(4) quiet riot, "cum on feel the noize"
(5) warrant, "cherry pie"
and plays on in the sweet 16
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchshredness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on 3/15.
quiet riot vs the sexual healing syndrome: garrett caples on "cum on feel the noize"
for Chris and Jenn McCreary
Lightning in a bottle: one reaches for some such cliché of pop culture creation to account for Quiet Riot’s 1983 smash “Cum on Feel the Noize.” It was less a hit and more a phenomenon, for while it peaked at #5 on the single charts, it drove the album Metal Health (Pasha/Columbia) to #1, heavy metal’s first #1. “Cum” was all over the radio, true, but its ubiquity was manifested by uncharted airplay from jukeboxes, arcades, roller rinks, and, of course, the nascent MTV. Most crucially, it gripped the tween imagination. I was 11, and my colleagues and I subjected it to endless disputation at recess, my friend Eric Glew, for example, proposing the line “girls, rock your boys” was “girls, fuck your boys.” We knew it was dirty by way it spelled “Cum” so we imagined sexual content where there was none and reveled in its open obscenity as though it betokened a failure of the adult world to fully suppress the forbidden.
As if to abet this impression, my mother forbid me to buy Metal Health because of its creepy cover, though she allowed me to purchase the single, a white paper sleeve whose cutout disclosed the Dali-esque label of Pasha Records in powder blue. In the hour of their greatest triumph, poor Quiet Riot couldn’t even score a picture sleeve, so low were the expectations. It was a second single, after all, following the title track, which failed to chart until after this one, and even then stalled well short of top 20. All the picture sleeves in the world, moreover, couldn’t recreate the band’s one hour of triumph. That it happened at all remains one of the small miracles of pop music.
For Quiet Riot was terrible. Indeed, the Los Angeles quartet was on its second go-round in 1982, having broken up two years before after two Japan-only albums when original guitarist Randy Rhodes decamped to resuscitate post-Sabbath Ozzy. Metal Health was simultaneously a debut and a third album, which never bodes well for pop success. They were a hair metal band whose lead singer was going bald, Kevin DuBrow thus the unwitting prototype of Axl Rose. They were clearly a formidable enough live outfit, frequently opening for Van Halen during hair metal’s roots. But they were incapable of writing a radio hit.
Indeed they couldn’t even pick one. An inspired suit at Pasha Records forced them to cover “Cum on Feel the Noize,” a 1973 chart-topper for Black Country glam rockers Slade. UK chart-topper, that is, for its impact in America was minimal, barely scraping the top 100, while in England it shipped at #1. In the UK in 1973, Slade was killing it, dwarfing the sales of successful exports like Bowie, the Who, and the Stones, even chief domestic rival T.Rex. But the U.S. didn’t give a shit. To the American palate, Slade was steak & kidney pie soaked in warm Guinness, a spotted dick in a bottle of HP. DuBrow, moreover, resisted the idea, as did drummer and present brand custodian Frankie Banali, so the young rapscallions set out to sabotage the session by going way over the top. It’s a plot so metal it defies belief, but the opening salvo of DuBrow’s veinpopping yell and Banali’s impertinent rimshots sets the tone for one of the more transcendently irreverent readings in rock history.
For Quiet Riot fell victim to the Sexual Healing Syndrome. Legend has it an embittered Marvin Gaye, forced to fork out royalties from his next release to ex Anita Gordy per their divorce settlement, set out to record a cartoonish paean to sexual ecstasy in hopes of a flop. But his strength as an artist inheres in sexual ecstasy, and exaggerating it in self-send-up only increases it: he cannot be lame at it, and “Sexual Healing” goes #3 pop, #1 R&B. That this story isn’t true—or rather, is a distorted retelling of his album Here, My Dear (1976)—merely indicates its luminosity as a diagnostic tool, for while Quiet Riot is no Marvin Gaye, a hair metal band trying to sabotage a song by going over the top is equally impossible; the whole raison d’être of hair metal is going over the top. From Van Halen’s “Jump” to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” to Mötley Crüe’s “Looks That Kill,” the one criticism to which any classic of hair metal is impervious is too over-the-top. This is a genre with frequent recourse to the word WHOA! and over-the-topness is one of yardsticks by which to measure a song’s degree of success or failure. For supposing the group were enthralled with the song and wanted a massive hit: what else would they have done to it, except what they did out of spite and dislike?
What they did rewards analysis, even as the formula proved irreproducible. Where Slade swaggers languidly into action with an instrumental intro—stating the theme, as it were, compositionally—Quiet Riot gives us two bars of drums before an otherwise unaccompanied DuBrow begins bellowing the hook, shrewdly altering the original “Girls, grab the boys” lyric to something more befitting hair metal’s self-referential foregrounding of rocking. There’s no building of tension here, no anticipation; the song starts at 11 and stays at 11 until it’s done. The primitive quality of the drums, moreover, is key to the song’s transformation. Where the original is propelled by Slade drummer Don Powell’s crisp snare work, which combined with overdubbed maracas gives the groove the feel of a shuffle, QR’s Banali just pounds a two-four beat into the ground, the eighth-note delay of the second kick (1-2-&-4) imparting whatever swing the cover might be said to possess.
The other key ingredient is the guitar, for the original’s Chuck Berry-style rock chording easily transforms into the eighth-note pulse of power chords that is perhaps metal’s most defining characteristic, short of shredding itself. And there’s no shortage of shredding itself, courtesy Carlos Cavazo. Clearly no one told Carlos they were trying to make this suck, for the guitarist plays the hell out of his solo, implying an ecstatic version of the melody throughout while still managing to get in a convincing display of shredding. His tone is joy itself, infectious and soaring, stratospheric, even transcendent as it makes its merry way through the solo and during the fade. The job of the bassist in hair metal is to stay out of the guitarist’s way, and Rudy Sarzo does it admirably. While altogether lacking the power and inventiveness of Slade bassist and song co-writer Jim Lea, Sarzo does exactly what he should here, and even helps sell the “Girls, rock your boys” bit with a little rising lick.
Quiet Riot’s translation of “Cum on Feel the Noize” from glam to hair metal is entire. Even the backing vocals—written to induce audience participation in the tradition of the workingmen’s clubs of Slade’s Midlands—are cold and remote in the throats of Los Angelenos. Remarkably, without fundamentally altering the instrumentation or even the arrangement, Quiet Riot concocted that rare cover that vies for supremacy with a definitive original. It may even exceed it. Equally fascinating is the inability of all concerned to fully capitalize on Metal Health’s sextuple platinum success, unless you count Pasha Records, which rode out this score for a decade or more without ever birthing another hit. When pressed for a second Pasha band, the best commentators can do is Saskatchewan hair rockers Kick Axe, a band more heard of than heard.
It’s true Quiet Riot maintained enough momentum for the following year’s follow-up, Condition Critical (Pasha/Columbia, 1984), to hit #15 and go triple platinum. That “Cum on Feel the Noize” is responsible for these sales despite not being on Condition Critical is evident from the band’s failed attempt to revisit their success through another Slade cover. From the perspective of Slade’s oeuvre it may well be the most superficially similar song to “Cum on Feel the Noize,” but that doesn’t make “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” any less suitable to a hair metal makeover. Here the derring-do of their original attempt to sabotage their own recording gives way to anxious calculation, and something about this meditation on whiskey-drinking and money-spending stubbornly resists translation. QR squanders the opening on chant-at-you vocals and turgid tom fills, the hook lacks its predecessor’s innuendo, the solo sputters off into nervous unmusical shredding. This is enough to peak at #51 on the singles chart, the last time Quiet Riot will approach a radio hit. Their Wikipedia page characterizes this period with the apt heading “Steady Decline.”
It’s also true the magnitude of Quiet Riot’s “Cum on Feel the Noize” rejuvenated Slade’s career after a disastrous period during which they sacrificed their domestic momentum in a failed bid to break the American charts, only to return home to punk rock. On the brink of break up in 1980, they agreed to step in for Ozzy’s last minute cancellation at the Reading Festival and pulled a Queen-at-Live-Aid avant la lettre. The group had rolled with the times since the psychedelic era, but their name recognition as authors of “Cum” finally earned them a willing audience with the American public that years of opening for the likes of Humble Pie and ZZ Top had failed to secure. And so what did Slade trot out before this expectant audience crying, Author! Author!?
Somewhere in the bowels of youtube exists footage of co-author and lead singer Noddy Holder blithely telling a TV presenter about Slade’s long-cherished ambition to record a Scottish jig, which you might recognize as exactly the opposite of the right way to exploit the American success of “Cum on Feel the Noize.” In Slade’s defense, the electric fiddle-driven “Run Runaway” was simply the hit at hand, peaking at #7 in the UK and considered there a return to form. It was enough to score them their first American deal since the 1976 Warner Bros. release of Nobody’s Fools failed to chart at all in the U.S. And the U.S. liked “Run Runaway” far more than Quiet Riot’s “Mama Weer All Crazee Now,” well enough to land Slade their one appearance in the American top 20, the bottom rung of a June ’84 list topped by Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” But the U.S. was still confused, and learning the Slade of “Run Runaway” was the same Slade of “Cum on Feel the Noize” was as if learning “Stairway to Heaven” were secretly written by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. In England, the violin had been in the Slade’s arsenal since their first UK charttopper “Coz I Luv You” (1971), but in America in ’84 such instrumentation condemned you to an eccentric pop category close to novelty. A more anthemic follow-up single “My Oh My” managed to hit #37, but a further two albums on CBS failed to yield another American hit. The group’s one hour of American triumph slid into crushing defeat as Slade straggled on until Noddy finally pulled the plug in 1991, quitting to become a TV and radio presenter for the BBC. Slade bassist and hits co-writer Jim Lea slipped into a sullen if restless retirement, while non-songwriters Dave Hill and Don Powell immediately succumbed to touring East European metal festivals as a second-rate Slade cover band called Slade. There’s a documentary here on the level of Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) should some intrepid filmmaker choose to step into breach while they’re all still alive.
There’s a coda to Quiet Riot’s cover of “Cum on Feel the Noize,” by which I don’t mean the Oasis cover, which matters not in the slightest. I mean rather the anecdote once confided by Frankie Banali to Ludwig Drums and perhaps only still extant on the song’s wikipedia page: “I was shopping in Kensington Market and ran into (Slade bassist) Jimmy Lea, who co-wrote the song. I wanted to shake his hand and thank him for writing a great song. He looked into my face, and walked away leaving me with nothing in my hand but air!” This is a perfect illustration of the trials and tribulations of the music industry: everyone feeling bitter and betrayed; no one happy. It’s hard to imagine another ending to the story.
Garrett Caples is the author of several poetry collections, including Power Ballads (Wave, 2016), and a book of essays, Retrievals (Wave, 2014). He has edited many books including the forthcoming Preserving Fire: Selected Prose (Wave, 2017) by Philip Lamantia. He also works as an editor for City Lights, where he curates the Spotlight Poetry Series.
DAN KOIS ON WARRANT'S "CHERRY PIE"
Is Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” the worst song of the hair-metal era? It’s certainly among the simplest. Backed by a stadium-boilerplate drumbeat—kick-kick-BOOM, kick-kick-BOOM—electric guitars deliver E chords and A chords in martial unison. The drum fills come exactly where you think they will; the guitar solo does exactly what you think it should; the late key change doesn’t energize the song so much as just bring it back to level.
And the lyrics? The lyrics of “Cherry Pie” are as simple as a nursery rhyme, albeit one about fucking. Where are the places that the singer and his “cool drink of water” can be found swingin’? In the bathroom. On the floor. The living room. The kitchen. The front porch. The lawn. Wherever they want to, ‘cause there’s nobody home. Warrant lead singer Jani Lane was under orders from his label Columbia to pen one last song for their upcoming record, a big sex anthem, a hit. Lane wrote “Cherry Pie,” he said, in 15 minutes. Nothing about the song suggests we should doubt that story. Maybe he’s overstating it, actually? The song seems not to have been written at all but to have emerged fully formed on first performance, an artifact so elementally pure that it might have been improvised by a group of comedians given the audience suggestion “hair metal.”
And if the song is an ode to unsubtlety, its music video—which flooded MTV in the fall of 1990—is the national anthem for an unsubtle country in the most blatantly dumb period of its history. (Until now, maybe.) The girl who is Lane’s cherry pie—model Bobbie Brown, who would later marry Lane—is blonde, red-lipped, wearing roller skates and jeans shorts, the archetypal virginal sexpot of turn-of-the-decade music television. She pouts, grins, kissy-faces the camera. She prances, she dances, she giggles delightedly as she is blasted with water from a high-power firefighter’s hose. If you were 15 in 1990 and wondered upon hearing the song, Could “cherry pie” mean what I think it means?, the video did away with that sole mystery 30 seconds in by showing a tumbling slice of pie landing on a bemused Brown, plopping onto her lap in a perfect pubic triangle. The only thing more absurd than the video is the unforgivable fact that somehow, Beavis and Butt-head never once watched it.
The video is, in its way, perfect: a feverish burst of peacocking, a memory bomb from a time in which the only people more garishly teased than the music-video girl were the band members themselves. Lane wears black leather pants, thin leather suspenders, and leather gloves. His glorious blonde hair, longer than Brown’s, is held back by a black bandana, except in the scene in which Lane and Brown are interrupted mid-swinging by her father – then he is nude but for a black leather baseball cap, brim popped at a jaunty and suggestive 45-degree angle.
I could watch the video a thousand times and still find something new in it. (It is edited more wildly than a Transformers movie; in its three minutes and 19 seconds I count 314 separate shots. Cherry π, indeed.) Drummer Steven Sweet pounding his sticks into actual splattering cherry pies. The mitt-shaped couch upon which Brown perches for the song’s one out-of-nowhere lyric about baseball. And the horrible rictus Lane displays in the video’s nightmarish climax, a smile ten miles wide, the image of which no one who saw that video as a teenager can ever forget:
To hear the song now is to hear a rich musical tradition—the hard-rock anthem—at the end of years and years of major-label reduction, a product finally not of aesthetics or rage or sex or hunger or any of the complex urges that once drove the music’s creation but of pure commerce. It is a simple syrup of a song, sickly sweet and addictive. It is rock and roll at its perigee, but still somehow possessing the power of rock and roll. And it was, in its way, an end of things.
In 1992, or so the story goes, Jani Lane stopped by the Columbia Records building in L.A. to strategize with the label about the band’s next album, following the top-10 Cherry Pie. Lane had been in the Columbia offices before; behind the president’s secretary’s desk was mounted a framed print of the cover of Warrant’s first album, Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich. (A sly touch from a label exec, to display a grotesque corporate stooge lighting Benjamins on fire.)
But things were changing. Nirvana’s Nevermind had exploded. Lane kept hearing “Evenflow” on the radio, even on once-reliable metal stations. Hair metal was being replaced by the flannel authenticity of grunge—itself another costume, of course, as teased and presentational as leather and hairspray. Above the secretary’s desk, the Warrant album cover was gone. It had been replaced by Alice in Chains. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.
In 1990, Dan Kois was a junior in high school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His cherry pie was actual cherry pie, which is delicious. PS Buy his book.