riot!  Well… kind of.  It’s not the Riot of Fire Down Under, let’s put it that way.  Only one member of that “classic” lineup remains in this incarnation of Riot — guitarist Mark Reale.  And this Riot sounds nothing like the Riot of old.  So why call it Riot?  I don’t know.  Marketing I guess.

So what usually happens when a band’s classic lineup gets gutted and the band’s name carries on to what is essentially a scab band?  Furthermore, what happens when an established band changes to a whole new sound?  Usually the results are disappointing or even awful, right?  But there are exceptions to every rule, and the exception here is Thundersteel!

Mark Reale joined up with three new guys and formed a band that became a speedy power metal tour de force.  While the Riot of old was a loose, straight forward hard rock/metal outfit, the new Riot was highly technical, tight, and even a bit progressive.

On Thundersteel, the glorious high vocals of new guy Tony Moore soar above the barrage of double-bass pounding and Reale’s quick riffing.  It’s really hard to believe that Reale was able to change his playing style so drastically for Thundersteel.  (He claims to have been influenced by bands such as S.A. Slayer, and was interested in neoclassical metal guitar at the time.)  His guitar work on Thundersteel is unrecognizable compared to his older stuff, although he is still very much a song-oriented guitarist, and not a flashy trickster.

Thundersteel often draws comparison to Judas Priest’s 1990 album, Painkiller.  Both albums are fierce, fast paced, and metal to the core, yet both are also extremely melodic and accessible.  This killer combination is like the holy grail to many a metal aficionado.  More than a few consider Painkiller to be an absolute masterpiece.  What of Thundersteel?  Though Thundersteel is not nearly as well-known as Painkiller, some think it is just as good or an even better album (I do).   Don’t forget that Thundersteel came out two years BEFORE Painkiller.  My score: A

4. Kix – Blow My Fuse

The high point of Kix’s catalog is also (IMO) one of the greatest hair band albums ever made!  Blow My Fuse is loaded with great party metal from start to finish.  Cold Blood has to go down as one of the best songs of the hair-era!  It was a “classic” in our house back in the day, as it was repeatedly broadcast loudly from the stereo in my older brother’s room.  There’s so much to love about Blow My Fuse.  For example, the lyrics on this album are really quite clever.  I particularly like She Dropped Me The Bomb (which compares getting dumped to getting shot down in an aerial dogfight) and Red Lite, Green Lite, TNT (about a street-walker; “she has to water all the flowers in our town”).  Of course, Steve Whiteman’s vocals were sleaze-city awesome, and chief songwriter (and bassist) Donnie Purnell shat out an awesome set of tunes with AC/DC-esque riffs and killer hooks.  Often, the verse sections were just as catchy (if not more so) than the actual choruses (examples include Piece Of The Pie and She Dropped Me The Bomb).  The album’s biggest hit was the superb ballad Don’t Close Your Eyes, a song I love to sing along to, although I can’t hit any of Whiteman’s high notes.  No Ring Around Rosie is another favorite.  My score: A+

3. Zed Yago – Pilgrimage

Zed Yago was a great German metal band with a flair for the epic.  Pilgrimage was their second (and last) album.

The Pilgrimage LP was first released in Germany in 1988 (RCA Records).  The LP and cassette both contained ten tracks.  The CD version contained a bonus cut called Fallen Angel.

The U.S. version of Pilgrimage (also RCA Records) came out in 1989 and was quite different from the original German version.  The LP and cassette did not include Fallen Angel, Rose Of Martyrdom, The Man Who Stole The Holy Fire, or Omega Child.  They did, however, include three tracks from Zed Yago’s first album, From Over Yonder.  The songs were Zed Yago, Rockin’ For The Nation, and The Spell From Over Yonder.  The U.S. CD version contains all the tracks on the LP and cassette PLUS Rose Of Martyrdom, The Man Who Stole The Holy Fire, and another song from From Over Yonder; Stay The Course.  If that is a lot to process, let me make it easy for you, get the U.S. CD version.  It has all the best songs!

Zed Yago was fronted by female vocalist Jutta Weinhold.  She looked like a female version of Blackie Lawless (W.A.S.P.), but luckily she didn’t sound like him.  That is, she didn’t suck!  Jutta gets my vote as the best female metal vocalist of the ’80s, hands down!  Her voice had a real touch of the wicked, but she could blow you away with those soaring, emotional choruses.

Many of Zed Yago’s songs were fantasy based; mostly about adventures at sea.  In fact, “Zed Yago” is a fictional character conjured by Jutta.  She is supposed to be the daughter of the Flying Dutchman captain, and someone caught between heaven and hell.  Something like that.  Lyrically, Zed Yago were quite unique and steered clear of most metal clichés.

This is an incredible album.  From start to finish Pilgrimage rips with elegant power and metal might.  The compositions are carefully crafted with lots of texture.  Dual guitars blaze away as the hard-hitting drummer plays like a caveman beating a rock with a mammoth’s tusk.  Jutta rules the roost with her dramatic lyrical and vocal majesty.  All the tracks pretty much rule, but the cuts The Pale Man, The Fear Of Death, and Black Bone Song reach epic levels of awesome.  Put on your puffy shirt, hoist the mainsails, and ROCK!  My score: A+

2. Metallica – … And Justice For All

MetallicaThey were the reigning kings of metal.  And Metallica got there without the help of MTV or radio.  For once, it was the music that did the talking.  That, and the loyalty of a million acne-faced teens who didn’t give a flying f*ck about trends.  In 1988, Metallica dropped the much-anticipated … And Justice For All, a horse pill of an album featuring songs that were too long, and a bass guitar that was non-existent.  Nonetheless, it was a massive load of AWESOME.  Oddly, Metallica felt as if they had to prove themselves technically — so they got a little more complex, progressive, and long-winded.  But the tunes ruled!  Thrashterpieces like Blackened, … And Justice For All, and One highlight this juggernaut of injustice.  Metallica debuted their first video ever with their disturbing promo for One — a video that, despite some of the band’s hardcore fans crying “sell-out”, was just as cool as we could have hoped.  (The lyrics to One pretty much sums up my worst nightmare!)  At the time, Metallica bowed to nobody.  … And Justice For All was at once sprawling and overindulgent, but except for the boring (and seemingly endless) instrumental track, there isn’t a song to be missed on this weighty slab.  When the dust cleared, Metallica walked away, still kings.  But heavy lies the crown.  It turns out … And Justice For All was Metallica’s final statement on thrash.  As if they had nothing more to say on the subject, Metallica’s next move was to streamline their sound on 1991’s Metallica album — abandoning thrash and taking with them the commercial viability of the entire genre — essentially killing off the hopes and dreams of all the other thrash bands that followed the trail Metallica blazed.  What Metallica once built, they knowingly destroyed (for better or worse).  Metallica giveth, and Metallica taketh away.  After the exhausting  … And Justice For All, Metallica thought it was time to move on.  Justice was DONE.  My score: A+

1.  Helloween – Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II

The magic that made Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I a triumph of epic proportions (IMO) was still very much in the air come time for Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II.  What was originally intended to be a double album had to be split in two at the record company’s request, so Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II was recorded later and came out in 1988 (Part I came out in ’87).  Gladly, Part II was a much longer album than Part I, clocking in with an extra fifteen minutes of music.  The same “classic” Helloween lineup was back for the second (and sadly, last time) for Part II.  The principal songwriters were Kai Hansen (guitar, contributed three songs), Michael Weikath (guitar, contributed four songs plus the intro), and Michael Kiske (vocals, contributed two songs).  After this album, Kai Hansen left Helloween, and the chemistry that made the Keepers albums so amazing was no more.

Straight up.  Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II owns my ass!  It borders on flawless.  Only the less-than-ideal production (which seems to hurt Eagle Fly Free more than any other song), and some questionable lyrics (like when Lucifer calls our protagonist a “silly bum” in the title track) can be listed as minor complaints.  With all due credit to pumpkin-heads Hansen and Weikath, Keepers Of The Seven Keys Part II would not be the “classic” that it is today without the superhuman performance of the golden-tressed and golden-voiced Michael Kiske.  The man brought these songs to majestic heights with his incredible vocal prowess.  Dickinson and Halford be damned.  This guy was the king of melodic heavy metal as far as I’m concerned.  For his performance of We Got The Right alone, this guy deserves a gold medal.

It’s hard to pick a favorite track on Keepers Of The Seven Keys Part II.  That would feel like a mother picking a favorite child to me.  Eagle Fly Free soars mightily (even if the poor mix tries to dampen its spirit), March Of Time is power metal perfection, Kiske kills all competition with his vocals on We Got The Right (incredible range), and I Want Out is an accessible, anthemic, barnstormer.  Melodic heavy metal does not get any better than this!  My score: A+

Go back to the Top Twenty Albums of 1987

Tarot – “The Spell Of Iron” (1986)

TarotIf you would just put down those Iron Maiden and Judas Priest albums for one god-damned second, maybe I can interest you in something a little different?  Here’s a band that is certainly not as well-known as those “legends”, but I will be damned if they didn’t rock just as hard.  I’m talking about a creepy band out of Finland called Tarot.  Tarot came on the scene in 1986 with The Spell Of Iron (Flamingo Music).  Tarot’s sound was a mystical, haunting brand of traditional metal — approached with a genuine conviction that, in my mind, separated them from the more cartoonish styles of bands like Dio, Priest, Mercyful Fate, and even Iron Maiden.  Like taking a torch-lit stroll through a haunted forest in the icy Scandinavian night, Tarot fascinates with a far-away isolation and smothering sense of despair.  The real key to Tarot’s unique sound was vocalist (and bassist) Marco Hietala.  His words, his timbre, and even his accent were crucial to the band’s atmospheric mastery.  Maybe it was all by accident, but I think Tarot really captured lightning in a bottle with their eerie chemistry.  Choice cuts: Love’s Not Made For My Kind, Wings Of Darkness, Back In The Fire, and Midwinter Nights.  My score: A

Racer X – “Street Lethal” (1986)

Racer XWe can credit Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force LP (1984) for ushering in a wave of shred-centric metal albums in the mid and late eighties.  The idea that a metal band could center solely around a virtuoso guitar player was a relatively new one (at least in the commercial sense).  We certainly had seen virtuosos before, but they had almost always shared the spotlight with a lead singer of equal billing.  After Yngwie’s arrival, we started to see shred records without any vocals at all, or records where the lead singer took a back seat to the marquee attraction — the guitarist.

Shrapnel Records was synonymous with shred in the 80’s, and this is the label that introduced us to Racer X.  Notice the album cover says Racer X “with Paul Gilbert”.  Paul being the flashy young guitarist.

Street Lethal features fast metal with a nod towards the popular glam movement happening in L.A. at the time.  High hair and high octane, Racer X attempted to appease the shred-thirsty niche fans as well as the pop metal masses.  For the most part, Racer X succeeded at toeing the line.  There are flaws though.  The hooks are a little weak, and Jeff Martin’s vocals are average at best.  Shabby production doesn’t help either.  My score: B-

Iron Maiden – “Live After Death” (1985)

Iron MaidenLive After Death was a double live LP released in 1985.  Recorded during the massive “World Slavery” tour (supporting the Powerslave LP), Live After Death captured Iron Maiden at the absolute apex of their career.  One certainly can’t throw stones at the playlist here, as it features many a fan favorite from Maiden’s first five albums.  That said, I rarely concern myself with live albums.  There are a few exceptions, but Live After Death is not one of them.  My ownership of this album concerns itself much more with my compulsion to complete the Maiden discography than it does with repeated listening enjoyment.  I prefer studio albums.  A big drawback for me in this case is that Bruce Dickinson’s vocals are a little sloppy from time to time.  Furthermore, on a few songs (especially Wrathchild), Dickinson’s vocals are buried in the mix.  Still, there’s something to be said for this album.  If nothing else, it’s documented proof that Iron Maiden once ruled the land.  My score: B

Onslaught – “In Search Of Sanity” (1989)

OnslaughtLet’s check in on the career of one of metal’s greatest singers, Steve Grimmett.  After the demise of his band Grim Reaper, Steve took his bullet-proof voice and word-class mullet over to another British band, Onslaught.  The union lasted for just one album, but what a fine piece of hardware it was!  With the addition of the corpulent one to their lineup, Onslaught made a sonic shift from a butt-ugly, Venom-inspired brand of thrash to a more surgically precise, melodic thrash style (in the vein of Metallica, Anthrax, or Testament).  Indeed, the thrash world had never had a voice of Steve’s caliber in its ranks, and the juxtaposition of Grimmett’s traditional metal voice with Onslaught’s newer, crisper brand of thrash was certainly something to behold.  This new dynamic can be best heard on the brilliant title track, where Grimmett’s soaring vocals lift the chorus to magestic heights.

Unfortunately, all was not as perfect as it should have been for Onslaught’s In Search Of Sanity.  A couple of tactical errors downgrade the album just a bit.  First, the album opens with a useless intro track called Asylum.  This track is nothing more than ambient noise — which stretches on to over five minutes!  I can’t remember an intro ever being so long and worthless as this one!  This was particularly maddening to me when I owned In Search Of Sanity on cassette because I would always have to fast forward through Asylum.  Now that I have the CD, it’s not such a big deal.  But still!  Another major flaw with In Search Of Sanity is that the songs themselves are too long.  Six of the songs clock in at over six minutes, with Welcome To Dying coming in at an egregious 12:41!  If you have to stop a song just to take a piss break, then the song might just be too long.  This sucks, because Welcome To Dying would be a GREAT song if it was cut down to five minutes or so.  My score: B+

Top Twenty Albums of 1987

Welcome to another MONSTER list!  This time around, I present to you my favorite hard rock and heavy metal albums of 1987…

20.  Heathen – Breaking The Silence

HEATHEN_Breaking_bookletThere were three noteworthy Bay Area thrash debuts in 1987; Testament’s The Legacy, Death Angel’s The Ultra-Violence, and Heathen’s Breaking The Silence.  Of the three, Heathen’s debut is probably the least “famous”.  Unfortunate indeed, as Breaking The Silence may well be the best album of the lot.

Breaking The Silence features thrash with a great degree of finesse.  The playing is crisp, the production is decent, and best of all, the hooks are memorable.  My favorite track is probably Goblin’s Blade, which features great lyrics, an awesome lead riff, and a catchy chorus.  The seven minute long Open The Grave is another winner, as is the cover of The Sweet’s Set Me Free (released as a single).  What I really enjoy about this album is that the chaos is under control, the riffs are smart and palatable, the solos are well-composed, and the vocals are very good (for thrash).  Easily one of my top ten thrash favorites of 1987.  My score: B+

19.  Manowar – Fighting The World (1987)

Manowar’s fifth album Fighting The World was their first on a major label (Atlantic Records).  Of course, some cried “sellout” at the very notion.  How could the band whose mission it was to bring death to false metal be associated with a corporate label?  I say ‘take it easy’.  Manowar have always been a walking contradiction.  Trying to figure out Manowar can only lead to a head explosion.  So why even try?  Let’s not get caught up in this idea that Fighting The World is too “commercial”.  Fact is, I didn’t really love the raw, clanky production of their poverty albums.  Fighting The World is well-produced with a glossy sheen, bombastic drums, and an even mix.  In my opinion, it allows Manowar to sound truly epic.  Finally they could give their over-the-top delusions of grandeur the proper treatment.

This particular car-battery-sized block of cheese contains the infamous mallet-headed Blow Your Speakers.  This overly simple tune berates MTV for not playing metal while, paradoxically, being an overt attempt to get some MTV exposure (there was a video).  Like I said, Manowar are a walking contradiction.  Anyhoo, Fighting The World contains two particularly awesome Manowar cuts.  First, there is Defender, a holdover from their Battle Hymns era.  Second is Black Wind, Fire And Steel, which is a full-throttle attack.  These two highlights are stark reminders as to why Manowar are a force to be reckoned with when they get it right.  Overall Fighting The World is a damn good Manowar release, but Manowar didn’t fully realize their grand vision in full until the follow-up album, Kings Of Metal.  My score: B+

  18.  Ace Frehley – Frehley’s Comet

Ace FrehleyI grew up with an older brother who worshiped KISS, so this Ace Frehley album got tons of airplay in our household back in 1987.  My brother had the tape and I remember hearing Rock Soldiers, Into The Night, and We Got Your Rock blaring from his room many times.  Years later, my brother upgraded to CD and gave me his old cassette.

What I never realized back in the day is that there are three songs on this tape that aren’t sung by Ace, but rather by guitarist/keyboardist Tod Howarth.  I guess I never heard these songs blaring from brother’s room because, being the KISS purist he was, he didn’t care for any songs that didn’t have Ace on vocals.  I discovered a few gems in Breakout, Something Moved, and Calling To You.  Howarth brought Calling To You from his old band, 707.  It’s a re-write of a tune called Mega ForceCalling To You is my favorite cut on the album, it’s a super catchy anthem that rocks in full ’80s glory.  The post-KISS Ace came back strong with this album, and he wisely enlisted the help of talented musicians and writers to get it done.  My score: A-

17.  Grim Reaper – Rock You To Hell

Grim Reaper’s third and final album here.  The cover is another grisly illustration by the late, great metal aficionado Gary Sharpe-Young (look him up).  As for the album, Rock You To Hell was produced by one of the best in the biz, Max Norman.  Max was able to wash off the layer of grime that weighed down Grim Reaper’s two previous albums (in terms of audio quality) — giving Grim Reaper the top-notch production they richly deserved.

Okay, can we talk for a minute about Steve Grimmett?  I mean, this guy is so underrated that it hurts!  It literally causes me pain.  Sure, Grimmett was a strange-looking dude.  He was a bit on the heavy side, with one of the most BOSS mullets of all time.  (It HAD to be a wig or extensions.)  And Steve had a space between his front teeth you could drive a truck through.  But DAMN, he could sing like a mother f*cker.  He may very well have had the most powerful set of pipes in all metal, period.

A toast.  To Steve.  Shine on, you crazy diamond!

Anyhoo… Rock You To Hell is a really great, really FUN album.  Every song is brimming with unbridled energy.  I must confess I have been guilty of overlooking Grim Reaper in the past… but no longer.  Recently I stumbled across this old video of Grim Reaper absolutely SLAYING a live performance in Minneapolis (1987).  It originally aired on Halloween night on MTV, I do believe.  I was forever converted to a Grim Reaper fan when I saw the video.  DAMN, they sounded great live!  Check out guitarist Nick Bowcott’s tasty guitar work!  And believe you me, Grimmett delivered the goods in person.  He wasn’t one of these guys who sounded great in the studio, but sucked live.  Nope.  Check out his scream at the end of See You In Hell at the 31:00 minute mark.  It nearly kills him.  That’s metal folks… that’s metal.  My score: A-

16.  Aerosmith – Permanent Vacation

AerosmithAerosmith’s 1985 album Done With Mirrors was supposed to be their big comeback record, but the album wasn’t a huge success.  It was 1987’s Permanent Vacation that gave Aerosmith the comeback they were hoping for.  In the midst of the hair band movement, Aersomith proved they could compete as peers with younger bands they had influenced (Cinderella and Guns N’ Roses come to mind).  They got a little help from a big name producer in Bruce Fairbairn, and a couple of outside songwriters in Desmond Child and Jim Vallance.  The three big hits were Angel, Rag Doll, and Dude (Looks Like A Lady).  Strong deep tracks include Heart’s Done Time and Magic Touch.  Steven Tyler really sounds great on this album!  If I have one complaint about Permanent Vacation it is that the album limps to the finish line with the so-so title track, a boring Beatles cover, and a filler instrumental.  My score: A-

15.  Overkill – Taking Over

Wreckage of neckage.  Overkill!  A band that could always be counted on to shove quality metal up your anus sideways.  Taking Over ain’t no different.  I consider two cuts on Taking Over to be excellent, Deny The Cross and Wrecking Crew.  Both hit like a freight train as they impact your pathetic skull.  Overkill always had a way of injecting their music with plenty of snot-nosed, punkish ‘tude.  You can thank vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth for that.

How about that In Union We Stand, huh?  Such an odd little bird in the Overkill catalog, what with its Manowar-ish lyrics and (some say) cheesy anthemic refrain.  Though not typical Overkill fodder, I kind of like the band’s clueless attempt at accessibility, because it only shows the band just couldn’t NOT be heavy.  It’s kind of funny really.  Maybe that’s why Overkill never sold out, they just didn’t know how to write wimpy tunes.  My score: A-

14.  Accu§er – The Conviction

The German thrash band Accu§er released The Conviction on Atom H Records in 1987 (catalog number 003).  Atom H Records was also the home of the thrash band Protector.

If someone were to take a look at the cheapish cover art (although I like it), and the rather unknown record label (Atom H), they may not expect much from The Conviction.  However, what lies beneath is pretty well-produced, very well-played thrash.  There are seven tracks.  All very solid.  I think what makes the album a success is the ridiculous amount of great riffs.  It seems like every song has a half-dozen or so smart and interesting riffs.  I like the guitar tone; it is dry and not over saturated.  This way, all the palm-muted notes are discernible.  The overall feel of the album is sinister and menacing without resorting to cartoonish posturing.  The vocalist has an evil atonal snarl that is tolerable and not overdone.  All the words are decipherable and his nasty delivery fits the mood of the music.

Now how about that cover, huh?  That old dude reminds me of that guy in all the Phantasm movies.  I guess that’s why I like it.  Also, I’m digging that “§” thingy in their name.  Personal faves are the ten minute track Accuser and the opening number Evil Liar.  My score: A-

13.  Angus – Warrior Of The World

This Dutch metal band had a nice debut in 1986 with Track Of Doom.  That album featured a killer track called The Gates.  Angus returned for a second heavyweight bout with 1987’s Warrior Of The World (Megaton Records).  This album was even better than their first.  The gargantuan title track starts the album off with an explosion of thick guitars and pummeling drums.  It is an immense song, and IMO the best of Angus’ brief career.  The guitar sound on this album (and Angus’ debut, for that matter) was quite unique, sounding almost “futuristic” (if that makes any sense).  I’m not sure how they achieved this heavy tone, but I’m guessing there was digital processing of some kind?  As for the drums, they were definitely touched up by some sort of studio magic.  I actually wonder if a drum machine was used.  Nevertheless, the drums sound extremely heavy on this LP.  For vocals, we had Edgar Lois.  The man sounded like a seven-foot tall, muscle-bound barbarian.  (In fact, he was not.)  With speed and metal might, Angus blazed through a killer set of tunes on Warrior Of The World.  Angus savagely rips your nips with songs like Moving Fast, Black Despair, and Money Satisfies.  Only one song falls a little flat (Freedom Fighter).  There’s even a well done ballad called I’m A Fool With Love.

In 2001, Sentinel Steel re-released Warrior Of The World (fully re-mixed and remastered) along with Angus’ 1986 album Track Of Doom as a 2-on-1 CD.  Unfortunately, I’m A Fool With Love was omitted.  My score: A-

12.  Breaker – Get Tough! 

This bit of coolness comes to us from Cleveland, Ohio.  The cover art was fairly atypical for an eighties heavy metal release.  One could mistake Get Tough! for a punk, hardcore, or nineties alternative album based on the cover.  But nay, this is a straight shot of eighties metal right to your nut sack.

Released by Ohio’s premiere cult metal label, Auburn Records, Breaker sounded like a band primed for major label attention.  There’s little doubt that Breaker had the skill to excel further than they did, but I guess Lady Luck wasn’t on their side.  I’m particularly impressed by the smart lyrics on Get Tough!, which stay away from the usual metal conventions of the day, allowing the album to stand the test of time extremely well.  Breaker were a long way from Hollyweird, and in this case that’s a good thing.  Breaker’s lyrics were grounded in real life — feet to the street and nose to the grindstone.  True grit straight outta Cleveland.  Throw Jim Hamar’s excellent vocals into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a real winner.  Again, this album has aged remarkably well.

Prime cuts include Ten Seconds In, Get Tough, and my personal fave Black And White.  (Check out Black And White here.)  I have Get Tough! on cassette, which adds a heavy bonus cut called Touch Like Thunder.  My score: A-  

11.  Ozzy Osbourne – Randy Rhoads Tribute

OzzyIt’s hard to argue with this live album because the material is drawn from two albums of pure gold.  Tribute includes live versions of all the songs from the Blizzard Of Ozz album, and another two from Diary Of A Madman.  (I wish there were more cuts from Diary Of A Madman, my favorite metal album of the eighties.)  Throw in some ol’ Sabbath tunes — Paranoid (yawn), Iron Man (double yawn) and Children Of The Grave (yay!), and you’ve got yourself a robust package.  All the live cuts are from the early eighties, and feature Randy Rhoads on guitar.  Rhoads, of course, was the legendary Ozzy guitarist who died during the Diary Of A Madman tour.  Rhoads fans will no doubt enjoy Randy’s live performance here.  He dresses up his playing with more bells and whistles than the studio originals.  This includes an extended solo taken during Suicide Solution.  The album closes with studio outtakes of Rhoads’ classical instrumental piece Dee (from Blizzard Of Ozz).  For his part, Ozzy sounded pretty great live.  He didn’t stray much at all from the studio versions — which is just fine by me.  Tribute was originally issued as a double LP on vinyl.  The cassette and CD versions were single units.  Tribute is as solid as they come as far as live albums go, though I admit I personally prefer studio albums to live albums as a general rule.  My score: A-

10.  White Lion – Pride

White LionWhere have you gone, Vito Bratta?  You were a hairy, Staten Island son-of-a-bitch who loved to wear big, dark sunglasses that said to the world “I love cocaine!”.  Your ugly mug looked even more so when pictured next to your Adonis lead singer, Mike Tramp.  But, GOD DAMN, you could play guitar!  You were a prodigious talent that practiced incessantly, and I consider many of your guitar solos to be the greatest of all time!  Listening to your work made me completely give up playing guitar, because I realized I will always suck after hearing your records.  That’s okay though, it gave me more time to focus on playing softball with overweight has-beens and creating this website for seven people to read.  You disappeared from the music scene after the hair era died an undeserving death.  Since then you have steadfastly refused to reunite with White Lion for some sad money grab.  I salute you for this, as the state of music today has no place for a true talent such as yours, and that is the disheartening truth.  Luckily you came along at a time when there was an audience for guitar heroes, even if you guys all looked utterly ridiculous.  Like Eddie Van Halen (who was no doubt one of your idols?), you prettied up your rhythm playing with tons of tasty tricks and fills, never playing it straight.  Your rhythm tracks were like songs within the songs, and your solos were the perfect blend of shred, flash, and taste; serving the song but still making every aspiring guitarist out there either retreat to the wood shed or throw down their axe and say “no mas”.  Your second White Lion LP, Pride, was welcomed with double platinum sales.  A just reward for your work on such greats as Wait, Sweet Little Loving, and All Join Our Hands.  Oh, and When The Children Cry?  That song would probably bring a tear to my eye if I wasn’t devoid of all human feeling.  Mike “Adonis” Tramp (is it okay if I call you that?), you helped the cause with your lady-killing good looks, even if you couldn’t sing all that well and wrote lyrics with all the wit and wisdom of a thirteen year old girl.  Together you guys made sincere, unapologetic “lite-metal” that soaked the panties of stone-washed-jeans-wearing teenage girls, and made zit-faced teenage boys want to pick up a Strat and shred.  So… Vito… I hope you are enjoying the quiet life in Staten Island.  There may not be apt appreciation for players like you in the present day music world, but such things are cyclical and someday people will re-discover your work and give your name it’s just do.  I hope you are still around when that day comes.  In the meantime, just know you still have fans from back in the day.  My score: A

9.  Vicious Rumors – Digital Dictator

Awesome album!  Vicious Rumors took on two replacement members after their 1985 debut Soldiers Of The Night; vocalist Carl (Ace) Albert and Mark (Tits) McGee.  (Okay, I made up the “Tits” nickname, but it is my belief that anyone with a last name of McGee must be called “Tits”.  That’s just a rule.)  From top to bottom this is a high quality American metal release.  The cover art is cool, the guitars blaze, and the vocals destroy.  Like most Shrapnel Records releases of the day, shredding was mandatory, and the tandem of Tits McGee and Geoff Thorpe delivered on the promise of the SHRED.  But, in the end, it was the songs that delivered the most, making Digital Dictator a fun, catchy, and power-packed album.  Nary a moment goes to waste on Digital Dictator.  Whenever Tits or Geoff Thorpe tore off a lead break, they did so without lingering too long.  In and out.  Albert soared as the new vocalist.  Drummer Larry Howe let the songs breath with a very understated performance (for a “power metal” drummer).  Highlights are many, but my favorites are Digital Dictator, Worlds And Machines, The Crest, and Lady Took A Chance (even though the part that starts at 3:47 reminds me of Safety Dance by Men Without Hats).  My score: A

8.  Def Leppard – Hysteria

Def LeppardHysteria was a blockbuster album!  Seven of the twelve songs on Hysteria were released as video singles — including every song on side one!  There was no escaping Def Leppard in 1987 and 1988.  Yet, this was as much of a Mutt Lange (producer and co-writer) album as it was a Def Leppard album.  Lange’s production went far beyond the slick commercial sounds favored by hair metal bands of the day.  Layer upon layer of vocal tracks were poured gluttonously over a cavernous electronic drum sound.  This was not the AC/DC-style Def Leppard that we once heard on the crunchy High ‘N’ Dry album.  These were cyborgs at work!  Automatons if you will.  In many ways, Hysteria does not sound like the work of a band.  Rather, Hysteria seems more like a project.  Though Lange’s masturbatory production sounded cold and inhuman, Hysteria just seemed to defy logic — winning over many a rock purist, as well as every kid aged 10-20 in those crazy late eighties years.  Pour Some Sugar On Me became an instant classic upon its release as a single.  Today it stands as the greatest strip club anthem of my lifetime.  Other personal faves include Animal and Hysteria.  There’s a few weaker moments on side two of Hysteria, so it’s not all hits, but DAMN side one is so sticky ‘n sweet that I’ve got diabetes just thinking about it!  My score: A

7.  Great White – Once Bitten

Great WhiteOnce Bitten is probably Great White’s finest hour.  Although 1989’s …Twice Shy wound up being Great White’s most successful album, Once Bitten is a slightly better record.  This album contains a nice mix of rough ‘n tough rockers and slow-burning blues.  While lead guitarist Mark Kendall is rarely considered one of the major guitar heroes of the era, he sure knew how to unfurl a blues lick with impeccable tone and smooth delivery.  His style was not as flashy as West Coast gunslingers like DeMartini and Lynch, but he deserves a little respect for his work on Once Bitten.  The best songs are Lady Red Light, Rock Me, All Over Now, Never Change Heart, and Save Your Love.  My favorite lyric is the one that opens up All Over Now“Woke up a little too rough.  Lookin’ like a quarter when a dollar ain’t enough”.  I think we all know that feeling!  My score: A

6.  Whitesnake – Whitesnake

WhitesnakeHere it is.  The big kahuna.  Whitesnake’s 1987 self-titled album is certified 8x platinum in the United States!  It is by far Whitesnake’s biggest seller.  Five of the album’s nine songs have been hard-wired into the brain of anyone who owned a radio in 1987 -1988.  Crying In The Rain, Still Of The Night, Here I Go Again, Give Me All Your Love, and Is This Love were all “hits”.

David Coverdale’s Whitesnake was kind of like a corporation of sorts.  The boss was David, and he fired and hired members of his supporting cast pretty liberally.  He was also unashamed at jumping on the commercial metal bandwagon with this album (and to some extent, its predecessor Slide It In).  There was a time when Whitesnake was a boozy and bluesy band complete with slide guitars and the jingle jangle of the piano.  Those days were no more.  Coverdale co-wrote Whitesnake with guitar hot-shot John Sykes and the final product is a prime example of commercial, corporate metal at its very best.  Old school Whitesnake fans may have been disgusted with Coverdale’s sell-out, but the bottom line is that it worked.  I find enjoyment in all of the ’80s Whitesnake albums, even though they changed their style mid way through the decade.  Yes, Whitesnake lacks the warmth and the cool swagger of old albums like Ready An’ Willing, but the songs just plain rock.

Crying In The Rain and Here I Go Again were previously recorded on Whitesnake’s 1982 album Saints & Sinners.  This time around they are beefed up into larger than life specimens.  Here I Go Again is a masterpiece, it really is.  The lyrics speak to everyone who has ever needed a little impetus to pick up the pieces and get on with life.  I’m sure every one of us has walked along the lonely street of dreams one time or another.  For example, I walked along the lonely street of dreams like six times today.  My score: A

5.  U.D.O. – Animal House

In 1987, Udo Dirkschneider left Accept.  His new band, called U.D.O., released their first album Animal House in ’87.  Interestingly, all the songs on Animal House were written by Accept and Deaffy.  (Deaffy was a pseudonym for Gaby Hauke, Accept’s manager and lyricist.)  According to metal journalist Martin Popoff, these songs were originally intended for Accept’s follow-up to 1986’s Russian Roulette.  But at the behest of their record label, Accept ditched both the songs and Udo.  So in a way, Animal House is kind of the lost Accept album.  And I actually think it’s a great record — better than Accept’s two previous (Russian Roulette and Metal Heart).

A strange-looking dude, that Udo.  He had the body of a garden gnome, the hairdo of a six-year-old, and the face of a gargoyle.  But Udo’s metal-ness was never in question.  On Animal House, the hoarse ol’ warhorse and his new band of mercenaries plowed through this blistering n’ burning set of Accept cast-offs.  What coulda-shoulda been one of Accepts best records instead flew the U.D.O. flag.  So check it out!  You better believe this one will torch your testes!  My score: A

4.  Savatage – Hall Of The Mountain King 

Savatage released six records in the 80’s.  If you can only have one, make it Hall Of The Mountain King.  The album features some of Savatage’s best songs including 24 Hrs. Ago, Strange Wings, Hall Of The Mountain King, and my personal fave… Legions!  The brothers Oliva were at the top of their game for Hall Of The Mountain King.  Jon’s mouth of madness unleashed a vocal performance straight from hell, while Criss’ heavy riffing cut through the air like napalm.  Criss was always a master riffsmith, and had one of the best guitar tones in metal.  He used a lot of drop tuning to get a dark, bottom heavy sound out of his axe.  Add to that the perfect blend of overdrive and delay, and you’ve got yourself a legendary crunch.

Hall Of The Mountain King marked the first time Savatage worked with producer and collaborator Paul O’Neil.  Eventually, the partnership took Savatage’s sound into a new direction for the 90’s.  But never you mind, because back on Hall Of The Mountain King, the ‘Tage was still pouring hot metal into a bubbling cauldron of awesome.

Note: The late, great Ray Gillen contributed backing vocals on Strange Wings.  He was rewarded for his service by having his name misspelled in the liner notes.  My score: A

3.  Anthrax – Among The Living

For my money, Among The Living is the best Anthrax album of ’em all!  Coming off the successful Spreading The Disease LP of 1985, Anthrax cemented their status as heavyweights in the world of thrash with this 1987 thrash classic.  Anthrax were easy to like (IMO) because they were not afraid to show their sense of humor or reveal their inner-geek.  Lyrics on Among The Living take their themes from comics (I Am The Law), as well as Stephen King fiction (Among The Living and A Skeleton In The Closet).  Other interesting topics include the drug-fueled downward spiral of John Belushi’s last days, and the plight of the Native Americans (a matter also tackled by Iron Maiden, Europe, and others).  Anthrax’s lyrical subject matter wasn’t the only thing that made them stand out.  They also had one of the only legit “singers” in thrash at the time (Joey Belladonna), as well as one of the best drummers in the biz (Charlie Benante).  All of it was held together by guitarist and brain-trust, Scott Ian.  Favorites include Among The Living, Caught In A Mosh, and Indians.  My score: A+ 

2.  Helloween – Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I

The arrival of autumn here in New England is probably my favorite time of year.  As the weather gets cooler and the leaves start to fall, there is always a little magic in the air.  That’s because Halloween is just around the corner.  Sure, I’m not a kid anymore, but Halloween, and the month or so that lead up to it, still holds a special place in my heart.  Whether its eating fistfuls of candy corn, seeing the jack-o-lanterns decorating the front porches, or watching Jamie Lee Curtis being chased around by Michael Myers, there’s plenty to remind me of what it was like to be a kid at Halloween time.  And just as the intoxicating smell inside a rubber Halloween mask puts a gleam in my eye, so too does my tradition of busting out Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I each October.  One of Helloween’s crowning masterpieces lies waiting for me at the end of this incredible album, a thirteen minute epic called… you guessed it… Halloween.  For me, Halloween season isn’t complete without my annual visit to this song, and this amazing album.

German metal masters Helloween stamped their name into heavy metal lore with Keepers Of The Seven Keys Part I.  No self-respecting metal collection should be without this album.  In the metal sub-genre now called “power metal”, Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I is an unqualified classic.  America never really embraced power metal, not in the late eighties when Helloween pretty much invented (or at lease defined) the genre, and not in the present day where power metal is living a second life in Europe thanks to bands such as Blind Guardian, Avantasia, and Hammerfall.  So Americans may not appreciate Helloween as heavy metal legends, but in Europe it is another story.

This rather short album consists of only six proper tracks plus an intro and outro.  The listener is treated to fast-paced riffing, dual guitar harmonies, plenty of solo trade-offs, double kick drumming, and incredible soaring vocals.  Youngster Michael Kiske made his Helloween debut on vocals for Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I.  His voice was positively bullet-proof; able to reach the highest of highs and send these glory-bound compositions blasting into the stratosphere.  Just an incredible talent in every sense of the word!  To say Kiske brought Helloween to another level would be a massive understatement.

Helloween also defied heavy metal convention by writing lyrics that were uplifting, happy, and (especially on Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II) humorous and/or silly.  It’s that kind of “Happy Helloween!” ethos that gave Helloween albums a unique charm.

Keepers Of The Seven Keys Part I begins with a stirring intro called Initiation before the blitzkrieg of metal ecstasy begins in earnest with the über-catchy I’m Alive.  The series of tracks that follow ooze with metal might and sing-along awesomeness.  The aforementioned Halloween serves as the album’s climax.  Check out the lyrics to the second verse:

“Someone’s sitting in a field, never giving yield, sitting there with gleaming eyes, waiting for big pumpkin to arise.  Bad luck if you get a stone, like the good old Charlie Brown, you think that Linus could be right, the kids will say its just a stupid lie!”

Seriously?  Did they actually mention Peanuts and the Great Pumpkin in a heavy metal song?  Yes, yes they did.  So now we’ve got a combination of three of my favorite things; heavy metal, Halloween, and Charlie Brown in the same place?  Talk about a trifecta of kick-ass!

Bottom line: one of my favorite albums of all time right here.  As easy an “A+” as there ever was.  My score: A+

1.  Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction

Appetite For DestructionAppetite For Destruction is the best hard rock album of the late eighties.  In many ways, this album is the antithesis of the aforementioned Hysteria LP.  Appetite For Destruction is stunning for many reasons, but one of the key reasons is because it is so authentic.  The five members of Guns had a magic chemistry borne from a shared affection for decadence and recklessness.  This was a dangerous band, and it’s a miracle they lasted as long as they did (which wasn’t that long, mind you).

As I listened to Appetite For Destruction in its entirety while preparing for this review, a few thoughts crossed my mind.  First, popular music has really spiraled into a world of shit since 1987, eh?  I can’t imagine anything this good being popular ever again.  Rock music is in a pretty sad state right now.  Listening to Appetite For Destruction in 2015 really makes this point glaringly evident.  Another thought I had (while looking at the album’s iconic cover art) is how amazing it is that all five of these guys are still alive.  Granted, a lot has changed.  In 1987, the Guns were so cool.  Now?  Not so much.  Steven Adler is a sorry sack and I feel sorry for him.  Slash will sell out for a ham sandwich.  And Axl is just bat shit crazy.  If one of these guys had died young (like Bon Scott, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, or Jim Morrison) they would have been canonized in the same manner.  But they didn’t die young.  They lived.  And we are witness to what happens when our heroes DON’T die young.  If Cobain had lived, he would have worn out his welcome, too.  I’m convinced that Cobain would be no more relevant today than, say, Billy Corgan or Alanis Morissette.  My score: A+

Go back to the Top Twenty Albums of 1986

Continue to the Top Twenty Albums of 1988

Angel City – “Face To Face” (1980)

Angel CityIn 1980, CBS Records released Face To Face in the United States.  This album contained previously released material taken from two Angel City albums originally released in the band’s native Australia (where they were known as The Angels).  Some of the songs on this album come from 1978’s Face To Face LP, and others from 1979’s No Exit LP (both released by Albert Productions in Australia).  There’s also a 1979 re-recording of the cut Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again (originally from the 1977 LP The Angels).  Confused?  Of course you are.  You see, because previous The Angels albums weren’t available in the United States, CBS chose to package this quasi “best of” collection for U.S. release.  Unfortunately, they gave the compilation the title Face To Face, which was also the title of The Angels’ 1978 LP.  (The same kind of stuff happened with AC/DC albums around the same time period.)  It’s enough to spin your head around.  As to why the band was known as Angel City in the United States?  I’m guessing it was to not be confused with the band Angel.

Now that we’ve got the above logistical nightmare out-of-the-way, let’s proceed to the music…

Angel City’s sound was punchy, lean hard rock.  To my ears, they were a cross between AC/DC and Tom Petty.   More often than not, simple, palm-muted power chords and a steady back beat propelled the verse sections.  The chorus sections would open up with ringing power chord strikes and infectious, pop-like hooks.  The brothers Brewster provided the crunchy guitars, while Doc Neeson was responsible for the vocal charms.  Favorites here included Take A Long Line and No Exit.  My score: A-

Bruce Dickinson – “Tattooed Millionaire” (1990)

Bruce DickinsonWe shouldn’t be too surprised that Bruce Dickinson’s first solo album sounded nothing like Iron Maiden.  After all, we have to assume that Bruce wanted to either experiment with different sounds or find an alternate outlet for his music ideas through a solo venture.  He had to be looking for something he wasn’t getting with Maiden, right?  Why else go solo?  As such, expectations should be adjusted accordingly when spinning Tattooed Millionaire for the first time.  Unlike Maiden songs, these songs are crafted in a straightforward hard rock style, with catchy and oft-repeated choruses.  (Note: Dickinson co-wrote the album with guitarist Janick Gers.)

My thoughts?  So glad you didn’t ask.  Let’s get something out-of-the-way right off the bat — side two of this album pretty much blows.  Dickinson devolves into self-parody through lame lyrics and over-sold vocals on side two.  He really hams it up.  Bruce sounds like such an idiot on side two that I am embarrassed for him.  He tried to be clever, but instead came off as a damn fool!  Take side two and throw it away.

Now, as for side one — this is where the action is!  These songs are actually very memorable.  Yes, the lyrics are a bit suspect here and there, but the hooks will stick in your head for days.  And yes, there are a few times on side one where Dickinson over-sells on vocals (like the verse sections of Tattooed Millionaire), but the overall outcome on side one is positive.  Truth is, Tattooed Millionaire would have been an excellent EP if it was trimmed down to just these first five songs!  But I still have to knock down my rating for the silliness of side two.  My score: B-