If you’ve ever flipped through vinyl at a used record store, I guarantee that you’ve run across Metal Health. I have too. Sometimes I think there’s a secret organization that, when they find out you’re opening a used record store, drops off a box of records in front of your shop on the day it opens. Because there are albums that EVERY record store seems to have. Don McLean’s American Pie. Europe’s The Final Countdown. Frampton Comes Alive! It’s easy to roll your eyes when you yet once again put your finger tips on top of one of these and quickly pass it by as you flip through to more promising fare behind it. But remember one thing, kids – the reason there are so many of these records in the used bins is because these bands sold a shit-ton of records. Metal Health sold 6 million copies… just in the US. Let that number sink in for a minute. Six. Million. That’s one copy for roughly every 52 people in the country today, regardless of age. That’s insane.
I’m not sure why I decided to finally buy a used copy of Metal Health the other day while I was down in Portland. I’ve passed it by dozens of times, and I already have “Cum On Feel The Noize” and “Metal Health” on my iPod, and my guess is most people couldn’t name another song on Metal Health (I could only think of one other – “Slick Black Cadillac”)… hell, name me a song other than “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” from any of their subsequent nine albums (nine? really?? there were nine more???). Quiet Riot were the perfect flash in the pan, the right band with the right look and the right sound at the right time. And that time was 1983, when hair metal/glam metal/butt rock was rocketing to the top of the charts. And on the week of November 26, 1983 it bumped off Synchronicity to take over the number one spot on the Billboard 200. Only six albums were at number one in 1983 (that fact blows my mind…). The other artists were Michael Jackson, The Police, Men At Work, Lionel Richie, and the Flashdance Soundtrack. There hadn’t been a hard rock band at the top of the chart since AC/DC spent two weeks there in January 1982. So it was a pivotal album from a pivotal time in my life, when I was just discovering music that wasn’t the stuff my parents listened to. In fact, there’s a very good chance that this is the first metal record I ever bought (and I had it on vinyl then too). So how could I not take the opportunity to re-discover it?
I’m like a laser,
I got a mouth like an alligator.
I want it louder,
I’m gonna rock ’til it strikes the hour.
Bang your head!
— “Metal Health”
You couldn’t escape the video for “Cum On Feel The Noize” in 1983. It was playing on MTV all the time. The video for “Metal Health” was, in my opinion, much better (so was the song…), but it never quite caught on as well as the other single. One of the odd things about Quiet Riot is that their biggest single, the song they’re most known for, is a Slade cover. Not only did Slade originally write and perform “Cum On Feel The Noize” in 1973 (as a young fan I could never figure out why they spelled it “cum”…), they also wrote another of Quiet Riot’s hits, “Mama Weer All Crazee Now,” back in 1972. So two of Quiet Riot’s three charting singles were actually Slade covers. Does that make them athe greatest Slade cover band of all time? Regardless, these guys were on top of the world in 1983. They were in Hit Parader, on MTV, and I thought they were cool as hell.
That being said, how many people every got more than two tracks deep into Metal Health? Sure, if you had the record you probably played it all the way through once, maybe twice. But the two big songs were the first two tracks on side A. Personally I doubt I’ve listened to the rest of the album more than 3-4 times in the last 31 years. Maybe I played “Slick Black Cadillac” a few more times since my friend Jeff turned me on to it back then, but that’s about it. But Jeff was ahead of his time. Even though we were the same age (pre-high school) he had a couple of studded leather wristbands and a roach clip hidden in his room. I, on the other hand, had parachute pants and good grades. But I owe Jeff for that one at least.
Guitar god Randy Rhoads was a founding member of Quiet Riot, but he was gone prior to Metal Health and turned over the guitar duties to Carlos Cavazo, who actually shreds pretty good on the album. Kevin DuBrow had some decent range up front, able to sing raspy but also hit some of those epic higher notes that were required in the metal world at that time. I thought the band looked tough as hell (see photo from the reverse jacket), though it always seemed like DuBrow was a bit old looking for an up-and-coming rocker, which I suppose he was – he would have been around 27 when Metal Health was released. They weren’t as glam as a lot of bands became within the next year or so, and maybe that just made them seem a little more real to me.
If you were aware of music in the 1980s, or have any type of 80s rock compilation, or have every seen any type of 80s VH1 retrospective, or find hair metal ironically funny, you’re probably already familiar with the two opening tracks, “Metal Health” and “Cum On Feel The Noize.” But what about after that? “Don’t Wanna Let You Go” is a bit of a twist, kind of a soul-blues rocker that sounds like it would be at home in any Pam Grier movie from the 1970s, while “Slick Black Cadillac” gets a bit heavier again, with the guys joining DuBrow for some dubious attempts at harmonizing. Side A closes out with “Love’s A Bitch,” the obligatory slow-and-heavy number, though it’s surprisingly decent, like a rawer, less overproduced version of any Whitesnake song that featured Tawny Kitaen in the video. Overall it’s a pretty good side of music.
Side B opens with “Breathless,” which frankly could have, and probably should, been on the aforementioned Flashdance soundtrack. If there’s such a thing as a heavy metal dance song, this is it. “Run For Cover” is sort of average hair metal, though one that closes with a mini John Bonham style drum solo, while “Battle Axe” is the requisite guitar solo song (all the elements are here!). “Let’s Get Crazy” is, of course, about rockin’ and gettin’ crazy, because why wouldn’t it be? And the whole thing closes out with “Thunderbird,” a soaring, inspirational number that sounds like a metal gospel tune.
I suppose this is such a seminal album to me because it came at a time when I was just starting to try to learn who I was as a person, what I liked, what I resented, and what type of image I wanted to portray. That sounds a bit superficial when I put it that way, but I think most of us went through that phase, and music was part of that for me. Quiet Riot had a look and an attitude that, while seeming cliched today, was legit at the time. The imagery of the young metal fan being committed to an asylum because he wanted to rock had that anti-authority feel to it, something every generation has to experience it’s own way through music, whether that was Elvis or Dylan or [insert your seminal band here] . Add in the leather and the ubiquitous Quiet Riot metal mask that hides your face, plus the songs about how much you want to rock and bang your head even if “they” tell you that you shouldn’t, and you have some powerful, if somewhat subliminal and unconscious, archetypes.
I’m glad I picked up a copy of Metal Health. It certainly does sound a bit dated, but smack-dab in a musical period that was important to me personally, so I still enjoy it quite a bit. “Don’t Wanna Let You Go” was surprisingly good, as was all of side A, really. It was more than a trip down memory lane, though… I’ll be spinning this thing all the way through again for sure.