Metal Memories: SLIPPERY WHEN WET (Bon Jovi)

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Years ago, when I was still enslaved to the will of Jimmy John and his sammich chain, the song “Wanted Dead Or Alive” was playing overhead, and while I was readying yet another delivery to go, my boss strides out of the kitchen, reading his smart phone, and asks us one of his typical pop culture quiz questions: “Who plays this song?”

I immediately respond with, “Bon Jovi. From their album Slippery When Wet. Released in 1986, on the Mercury label.” Maybe a bit more information than he was actually looking for, but I drove home my point. That being that I am the resident Metal Demigod, and none shall defeat my superior knowledge of all things hard rock and metal. It helps that Slippery When Wet was one part of the overall soundtrack that helped define my Junior High life back in the day.

Ah, Slippery When Wet. This was the album that broke the New Jersey rock band into superstardom. The first two albums – the self-titled debut from 1984, and 1985’s 7800 [degrees] Fahrenheit – were lackluster releases, as far as having massive pop radio appeal, and everything was apparently hinging on the success of the third album, which originally was going to use the working title of Wanted Dead Or Alive after one of the songs included on the album.

Essentially, what happened was, the band brought in professional songwriter Desmond Child to collaborate on the songs, and wrote a grand total of 30 songs. These they decided to demo to the local teenagers in New Jersey and New York to find out what songs didn’t suck.

The original artwork...rather glad they decided against it...

The original artwork…rather glad they decided against it…

That must have worked wonders, getting the outside opinions of the demographic they were shooting for, because when Slippery When Wet was finally released in August of 1986, that thing blew up. The first song, “You Give Love A Bad Name” was everywhere. It was hard rock awesomeness, with slick production, heavy guitars and a hook that you’d need a pair of pliers to remove from your brain. I remember remaining glued to the radio, hoping that song would come on rotation again, just so I could lip sync along to it. The next single, “Livin’ On A Prayer”, was even bigger, having a bit darker edge to it, but still catchy as all get-out. By the time the last two singles – “Wanted Dead Or Alive” and the Junior High dance staple “Never Say Goodbye” – were released, they were firmly embedded in the minds and tape players of my fellow classmates, pretty much almost everyone I knew owning a copy of Slippery When Wet. Of course, it was a while before I was able to own a copy of my own, but that didn’t stop me from taping off the songs from the radio to listen and re-listen to over and over and over.

Outside of the hits, I would argue that Slippery When Wet ranks as one of the best hard rock albums released in the 1980s. At least the Top 10. Sure, there’s the issue of the keyboard player, but let’s face it: the keyboards just enhance the music, and doesn’t overpower it at all. The first song starts off with a keyboard riff, yes, but builds up to a guitar-driven hard rock anthem appropriately titled “Let It Rock”. The next two tracks are the hits “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Livin’ On A Prayer”, two songs that still hold up to this day, but after listening to them a bazillian times on both their initial run, and later on AOR radio stations, I probably would be able to not care if I never heard them played again. The following song, “Social Disease”, is a catchy if risque rock tune that…um, starts off interesting. Yeah. Anyway, the final song on the first side (if you remember records and tapes) was the immensely popular ode to travel burnout, “Wanted Dead Or Alive”, which I have to admit, proved to me that the acoustic guitar can actually be used for rock beyond just stupid balladeering.

The second side starts off with “Raise Your Hands”, which has a guitar riff that one can argue is close to the speed metal riffs that I had yet to discover (give it a couple of years from that point). “Without Love” is the typical mournful sounding power ballad. Eh. “I’d Die For You” has a rather heavy hooked guitar and keyboard duo that recalls a lot of the style from the mid-80s. The final single hit, “Never Say Goodbye”, is usually skipped (sorry, no need for sentimentality at this stage in life), and the final song – “Wild In The Streets” – brings things to an end, a fitting “roll credits” type end song to an overall solid release.

Yeah, I know I sound like I’m just reviewing this thing, but that’s pretty much my thoughts on the album even way back then. It’s something I can still pop on and rock out to. Back then, I had to be pretty handy with the fast forward button; nowadays I can just program the player to play the songs I like. And yes, for continuity sake, I have all the songs in the MP3 copy I have, along with the artwork and such. And while my memories of Junior High isn’t exactly filled with happy days and sunshine, Slippery When Wet certainly does bring back pleasant memories of the time.


METAL MEMORIES: Somewhere In Time (Iron Maiden)

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METAL MEMORIES: Iron Maiden - Somewhere In Time

Somewhere In Time

Christmas, 1986. It was the family gathering for our annual dinner and gift exchange at my Great Grandpa Wheatley’s place. I had just turned 13, and had been asking for rock and metal albums a year or two prior rather than toys. This particular year, I had requested the recently released Somewhere In Time by some band called Iron Maiden.

Up until then, my foray into the world of hard rock and metal was novice at best. The only actual hard rock albums I owned were AC/DC’s Highway To Hell and Ted Nugent’s Double Live Gonzo, both second-hand copies from my Uncle Jerry and well-played by yours truly. Most of my self education with hard rock was by way of the Omaha radio station Z-92, the self-proclaimed Home of Rock N’ Roll. And while the station did, indeed, rock the face off of this aspiring metalhead just barely out of his tweens, while most of my classmates were content with the sugary wasteland of Top 40 pop station Sweet 98, there wasn’t much actual metal played, mostly album-oriented rock. Sure, more hard rockers than most, but beyond that I had yet to get a good taste of METAL.

Then, one afternoon, while wandering around the music section of Fremont’s ALCO – back when ALCO was a decent small town department store, and they had a good sized music section – I spotted Iron Maiden’s just-released Somewhere In Time displayed in all its glory in the prominent New Releases section.

Laugh if you wish. I had no idea who Iron Maiden was at the time. I saw some of the upperclassmen at school wearing concert tees from time to time, emblazoned with the band’s mascot (who I later learned was named “Eddie”), but beyond a fascination with the gruesome artwork I had no formal introduction to the music of Iron Maiden. Which made things even more mysterious and intriguing.

I remember standing there in the department store, staring at the album artwork on the LP, transfixed by the detail that looked like it belonged on a movie poster with its dystopian futuristic sci-fi theme. I mean, look at it. Go ahead, scroll back up and give it a good look. It was then that I made a silent vow: This album will be mine. I didn’t care that I wasn’t familiar with the band or its music. By the album artwork alone, I made it my quest to acquire that album and discover the mysteries contained within.

Yeah, yeah – don’t judge a book by its cover, and all that. Whatever. Album artwork should be an extension of the music it protects. But, that’s a rant for another time.

Shortly thereafter, when it came time to put in our requests for Christmas gifts, Somewhere In Time topped the short list. Cassette preferred, as I found them much more versatile than vinyl. Looking back, I would have liked to have heard the band on vinyl, but given I was young and extremely stupid the cassette survived better. Believe me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Christmas came. The Wheatley family Christmas arrived. And sitting there in my pile of seasonal booty haul was, as I had hoped, was a brand new copy of Somewhere In Time. I was ecstatic. I also learned that it was purchased by my Great Aunt Mona, my Grandmother’s sister, and not the first person you would think of to volunteer buying something with that kind of cover art for their young Great Nephew.

That night, when we all got home, I immediately went to my room, removed the cellophane wrapping, took a moment to take in the essence of the cassette (not as weird as it sounds, kiddies), and then popped it in and pressed play on my tape player. And the music that emerged from the speakers? Nothing I’ve heard before at the time. This was what I later learned was Heavy Metal. Not the shiny glam variety metal that I heard from time to time on the radio. This was not Motley Crue, not Poison, not Van Halen. No, this was from the old school, New Wave Of Heavy Metal camp that I had not heard of before. The playing went beyond the three-chords-and-a-hook formula, introducing me to actual musicianship. It was heavy, but darker sounding. And the lyrics were deeper than the usual glut of party good-time stuff. It forced me to think.

So, obviously I didn’t like it much at first. But, I did listen to the entire album straight through, front-to-back. And over time, the album grew on me. To the point of where it’s now one of my favorite nostalgic albums. Recently I got a copy of it on CD (again), and putting it in the car stereo, hearing the opening strains of “Caught Somewhere In Time” coming through the speakers took me back to those days, where I was young and just discovering metal beyond the bubblegum variety. Sure, many point to Somewhere In Time as not one of Iron Maiden’s strongest releases. But, this was my first introduction to the band, and also to proper Heavy Metal itself. Thus, it shall always have a place in my heart, and my METAL collection.