Boss – “Step On It” (1984)

Hard rock from Down Under, it’s kind of surprising that Boss only managed one album because their sound fit perfectly with what was happening in 1984.  Some poking around on the internet indicates they did OK in Germany and Japan and were certainly a live attraction in their native Australia, but Step On It remains their only full-length.  That plus three 7″ singles (two of which were comprised exclusively of material from Step On It) were all the band left behind.

All the classic rock tropes are here.  Songs about rock ‘n’ roll (“Kick Ass (Rock N’ Roll)”), songs about women (“That Woman”), and lots of apostrophes in the titles are to be found on Step On It‘s 10 tracks.  But you know, like so much rock from the era it’s still pretty decent.  This probably says as much about when I grew up as it does about the actual quality of the band, but I like what I’m hearing from Boss.  It’s entertaining and easy to get into.  There are unconfirmed reports that the band actually used a drum machine on the album, and if that’s true it kind of makes it a bit more interesting because no self-respecting rock band of that era would admit to such a thing.  And there is something kind of mechanical about the drumming… though who knows if I’d think the same thing if I hadn’t read that tidbit before listening to Step On It for the first time.

Ratt – “Ratt” (1983)

It’s no secret that I love Ratt.  Their debut LP, 1984s Out of the Cellar, is probably the first album that I consumed regularly as an entire album, as opposed to only playing the one or two songs that I liked the most, and by the time I hit 8th grade I probably knew the words to every single song on it.  I have their two follow-ups, Invasion of Your Privacy and Dancing Undercover, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I finally got a copy of their 1983 self-titled EP, Ratt.

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This six-song not-quite-an-EP-but-not-quite-an-ablum has five originals and a version of the oft-covered “Walkin’ the Dog”.  One track, “Back for More”, actually appears later on Out of the Cellar, while the rest remain pretty obscure.  Right out of the gate with “Sweet Cheater” I’m struck by the fact that this feels more like legitimate early 1980s metal than does Ratt’s more popular stuff from just a year later; those drums are heavier and harder than anything on Out of the Cellar by a long-shot.  “You Think You’re Tough” slows things down a bit and more to that sleaze style that later came to define Ratt’s sound, all dirty guitars and raspy vocals.  “U Got It” (♠) sort of blends both styles, with the guitar solo giving things more of a metal feel by the rhythm and vocals pushing in a more glam direction, and the same is true of “Tell the World”.  I feel like the version of “Back for More” on Ratt has a longer acoustic intro than the later version, but honestly I was a bit too lazy to actually do a comparison.  “Walkin’ the Dog” is about what you’d expect – a Ratt-ized version of the classic.

I wrote before that one of the interesting things to me about Ratt is that the band’s first three albums are basically the same record – it’s like they got stuck in a time warp and spent their time trying to replicate “Round and Round”.  Ratt is similar to those later albums, though still a bit more metal, which makes me wonder how they would have sounded if they’d moved in a more thrash or even NWOBHM direction.  I think they had the chops to pull it off, but we’ll never know.

(♠)  Can we all just agree that using “U” for “You” in song titles just has to stop?  You can do whatever you want when you’re texting or something, but enough already with U.  Using “N’ ” in the place of “NG” at the end of words because that’s how they sometimes sound when you say them.  But “U” and “You” are the same damn thing.

Smack – “On You” (1984)

Generally my eBay searches are confined to either looking for a specific item that I want, or doing a general search for Icelandic vinyl.  When I find something Icelandic that I want, I’ll usually then peruse the seller’s other items to see if there’s anything else of interest there, and that often turns what was going to be a $20 purchase into a $100 one.  That’s the story of how I ended up with a copy of the original European release of On You by Finnish sleaze-rockers Smack – I found a Bubbi Morthens record I wanted, and the next thing you know I’ve got four more totally random (and non-Icelandic) things in my shopping cart.  Such is the life of the junkie.

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I’d never heard of Smack before, but the album cover was intriguing.  It certainly looked metal (remember kids, we’re talking about 1984 here), though it wasn’t clear what subgenre – they could have been anything from hair metal to black metal.  It turns out their sound is much closer to the hair scene that was happening in Los Angeles at the time, with some raspy vocals and a heavy dose of sleaze.  Which I love.  Smack eventually garnered a little major label attention, with Enigma putting out a version of On You in the US and then some CBS releases in the late 1980s.  Apparently their music had some reach, though, as both Izzy and Slash from GNR name-checked them in interviews and Nirvana covered the Smack song “Run Rabbit Run” off of On You at some of their live shows in 1988.  They never found the same success in the US that they had in their native Finland, however, and broke up around 1990.  Unfortunately lead singer Claude (real name Ilari Peltola) passed away of heart disease in 1996 at the all-too-young age of 30, another impressive talent taken from us way too soon.

The guys from Smack were very young when On You came out – of the three original founding members, Claude and Cheri were only 18 and Kartsa was 21.  That makes the record all that much more impressive.  Sure, there were some great debut albums in that hair metal scene, like Mötley Crüe’s Too Fast for Love and Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, but most of those guys were at least a bit older and more experienced (Vince Neil was 20 when Too Fast came out, two years older than his Smack counterpart Claude) than the guys from Finland.

There’s a website devoted to the band, and their early influences are listed as performers like Iggy & The Stooges, the MC5, The Doors, and the Sex Pistols, and I can certainly see some of that, especially with regards to Iggy Pop.  But the big vibe I get here is of an updated version of Alice Cooper, especially on a song like “Completely Alone.”  Certainly the Los Angeles glam scene is part of their sound as well, and I have to assume the band was drawing some inspiration from what was happening there (the band relocated to LA in 1989 before breaking up in 1990).  But what’s interesting to me is the band that Smack most reminds me of, a band that didn’t exist at the time and wouldn’t put out its first and only album until 1990 – Mother Love Bone.  Claude reminds me more than a little of Andy Wood (listen to “Cemetery Walls” and tell me if you agree), and while Smack’s sound is a bit less polished than that of Mother Love Bone, that’s not so much indicative of talent as much as the way music was presented during the era.

On You is one of the better “new to me” albums I’ve heard in quite some time, and I’m definitely going to be looking for more of Smack’s stuff, particularly 1986s Live Desire.  If you’re a fan of the hair metal era, On You is definitely worth your time to track down.

Ratt – Hair Metal Kings (“Out of the Cellar” (1984) and “Invasion of Your Privacy” (1985))

About a week ago Rolling Stone published its list of the “50 Greatest Hair Metal Albums of All Time.”  Now, we all more or less know the deal with these lists – they will inevitably cause you to nod in agreement at parts and complete go off at others, driving you insane both by who is included and, just as importantly, who is left out.  Really these lists are conversation fodder, and if used that way can be a lot of fun.  This one is no different.

I came of age musically during the rise of hair metal in the year 1983.  These bands, many of which had languished in the Los Angeles club scene for years, were breaking into the mainstream, with all the good and bad that entails.  That year brought us many of the true classics of the genre – Quiet Riot’s Metal Health, Twisted Sister‘s You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Mötley Crüe’s Shout at the Devil (though their 1981 debut Too Fast for Love may very well qualify as ground zero for hair metal – the opening salvo if you will).  The videos set the stage for the look and feel of hair metal bands to come, and they were all over MTV.  Studded leather and hairspray ruled, and makeup became more and more de rigueur.  It was wild and ridiculous and fun.  A lot of people, of course, hated it, and that just made it that much better.  I realize that looking back on it now it all seems pretty preposterous, but it sure didn’t feel that way back in 1983.  It felt new and different. In large part because neither me nor any of my friends had ever heard of the New York Dolls.

Call it hair metal, call it glam metal.  I don’t care.  I still love listening to it today.

Which brings us back to the Rolling Stone list.  I was certainly curious to see what album held down the number one spot, so I followed the link and scrolled to the bottom of the page and… wait for it… Def Leppard’s Hysteria.

Wait, what?  WHAT??????

Now there was another important rock album that came out in 1983 that I didn’t mention above, and that was Def Leppard’s break-out LP Pyromania.  To be clear, I LOVE that album.  It’s a killer rock album.  But is Def Leppard really hair metal?  I mean, seriously?  And Hysteria… super great album that generated a ton of hit singles to be sure.  But is there a single song on it that in any way, shape, or form could be classified as “metal”?  Go listen to it.  I’ll wait.  “Run Riot,” a song you’ve probably never heard before unless you’re a big Def Lep fan, is probably as close as they get to metal on that album.  Keep in mind, I’m not disparaging Hysteria – it’s a great album.  But metal?  No.  I’m not sure Def Leppard ever qualified as hair metal.

I could go through the Rolling Stone list album by album and give my thoughts, but I want to focus on the one album that I was most curious to see on the list – Ratt’s 1984 Out of the Cellar, the album that brought us the mega-hit single “Round and Round”.  And I was pleased to see that RS got this one more or less right, with Ratt cracking the Top 10 and holding down the #6 spot.  Because for me Out of the Cellar is the best hair metal album of all time.  Ever.  Bold statement?  Yes.  Accurate?  Who the hell knows!  This is purely subjective, and my feelings for this album can’t be separated from my personal experiences with Ratt’s music.  It’s certainly more hair metal than Hysteria (I also don’t quite get Bon Jovi posting up at #3 with Slippery When Wet, but that’s a whole different post).

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I’ve been wanting to write about Out of the Cellar for a long time, and the one thing that’s held me back is my inability to find a decent, reasonably priced vinyl copy.  Which seems totally insane to me, because in the late1980s/early 1990s when I was in the midst of my first phase of haunting used record stores you couldn’t look through a 99 cent bin and not find at least five copies of this album.  It was everywhere.  It seemed like they literally multiplied there in those bins.  So mentally I’ve had a hard time justifying spending say $15 on a really nice copy.  I’ve found plenty of $3 copies, but all totally thrashed to the point I’d never want to play them on my turntable.  So yesterday I finally decided to bite the bullet and was even willing to drop $25 if I could find a copy of the 2013 re-release… and totally struck out all over town.  WTF?  Where did all these Ratt albums go??  I did find a nice copy of their following release, Invasion of Your Privacy, so I bought that.  And then in a fit of frustration I bought a copy of Out of the Cellar on CD, brand new, still sealed, for $5.99, cheaper than I could even get it on iTunes.

Now if this is such an important album, you may be asking yourself why I don’t have a copy.  Well, I’m pretty sure I included my CD copy in one of our many CD purges over the years, but I made the mistake of failing to burn all of it to my iTunes library – for whatever reason I only had some of the songs.  But since I feel this is a killer album start-to-finish, I wanted a copy of the whole thing when I finally sat down and wrote about it.  So here I am today with a $6 CD, and a vinyl copy of the album that I didn’t care enough when it came out to even buy.

My guess is that most people don’t remember many songs on Out of the Cellar other than “Round and Round.”  “Back for More” and “Wanted Man” (a much better song than “Round and Round,” IMO) both made it onto the charts, but neither managed to crack the Top 30 on the Mainstream Rock chart, let alone make a dent on the Billboard Hot 100.  But for me this was the first album I can ever remember regularly listening to from start to finish as opposed to just skipping around to specific songs.  I rarely listened past the first two songs on Metal Health; but my Out of the Cellar cassette was just played on a constant loop.

Stephen Percy had some decent range with his raspy vocals, able to work both low and high, and the band harmonized with him well in selected spots.  There’s certainly more than a little effect-work added to his voice, but it’s glam, man.  The guitars have some standard metal intricacy, but what defines the guitar sound to me are some of the spots where the lead actually pops out of the rhythm for a moment and throws out a little bit of flair, similar to a drum fill.  The snares are snappy, and that gives the bass a little more room to control the low end (listen to “In Your Direction” to hear what I’m talking about).

I, like probably most people, originally bought Out of the Cellar on the strength of “Round and Round,” and it remains a great song to my ears.  But one of the things I learned from this album is that sometimes there are way better songs on an album than the one that became a hit.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that not only is “Round and Round” not the best song on Out of the Cellar, it’s not even the best song on side A… and to be honest, it’s probably the fourth best (of five) song on that side.  The album opens with “Wanted Man,” which is probably my top pick, with it’s slower and heavier approach that most of the rest of the album.  If Ratt ever gets truly heavy on Out of the Cellar, it’s here.  “You’re in Trouble” and “In Your Direction” are some killer tracks as well, making this one of the best sides of hair metal music I’ve heard.

The B side isn’t nearly as good, but there’s still some OK stuff there.  The high point is “I’m Insane,” a pretty fast number by Ratt standards.  “Lack of Communication” was one of my favorites back in the day, but I’m not as sold on it today as I was then.  “Back for More” is decent, but “Scene of the Crime” is pretty terrible.

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Ratt followed Out of the Cellar with Invasion of Your Privacy in 1985.  Expectations ran high, but overall the album failed to deliver.  “Lay It Down” was the most popular song on radio, and it almost cracked the Top 10 on the Mainstream Rock charts, though it only made it to #40 on the Billboard Top 100.  The only other single, “You’re In Love,” barely cracked the Top 100.  I remember “Lay It Down” getting a decent amount of airplay but feeling that it was a bit too polished and poppy at the time.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never listened to Invasion of Your Privacy all the way through, or at least I was until I dropped the needle and “You’re In Love” kicked off, because it sounds awfully familiar.  And not too damn bad, actually – this is a lot more like the Ratt from Out of the Cellar than “Lay It Down” ever was.  Admittedly, the thunder/lightning sound effect is sort of cliche, but “You’re In Love” is a solid sleaze rocker.  And, you know, “Lay It Down” is a bit dirtier sounding than I remember – at least the non-chorus parts, because the chorus is a bit too poppy.  Songs like “Closer to My Heart” move in the ballad-ish direction, something Ratt more or less avoided on Out of the Cellar, and it wasn’t one of their strengths.  The B side is much more like the old Ratt, with the exception of “You Should Know by Now” which is lackluster and seems a bit like a KISS ripoff.

I’m glad the folks over at Rolling Stone put out this list, even if I don’t agree with their top choice.  If nothing else it got me off my ass to listen to Ratt.  Now I just need that vinyl copy of Out of the Cellar…

Y & T – “Mean Streak” and “Down for the Count”

Way back in the day it was hard to “discover” music.  I’ve written about this before, so maybe I’m just purely repeating myself here, but back in the 80s if it wasn’t on the radio or in a friend’s record collection, it may as well have been on Mars.  Sure, there were lots of record stores.  But places that sold new stuff didn’t have listening stations, and hell, how would you even know where to start?

And that’s where the compilation came into play.

I probably bought (i.e. convinced my parents to buy) the K-Tel Masters of Metal comp the same year it came out, which was 1984.  Best guess now is that I’d heard songs by three of the bands on it before buying it – Van Halen, Twisted Sister, and Kiss.  But everything else was new to me.  And man, I wore that tape out.  I swear next time I find a used copy of the LP out there (Masters of Metal never made it to CD…), I’m buying it.

So why is this trip down the Masters of Metal memory lane important to today’s post?  Because it was on that tape that I first heard Y & T.

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Y & T had been around for a long-ass time when sleaze/glam metal hit the scene in the early 80s – their first album came out in 1976 under their original full name, Yesterday & Today.  Hell, guitarist Dave Meniketti was 31 when Masters of Metal came out, pretty damn old by hair metal standards.  “Mean Streak” was the second song on Masters of Metal and that guitar riff is just so good… so good that when I found a copy of the album Mean Streak the other day for $3 over at Silver Platters it was an easy decision to buy it.  And then the other day I came across a cutout copy of their 1985 release Down for the Count over at Vortex, a record that contains what was probably their biggest MTV hit “Summertime Girls,” and I knew what I had to do.

Y & T listening party.

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Dropping the needle on track one, side one of1983s Mean Streak and hearing that song again after all these years was, simply put, awesome.  That guitar riff sounded just as fantastic today as it did when I was in my early teens.  But what would the rest of the album bring?  After all, I basically only know two Y & T songs, and for one of them (“Summertime Girls”) I can only really remember the video.  Well, there are 10 songs on Mean Streak, and at the end of the day there are only two topics covered in the lyrics – chicks and rocking.  Mostly chicks though.  Consider the titles – “Straight Thru the Heart,” “Lonely Side of Town,” “Take You to the Limit,” “Sentimental Fool”… you get the idea.  The only other rocker on this record, besides “Mean Streak” (which is still bad-ass) is “Hang ’em High,” because, you know, you have to preach the power of rock.

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Down for the Count feature’s Y & T’s best charting single, the aforementioned “Summertime Girls,” which peaked in the US at #55.  Which ain’t that high.  The video for this is on YouTube and you seriously need to check it out because it’s amazing.  The album also contains a Loggins & Messina cover, “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” because, you know, back in the day it seems like you always had to have a cover on your album.  Why, I don’t know.  Sure, Y & T tried to sleaze it up a little bit, but it’s still a Kenny Loggins song.  We continue the trend of lots of songs about chicks, though we’ve got more songs about rockin’ here like “All American Boy” and “Don’t Tell Me What to Wear.”  Down for the Count is actually more poppy and less metal than Mean Streak – it seems like the band was trying to go a more commercial direction by getting more glam and following the lead of the Los Angeles scene trendsetters.

If you’re wondering if you’d like Y & T you only need to ask yourself one question:  Do you like Damn Yankees?  Because Y & T sounded just like Damn Yankees before there was a Damn Yankees.  Me?  I like Damn Yankees.  So I like Y & T.  Your mileage may vary.