THE WOOF 200 FOR 1993
Def Leppard, Danger Danger, Lillian Axe, David Coverdale… the hair band guys will not be held back forever! 1993 may have been a huge transition year for music, as I have talked about frequently during this project, but it wasn’t without its party metal purists still trying to make their mark with a sound that was pretty close to what it had always been. The next ten slots will highlight a handful of those as well as a few other not-quite-90’s sounding acts. Let’s get to it.
Sheryl Crow’s first album was recorded and scheduled to be released in September 1992. Before it ever saw the light of day it was scrapped in its entirety, to this day failing to receive a proper release. Her official debut came together almost accidentally and was pushed out by A&M Records in August 1993 where it made little impact. Then in the fall of 1994 the catchy single “All I Wanna Do” started getting radio play and before 1995 was over she was one of the leading faces of the female rock movement. I love Tuesday Night Music Club, although in the years since its release its two biggest hits, (“All I Wanna Do” and “Leaving Las Vegas”) have begun to grate on me to the point that both failed to make this countdown. Instead it’s this slow cooking blues number along with another track which will appear WAY up on the countdown which really stick with me. This one really showcases her vocals in a way that the hits really didn’t, as she has a real sultry delivery. Plus the backing band (the self-named Tuesday Night Music Club which gave the album its title) delivers some choice playing here, knowing their roles and adding shade and color rather than dominating. A beautifully crafted song all the way around.
From the fantastic film (and soundtrack) of Mike Myers’ pre-Austin Powers masterwork So I Married An Axe Murderer comes this simple little gem from Toad The Wet Sprocket. I came on board with them in 1991 with the Fear album, which wound up landing at #16 in what was my favorite year overall in music. This song was the first space filler in my fandom while awaiting 1994’s follow-up Dulcinea (another fantastic album). They go a little Counting Crows with the organ work here and really find their stride by bridging the gap from the more “college rock” sound of their early albums to their rootsier later stuff. Vocalist Glen Phillips has one of those tremendous voices that falls in alongside Jackson Browne for me, where no matter what they sing it always sound warm and inviting.
Second track from Rush’s excellent Counterparts album (“Animate” checked in at 157) to hit the countdown. Being the debut single, this tune was supposed to herald a “return” to their grittier 70’s work, and while it certainly delivers on the gritty side, it hardly strikes me as a return to those older times. This is just more of Rush moving onwards in their own particular evolution, Geddy Lee’s high-pitched vocals maturing over time to where they are far less a distraction here, although he doesn’t hide from his own peculiar vocal quirks. Once again Alex Lifeson delivers a unique riff (and scorching solo) that sounds unlike any other player I can think of. Not all bands could get away with a song this herky-jerky and make me still care, but Rush manages.
Marc Bonilla was a session guitarist who dipped his toe into the guitar-shred pool in the early 90’s just long enough to pump out two decent Joe Satriani-esque albums that went largely unheard by the general public. The draw for me was his drafting of legendary hard rock vocalist Glenn Hughes for this killer remake of the Procul Harem all-time classic. Hughes is, I will freely admit, an acquired taste, as his vocal style has been heavily debated in rock & metal fan circles ever since he popped up alongside David Coverdale in Deep Purple as the two-headed replacement for Ian Gillan. Over the years as he’s branched out into a solo career and a ridiculous number of side projects (including the excellent Black Country Communion with blues guitarist extraordinaire Joe Bonnamassa) I have found myself becoming a bigger and bigger fan. I get the complaints about his somewhat nasally delivery and his tendency to get unnecessarily showy in his phrasing, but I just love his range and the passion he infuses into songs. Meanwhile Bonilla plays the song beautifully, slowing it down a tad and taking the organ’s role from the original and adding a lot of cool fills to a song that I generally found to be pretty basic even in its greatness. Comparing to the two versions is pretty pointless, as I find them both to be great for their own reasons.
Putting this song on the countdown is a bit of a cheat, as the Cockroach album from which it comes wasn’t released until 2001. However it was recorded in 1993 and scrapped by the record label because by then the music climate had changed and they figured this kind of guitar-driven cock rock wasn’t gonna sell, so why bother. In the meantime the band fired their vocalist (Ted Poley) and re-recorded all his parts with a new guy (Paul Laine) which the record company STILL didn’t like, so they scrapped that too and dropped the band entirely. Danger Danger carried on through another three albums with Laine at the helm, eventually re-recording this song in its entirety in 2000, before reuniting with Poley in recent years for the now standard hair band nostalgia run. My preference is for the Poley version, but I couldn’t find a copy online so what you hear here is Laine. The song is pure hair metal joy, with all its trappings: suggestive lyrics, bouncy rhythm, and tasty guitar work. I’m all in on this stuff. Always. (For a taste of what Ted sounds like up front, check out “Shot O’ Love” from the same album, a song that just missed the countdown cut.)
Like most people I knew Big Country as an 80’s one-hit wonder thanks to their self-titled ’83 hit. When their ’93 album The Buffalo Skinners hit my radar that year I was unprepared to like it as much as I did (although the love wasn’t instant – it took a couple years to really overtake me), shocked to find the ferociousness of the guitar work and the overall sense of urgency and anger that the album projected, while still maintaining killer melodies. I had six songs from the album under consideration, with this in-your-face anthem being the first of three to actually make it (although by all means check out “The Selling Of America” if you dig this one).
Lillian Axe are a weird band to try and peg, given that they got lumped into the party rock scene of the 80’s thanks in large part to their name and look, even while they were delivering a far more thoughtful, almost prog-like product at the time. I never knew anybody who was particularly into their first few albums so I didn’t really get into them big until this ’93 release. Psychoschitzophrenia is a an utter masterpiece of the melodic rock genre, with some of the most thoughtful songwriting the scene has ever known. This tune is probably the most straight forward rocker on the album, and as a result doesn’t make my case much, but it’s still a killer song. They’ll be back later with two gorgeous ballads that would have made them household names the way Queensryche’s “Silent Lucidity” did for them a few years earlier if the climate had only been a little different. C’est la vie.
Of course even while that climate was changing there was (and is) always room for the kings of the mountain to make their way into the ears of the general zeitgeist. Boni Jovi and Def Leppard might be the two biggest bands of the 80’s hard rock movement, so even through their respective ups-and-downs they always remained relevant enough to chart with stuff like this acoustic ballad from the Last Action Hero soundtrack (as well as their odds-n-ends Retro-Active album). As they proved once again in 2015 with a rather un-original yet catchy-in-spite-of-itself eponymous release, these guys just have a sound that always works for me even when I’m at a loss to explain why. Joe Elliot’s vocals on this tune are a little haggard, and once again the song is over-produced to the point of distraction at times. Yet here it sits at number 131 because no matter how hard I try to fight it, I love me some Def Leppard.
This shouldn’t work. Led Zeppelin fans certainly didn’t want it do (and probably won’t admit that it does). Jimmy Page hooking up with Whitesnake’s David Coverdale, himself once referred to by Robert Plant as “David Cover-Version” because he felt Coverdale was trying to desperately sound like him, was supposed to flop. After all, Page had been doing pretty pedestrian work since Zeppelin broke up in 1980, with a couple of lackluster solo projects and the oddly bland Firm albums with Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers. But something about this pairing gave Page the kick in the ass he needed, as they delivered an album chock full of great Page riffs and inspired Coverdale singing. Kind of a pity they only put out the one album (although it did lead to Plant & Page reuniting, so there is that), as they really had something here. I wasn’t expecting this stuff to hold up well over time, but I find that in 2015 it still sounds vital and fresh.
I’m reasonably sure that I had not spent 1993 working at Tower Records that a good 70% of this countdown would not exist, as I would simply not have been exposed to the acts in question to the degree that they would have made an impact on me. Robben Ford & The Blue Line, a middle-of-the-road blues trio released through a jazz label, is certainly a prime example of that phenomenon. I mean, where would I have heard this? Certainly not on the radio, and MTV never would have touched it. Yet I absolutely love the kind of shuffling Texas blues that these guys deliver here, with Ford picking his way through some swinging stuff that reminds me so fondly of Austin legend Eric Johnson, who quite simply didn’t release material often enough for my tastes. Ford doesn’t have the grit or unbridled ferocity of a Stevie Ray Vaughan, but man he could play. So, so good.