The 1980’s were an amazing time to be a music fan. It was the era of the rock star; larger than life rock and roll heroes ruling the airwaves, TV screens and arenas in countries around the world. Vinyl records and cassettes were the formats of choice with the CD poised to take over the world. Video had become the new king, with MTV and MuchMusic broadcasting the hottest music videos into the living rooms of homes around the world. The 80’s truly were the “Decade of Decadence”, especially when it came to hard rock and heavy metal. Take a look at the charts from any year in the 80’s and you’ll find bands like Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Skid Row, Motley Crue, Poison, Guns N Roses and others dominating the Hot 100 and Album Charts.
Some of the biggest selling albums in rock music were released during the ‘80s but as the decade came to a close, a shift had begun in the music world with grunge and hip hop beginning to dominate the scene (and the charts). Hard rock and “hair” metal had begun to lose favor with fans and many of the biggest bands of the decade experienced plummeting albums sales and some even broke up. It was however, during this turbulent time that some of the best rock albums of the era were released. I’m going to share five of my favorite records from this time; by bands that by all accounts should have been superstars based on the strength of these stellar albums. It’s a great time to revisit these fantastic albums, or if you aren’t familiar with them, it’s the perfect time to discover some of the best melodic hard rock ever made!
HARDLINE: DOUBLE ECLIPSE (1992)
Hardline was formed by the Goeli brothers Johnny (lead vocals) and Joey (guitarist) in 1991 along with lead guitarist Neal Schon (of Journey) ,drummer Deen Castronovo and bass player Todd Jensen. Schon was on hiatus from Journey at this time and also had played in Bad English along with Castronovo before joining Hardline.
The band’s sound is a mix between the big hair metal of the 80’s and classic AOR rock and is definitely heavier than anything Schon had previously done with Journey or Bad English. The guitars are fully featured on this album and are extremely prominent in the mix, resulting in a very heavy yet melodic record.
Released in April 1992, the album was not a massive success upon it’s release, as was the case with most of the hard rock albums that came out at that time. The first single was the rocker “Takin’ Me Down” written by Schon and the Goeli brothers. The song kicks off with Schon’s blistering guitar setting the pace and introduces us to Johnny Goeli’s amazing vocals, which shine throughout the entire album. Takin’ Me Down failed to make much of a dent on the charts, peaking at #37 on the Mainstream Rock Charts. Had this single been released 4 or 5 years earlier, I’m sure it would have hit the top 10. It sets the tone nicely for the rest of the album and the video received significant MTV airplay. I love everything about this song… big guitars, powerful vocals and a fantastic melody. Crank this one up!
Hardline followed up “Takin’ Me Down” with their second single (and one of my favourite songs), the fantastic “Hot Cherie”. Originally a Top 40 hit by Danny Spanos in 1983, Hardline’s version is perhaps a perfect example of a hard rock masterpiece of the early 90’s. The song spends a total of fourteen weeks on the Mainstream Rock Charts, peaking at #25 while the video becomes a staple on music television. I love this song, from the slow building start to when the drums and Schon’s guitar kick in. To me, this is Hardline’s signature song and Johnny Goeli’s finest vocal performance on the album. That chorus is one of my favourites of all time… “You’re getting me hot, Cherie, I want what you got all over me. Isn’t my love strong enough, I’m ready to rock you long and rough”.
Beyond the first two singles, this album is filled with hard rock gems. “Rhythm From a Red Car” is one of the heaviest tracks on the record and is THE perfect song to crank up on a road trip with the top down! “Dr. Love” is a bit of a slower paced rocker with a real down and dirty feel to it and a wicked Neal Schon signature guitar solo. “Everything”, “I’ll Be There” and the kick ass “Bad Taste” continue the rocking pace while “Can’t Find My Way” and “Change of Heart” are classic 80’s style hair metal power ballads that you’ll be raising your lighter to! I can’t recommend this album enough, give it a listen and tell me it isn’t one of the best rock albums you’ve heard.
GIANT: LAST OF THE RUNAWAYS (1989)
Like many bands in the late 80’s , Giant’s debut album was pushed to the side by the emergence of grunge and never got a chance to reach the audience it deserved. Formed in 1987 by Dann Huff (who would become an award winning mega-producer) and his brother David, their first album Last Of The Runaways was released in August 1989. Three singles were released from the album, including the band’s biggest hit and most well-known song, the power ballad “I’ll See You In My Dreams” which hit #20 on the Billboard Hot 100. Look past the epic power ballad though and you’ll find a record filled with melodic hard rock songs.
Let’s start at the beginning with one of the best album openers of the era. Love guitars??? The intro to “I’m A Believer” is absolutely killer, with one of the coolest riffs to kick off an album that you will ever hear. You’ll be completely hooked as soon as you hear this fantastic rocker.
“I’m A Believer” is followed by the albums first single, the uplifting and melodic rocker “Innocent Days” which was actually my introduction to the band. I remember seeing the video for the first time on MuchMusic’s ‘Hostess Sneak Previews’ show and becoming completely hooked. The song has a great bass line, fantastic guitar work, Dann Huff’s stellar vocals and is my favorite track on the album.
Giant’s most well known song (and their biggest hit) is the beautiful ballad “I’ll See You In My Dreams”, featuring Dann Huff’s powerful and emotional vocal performance. It’s a beautiful melodic song with poignant, emotional lyrics and a soaring chorus. Although the song hit the Top 20, I think that had it been released a couple of years earlier it probably would have been a Top 5 hit.
Past the singles, the album is chock full of great hard rock songs including “I Can’t Get Close Enough” and “Shake Me Up”. “Love Welcome Home” is another great power ballad highlighting Dann Huff’s amazing vocals. Last Of The Runaways is an absolute must own for any AOR/Hard Rock music fan.
DAMN YANKEES: DAMN YANKEES (1990)
Rock supergroup Damn Yankees were formed in 1989 by Styx singer/guitarist Tommy Shaw, Night Rangers singer/bassist Jack Blades, guitarist/singer Ted Nugent and drummer Michael Cartellone and released their sensational debut album in February 1990. Blending the best of 80’s AOR rock with just the right amount of hair metal, the album features some of the era’s best rock songs and two of the best power ballads of the late 80’s/early 90’s.
The songwriting trio of Blades, Shaw and Nugent hit it out of park with this album, with some of the best hooks and melodies you will ever hear. Nugent’s guitar work on this record is stellar, and Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades vocals are as close to perfection as possible. Their voices blend beautifully as they trade off leads with the standout tracks being the two power ballads High Enough and Come Again.
Where else to start but with the bands biggest hit and best known song, the soaring and majestic High Enough. High Enough was the second single released from the album in June 1990 and it becomes a smash hit for the band, peaking at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1990. It’s my favorite song on the album and a prototype for power ballads with those soaring vocals, brilliant Nugent guitar solo and that amazing chorus.
Songwriter Jack Blades on what the song is about: “High Enough’ was about how you love someone so much and you just don’t want to scare them away. And it’s like, do I take the next step? And then she freaks out when you go, ‘I love you.’ And it’s like, ‘What!?!? I’m outta here!’ And you’re, ‘Wait a minute! Come back!’ But then the girl comes back, because in the bridge it’s, (singing) ‘The next thing I remember I was running back for more.’ You know how you get scared at first when you fall in love, and everybody freaks out, and that can’t be right. And then you go, Wait a minute, this is great, let’s forget about the past. Can you fly me over yesterday? Can you take me high enough to fly me over yesterday?”
The video was a massive smash on MTV, garnering the band significant airplay and helping propel the album to a Top 20 position on the Billboard album charts.
Another power ballad followed High Enough as the 3rd single from the album and although it was not as successful, Come Again became another hit for the band, featuring once again the stellar harmonies of Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw. A bit more of a mid-temp rocker, Come Again also has some blistering guitar work from Ted Nugent who lets loose with another kick ass solo.
Coming of Age was the first single released from the album and it’s my favorite hard rocker on the record. It’s the perfect song to kick off the album and represents exactly what was so great about this era of hard rock music. All the signature elements are there; wicked guitars, fantastic rhythms driving the song, big hooks, huge vocals with massive harmonies and the perfect sing along chorus. It’s impossible not to turn the volume up to 11 when you’re listening to Coming of Age.
This is an album you can play start to finish and not be disappointed with a single song. My other personal favorites are the hard rocking Rock City, Piledriver and Damn Yankees. Following the release of the album, the band embarked on a lengthy 18 month tour playing alongside Poison and Bad Company. A fantastic video account of the tour, “Uprising” was released in 1992 and shows just how great this band is live. Highly recommended viewing!
Damn Yankees is definitely a must own album for the hard rock fan and thankfully the band gave us a 2nd album (thanks to the success of their debut) and I highly recommend picking it up as well.
STEELHEART: STEELHEART (1990)
1990 was an interesting time in the world of hard rock and hair metal music. Amidst the changes taking place in the rock world, one of the more underrated albums of the year was released by a new band on the scene, Steelheart. Formed in Norwalk , Connecticut Steelheart’s brand of rock music fell into the Firehouse, Slaughter and White Lion sound with lead singer Miljenko Matijevic’s powerhouse vocals leading the way. With the most stunning, multi octave range of quite possibly any rock singer out there, Matijevic’s voice is truly a marvel.
The album found a place in the hearts of many rock fans when released, in large part due to the massive success of the second single “I’ll Never Let You Go” a stunning power ballad highlighting Matijevic’s unbelievable vocal range. The song is a shining star amid late 80’s glam metal ballads and reached #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. The notes Matijevic hits on this song are almost unheard of in the genre and to me sound almost opera-like in tone.
A second power ballad, “She’s Gone” also found chart success (especially in the Far East) and is another absolutely fantastic hard rock / power metal track. Again, Matijevic’s vocals are what sets this song apart from others in the genre. Emotional, powerful and almost ear drum shattering, they soar above the music. She’s Gone also charts on the Hot 100 , hitting #59.
My favorite rocker on the album is the party song and first single “Everybody Loves Eileen”, which unfortunately only peaks at #34 on the Mainstream Rock Charts. It’s a catchy, fun song with a great intro (love the drums!) and a stellar performance by Milo on vocals. The video features highlights from the bands high energy live show and you can’t help but sing along with that great chorus.
A few other highlights on the album are “Sheila” , a bluesy feeling 7+ minute track that has a real down and dirty vibe to it and “Love Ain’t Easy” which kicks the album off in rockin’ style with a great riff and killer gang vocals on the awesome chorus.
Sadly, like many bands of the era, Steelheart would quickly fall out of favor as their second album Tangled in Reins failed to garner the same success as their debut. Thankfully they are back and making new music with Milo still belting out those trademark vocals. Pick this one up though if you don’t already have it, if only to hear one of the best voices in rock!
HAREM SCAREM: HAREM SCAREM (1991)
Canadian rockers Harem Scarem formed in 1987 in Toronto Ontario and released their amazing self titled debut album in 1991. I personally didn’t even know the band existed until hearing a bunch of songs from the album on the Canadian television show “Degrassi High: School’s Out” in 1992. I immediately ran out and bought the tape (which I still have) which became a mainstay in my collection that year.
The album was a great success in Canada, with five singles charting, including the fantastic “Slowly Slipping Away” which hit #25 on the Canadian singles chart. It was also the first song I heard from the band and it instantly became my favorite. Something that has always stood out to me about Harem Scarem are the outstanding vocals this band brings to every song. Some of the best harmonies in rock music, and lead singer Harry Hess has a simply magical voice. Slowly Slipping Away is the perfect example of this with Hess’ heartfelt vocals building to that massively beautiful chorus.
The band released the absolutely beautiful ballad “Honestly” as the 3rd single from the album and it garnered significant radio and video play. The piano intro is just perfect and you can feel the emotion pouring from Harry Hess as his vocals kick in. This beautiful song stands up nicely to an power ballad of the era.
Another of my favorite tracks is the up tempo rocker “With A Little Love” , a pure power pop gem again featuring those trademark Harem Scarem vocal harmonies.
Harem Scarem created an absolutely perfect hard rock/ power pop/ glam metal gem that stands as one of the more underrated albums of the early 90’s. Highly recommend picking this one up as an introduction to a great band and make sure you check out their amazing second album Mood Swings (which is actually quite a bit heavier) and their brand new release United.
I hope you enjoy these albums as much as I do and that it leads to an exploration of an overlooked time in hard rock and metal. Rock on my friends!