Damn Yankees

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Damn Yankees album coverBefore its swift exit from the mainstream rock scene in 1991, “hair metal” had its last hurrah during the year 1990. Perhaps the apex of this final phase was the self-titled debut album by the super group, Damn Yankees, which brought together three musicians from different rock outfits, each of whom had tremendous success in the years and decades previous to Damn Yankees. The result was a double platinum commercial success which spawned several radio and charting hits.

Vocalist and guitarist Ted Nugent had been performing live since 1958 and found some mainstream success with his band, the Amboy Dukes, in the late sixties and early seventies. However, when Nugent launched his solo career the mid seventies, he found his greatest success with three multi-platinum albums in consecutive years 1975, 1976, 1977. During that same era, bassist and vocalist Jack Blades formed the funk band Rubicon, which had a few minor hits before breaking up in 1979. The following year, Blades formed a band called “Ranger”, which morphed into “The Rangers” and ultimately, Night Ranger. The group had tremendous success through the 80’s, selling millions of albums and charting several hit singles. Tommy Shaw joined the established Chicago group, Styx, in late 1975 as second guitarist and co-lead vocalist. Over the next eight years, the group had tremendous success, including the standout albums, The Grand Illusion, in 1977 and, Paradise Theatre, in 1981. However, Shaw grew increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of the group’s music towards pop ballads and theatrical role playing, so he left Styx to pursue a solo career which yielded three albums in the late eighties.

Damn Yankees was formed in 1989, with drummer Michael Cartellone (who had played in the final stages of Shaw’s solo band) rounding out the quartet. Some of the material on this album was brought in by individual members, but most was composed collaboratively in the studio. Producer Ron Nevison also brought in multiple session musician to enrich the music and allow the three vocalists to concentrate on melodies and harmonies.


Damn Yankees by Damn Yankees
Released: February 22, 1990 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Ron Nevison
Recorded: A&M Studios, Hollywood, CA & Can-Am Studios, Tarzana, CA, 1989-90
Track Listing Group Musicians
Coming of Age
Bad Reputation
Runaway
High Enough
Damn Yankees
Come Again
Mystified
Rock City
Tell Me How You Want It
Piledriver
Tommy Shaw – Guitars, Vocals
Ted Nugent – Guitars, Vocals
Jack Blades – Bass, Vocals
Michael Cartellone – Drums

The album starts with the hit, “Coming of Age”, which sets the pace for the slick, polished, hard rock sound of the album. Blades brought this popular song with him into Damn Yankees, which features catchy, chanting vocal motifs, accented by accent by Nugent’s choppy riffs, which all worked to make this perfect for pop and rock radio alike. “Bad Reputation” follows in the same vein as a pure riff-driven raunch, unambiguous lyrically and not too far from that musically – steady beat throughout – nice bridge with complex vocal patterns before song returns with Nugent’s blistering lead. After some cool deadened guitar notes in the intro, “Runaway” launches into a full-fledged pop rocker. Led by Shaw’s lead vocals, the song contains nice complements throughout, including some sparse but tactical keyboards by session man Steve Freeman.

The album’s best track is also its most popular. “High Enough” is a ballad which starts and ends with a string ensemble put together by Nevison with strummed acoustic during initial verse. Shaw’s high harmonies perfectly complement Blades’ lead vocals on this track filled with harmonic bliss, both vocally and musically. Further, there is enough arrangement variation to make this Top 5 hit a true classic from the album.

Damn Yankees‘s title song has an Aerosmith-like feel in its riffing, but a much different vibe once the vocals come in. The mid section of this track is dominated by Nugent, with several wild effects through the guitar lead and lead vocals over the bridge. “Come Again” is a folk ballad by Shaw which reflects some of the arena ballads by Styx. Beginning with a picked acoustic during the verse, this song continuously builds in a moody but melodic track that is contrasted by Nugent’s frenzied guitar riffs. “Mystified” starts with some great blues elements, including some slide guitar over initial porch-stomp verses. The song soon turns into a more standard rock drive, but maintains the great blues harmonics during Nugent’s soaring lead, making this the last real highlight of the album.

The remaining three tracks are not the strongest. “Rock City” a bit of frivolous number, only really there for the mind-numbed partier, making it one of the weaker numbers on the album. Led by the strong but standard drumming of Cartellone and the fine vocal harmonies, “Tell Me How You Want It”, is a track which has all the elements of a hit song in 1990, but never reached that plateau. Nugent’s “Piledriver”,  is almost a direct rip-off of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” in its sonic approach. That’s not to say that Nugent’s guitar is not impressive – it is – but the comic breakdown in the middle of this blistering lead is a bit over the top. Nonetheless, it is an entertaining way to wrap up the album.

Damn Yankees reached the Top 20 on the Billboard album charts and remained a hit well into 1991. The group went on a successful world tour and returned with a 1992 follow-up album Don’t Tread, which was a minor hit on its own. In 1994, Nugent left the group, with Shaw & Blades releasing a single album as a duet before ending the short run of Damn Yankees.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1990 albums.

Manic Nirvana by Robert Plant

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Manic Nirvana by Robert PlantIf Led Zeppelin had attempted to make a pop-oriented album, it may have sounded like Manic Nirvana. This 1990 release by Robert Plant fuses some of the pop and dance-oriented elements of his earlier solo efforts released in the 1980s with a retro vocal and guitar approach reminiscent of the classic rock band that Plant fronted for a dozen years. This approach usually works, in some places spot on, in others less so. But, in total, it all makes for an interesting listen.

Around 1990, there was a resurgence of Led Zeppelin in the musical scene, and there is little doubt that this played a part in the approach of Manic Nirvana. In May 1988, Plant and former bandmates Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones joined Jason Bonham (son of original drummer John Bonham) for the first official Led Zeppelin show in nearly a decade. Page also showed up for a cameo at a few of Plant’s concerts and Plant provided vocals for one song on Page’s solo album, Outrider. Later in 1990, the 54-track Led Zeppelin Box Set was released as the first ever compilation of any kind by the group and it included several tracks which had never before been released.

Manic Nirvana was the second of a trio of albums that Plant worked on with keyboardist/guitarist Phil Johnstone, following the commercial success of Now and Zen, released in 1988. Johnstone also co-produced the album with Plant and Mark Stent, and the trio came up with sonic qualities on this record which were unlike those on other albums. The sessions for this album produced a few tracks which would not be released until Plant’s 2006 box set, Nine Lives, including the standout, “One Love”, which has fifties-like undertones with cool slide guitars and horn-like accents.


Manic Nirvana by Robert Plant
Released: March 19, 1990 (Es Paranza)
Produced by: Phil Johnstone, Mark Stent & Robert Plant
Recorded: 1989
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Hurting Kind
Big Love
S S S & Q
I Cried
She Said
Nirvana
Tie Dye On the Highway
Your Ma Said You Cried in Your Sleep Last Night
Anniversary
Liars Dance
Watching You
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Doug Boyle – Guitars
Phil Johnstone – Keyboards, Guitars
Charlie Jones – Bass
Chris Blackwell – Drums, Percussion

 
The opening track, “Hurting Kind (I’ve Got My Eyes on You)”, starts with a sweeping flange similar to that on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” from Led Zeppelin’s Presence. This is soon interrupted by a steady thumping beat as Plant unleashes a few wails similar to (but less effective than) those of his heyday. Released as a single, this song reached #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. “Big Love” is driven by the steady, methodical groove of drummer Chris Blackwell and is carried by Plant’s excited vocals. The bridge section includes a raw guitar lead sandwiched betwwen sections with complex background vocal patterns. “S S S & Q” allegedly means ”soak, shake, splash, and quake” and has a long lead intro of the bluesiest rock guitars on the album. This gives way to more controlled riffing above sterile and modern rhythm, giving the heart of this song a dance-track feel, especially during the synth and quasi-rap bridge with just a touch of James Brown-like textures.

Johnstone’s picked acoustic fades in on “I Cried” accompanied by some rounded bass notes by Charlie Jones. Starting with the main chorus, Plant provides majestic vocals on this excellent song that eventually builds with electric textures and dynamic sections. The outro fades with subtle acoustic textures, closing this smooth and introspective song. Orchestral strings commence “She Said”, soon cut by strong rock riffs and beats. However, this song, which starts interesting, does get a bit long in the tooth through its five minute duration. “Nirvana” is co-written by Jones and starts with an almost punk riff before breaking in with a steady beat and bass. This track tries to reach for the mystical, especially with the droning guitar lead which has a slight tinge of Indian flavor and the twin pauses for Plant to deliberately recite the song’s title. the track ends with a weird effect, like a backwards-masked, out of tune piano.

“Tie Dye on the Highway” starts off with actual sound from Woodstock before breaking into a dance beat with droning instrumentation and a pleasant vocal melody by Plant, which reflects his style from some earlier solo albums. Plant even supplies a slight harmonica lead adding further variety to make this one of the standouts on the album. The only cover on the album, “Your Ma Said You Cried in Your Sleep Last Night”, contains an actual record scratch from the sampled kick drum of the 1961 original by Kenny Dino. The strong beat gives Plant’s vocals plenty of room to soar in this chanting rap with fine backing vocals as well. Released as the second single from the album, the song reached #8 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.

The cheesy synth intro of “Anniversary” disrupts the cool groove from the previous track. This song never really goes anywhere, just adding certain instrumentation such as the off-beat drums and cool bluesy guitar lead. Guitarist Doug Boyle co-wrote “Liars Dance”, a folksy acoustic with Boyle’s picked notes falling between, and sometimes mimicking, Plant’s vocal lines. The track stays purely between the blues acoustic and lead vocals, making it a quality track late in the album. “Watching You” employs one more shot at the frenzied production. However, the drums have more reverberation than is necessary for effect, causing the vocals and strumming acoustic to be a bit buried in the mix. Still, with a hypnotic effect, this song acts as a very potent closer as Plant’s excited vocals are excellent in the background.

Plant and Johnstone followed up Manic Nirvana with 1993’s Fate of Nations before Plant reunited with Page in 1994 to perform and compose new music.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1990 albums.

Compilations and Box Sets

Beatles official stereo collection

 
Ever since the beginning of the rock era, there have been compilations. As we mentioned in our very first special feature on The Album, long playing vinyl albums were simply a collection of songs, maximized for sales potential, and were rarely a cohesive or artistic statement. Once the “classic era” albums come into prominence in the mid to late sixties, “Greatest Hits” or “Best of” collections stepped in to supplement regular album releases as well as reach out to audience segments who only wished to “sample” a certain artist’s output.

Other such sales tools, such as rarities or B-side collections, targeted the most enthusiastic of existing fans but at time have gained significant popularity. In some cases, greatest hits collections were continued as an artist’s career went along. Bob Dylan had three sequential compilation. Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, released in March 1967, contains some of the most famous songs from Dylan’s formative years. In 1971 the double LP Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume II contained some songs from the interim years along with more from the early years and nearly a side of previously unreleased material. More than two decades later, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume III encompassed all his recordings released between the years 1973 and 1991. The Eagles released a couple of sequential “Greatest Hits” collections with their 1976 compilation Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 1 going on to become the top selling album of the 20th century.

Box Sets

Usually made up of three or more discs boxes, box sets came of age in the 1980s with the media migration from vinyl LPs to compact discs. Artists with long and successful careers would release anthologies which often included rare or previously unreleased tracks along with the typical collection of singles and radio hits. There have been rare cases where a box set contained all new and original material. Led Zeppelin’s initial 1990 Box Set became the first to become a best seller on the albums chart.

Around the turn of the century, some box sets became multimedia collections. These included DVD videos, mp3 discs, or other related items to enhance the collection

Compilations in 1988

With our current look at the rock year 1988, Classic Rock Review will also focus on the compilations and box sets released during that year, a rich year for these items.

Past Masters 1 by The BeatlesReleased on March 7, 1988 to coincide with the official CD debut of Beatles album catalogue, Past Masters is a two-volume compilation set. This collection consisted of many of the band’s non-album singles and B-sides, focusing on tracks not available on The Beatles’ original U.K. albums. These also included rarities such as the UK-only Long Tall Sally EP, two German language tracks, and a couple of songs recorded for charity compilation albums. An all-mono compilation titled Mono Masters was also produced for the most die-hard collectors.

20 Years of Jethro Tull was released on June 27, 1988 was issued as five themed LPs named; Radio Archives, Rare Tracks, Flawed Gems, Other Sides of Tull, and The Essential Tull. Eric Clapton's CrossroadsIt was also simultaneously released as a three CD set and a five-cassette set, with each coming with a 24-page booklet.

Released in April 1988, Eric Clapton’s Crossroads includes highlights from his work with vast musical groups. These include The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Derek & the Dominos, and his long solo career. The collection was released as setsof four CDs or six LPs and it includes several live and alternate studio recordings which were previously unreleased.

Two compilations were released on November 15, 1988. After shocking the world with their recent breakup, Journey released Greatest Hits, which ultimately became the band’s best-selling album by selling over 25 million copies and it spent over 760 weeks on the pop album charts, more than any other compilation album in history. Smashes, Thrashes & Hits was actually the third “hits” album released by Kiss. With most tracks coming from their heyday in the seventies, this album also included two new songs.

In subsequent years and decades, artists brought the box set concept to the extreme with full collections being released. But by the time mp3s and other digital formats became the dominant media, user-driven custom compilations were the order of the day.

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Ric Albano