The Top Ten Underrated Hard Rock Songs, Part One

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As a method of getting away from the madness that is the 2016 General Election, I’ve been pondering other issues. Of course, I’ve been keeping up with Timeless (which, if you haven’t checked it out yet, you’re missing some good television) and I’ve been trying to finish reading a book that a friend of mine wrote long ago (and, with him in failing health, I’d like to tell him that I read it and enjoyed it, despite some early problems with his usage of an occurrence in our line of work). Then there’s always something going on in sports that can be talked about, whether it is Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton whining to the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, that he’s being hit too often (there are times he has a point, but not every time), the “Chase for the Sprint Cup” (ZZZZZZZZZZZ!) or baseball’s World Series (and congrats to the Chicago Cubs for winning this year and ensuring that Hell is freezing over; even as a New York Yankees fan, it’s great to see a team win it that hasn’t done it in 108 years).

But one thing we can always discuss (and something that I do like thinking about) is music. In the 20+ years I spent in the radio industry, I was always looking to pick the “next big song” to get on the air. I remember one time when I was the Music Director for a station where we debated whether to put the band Faith No More and the song “Epic” on the air. “It’s rap, it isn’t rock,” our Program Director stated. “No, it is a hybrid,” I replied. “You’ll start seeing more of this in the future – the melding of genres to reach as big an audience as possible (something I was proven correct on – for good or for ill).” After the debate, the PD finally added it as the song became one of the biggest tunes of 1989 and has since gone on to be called one of the greatest metal songs of all-time (#30 on VH1’s list) and one of the biggest one-hit wonders of all time (#67, once again by VH1), a bit of an insult to a band that had a great influence on many others.

Along this line, I found myself recently reflecting on what were some of the most underrated hard rock songs in history. To be honest, some of these bands were quite popular, even without these listed songs having a great of success, but it could have been so much better for them if these songs had touched on their audience better than they did. Look through the list and enjoy the songs, then be sure to let me know whether I’ve got it right, I’m completely fucking nuts and/or the songs that you think deserve to be on the list!

Motörhead, Ice-T and Whitford Crane (Ugly Kid Joe), “Born to Raise Hell”

Separately these performers had some success. Motörhead, led by the late Lemmy Kilmister, was always at the forefront of the heavy metal scene from the late 70s to this decade. Ice-T, through his rapping, was quite well known, but T had a desire to do hard rock (to the point of forming Body Count, which barely missed this list with “There Goes the Neighborhood”). Crane was, at this point in time, the one well known by the listening public as, with his band Ugly Kid Joe, Crane had several hits by this point in 1994 (“Everything About You,” “Neighbor” and a remake of balladeer Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle”).

This was a chance for everyone involved to get together and have a bit of fun doing a song for the soundtrack to the movie Airheads (a highly underrated movie, lots of fun and entertaining). Taking an old Motörhead song that Lemmy had written for another band, they blasted the tune that became the theme song for the film. Unfortunately for everyone, it didn’t go as far as they thought it might; the film has become a cult classic but didn’t do well at the time of its release and the soundtrack album even less so. As such, it finds its place on this list.

Extreme, “Decadence Dance”

This was a band that should have gotten more attention in their time than they did. With vocals from Gary Cherone (who would go on to join Van Halen after the departure of Sammy Hagar) and guitar work from Nuno Bettencourt (a classically-trained virtuoso if ever there was one), Extreme did have a big hit with the power ballad “More Than Words” (history lesson here, young ones – hard rock and metal bands and artists could play as hard as they wanted if they included one ballad on their albums…that was what drew in the ladies). Their perceived magnum opus, Three Sides to Every Story, didn’t hold a candle to their 1990 effort Pornograffitti, from which this song came.

Along with “Get the Funk Out” (also found on this album and a gem in its own right), Extreme could meld hard rock, funky horns and the classical guitar work of Bettencourt into a sound that was quite intriguing to fans of the genre. Unfortunately, it didn’t ensure a long career for the band. Once Cherone left for Van Halen in 1996, the band broke up. They’ve since reformed (as most bands do) and are releasing a new album that is set to drop in 2017. Perhaps they wouldn’t have lost Cherone if this and other tracks had been more than moderately successful.

Faster Pussycat, “You’re So Vain”

The first of our two remakes on this list, Faster Pussycat was a part of the L. A. club scene of the 80s that produced such acts as Mötley Crüe, L. A. Guns and Guns N’ Roses, among others. Named after the Russ Meyer film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, the band earned some kudos for their power ballad (sensing the trend here?) “The Ballad of Jayne,” but this remake of the Carly Simon classic should have propelled them to higher points. Perhaps it was because of where it was released; the 1990 double album Rubaiyat:  Elektra’s 40th Anniversary saw artists as diverse as The Cure, Tracy Chapman, Metallica, the Georgia Satellites and others joining Faster Pussycat in doing songs made famous by past Elektra artists. The sheer number of outstanding performances led to difficulty in only picking one great remake.

What I liked about this song was that they took what was a kind ballad (despite its lyrical bite, courtesy of Simon) and put the edge to it that Simon had in writing the song. The guitar work of Brent Muscat and Greg Steele alongside the sneering vocals of Taime Downe worked perfectly with the material they had to use. We could have gone perhaps with “Bathroom Wall” (one of their earlier works), but this one was one of their last chances at success before…well, we’ll get to that in Part Two.

Damn Yankees, “Piledriver”

It is tough for some to accept that Damn Yankees were underrated in anything. With Jack Blades (formerly of Night Ranger), Tommy Shaw (of Styx) and the Motor City Madman, Ted Nugent, handing the musicianship, they had some Top 40 success with this supergroup. But while Blades had his “Night Ranger”-esque songs (“Coming of Age” and “High Enough”) and Shaw had his Styxian tunes (“Come Again”), it was Uncle Ted who was left without a display of his talents.

You’ve got to dive deep on their eponymous debut album to find “Piledriver,” a Nugent-esque tour de force that reaches out and grabs you from the beginning. The jingling doodling from Nuge suddenly explodes in a blitzkrieg of guitar that never again lets up on the listener. “Piledriver” is also the only song that Nugent sings for Damn Yankees, who normally utilized Ted just as a guitar god, harkening back to his pre-“Cat Scratch Fever” days when artists such as Meat Loaf were the vocalist on his solo albums.

Dangerous Toys, “Scared”

This Austin, TX band could have been so much bigger than they were in the 80s. Most often compared to Guns N’ Roses, Dangerous Toys had a lot of the same stylings as the Axl Rose led outfit, but also incorporated plenty of blues licks and Southern rock attitude into their music. You just have to listen to “Teas’n, Pleas’n” to get this sound in your head.

Scared” was the tune that was supposed to have carried them over the top into superstardom, but it only served as a place marker while the audience waited for their next effort. Their second album, Hellacious Acres, didn’t do quite as well as expected and the tour that would have supported their effort, called “Operation Rock & Roll” (it was just after the start of the First Gulf War) with such acts as Motörhead, Judas Priest and Alice Cooper, was shut down only 10 weeks into the schedule. Dangerous Toys never again reached the levels of success that they did after their eponymous first release which, from front to back, is a classic.

There’s plenty for you to listen to here, so we’ll take a break. But Part Two will bring you more of those underrated gems of hard rock and the reason why the genre seemingly disappeared overnight.

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Top Five or Six Songs You DON’T Want To Hear While Driving

If you’re anything like me, you do like to hit the road for a good drive. I don’t mean the little trip to the grocery store or Macy’s (although those are fun too), I mean the good old fashioned “road trip” where you throw caution to the wind and see how far the gas takes you…or, OK, a good long trip to visit family, friends, go to a concert or a sporting event, etc. The thing that makes any road trip easier to traverse is when you have good music to go along with the journey.

Good music makes the trip easier to bear, especially when you have friends and/or children in the car. There does come a problem, however: the songs that, once they begin to play on the radio, immediately cause your right foot to get about a ton heavier and causes the needle on the speedometer to reach levels that are highly unsafe. These are the songs that, when they come on either the radio, a CD or off of our iPod, we certainly hope that A) we are alone in the vehicle and B) hope that there aren’t any sheriffs, deputies or other law enforcement officials in the near vicinity as they would surely stop us for our upcoming display of speed.

The Outlaws – “Ghost Riders in the Sky”

The Outlaws were never one of the big “stars” of the music industry. They barely were able to catch on in the heyday of Southern rock in the mid-70s with a couple of hits, “There Goes Another Love Song” and “Green Grass and High Tides.” It was their 1980 remake of a tune from the 1940s, however, that would put them in this list:

One of the big things that a great “don’t drive while listening” song has is guitars that seem to ascend to Heaven or drive straight to Hell, there is no in between. In this particular song, it seems that the guitars take the listener both ways. The original lyrics paint the picture of either salvation or damnation and, as the tempo increases towards the end of the song, there is an immediacy brought about to make the listener try to decide which side to ride with. It also causes the scenery to rip by if you’re driving in a car and get into the music.

KISS – “Detroit Rock City”

Many people have a love/hate relationship with the band KISS. One of the longest lived bands of the rock era (founded in 1973 and continually recording and touring since that time), they have cranked out their brand of music for almost four decades. While long reviled for their “amateurish” music and “cartoonish” stage shows and makeup, KISS actually proved over the long run that they were consummate musicians who knew how to work the stage, beguile the audience and make a mint while doing it! As far as their contribution to the “unsafe at any speed” list, here you go:

The song itself is about a maniacal drive (which alone should get it in the pantheon) but it also was called by VH1 the #6 Greatest Metal Song in history. The song (and KISS themselves) inspired a movie of the same name and the tune has been used to promote both the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings. On the other hand, if you’ve got a copy of the original single, you always had something to play for a girlfriend or significant other – the “B-side” (normally not the more popular song) was a little ditty called “Beth.”

Ted Nugent – Wango Tango

Whether you like his take on politics or not, the one thing that Ted Nugent can never be denied is his borderline insane work in rock music. Nugent has a list of songs that could contend for this list – “Piledriver” from his days with the Damn Yankees, “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” and “Motor City Madhouse” just to name a few – but this one captures the increase in speed as the potency of the song itself goes up:

Although the entire song is blasting from the start, it is that center segment when you’re taken down to just the base line and the drums that the true intensity begins. As Nugent gets deeper into the lyrics (the “pretend your waist is a Maserati” line is priceless) and builds to the climax, you can only hope that your foot isn’t on a gas pedal. If it is, you better hope it is a stretch of open road!

Metallica – “Fuel”

They will probably go down as one of – if not the – greatest band in hard rock/metal history. Along the way, Metallica has given some gems to the “Lead Foot Legion” – “Master of Puppets” comes to mind immediately. This one, however, was done with the automobile in mind:

One of the things with Metallica, however, is that their songs could be viewed from several different aspects. The chorus of the song – “Give me fuel, give me fire, give me that which I desire” – could be applied to any addiction that a person has. That they hide some depth in writing a great driving song is intriguing to me.

Tie:  Megadeth – “Symphony For Destruction” and P.O.D. – “Boom”

Former Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine was tossed out of the group (supposedly over his own addictions) and, as the ultimate “Fuck You,” went on to form his own syndicate that matched his former band nearly note for note. This tune in particular is never a good one to hear if you are behind the steering wheel:

The band P.O.D. never has gotten the recognition that they should have received in their career. Helping to drive the rock/rap genre in the early 2000s, this particular song was the theme to my radio show for several years:

Even today, it still gets the pulse racing as well as the RPMs when I am behind the wheel.

There are a host of songs that didn’t make my final cut (that’s why you may see a Part II, Part III, etc.), but there is one band that may punch a hole in this roster at some point. While some may think that Southern rock is dead, the band Blackberry Smoke stokes the fires of that Southern moonshine still even today, cranking out some powerful songs. Blackberry Smoke, keep it up and perhaps one day “Leave A Scar” will make this list:

Another line for the ages:  “I may not change the world but I’m gonna leave a scar…”

Music is one of mankind’s greatest creations. Whether it is used as a salve, as a confession, as a testament, as a declaration or as a way to inspire or psyche up oneself, there is something out there for everyone. When it comes to songs you don’t want to hear when you’re behind the wheel, what are your choices?