Many look back at the early to mid-Eighties as a time of musical excitement, flair and innovation. Others cringe at various fashion blunders, goofy album artwork and an increasingly corporate music industry mentality. But this much is certain: For all of its good and bad points, the first half of the Eighties was a great time to be a hard rock fan, as the following songs attest. One obviously has to forgive the cheesy nature of many of these promo clips. Music video was really in its infancy back in the day, particularly when compared to the subsequent videos with bigger budgets and sophisticated effects that have proliferated over the course of the last 25 years. But these performers and these songs are still ripe with energy and a freshness that cannot be duplicated today.
ALDO NOVA “Fantasy” — Want to know where Bon Jovi found inspiration? Check out this tune and the album it’s from. They were recorded at his cousin Tony’s studio, where the future star reportedly swept floors as a young adult, before his big break. Oh yeah, Aldo Nova played on the first Bon Jovi album, released almost three years later. Coincidence? Methinks not. Listen to 1985’s “Lay Your Love On Me” for further proof.
AUTOGRAPH “Turn Up The Radio” — One of the first post-1984 Van Halen knock-offs to bring that sparkly synth sound to hard rock, this Southern California band served up some fun tunes on their debut Sign In Please (where this song is from) and its follow-up, That’s The Stuff. This straightforward anthem is catchy as all get out.
BLACK ‘N BLUE “Hold On To 18” — Originally hailing from Portland, Oregon, this L.A.-based band unleashed a monster debut with their self-titled album, and this song was one of its high points. Under producer Bruce Fairburn and then after Gene Simmons, their subsequent three albums were more pop in flavor, even though they would later try to recapture their earlier sound. But the first time was the charm. In 2002, guitarist Tommy Thayer replaced Ace Frehley in KISS; B ‘N B toured with them back in 1985.
COBRA “Blood On Your Money” — Before inheriting the frontman position in Survivor and ascending to bigger fame, Jimi Jamison fronted this heavier band, whose lone album First Strike offered some raw hard rock nuggets. It’s too bad these guys did not get to do another album, especially after such a promising debut.
HELIX “Heavy Metal Love” — This Canadian quintet was raucous, raunchy and fun, tempering metallic muscle with a sense of humor. They were all about having a good time, but snarling lead singer Brian Vollmer also possessed powerful pipes that gave Helix’s music an edge that most of their like-minded American peers lacked.
KICK AXE “On The Road To Rock” — One of the best hard rock bands ever to come out of Canada, this energetic quintet was fired up by loud guitars, driving rhythms, four-part backing vocal harmonies and the manic energy of frontman George Criston. Produced by Quiet Riot guru Spencer Proffer, their kickass debut Vices gained some attention in the U.S., and the band opened up the second leg of Judas Priest’s Defenders Of The Faith tour in North America.
KING KOBRA “Hunger” — This is the second time a band with a cobra reference makes the list and the second in a row to feature a song penned by members of Kick Axe. While King Kobra is known to the masses for the poppy theme to the movie Iron Eagle, their debut Ready To Strike was chock full of heavy rock majesty with a couple of killer ballads. The contrast of raven-haired drum veteran Carmine Appice with his bleach blond bandmates was pretty amusing and worked well for press photos.
STONE FURY “Break Down The Walls” — Before vocalist Lenny Wolfe made his name siphoning Led Zeppelin’s sound through the million-selling Kingdom Come, he fronted this underrated ensemble, which was armed with good riffs and melodies. Stone Fury released two albums, and their moody debut Burns Like A Star featured many memorable moments, including this one.
URIAH HEEP “That’s The Way That It Is” — After breaking up for a couple of years, Seventies rockers Uriah Heep reunited in 1982 with a new line-up that included their best vocalist, former Trapeze frontman Peter Goalby. The first of three albums with Goalby, Abominog blended classic hard rock with modern production, and this tune (written by Paul Bliss) is one of the best anthems that they ever recorded.
Y&T “Mean Streak” — Before they became known to the masses with their overly slick pop single “Summertime Girls” (which irritated long-time fans), this Bay Area band rocked up a storm, with “Mean Streak” being one of their true metal moments. Dave Meniketti had a great rock ‘n’ roll voice, and still does, as proven here. I dare you to deny it.