Tom Keifer

REVIEW: Make A Difference Foundation – Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell (1989)

Make A Difference Foundation – Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell (1989 Polygram)

In 1989, I proudly sported my Moscow Music Peace Festival T-shirt in the highschool halls.  It was cool to see the rock bands on the forefront of heavy metal bringing music to the Soviet Union.  Scorpions, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Cinderella, Ozzy Osbourne and Skid Row joined Russian metal band Gorky Park in the name of peace and being drug free.

Drug free?  Ozzy?  It’s true that this was a little strange, but Motley were at least clean for the first time in their lives.  The Scorpions had played behind the Iron Curtain before, and Sabbath were huge in Russia.  Meanwhile Bon Jovi were one of the few bands to legally release an album in the USSR, and in return they brought Gorky Park to the US.  I was lucky enough to have a girlfriend who recorded the televised part of the concert off MTV and sent me a copy.  It was a pretty mindblowing video.  Those Russians were going absolutely nuts, seeing their idols on stage.

Later on, the bands each contributed a song to a compilation album called Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell, each covering an artist who had been touched by substance abuse.  The CD was produced by the biggest name at the time, Bruce Fairbairn himself.  The proceeds went to an anti-drug charity, for all the good “just saying no” does.  The album itself was a pretty great compilation of mostly exclusive music.  Though almost all of it is now available elsewhere, that wasn’t the case in 1989, making this a tempting buy.

Gorky Park, the up and comers, started off with “My Generation”.  Some find it too putrid to stomach.  It’s virtually an original song with only the lyrics recognizable.  The riffs and melodies seem otherwise new.  So give Gorky Park some credit for at least not attempting a carbon copy, but then you gotta take off some points for turning “My Generation” into a Bon Motley song.  Unfortunately for Gorky Park, their momentum halted when singer Nikolai Noskov quit in 1990.

Skid Row surprised the hell out of everyone with the Pistols’ “Holidays in the Sun”.  It was the first indication that Skid Row had punk roots.  “Holidays” was very much a look ahead to where they would go on Slave to the Grind.  They were on the punk bandwagon a full two years before Motley decided to cover the Sex Pistols.  It’s always strange to hear flashy metal guitar solos on a Pistols song, but it’s sheer joy to hear Sebastian spitting and screaming up a storm.

Scorpions had a new compilation out called Best of Rockers ‘n’ Ballads.  Another Who song, “I Can’t Explain” was taken from it to be used on this CD.  It is by far the better of the Who covers, as Scorpions really made it their own.  Next, Ozzy’s track is quite interesting.  It’s the only studio recording of the lineup including Zakk Wylde, Randy Castillo, and Geezer Butler.  Geezer quit the band shortly after, and this incredible lineup never recorded anything else.  I consider it the strongest band that Ozzy had after Randy Rhoads.  The quartet did a live sounding cover of “Purple Haze”, unfortunately not the greatest version.  It is at least a showcase for Zakk Wylde to go nuts on the wah-wah pedal.

I will argue that the best track on this album came from the band that was riding a brand new high:  Motley Crue.  Clean and mean, they were incredibly strong in 1989.  They the balls to choose an obscure Tommy Bolin (Deep Purple) solo tune:  “Teaser”.  Motley put on that Dr. Feelgood groove, and Mick Mars laid waste to the land with his slidey guitar goodness.  It’s no surprise that “Teaser” has reappeared on Motley compilations several times since.  It has balls as big as a bus!

Another strong contender is Bon Jovi’s take on Thin Lizzy.  “The Boys are Back in Town” fits seamlessly with that small town New Jersey vibe that Bon Jovi used to have.  Lynott must have had some influence on a young Jon Bon, because all his old tunes are about the boys – back in town!  Dino’s bar and grill could be in Sayreville NJ.  Of course, Bon Jovi are a competent enough band to be able to cover Thin Lizzy and do it well.

Another surprise:  Cinderella doing Janis Joplin.  Singer Tom Keifer suited Joplin, though you don’t immediately associate the two!  “Move Over” takes advantage of that Keifer shriek that isn’t too far removed from Janis.  From there on though, it’s filler.  Jason Bonham, Tico Torres and Mickey Curry do a pretty boring “Moby Dick”.  It’s funny how John Bonham sounds bigger on the original, than three drummers on this remake.  Then it’s a bunch of live jams from the Moscow concert:  “Hound Dog”, “Long Tall Sally”, “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Rock and Roll” (Bonham on drums again for the latter).  Vince Neil is hopelessly out-screamed by Sebastian Bach on the Zep tune.  All the singers participated, but Sebastian Bach and Tom Keifer blew ’em all away.

This disc has been out of print a while, but isn’t too hard to find.  80s rockers need to have it for its historical value.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Cinderella – Gold (2006)

CINDERELLA – Gold (2006 Universal)

When a band like Cinderella, who only have four studio albums, get a double CD “best of” compilation, it had better be good.  Fortunately Cinderella’s edition of the Gold series offers value for the money and unreleased live tracks to boot.

All the Cinderella albums are represented, including the criminally underrated Still Climbing album from 1994.  Cinderella did not “go grunge” as so many others did.  As “Bad Attitude Shuffle” indicates, they simply doubled down on their own brand of bluesy hard rock with bite.  From the same album, “Free Wheelin'” and “Talk is Cheap” both show fearless commitment to the genre.  Then the ballad “Through the Rain” also from Still Climbing provides the balance.  Cinderella have successfully employed ballads since day one, because they happen to be quite good at them.

Among their greatest ballads: “Don’t Know What You Got (‘Til It’s Gone)”, “Heartbreak Station”, “Coming Home”, “Wind of Change”, and “Nobody’s Fool”.  Each one of these tracks is worthy to be on this compilation.  Some of their slower material either bordered on blues, or were just flat-out blues songs.  Some are here:  “Long Cold Winter”, “Dead Man’s Road”, and “Sick For the Cure”.  Then there is the soulful “Shelter Me” that is harder to categorize.  But of course Cinderella are best known as a hard rock band, and most of the material falls into that vast category.  Many of these tunes are truly awesome.  “Shake Me” was first to gain attention, with some noting similarities to AC/DC.  “Hot and Bothered”, originally from the Wayne’s World soundtrack, combines the blues and rock in a tasty confection.  “Second Wind” from Long Cold Winter kicks ass, and “Gypsy Road” is here too, albeit in live form.

The live tracks are all credited to a Japanese promo CD called Last Train to Heartbreak Station, which appears to be a completely different thing from their Japanese EP called Live Train to Heartbreak Station.  Rarities are always welcome on a compilation, but one has to wish that the great single “Gypsy Road” was also included in its studio version.  It’s a good enough tune that it wouldn’t be a crime to have two versions on the same CD.

Because of their feminine name and some really bad wardrobe choices, Cinderella was written off by many people without hearing any of their rocking material.  While that is a real shame, Cinderella hasn’t made a new album in 23 years so this would be a good one-stop-shop to get much of their best material.  Augment this baby with a copy of their classic Long Cold Winter CD and you will have enough Cinderella to have a good representation of their best stuff.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Cinderella – Once Around the Ride…Then & Now (promo, inc. Heartbreak Station)

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I’m going to be covering more of my rarities in 2013.  This is part 2 of today’s Cinderella feature.  For part 1, a more comprehensive review of the Heartbreak Station CD, click Tommy Morais’ review here!

This Cinderella compilation is a rare promo.  Don’t know what a promo CD is?  Watch the educational video below starring yours truly!

Record Store Tales Part 117:  Promos

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CINDERELLA – Once Around the Ride…Then & Now (Promotional only, 1990 Polygram)

This is a really, really cool package.  Two discs:  Then… and Now…, showcasing the absolute best of Cinderella up to 1990, including two rare live bonus tracks.

Somewhat predictably, Then… is a greatest hits set from the first two records.  Five tunes from Night Songs, six from Long Cold Winter, which I rated 4.5/5 in a recent review.  Then, the aforementioned two bonus tracks:  “Shake Me” and “Night Songs”, performed live.  “Night Songs” was one that I owned previously on a rare Polygram compilation from ’92 called Welcome To The Jungle.  From what I can tell, these two tracks are originally from a 1987 European release called The Live EP, and it appears they’ve been recycled as bonus tracks on several items since, including a promo Kiss single for “Any Way You Slice It”!

Interestingly, the back cover states that the two bonus tracks are from a forthcoming EP also called Night Songs, an EP I’ve never seen or heard of before or since.

The tracks chosen are pretty much the tunes that anybody would have chosen given a compilation like this:  All the singles, and a selection of kickass album tracks such as “Night Songs”, “Fallin’ Apart At The Seams”, and “Push, Push”.  As a Cinderella collection of the early stuff, this is about as perfect a compilation as it gets.  As far as I’m concerned the only track it’s really missing is the awesome “Take Me Back” from Long Cold Winter, a great tune that would have made a perfect single.

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The second disc, Now… is the entire Heartbreak Station album (review here) from start to finish.  It even comes with the full booklet for Heartbreak Station, so this is how I chose to buy the album.  Heartbreak Station is another fantastic, underrated Cinderalla album.   It was clear from Long Cold Winter that the band was interested in exploring their underappreciated blues roots.   On Heartbreak Station, they ditched the glam and went full bore into those roots.

The opening track “The More Things Change” is aptly titled, but is actually the track most like their past work.  “Love’s Got Me Doin’ Time” is nothing but pure funky goodness, a completely unexpected twist.  The horn-laden “Shelter Me” was the first single (remember Little Richard in the video?), a really cool soul rock song.  The lyrics were totally on-trend in the wake of the fresh Judas Priest trial, a rant on Tipper Gore and the PMRC!

Tipper led the war against the record industry,
She said she saw the devil on her MTV

Sharp minded readers will remember that Tipper was prompted to start the PMRC when her kid was terrified by Tom Petty’s video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” on MTV!

I love Little Richard.

The centerpiece of the album is the title track, with strings by John Paul Jones.  The band were dissatisfied that they had to use synth on the previous album’s hit, “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)”.  John Paul Jones lent the band some serious credibility.  The song is a lush, sullen ballad with an incredible slide solo.  I remember some video channels played it under the wrong name back in ’91.  They were calling the song “The Last Train”.

Other winners:  The totally country-fied “One For Rock & Roll”, with loads of steel guitar, dobro, and 12 string.  The electrified “Love Gone Bad”, which also hearkens back to the Long Cold Winter sound in a powerful way.  “Dead Man’s Road”, which is a haunting, slow dark rocker with loads of acoustics.  Really, there are only a couple filler songs on the whole album.

This isn’t a cheap compilation to find today, but if you do happen upon it, pick it up.  It’s a collectible now, but not just that, it’s one you’ll actually play!

5/5 stars

GUEST REVIEW: Cinderella – Heartbreak Station (by Tommy Morais!)

I have a special Cinderella rarity review of my own coming later today, which relates to this album.  We need to take a good luck at Heartbreak Station to properly appreciate this rarity, so I asked the rock scholar Tommy Morais back for another guest shot!  Enjoy, and check out my part later today…

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CINDERELLA – Heartbreak Station (1990 Polygram)

I’ve loved the first two Cinderella albums and for the longest time I didn’t get around listening to their next two albums, Heartbreak Station and Still Climbing. I recently acquired Heartbreak Station and I have to say I missed out on some great music. They changed their roots from the Glam sound that made them popular to a more Blues-oriented direction and although I was very fond of their debut album Night Songs and its follow up Long Cold Winter it’s a change that I like. Cinderella on this album seem to be wanting to break away from the Glam mold, which was already evident from their second album, which already integrated blues elements into the music but pushed even further in that direction with their third album.  It introduced more acoustic and came dangerously to country many times, but Cinderella style of course, Heartbreak Station is anything but generic. As a Rock/Metal fan primarily the country direction wasn’t something I thought would have much appeal to me but I’m surprised at how much at I like it and how well the approach they took on this album works. Just have an open mind and you’ll see that they’ve matured as persons and musicians and Heartbreak is a culmination of that and the stunning result.

“The More Things Change” as an opening song is a statement of how they’ve changed their sound, evolved through the years as musicians and persons, it’s quick to show the new direction and is one of the catchiest and most memorable tracks off Heartbreak Station. “Love’s Got Me Doing Time” has a cool near psychedelic groove and even some Jimi Hendrix style of playing and while it’s very different and might seem a little out of place, it fits and adds diversity, it’s a cool track. “Shelter Me” is one of the best tracks from this album, it’s catchy and the chorus is instantly etched in your mind, it’s a quite effective track. Like Long Cold Winter, the title track of this album is both the longest cut, and the ballad. Cinderella have done amazing ballads (“Nobody’s Fool”, “Don’t Know What You Got“, “Long Cold Winter” all come to mind) and “Heartbreak Station” ranks up there, it’s touching, has a neat chorus, feels sincere and is just as good as any of the ballads they’ve done, albeit with a slightly different sound. The lyrics to me are heartbreaking and very personal and anyone’s who’s ever experienced a heartbreak will be touched by this one, a true tearjerker the highlight and centerpiece of the album. “Sick For The Cure” picks up the pace and gets things rocking a little more, it has great lyrics and Tom’s delivery is absolutely fantastic. “One For Rock And Roll” could be described as a happy go lucky, “I don’t care because I’m happy with simple things” bouncy delight. A simple effective and infectious song. “Dead Man’s Road” is a bluesy as Cinderella gets and Tom’s voice shines through altering between his normal and raspy voice. It’s one of the highlights of Heartbreak Station and it stands out, it takes you places. Reflecting lyrics on this one, “When I was young, my old man told me I could be what I wanted”, one of my favorite Cinderella songs. “Electric Love” stands out for being much different from the rest, the simplest way to explain it is that it’s a trip for the listener with its groove (reminiscent of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion”) and although it has a fixated chorus, it still goes places. “Love Gone Bad” and “Wind of Change” end the album tremendously well and on a high note, there is not a bad moment here.

Coming from a big fan of the band’s first two albums, Heartbreak Station is an incredible album that pursues different musical territories. It’s undeniably Cinderella but with a twist. This is one of my favourite albums of the 1990’s and while some of the bands tried (and failed) to adapt to the changing landscape of the decade, Cinderella is one of the few that I felt succeeded at doing so. They reinvented themselves successfully and even though I’m sure some of the early followers didn’t love the change, they reached out to people they couldn’t have otherwise. I’ve always maintained that Tom Keiffer is a superb songwriter who wrote amazing songs and on this album the maturity and beauty he reaches in the lyrics is something.

After Heartbreak Station Cinderella went on to release one more studio album Still Climbing (1994) but singer, leader and songwriter Tom Keifer struggled with his voice in the 1990’s and unfortunately they haven’t released anything since other than live albums. Musically and from an objective point of view Heartbreak Station is possibly Cinderella’s strongest album (especially if you dislike the Glam sound of the 80’s), however, I always had a soft spot for the first two albums the band released in the 1980’s and those songs will always be with me, but this is something else and I mean that in a VERY good way. HS is a GREAT album, it was great to see one of the bands branch out and do something unexpected and different. It’s a great little gem and even thought it was clear that they weren’t just another Glam band with big hair, this album validates it even more as they branched out and didn’t go for a commercial sound; they did what they wanted. If you liked the other Cinderella albums and have an open mind, or if you didn’t like the band’s early sound I think you’ll find a lot to like on Heartbreak Station. It’s deserving of the acclaim it receives from fans, I know it has a very special place in my collection.

5/5 stars