John Kay And Steppenwolf were one of the essential American rock groups of the late 60’s and 70’s, but this album is 80’s AOR. OMG!
Written by: Dangerzone
ARTIST: John Kay And Steppenwolf
ALBUM: Rock N Roll Rebels
SERIAL: NU 1563
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: John Kay – vocals, guitar * Rocket Ritchotte – guitar * Michael Wilk – bass, keyboards * Ron Hurst – drums
TRACK LISTING: 01 Give Me Life * 02 Rock N Roll Rebels * 03 Hold On (Never Giove Up, Never In) * 04 Man On A Mission * 05 Everybody Knows You * 06 Rock Steady (I’m Rough And Ready) * 07 Replace The Face * 08 Turn Out The Lights * 09 Give Me News I can Use * 10 Rage
WEBLINKS: Site Link
Think of the name Steppenwolf and immediately images of tough leather clad rockers springs to mind, with John Kay belting out the lyrics to ‘Born To Be Wild’ in 1968, heralding the age of heavy metal. Indeed John Kay And Steppenwolf were one of the essential American rock groups of the late 60’s and 70’s, up there with Grand Funk in the stakes for most influential of their time.
Then came the 80’s and this album. I was directed to this by a trusted acquaintance and I’ll be honest, I couldn’t believe what I was listening to. I know a majority of bands turned to AOR in the 80’s, but I’m sure nobody would ever have thought John Kay And Steppenwolf, the rebel himself, would create an album so melodic and synthesizer oriented that it defies belief.
In all fairness 1984’s ‘Paradox’ was in the same boat, but not quite as spectacular as this. Having reformed the band in the early 80’s, Kay was the only original remaining and by 1987 it was essentially a solo project and clearly the man had been swayed by the melodic revolution of the era. But the extent to which he had is mindblowing, with new recruit Ritchotte (of Stan Bush & Barrage fame) being one of the stars of the show here.
It’s hard to do the songs here the proper justice. Every track is a classic, to the point I listened in disbelief. If you love parping 80’s synths pushed to the point of overkill, I guarantee you’ve never run into an album quite like this. There’s a melodic guitar solo and break in every song, all of them quite unbelievable in scope.
Just listen to ‘Man On A Mission’ for example, it’s the true definition of 1987, the intro simply stunning in execution with its keyboard bludgeon. Kay sings constantly about being an aging rebel sticking to his guns, staying in the fight, witnessed in the supreme anthem ‘Hold On (Never Give Up, Never Give In)’, a hymn for the 60’s generation I assume.
What I could best compare this album to is Blackfoot‘s self-titled 1987 AOR effort, so if you’ve ever heard that you might know what to expect here, only this is so much more blatant in terms of AOR execution.
All the songs are great, but the chorus to ‘Rock Steady (I’m Rough and Ready)’ will have you shaking your head once it hits. They’re all soundtrack songs, every single one. Kay even tries a ballad, ‘Turn Out The Light’ being of the slow dancing variety made for a late 80’s school dance and might have been a hit if it had been used by Bon Jovi.
‘Give Me News I Can Use’ appeared first on their 1984 album but was reworked here, sounding like Huey Lewis And The News in the process too, with far more emphasis on the keyboards. ‘Rage’ is the veritable icing on the cake, with the synth-guitar interplay on overload, an assault on the senses with all the melody taking shape.
This album from John Kay And Steppenwolf is defined for me by the melodic instrumental section of opener ‘Give Me Life’, from approximately 2:18 to 2:45 the pumping synths and guitar solo define what AOR should always sound like and define what this album is all about.
If you can get this one then don’t hesitate to obtain it any way possible. For that matter, both the 1984 ‘Paradox’ and 1990 ‘Rise And Shine’ albums are worth tracking down too. But there’s something about this album which steals the show and that of course is the total AOR abandon which is all consuming.
This should have sold ten million, not Def Leppard or Whitesnake. It’s nice to know it’s still possible to be surprised however, because it will be a while before I’m done listening to this.
Rock N Roll Rebels
Give Me Life (Live)