Archive for extreme

The Last Years of 80s Hair Metal, Part II – The Scandinavian Invasion

Posted in Entertainment, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2022 by Mike

Hair metal peaked with Appetite for Destruction. Here’s what came after…

In 1986 the Swedish band Europe released The Final Countdown, an album chock-full of pop metal hits and ballads including the eponymous single still heard in every stadium where professional sports are played. Right now you can hear the keyboard intro you attempted to plink out with one finger at least once on your best friend’s piano/keyboard until they told you to knock it off.

da-da-dah duh.. da-da-dah dah duh…

That album went triple platinum: five singles were released, including “Carrie“, which was probably single-handedly responsible for the rise in the teen pregnancy rate among the denim-wearing, hair teased-to-the-sky demographic of 1987:

Holy shit, I just made that up! You mean I was right?

The Final Countdown would be Europe’s biggest album, and even their guitarist thought it was too much and quit the band afterward. But they weren’t the only Scandinavian band to make it across the pond, just the biggest. And because, as I warned you, this blog series is about the more obscure albums I was listening to, here are three more.

D.A.D. is a Danish band whose album No Fuel Left For the Pilgrims saw some success here in the States, selling 100,000 copies (re: Wikipedia). Released in March of ’89, it was actually the band’s third album but first international one. D.A.D. stood for “Disneyland After Dark”, but the House of Mouse had problems with them using that name so the band simply abbreviated it. Of the three albums I’m going with today, this is the most straight forward rocker – “Rim of Hell” has a huge sing-along chorus and should’ve been a bigger hit. The other single, “Sleeping My Day Away“, caught more radio play and its sound is what you’ll get on most of the album’s tracks. “Jihad” and “Ill Will” (this one is a favorite) though, are thisclose to thrash metal – I’m willing to bet they felt like it live. Lead singer Jesper Binzer’s growly vocals were also a bit of a departure from most hair metal bands at the time, and as such there’s not a proper ballad on this album. This is not a complaint. Yeah, this BAND should’ve been bigger than they were.

“Scr-screamin’ gui-gui-guitar!” – if you were 17 in 1989 and heard the beginning of Shotgun Messiah’s “Shout it Out” and didn’t immediately crank the volume, well, you probably listened to country or Madonna. Listening to it again, it sounds like it took cues from the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right (to Party)” and KISS. Another band out of Sweden, Messiah were very much a glam band a la Poison and Crue. Their guitarist, Harry Cody was another gunslinger, as evidenced by the licks/riffs on every damn song and the instrumental on this album, “The Explorer” – epic. I remember reading in Rolling Stone that Cody refused to play it in concert – something about not wanting to be like other lead guitarists playing solos during shows, as I recall. The rest of the songs on the album didn’t offer much in the way of originality, but as alluded to before, originality wasn’t the genre’s selling point (hell, it sold about 500,000 copies in the US).

By 1989, some bands probably began realizing being labeled “hair metal” was limiting their appeal and started giving themselves other monikers. “Funk metal” was one such label used by bands like Extreme, Bang Tango (more on them in a later post, I think), and Electric Boys, yet another band out of Sweden. Funk metal tended to emphasize the bass guitar a bit more prominently and were often riff heavy, and Funk-O-Metal Carpet Ride is a perfect example. This is a fun album, and one I listened well into freshmen year of college. Electric Boys’ singer, Conny Bloom, had a distinctive bluesy sound, getting away from the wailers more prominent on rock radio. Take a listen to “If I Had a Car” – definitely groove-driven. Their most popular song, “All Lips and Hips“, should’ve been bigger – it has an awesome riff and if you had some subwoofers in your car you’d get noticed playing this one. “Captain of my Soul” has a powerful chorus (I definitely hear some “Mississippi Queen” in that one) and then there’s “Rags to Riches,” the album’s best example of funk metal. The harmonies this band had – well, nothing compares to Van Halen’s Michael Anthony, but these are pretty damn good, too. “Into the Woods” closes out the album; I still bang my head to its riff, and the outro still gives me shivers (jump ahead to 2:50 as it moves just to full-on metal guitar). Electric Boys is still putting out albums, which makes me happy…

So, I’m not even trying to be exhaustive here, so if you’ve happened upon this blog and want to rail on me for forgetting some other European hair metal band, don’t be that person. Feel free, though, to remind me. Meanwhile, I’m going to go listen to “Ill Will” again.

Next week I think I’m going more sleezy.

The last years of 80s Hair Metal, Part I – Extreme: More Than “More Than Words”

Posted in Entertainment, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2022 by Mike

Hair metal peaked with Appetite for Destruction. Here’s what came after…

“Extreme? Are you kidding? I thought you were going with bands I wouldn’t know!”

Yeah, I’m starting this series with a band most of you remember only for the single that shot their sophomore album, Pornograffitti (1990), to double platinum sales: “More Than Words”, the admittedly beautiful acoustic ballad highlighted by Gary Cherone’s vocals and guitarist Nuno Bettencourt’s harmonies (the video for the song memorably showed bassist Pat Badger and drummer Paul Geary sitting this one out). For reference, their follow up album, III Sides to Every Story (1992), only sold 700,000 copies (which would be followed by Waiting For the Punchline (1995) – I think I may be the only one who bought that one).

Extreme is a bit different from the other bands I’m going to end up featuring here as “More Than Words” actually made them a (somewhat) household name for a couple years, and the band survived well into the 90s (and even released a fifth album in 2008, Saudades de Rock, which, yes, I bought). But Pornograffitti was set up by their self-titled first album (1989), and it’s that album I’m going to be addressing here as it made Extreme my favorite band for the remainder of my teenage years.

Yeah, this first album cover didn’t really help differentiate them from other hair acts at the time. Their logo, though, would be drawn on my spiral notebook covers my entire senior year.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) actually introduced me to Extreme – a portion of their single “Play With Me” played during a scene where several figures from history run amok at the local mall. Now, if this were Poison, a song entitled “Play With Me” would’ve gone an entirely different direction. And, sure, the title is loaded with connotation, but the lyrics demonstrate a cleverness that would manifest itself throughout this album – check out “Flesh N Blood” (a very much tongue-in-cheek song about cannibalism) and “Smoke Signals” (like “Play With Me”, the lyrics were more a compilation of phrases, this time about warnings).

Sure, Extreme had its share of crotch-rock songs: “Wind Me Up“, “Teacher’s Pet” and “Little Girls” were all fairly boilerplate women-appreciation numbers. Know your audience. But all of them were catchy tunes (I admit I still know ALL the lyrics – this tape rarely left my player that summer), and the lyrics at times seemed to be sung with a knowing wink. Admittedly listening to “Little Girls” is a bit cringey now, but maybe that was the point. KISS practically made a living on songs about underage girls, and in ’88 Winger’s “Seventeen” had been a huge hit. With “Little Girls”, Extreme cranks that sentiment up to eleven.

Now, the only musical instrument I ever learned how to play was the cornet during my middle school years, so I can’t speak intelligently on the musical arrangements of the songs or anything like that. But I can say Nuno Bettencourt was/is a guitar GOD. “Play With Me” is an obvious example of his guitar-slinging, and I put him on par with EVH at the time, skill-wise (clearly Nuno was influenced by Eddie, as most guitarists of the time were). More than that, Bettencourt was just a consummate musician; reading the liner notes I was amazed at everything Bettencourt did for that album: instruments beyond the guitar, the orchestration, he had a hand in everything. Showcasing his guitar-chops, there were two solo tracks on this first album, one introducing another of the album’s singles, “Mutha (Don’t Want to Go to School Today)” and one closing out “Rock a Bye Bye“, a song commenting on abortion.

It’s “Rock a Bye Bye” and another, “Watching, Waiting” that, for me, separated Extreme from most other hair bands I was listening to. Cherone and Bettencourt took some risks with their song-writing – I’m fairly confident in saying no other metal bands at the time were addressing abortion in their songs. And then there’s “Watching, Waiting” – a song about Christ’s crucifixion told from the point of view of one of the criminals on a cross and a Roman soldier. Don’t get me wrong, these songs weren’t “preachy” – Extreme wasn’t Stryper. But they suggested what I alluded to in this series’ introduction: bands unable to offer up something new at this point were pretty much doomed. A secular-focused band in every other aspect, these two songs made an impression on 16 year old me, and even if I wasn’t aware at the time of Martin Luther’s comment about it being better to think of the church while in the tavern, rather than thinking about the tavern while in church, these songs suggest Cherone was.

Finally, there’s the first album’s anthem, and my personal anthem that summer, “Kid Ego“. I imagine this is the song that got the band signed, as it’s just a rocker with a huge fist-pounding riff. This was Extreme’s “Down Boys” (Warrant) or “Youth Gone Wild” (Skid Row), though it didn’t have the popularity of either of those songs. Cherone apparently says the song makes him cringe now, but what does he know, anyway?

I never was able to see Extreme in concert – the closest I came was watching the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert back in 1992 (I think MTV televised it?). Their medley of Queen songs blew every other act away, and reaffirmed to me that they were a special talent in a era glutted with look-alikes. If you haven’t seen it, maybe it will convince you too.