January 15 – Turntable Talk 10 : Heavy Metal’s High Water Mark?

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. Briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columns from other music fans and writers, sounding off on one particular topic. To kick it off in 2023, our topic is They’re a Poet Don’t You Know It... we look at a song that made a great impact on our contributors for its lyrics.

Today we have Deke from Deke’s Vinyl Reviews & More. Deke is a fan of rock on the harder side, so who might he pick to spotlight lyrics?

Thanks to Dave for letting me once again be a part of Turntable Talk. My pick for one of my all time favourite lyricists is Steve Harris from Iron Maiden.

Let’s rewind to the fall of 1984

 The song I have chosen to talk about is “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” from the Powerslave album

Steve Harris delivers the track of a lifetime and I recall reading about the pre hype of Powerslave in a Canadian music magazine called Metallion that Powerslave was gonna feature a 14 minute tune titled “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” and the album itself was going to clock in as a whole at over 51 minutes!

Now that’s getting your money’s worth. That alone sold me. MAIDEN, MAIDEN, more MAIDEN! Impressive that Harris and company could drop a real long tune at the end of the album so to speak and it could still draw me in as a listener.

Power of music, folks! More impressive is the fact that singer Bruce Dickinson could nail each line live and not cheat with any help with the lyrics being taped all over the place to remember the words to this epic track

Rime” charges right out of the gate with Maiden loading up and delivering massive epicness of a sonic delight. At the midpoint you hear the creaking of the ship boards like you’re in the middle of the Atlantic with Harry and Crew. It’s amazing to me that Maiden during their “World Slavery Tour” would hammer out this tune every night, city after city and still toss in the usual after show party treats yet they could still deliver  at a higher rate of musicianship than some of their peers at the time! (I’m not naming names!).

Check out Harris’ brilliant crafting of lyrics or cue up the tune on streaming choice, YouTube or better yet an old fashioned album.

Driven south to the land of the snow and ice
To a place where nobody’s been
Through the snow fog flies on the albatross
Hailed in God’s name, hoping good luck it brings

And the ship sails on, back to the north
Through the fog and ice and the albatross follows on

The mariner kills the bird of good omen
His shipmates cry against what he’s done
But when the fog clears, they justify him
And make themselves a part of the crime

Sailing on and on and north across the sea
Sailing on and on and north ’til all is calm

The albatross begins with its vengeance
A terrible curse a thirst has begun
His shipmates blame bad luck on the mariner
About his neck, the dead bird is hung

And the curse goes on and on at sea
And the curse goes on and on for them and me”

HOOO BOY ….them Mariner fella’s are in deep doo doo…

Samuel Taylor Coolridge was the poet who wrote the original poem while Steve Harris wrote a tune about it!

Harris has always been one of my favourite lyricists as he wouldn’t write the same ole same ole of his counterparts. ‘Rime’ is the best example of this. Harris was probably in his mid 20s when he wrote this and it just boggles my mind that he had and still to this day has this kind of creativity.

So here’s a cool story relating to this song and I owe Steve a huge thank you! 

Back in 1985, I’m in Grade 12 English and one of our assignments was to dissect a poem by an author and present it in front  of  the class.

 Hip Hip Hooray as I raised my hand quicker than Billy The Kid drawing his pistol as I’ll never forget my teacher’s reaction as I had pretty much said jack shit all semester but now it was Deke’s time to shine….’I’ll do Rime by Coolridge I blurted out loud!’ All those little Duran Duranie girly fans sitting in the front row of Mr Babcocks Grade 12 class did not see that one coming…

Come presentation time  not only did I show up with my notes of the poem(thanks Mr Steve Harris for simplifying the actual poem for me in song) but I  showed up to class with a ghetto blaster(courtesy of my pal Tbone) and the cassette of ‘Powerslave'(once again courtesy of Tbone as I only had it on vinyl) and wasn’t going to drag my stereo system to school.

I’ll never forget those front row girls looked bored and dreaming of Corey Hart and Duran Duran and I plug-in and let the sonics of Maiden and Rime take over. No,the whole song wasn’t played that day in class, only snippets but man I wish I could have snapped a pic. BOOM….DONE….Mr Babcocks  Grade 12 English class just got Maidenized that morning!

When the dust had settled I scored a mid 80s mark, took my seat at the back of the class and went back into my Grade 12 English Coma!


December 9 – Turntable Talk, Round 9 : Rockin’ Around That Christmas Tree

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! As this is the ninth instalment, regular readers know what it is. Every month, I have several interesting guest writers sound off on one topic related to the music that we look at here daily. Earlier this year we’ve looked at some topics that sparked lively debates, including if the Beatles were still relevant and people’s takes on how videos changed music. This time around though, in recognition of the calendar we have a simpler topic : Songs of the Season. We’ve just asked the guests to talk about a Christmas/holiday song that they love and why it has meaning to them.

With us today is Deke, from Deke’s Vinyl Reviews & More. Deke’s something of a hard rock enthusiast who keeps track of what’s new, and old and worthy in that genre from his home in Ontario. So, with his interests, he’s probably not picking Perry Como…or is he?

Thanks Dave for letting me be a part of Turntable Talk. It’s probably fair to say my pick may be the raunchiest of the bunch, but when Dave mentioned this topic this was the first song that popped into my head.

AC/DC writing a Christmas song? You bet, but when it comes to these guys you know they are working another angle to say the least as the song starts off with these lyrics.

“Jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the day
I just can’t wait till christmas time
When I can grope you in the hay”

“Mistress For Christmas” comes off of 1990‘s The Razors Edge album and is the fifth track on the album. Which won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone. I was a first day buyer of this album back in September 1990 and when I first heard this tune I laughed back then and 32 years later , I still laugh.

Lead singer Brian Johnson sounds like a sauced up Santa when he sings the verses and of course AC/DC have their own sound in regards to backing vocals. The song is actually quite catchy, well to my ears at least. But make no mistake about it, these guys are not to be taken seriously. There’s always been that dicey side to some of their lyrical choices.

Like any song by these guys Angus Young tears up the fretboard while bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Chris Slade hold down the fort musically while guitarist Malcolm Young keeps Santa’s Sled on track with his tight rhythm playing.

If anything “Mistress For Christmas” is a fun tune and for some it may not be the typical pick, but for me, I had to be that one in the crowd that had to pick an AC/DC track of all things.

So I will leave you what the sauced up Santa Johnson sings at the end of the tune and by the Merry Christmas folks!

I can hear you coming down my smoke stack, yeah

I want to ride on your reindeer, honey, and ring my bells, yeah”

November 4 – Turntable Talk, Round 8 : The Year When Things Got Loud

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! As by now, regular readers know, that’s when I have several interesting guest writers sound off on one topic related to the music that we look at here daily. This is our seventh round of it, and if you’re new here, I recommend taking a look back at some of the earlier topics we’ve covered like why the Beatles are still relevant, or “did video kill the radio star?” or the one dealing with one hit wonders we ran at the start of last month.

This month, a simple category…but one which is challenging and should bring up some interesting memories : Those Were The Days My Friend. Simply put, we’re asking the contributors to write about “music’s best year.”

Obviously, that’s a pretty subjective choice. A few executives might try to look at sales charts and give a statistical answer based on album sales or concert grosses, but to most it comes down to the year that seemed to be when the best music was played, or when the most really good records came out. We’ve not limited it but I would expect that most are going to pick a year from the ‘rock era’ in the second half of the 20th Century…’60s, ’70s, ’80s and maybe ’90s.  But if someone opines it was 1804 because that was when Beethoven started working on his 5th Symphony, that’ll be interesting to read about.

Today we have Deke from Deke’s Vinyl Reviews & More. Deke’s Canadian and a big hard rock fan, so will he veer away from the late-’60s/early-’70s favored so far? :

1982  – things really began to ramp up big time in Metal. Between getting into all this Hard Rock and basically discovering it on my own (I had no older or brother-sister to steal music from) through reading magazines or going down to the record shops with my pals Muc and Tbone…and there was a lot of music coming out.

My allowance would dry up quicker than the Sahara. As soon as my Mom and Dad gave me my weekly sum it was off to the races for records and magazines!

Iron Maiden put out The Number of the Beast in early 1982 which made me very giddy with delight as it was just in the summer of ’81 that Killers came into my world followed shortly after by MaidenJapan. I still remember buying TNOTB at Music City in Thunder Bay. Grabbing a copy already mesmerized by the artwork of Derek Riggs and flipping the cover over and going where’s Di’anno? I had no idea Maiden parted with Paul as Maiden wasn’t getting the full out press coverage on this side of the Atlantic yet. (That was coming). Once I got this album home the new guy Bruce Dickinson made my fears go away as once “Invaders” kicked off Side A I was onboard!

Another favorite act Van Halen released Diver Down which at the time I thought was lazy of them to do a half covers/half original album. But as I write  in this 2022 blog, Diver Down has slowly crept maybe into my Top 5 of the whole Halen catalog. Who doesn’t love goofballs doing what they wanna do? I didn’t get what and why VH did this record as a 15-year-old in ’82 but I get as a 55-year-old in 2022. I accept Lazy at times now!

British fellas Judas Priest released the phenomenal Screaming For Vengeance which takes you all of 20 seconds of The Hellion” to realize that Rob and Company are ready to grab you by the throat and choke you out! It Worked.

Rush put together their masterpiece in Signals which we all dug, as no two Rush albums sounded alike. Peart/Lee/Lifeson. Need I say more?!

I picked up UFO’s Mechanix which to this day is still my fav of the UFO studio catalog. Phil Mogg is a great lyricist and Neil Carter was a huge addition to UFO.

Not to be outdone but 1982 brought Mogg’s nemesis Micheal Schenker and Mikey released the brilliant Assault Attack as well earlier in the year the double live One Night At The Budokan. Attack of the Mad Axeman!

1982, I purchased my first Zep album Coda which to this day I still really dig. Some cool stuff on that album which opened my ears to the other albums of Zep!

Some other firsts that went into my record pile that year. Rainbow with the brilliant pomp rock of Straight Between The Eyes. Scorpions with Blackout. Krokus with the AC/DC riff-rock of One Vice At A time, as well as Anvil with Metal On Metal which was a pretty damn heavy album at the time well in my world that is…

Another couple of firsts in 1982 were in regards to the world of Ozz.I bought Diary of a Madman and for Christmas my parents got me Speak of the Devil. Prog and Satan for Xmas 1982.

Stevie Ray Vaughn with Texas Flood was a sound I had never heard and SRV recorded a guitar-driven album as a 3-piece which sounds totally live and from there on out after Texas Flood, I bought anything SRV put out after.

Saxon came across in my world thanks to my pal Muk as he had on import The Eagle Has Landed. What a starting point!

Adrian Vandenberg as well put out a stellar album titled simply Vandenberg which easily became one of my all-time favs as there is not a dud on the debut. Too bad they never cracked the North American market like they should have. Dick Kemper had the coolest name ever for a bass player.

My favorite Canadian punk’n’rock band, Teenage Head released the fantastic Some Kinda Fun LP and it is just that… Fun!

Thanks to Music Express Magazine which was Can-Con and did their best at promoting Canadian Bands ,I discovered cool Canadian rock dudes Coney Hatch who delivered a monster in the form of the self-titled debut!

Racing Time from Santers which was another fine record from the Toronto 3-piece.

And of course 1982 would not be complete without a couple of albums from a couple of bands that were trying to find their footing in 1982.

Aerosmith returns with a couple of new dudes in Rick Dufay and Jimmy Crespo who released the stellar Rock In A Hard Place which did not exactly set the world on fire but in my world, it did! Steven Tyler still had life in him as this album only cost $1.5 million to record! Must have been snowing lots on the recording console.

Gene and Paul, yes Gene and Paul, put out the perfect KISS album in Creatures of the Night, for which no one cared. But I did. I spun the s*** out of Creatures and I couldn’t understand why the masses were not on board with a ramped – up KISS plying their trade of KISS rock for those who still believed. Ace (Frehley) is on the cover but KISS hired a bunch of hired guns to lay down the solos including everyone’s favorite crazy man, Vinnie Vincent! I thought KISS stepped up. Not many did though!

1982 was the start of a huge musical curve for me in the Hard Rock Sphere! I couldn’t get enough records/tapes and magazines.

September 17 – No Illusion, GNR Were Hot 31 Years Ago

A few days back we commented upon Guns’N’Roses #1 single from 1988, “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Today we look at their most ambitious project, which came out this day in 1991. Use Your Illusion dumped 30 songs and over 150 minutes of hard rock on their fans, on two CDs (simply entitled Use Your Illusion I and II). Rather than put it out on as a single two-disc release, Geffen records decided to sell them separately (to add to the continuity of the project they packaged them with the same picture on the covers but in different colors – orange for I, blue for II). The albums were huge hits and helped GNR dominate rock radio for over a year. In fact, between the two of them, they hit #1 in most markets including the U.S., UK, Canada and Australia, and the final single off them didn’t come out until 1994!

Fittingly the album had taken over a year to record in fits and starts. Overall I did a tad better than II, selling some 16 million worldwide instead of 15 million for II. Both are 7X platinum in the U.S. I spawned the rather remarkable nine- minute hit single “November Rain” (a top 5 in North America) as well as “Don’t Cry” and their cover of Wings “Live and Let Die” (which Rolling Stone described as “Wings on steroids”) while II gave us the rockin’ “You Could Be Mine” and their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” which had been released a year before on a movie soundtrack.

Reviews were surprisingly good for “metal” albums. Rolling Stone graded them 4-stars although noting they were physically assaultive and verbally incendiary, at times downright screwy” and that songs with names like “Back off Bitch” and “Double-talkin’ Jive”, they weren’t going to appeal to everyone. Entertainment Weekly rated it “A” pointing out that the band has “gained more fame for their riots and uncontrollable blasts of temper than for the excellence of their mega-platinum albums,” which it considered a shame. It wondered whether these two albums, “as diverse as the band’s moods” which showed an ability to “write songs that are complex structurally and emotionally” would change that perception.

Whether or not they did is debatable. Although the records sold more than their predecessor GNR Lies, it didn’t match their Appetite For Destruction‘s success – not that anybody at Geffen was complaining. However, after that in-fighting among the members and other troubles more or less sidelined the band for years and they never again rose to the lofty heights of the late-’80s,early-’90s. In 2016, Axl temporarily took over for Brian Johnson as the lead singer of AC/DC on their tour but in 2019 GNR were back at it with a hugely popular tour.

September 10 – Sweet Love Letter Rose To Top For GNR

The ’80s may be largely remembered for the new wave movement but the “hair metal” phenomenon was also a large, although more dubious, sound that characterized it. For all the Cinderellas, Poisons or Ratts that MTV could throw at us, none did it better than Guns N’ Roses. Perhaps that’s because they seemed the most sincere in their hard-rock posturings, less interested in the coifs and makeup than in the loud, authentic rock music they made. Anyway, GNR had a big day this day in 1988, hitting #1 on Billboard‘s singles chart with “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, making it their only chart-topper.

It certainly stood out in a year when Tiffany and Debbie Gibson each had #1 hits and Michael Jackson scored three! Singer Axl Rose wrote the lyrics for his girlfriend, soon-to-be-wife (and also soon-to-be-ex-wife) Erin Everly – daughter of Everly Brother Don. The song, along with “Paradise City” and “Welcome to the Jungle” helped their debut Apetite For Destruction album hit #1 in the U.S., sell 18X platinum (and go diamond status in Canada as well) and replace Boston as the biggest-selling debut ever. To date, the album’s sold over 31 million copies worldwide, about as much as their two next-biggest albums combined.

Although top-hatted Slash thought the song a little too simplistic, the fans disagreed. Not only being the #5 single of the year on Billboard, it’s one of the few videos from that decade to have been watched over a billion times through YouTube. It’s also ranked among Rolling Stone‘s 200 Greatest songs of all time. They describe it as “southern rock cosplay” noting that Axl “went out and got some old Lynyrd Skynyrd tapes (to listen to) to make sure we’d got that down-home heartfelt feeling.”  Apparently a little love, a little Sunset Strip flash and a little backwoods Southern flavoring can be mixed up into a winning formula.

August 25 – Apparently It’s Their Day

August 25 is designated “Kiss and make-up Day” – boy, those good people at Hallmark never stop trying do they? – so what better day to look at the band Kiss…and makeup!

If ’70s bands like Pink Floyd or Chicago were known widely for their songs but without many of their fans having a clue what they looked like, Kiss was the opposite. Even people who didn’t know one tune by them instantly recognized them by their looks… or at least, their on-stage, on-camera looks. Because Kiss created a huge brand for themselves by way of their costumes and, more importantly, crazy face designs, of striking black (or in one case, silver) painted designs on ghostly white background makeup. There was guitarist Paul Stanley “Star Child”, drummer Peter Criss as the “Cat Man”, guitarist Ace Frehley, the “Space Ace” or “Spaceman” (using the flashy silver makeup) and the focal point, bassist Gene Simmons, with his bat-wing eyes as the “Demon.” That coupled with heavy leather outfits, full of spikes, metal inlays and high-heel, S&M-ready boots. It would be hard to walk down the street in their stage outfit without being noticed, no matter where the street. Ironically, it actually did help them go about their ordinary, off-stage lives anonymously. In the pre-internet, pre-social media age, no one really had a clue what they looked like, which Stanley liked. He says now “there is a certain mystique that is gone because everything is known. I think mystique is healthy.”

The idea for the makeup and wild costumes, not to mention the envelope-pushing stage show with the pyrotechnics and blood-spitting displays, was all Simmons who from the start had an idea of making Kiss a very lucrative “rock brand” instead of another “rock band”.

At the same time we were forming in New York (around 1973), there was a very big glitter scene,” he told reporters some years back. “Boys were basically acting like girls…we were more like football players. All of us were over six feet tall, and it wasn’t very convincing.” Still he was game for it, but “the very first pictures (of Kiss), we looked like drag queens.”

But Simmons wasn’t going to be another, run-of-the-mill, long haired, jeans-clad band. ”We weren’t a Grateful Dead kind of band that would get on stage and look worse than the roadie who delivered our stuff. That doesn’t negate what the Dead were doing, it just wasn’t us.”

So, looking silly as glam rock pretty boys, he hit upon the idea of being larger-than-life comic book-style characters. He designed the makeup and personas himself. That, coupled with the wild, much talked-about, high-energy shows worked to make them huge quickly. He mentioned to the Pittsburgh Tribune recently that within two years of them starting, it was clicking. “It wasn’t about the albums. It was about the shows getting bigger and bigger. And it was about the fervor, how crazy the fans were getting…we didn’t have any hit singles, and here we were (headlining a show at Anaheim Stadium in California).” Which was fine with him, because he also says “anything that prevents a band from becoming as mega as possible is complete idiocy to me.”

Of course, soon they did have the hit singles, notably “Beth” and “I Was Made For Loving You”, but it is worth noting that unlike the vast majority of bands, their first hit album was a live one, Kiss Alive. Since then they’ve racked up ten platinum albums at home, and 15 more gold ones. And toured around the world numerous times to enthusiastic crowds. Except perhaps for awhile in the ’80s and early-’90s. In 1983, they famously decided to go naked…well, not “naked” really, but without their famous makeup and costumes. Although the album that brought that in, Lick It Up, did no better nor worse than most of their earlier material, the tour was met with noticeably smaller, less wild crowds. Eventually, they returned to the Comic Book characters.

They’re currently on what they say will be their farewell tour, a lengthy world tour running through next year. In full costume. Which says 70 year old Paul Stanley, is part of the reason they’re calling it a day. He notes that it takes him a minimum of an hour to get into full garb before a show and “if we were a band wearing t-shirts and jeans, we could do this into our 90s.But we’re carrying around 30 to 40 pounds of gear, running around, making it look easy.” So rather than be reduced to jeans or carrying around the gear, groaning and limping, he says they want to go out with a bang.

August 20 – An ‘Empire’ Built On Prog Foundations And Metal

An album that made a band an overnight sensation… after a decade and three previous albums. People learned how to pronounce Queensryche this day in 1990, or soon after, as that’s when they put out their biggest album, Empire.

Queensryche were an unusual sort of band that had begun in Washington state a full decade earlier. As allmusic note, they work “drawing equally from guitar pyrotechnics and art rock.” Basically, it you like the big, artsy sounds of ’70s Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Yes as well as the in yer’ face rock of the ’80s Scorpions and Quiet Riot, Queensryche could be the band for you! They’d signed to EMI Records early in the ’80s, after changing their name. They’d originally gone by The Mob, but management wanted that changed, so they opted to co-opt one of their early songs for a name – “Queen of the Reich” became Queensryche. They changed the spelling of the second part to reduce the chance of being considered Nazi sympathists and added an accent – the dotted “umlaut” – over the “Y”, which they say “has haunted us for years. We spent 11 years trying to explain how to pronounce it.”

They didn’t have to try that often perhaps during the ’80s, since although they had a loyal fanbase, they never really connected on a big scale or had a legitimate hit record. This album would change that.

Like many Seattle acts, they headed across the border to Vancouver to record, and they got producer Peter Collins back to work with them. He’d worked on their previous release, Operation Mindcrime, and made a name for himself working on several records for another prog rock/hard rock crossover act, Rush.

Guitarist Chris Degarmo was the main writer for the 11 song, 63-minute effort, but singer Geoff Tate and guitarist Michael Wilton also took part. When it came out, it didn’t really jump out at most people as being a surefire hit or radio fodder…except for one song that almost didn’t make it on – “Silent Lucidity”.

The song many people figured sounded more like Pink Floyd than recent Pink Floyd had, was an elegant, orchestral piece about lucid dreaming (where one is aware of being in a dream while having it.) Degarmo wrote it but Tate says “I love that song. I think it’s a beautiful, beautiful piece.” However, producer Collins didn’t like it initially and lobbied to have it cut. That was in its original, acoustic guitar and vocals version. But the band liked it, and decided to bring in Michael Kamen and an orchestra to fatten up the sound for it, even drawing on a piece of Brahms classical music for it. Apparently it was worth the effort. The song alone got nominated for two Grammy Awards, and put the band on the musical map.

Other than that, the album was rather uneven in sound, but rooted in longer songs. Two topped seven minutes and only two clocked in just under five. Reaction was mixed. Rolling Stone gave it 3.5-stars but Entertainment Weekly reluctantly graded it “D”, calling it “tuneless bombast” by “relentless killjoys.” Later on, Record Collector gave it a middling 3-stars, and allmusic 4.5. The former praised it for being “intelligent, subtle and immaculately played” and for singer Geoff Tate “at his best throughout.” but they did suggest the album was “more progressive” than its predecessors making it “pleasant…also a little boring.” Allmusic liked that they seemed a little less “involved with the darker side of love,” and thought the love songs like “Another Rainy Night” and “Hand on Heart” were noteworthy, as was “Silent Lucidity.”

The album took awhile to take off, but eventually did thanks to the popularity of “Silent Lucidity” on FM rock stations. That one ended up being a #1 rock hit and top 10 single overall in the States and Canada (just missing it at #11 In New Zealand but failing to crack to top 40 in Australia). That was followed up by two more rock radio successes, “Jet City Woman” and “Another Rainy Night.” The album slowly lifted itself to #7 at home, and the top 20 in the UK, Canada, Norway and several other countries. At triple-platinum, it’s by far their biggest seller to date…but not for lack of trying. Since Empire, they’ve put out 11 more studio albums with another scheduled to drop this fall, featuring the new single “In Extremis”.

August 18 – Third Time Was The Charm For Jon

On this day in 1986, the world found out that New Jersey had more in its musical closet than just Bruce Springsteen. That was when Bon Jovi put out their third album – but first one most noticed at all – Slippery When Wet. Love it or hate it, there was no avoiding it back then and not only did it put Jon Bon Jovi and his band on the map, to many like allmusic, it “bridged the gap between hard rock and pop.”

Bon Jovi had been kicking around for about four years or so by that point and put out two albums with Mercury Records. They were fairly conventional heavy metal albums that attracted very little publicity outside a limited head-banger’s crowd. Their previous album, 7800 Fahrenheit , for example peaked at #37 at home and they’d scraped into the top 40 singles charts, barely, once. This didn’t suit them well. So even though they were so rooted in their New Jersey home that they picked the state’s name as the title for their fourth album, for this one they wanted a change in scenery…and looked west. And north.

Bon Jovi particularly liked the song “It’s Only Love” by Bryan Adams and Tina Turner and wanted to find a similar sort of sound for his band. And he loved the studio work of Bruce Fairburn, who like Adams was from Vancouver, Canada. So they packed up for B.C., and had Fairburn and his sidekick, Bob Rock craft the album with them. They even brought in another Vancouver rocker, Mike Reno of Loverboy (who incredibly enough were a bigger name than Bon Jovi at that point) to add backing vocals. It all turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. Or at least what Mercury Records did.

Slippery When Wet was a ten song effort that effectively introduced “hair metal” to the widespread masses. There were foot-stomping sing-along rock anthems like “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Livin’ on A Prayer”, the slower, more brooding “Wanted Dead or Alive” and party soundtrack readies like “Raise Your Hands” or “Wild In the Streets.” In retrospect, Jon figured all 11 they recorded should have been on the initial release, but “Edge of A Broken Heart” was omitted despite the fact that “it was absolutely appropriate for the Slippery album.” He corrected that, adding it in a 1998 special edition re-release.

JBJ and lead guitarist Richie Sambora wrote most of the material, but they brought in Desmond Child (a songwriter who also worked with Michael Bolton) to help sweeten up a couple of the tracks. As allmusic put it, “the band made no attempt to hide its commercial ambition.” Although they had to a wee bit with the packaging. They got the idea for the title watching a girl at a strip club in Canada soap herself up. “Out testosterone was at a very high level back then,” Sambora suggested. Fittingly, they picked a close-up picture of a busty girl in a wet yellow t-shirt for the cover. Mercury vetoed it though, figuring it would be boycotted by some retail chains because of it, and they substituted the familiar “not very impressive” (in the words of Sambora again) wet garbage bag cover. Except for Japan, where Vertigo – the Asian distributor – kept the t-shirt gal cover.

When it came out, critics by and large weren’t all that impressed. The Village Voice snippily suggested that it proved “sure, seven million teenagers can be wrong,” and suggesting that if this was rock to the new generation then “”youth rebellion is toothless.” Similarly, Rolling Stone, although initially giving it 3.5-stars, soon wrote that Bon Jovi delivered “condescending sentiment, reducing every emotional statement to a barefaced cliché.”

That didn’t seem to matter to fans, of which there were quickly more than seven million of. The singles “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Livin’ on a Prayer” both went to #1 in the U.S., the first time a “metal” act had back-to-back chart toppers. “Wanted Dead or Alive” peaked at a respectable #7 and eventually sold enough to go 4X platinum as a single. Together they helped, as Jason Chow of the National Post puts it “did the unthinkable…turn heavy metal into a pop genre women would be able to love.” That they did, and plenty of men too it would seem. The album would quickly hit #1 in fall of ’86 for a week, but then would return to the top for seven more weeks in 1987 and end up as the year’s biggest-seller domestically. It also topped charts in Canada and New Zealand (it hit #10 in Japan, thanks to its unique cover, or perhaps, it stalled there due to the cover). In both the U.S. and Canada it’s diamond-selling, contributing to its worldwide tally of 28 million copies sold…and blending heavy metal and pop together in a way that would soon be the defining sound of the rest of that decade.

July 30 – People Woke Up To Metallica

What Rolling Stone described as “possibly the first metal lullaby” appeared 31 years ago today, changing one band’s fortunes…and perhaps making sleepy-time a little more unsettling for some!

Me being brought up in Denmark…I didn’t get it…apparently the ‘sandman’ is like this children’s villain?” So says singer James Hetfield of Metallica about their massive, break-out hit “Enter Sandman”. It was put out as a single this day in 1991, two weeks ahead of the self-titled album of theirs it helped propel to 30 million copies sold.

Metallica by this point were seasoned, and popular heavy metal/thrash rockers who had quite a following. By that time, they’d been recording for about eight years, toured relentlessly and had fans by the score around the world. Their previous album, And Justice For All, had been a commercial hit at the cash register, hitting the top 10 in several countries including the U.S., UK and Germany. But they were still a rather fringe act in many ways. Their fans were loyal but their music was out of step with the times, too fast or loud for mainstream acceptance. They didn’t have the perfectly-coiffed hair and colored leathers MTV preferred hard rockers to have. They’d never really been played on North American radio. They, and Elektra Records, set out to change that with Metallica.

They brought in Canadian producer Bob Rock for one thing. Rock had been a member of a couple of fairly successful bands within Canada in the early-’80s, but had turned his attention to the studio and by 1990 had helped The Cult and Motley Crue come up with hard-rocking but radio-friendly hits. Rock brought in a couple of changes to the Metallica process. He had them play together in the studio, rather than all record separately, and then pumped up Jason Newsted’s bass in the mix. Previously, that had been remarkably under-stated in their works. And it seems, he guided them towards writing slightly more mainstream-sounding songs.

Enter Sandman” was the first music they wrote for the ’91 album, with it coming from a simple riff Kirk Hammett came up with after listening to Soundgarden records. The lyrics however, took awhile and it was apparently next to the last one they finished writing words for. Hetfield was OK with the title but felt it was a bit too “commercial” so he went out of his way to write dark lyrics, ones that “destroy the perfect family, a huge horrible secret in the family.” Think of that as you close your eyes in the dark, little one!

They played together in the recording, but the record wasn’t a “straight off the studio floor” deal. They played it around 50 times, with Rock picking and choosing the best bits from them and mixing them into the final version. Hetfield alone is playing the same riff on three different guitars in the final mix to build a “wall of guitars.”

It worked. The song was remarkably heavy compared to most of the music of the day (preceding the mass acceptance of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the inspirational Soundgarden by a few months) but still perfectly suited to rock radio, and MTV.

The song rocketed up the charts faster, and further than any song of theirs to that point. Eventually it hit #16 at home, #17 in Canada and the top 10 in the UK and Australia. In Germany, it would hit #1 30 years later , in 2021, when re-released as a CD single fundraiser for flood victims!

Although it peaked at #10 in ’91 on the Mainstream rock airplay charts, it’s popularity has grown if anything through the years. In fact, Nielsen lists it as the eighth most-played song of the 2010s on U.S. rock radio stations. VH1 picked it as the #22 “greatest metal song ever” and Kerrang magazine pick it as the fourth greatest single of all-time. It’s been used in various action video games, used by NASA as a wakeup alarm for astronauts and picked as a walk-on (to the field) anthem by athletes including the Virginia Tech football team and baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Mariano Rivera, who took the nickname “Sandman” from it.

April 11 – The Cult Find The Religion Of Rock?

Was the priest in the temple Jimmy Page or Ozzy? The Cult more or less completed their decade-long transition from neo-psychedelic post-punk new wavers to full-out metalheads on this day in 1989. That was when they put out their fourth album, Sonic Temple, which carried on where the previous one, Electric, left off, turning their sound away from fellow Beggar’s Banquet label-mates Bauhaus/ Love & Rockets and towards the likes of Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

The Sabbath comparison has a little more heft when one considers that they needed a new drummer for the record, so they at first brought in Eric Singer, who’d most recently worked with that band…he left to join Kiss not long after mind you and was replaced by Micky Curry (who’d worked with the decidedly less-metallic Hall & Oates before) for the final recording sessions. Sessions which took place in Vancouver, with Bob Rock producing; Rock seemed to approve of the changes Rick Rubin had brought to the band with their previous album.

The result was a 10 song, 52” album of lengthy, crunchy rockers – only one clocked in under four minutes, and “Soul Asylum” ran seven and a half. Oddly, if you somehow were in Saudi Arabia at the time, you could have picked up an extended version of Sonic Temple, containing 14 songs. It’s unclear why they got to rock the casbah a little more than the rest of the world, but if you’re a completist…

The band’s sound didn’t change that much from the earlier days though, primarily because they were led by the core duo of Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy all along. Astbury is the lead singer, Duffy the lead guitarist and the duo serve like the band’s Mick and Keith, writing most of the songs together. Among the more notable of them on this album were “New York City”, with a little help from Iggy Pop in the background and the hit singles “Fire Woman” and “Edie (Ciao Baby)”. Obviously there was a little bit of a Big Apple influence going on; “Edie” was about Edie Sedgwick, a member of Andy Warhol’s entourage in the ’60s. She’d died of an overdose at 27, but not before being Bob Dylan’s girlfriend for a time (apparently his inspiration for “Just Like a Woman”) and starring in the Warhol film Ciao Manhattan! Astbury says “I was really interested in Warhol’s scene…really into Edie Sedgwick and was just compelled to write something.” Duffy added “being in New York City can get you very wrapped up in it.”

Critics took note… and didn’t all hold their noses. Reviews were mixed, but typically not great. The New York Times considered it “The Cult’s most conventional album and the most convincing one.” Crosstown, the Village Voice‘s Robert Christgau rated it “B-” but opined that they had “risen from cult-dom as a joke metal band (with this one) they transmute into a dumb metal band.” Rolling Stone and allmusic both give it 3.5-stars, the latter noting they were “trying several different metal styles, from crunchy ’70s grooves to…commercial ’80s hard rock. Not all of the experiments work, but enough do.”

Fans thought enough did too. While “Edie (Ciao Baby)” and “Sun King” were both rock radio hits in North America, “Fire Woman” was one of the band’s biggest-ever hits, hitting #1 in New Zealand, #15 in the UK, and while not being a major seller as a single in the States, reaching #2 on the Alternative rock charts. The album hit #10 in the U.S. and #3 in Britain, their best showing in either land, and hit #2 in Canada where it was double-platinum, double the level achieved in the other major markets. The band’s fire began to fizzle in the ’90s though, with two more albums receiving considerably lower sales and less praise before they broke up in 1995 (after which they have regrouped a couple of times.)