Hi Everybody!!! Today, Robert Returns to us with a new Supergroups article. Although both of this band’s albums came out in the ’90s, there are obvious ’80s ties. Two of the members came from two of my favorite bands. I bought the Damn Yankees cassette the day it came out. A few months later, I was shipped to the Middle East for Desert Shield. I made sure I brought this tape with me! Every song is incredible. Now, let’s have Robert take it away and mystify us with this awesome band!
Damn Yankees – An Almost in the ‘80s Supergroup
“Hey, hey, damn yankees! O-O-O damn yankees!” No, this is not a line from the Broadway musical or the emphatic screams of Red Sox fans. This is a sign that the time is right for another rocking supergroup from the ‘80s, well kind of.
Technically, Damn Yankees released their debut album, Damn Yankees, in 1990. Because of their ‘80s rock style and the fact that three of the members are legends in their own right, I am going to grandfather them into the 1980s. The band formed as a result of the combination of Tommy Shaw from the mega successful band Styx, Jack Blades from the very successful Night Ranger, and Ted Nugent who had been a successful solo artist in the ‘70s and ‘80s as well as a member of the Amboy Dukes. These three added drummer Michael Cartellonne and Damn Yankees was complete and ready to record an excellent rock album.
While I was never a huge Ted Nugent fan personally, I had friends who were so I was able borrow a few records and familiarize myself with some of his work. Songs like “Stranglehold” and “Cat Scratch Fever” were staples on classic rock radio, and I was quite familiar with them. Nugent’s other albums led me to discover his wild rocking ways. In contrast, I was a huge fan of Styx. I had loved their music ever since I heard “The Best of Times” on the radio as a kid. I recorded this song off of the radio and wore that tape out, so I asked my parents for a few bucks and ran out to buy Paradise Theater (I still have that vinyl copy- remember the cool design actually printed on the record?). I was an enormously huge fan of Night Ranger. I owned all of their albums and loved every song. The hard driving guitars, great choruses, and vocals of both Jack Blades and Kelly Keagy had always appealed to me. Needless to say, I was very excited to hear what the combined talents of these great rock musicians had in store.
I am happy to reveal that I was in no way disappointed – Damn Yankees hit on everything that I loved about ‘80s rock. Right from the beginning of the first track I knew that I was about to have a special listening experience. Powerful guitars by Nugent and Shaw, a driving bass by Blades, strong drumming by Cartellone – this album had everything I needed in rock. Add to that smooth vocals by both Shaw and Blades with absolutely addictive hooks in each song and this album quickly became one of my favorites that I forced my friend to listen to.
Damn Yankees’ first album sold quite well, 2 million copies, giving it double platinum status. There were a total of five singles that had various levels of success. The biggest hit from the album was the classic rock ballad “High Enough”. The song received major airplay and was in high rotation on MTV. I have great memories of walking back to my college dorm from English class and heading right to the lounge were 20 of us gathered every day to watch Total Request Live on MTV – “High Enough” had quite a run and was one we all sang out loud. This song reached #3 on the American Top 40 charts. The other singles were “Coming of Age” #60, “Come Again” #50, “Runaway”, and “Bad Reputation” which both charted on the rock charts but failed to appear on the Top 40 listings.
Now it’s probably time to check out these awesome songs.
Coming of Age
This was the first Damn Yankees song that I heard on the radio before I bought the album. It captured all of the energy that the band brings to their music. From Nugent’s opening chords to Blades’s excellent vocals, this song hits all of the right notes. Lyrically it is concerned with the difficulty most of have in the transition from teenagehood to adulthood, “Dressed to kill and looking dynamite / With her high lace stockings and her sweater so tight / I asked her name / She said her name was Maybe.” It is not our own maturity that is the focus, rather the hard to believe growth of those we once saw as children. This song rocks, has a great guitar solo, and a chorus that stays with you.
This song has a heavy dose of Night Ranger influence. It is not just Blades’s vocals, but the rhythm guitar and the phrasing of the lyrics that really sound like vintage Night Ranger. So saying, this song has a great kick. Don’t miss this bridge where Blades and Shaw have echoing lines that lead into a nice harmony and guitar solo.
Another rocker with an excellent, catchy chorus. This song does not do anything original lyrically – a girl from a small town in is unhappy so she takes off – but it a solid track.
This is easily the most recognizable song on this album. It remains a song that not only appears on most compilations of ‘80s rock ballads, but it constantly played on nearly every classic rock or hair band radio station. It is an excellent ballad that features killer love song lyrics, “I don’t want to live without you anymore / Can’t you see I’m in misery and you know for sure? / I’d live and die for you and I know just what to do when you call me ‘baby’.” It tells that typical love story of the love that just does not fade and yearns to be maintained. It also has a smooth acoustic guitar and a great solo played by Nugent. In the video, note that Nugent’s long zebra patterned coat matches his signature guitar. I also really enjoy the lead vocals that alternate between Shaw and Blades.
The open guitar riff defines this song as a great rocker. Lyrically, this song smacks of Nugent’s out-spoken support of all things American. Oh, and the guitar solo is pretty dang good – no surprise.
This song starts out as an acoustic guitar driven ballad with Shaw taking the lead on vocals. It has a very Styx-like sound- like “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” . . . and then Nugent’s guitar kicks in and we have another great rock song. When the guitar takes center stage, Shaw belts out, “Been so long since I’ve seen you, girl / Swear I’ve been around the world / Every room is an empty space / In the darkness I see your face.” This song quickly becomes one that demands to be played again.
This one sounds like a preview of what Shaw and Blades will sound like on their forthcoming album Hallucination. The guitar work is prominent, but more subdued. It has a clear bass track supplied by Blades and a good groove established by Cartellonne’s drums.
Nothing but pure rock here! Great track.
Tell Me How You Want It
Here is another addictive rock song that is a bit more melodic and has a seriously catchy chorus. The lyrics are about that man who will do anything – or be anyone – just to get that girl.
This is the one song on this album that took me the longest to get used to and even like. It is the song that is most influenced by Nugent. I immediately liked the conversational, laid back tone that the song opens with, but it does not last long. This tune quickly becomes aggressive and heavy metal influenced. The pace is fast and the guitars wail -as do Nugent’s vocals. It took some time, but this song really grew on me.
In 1992 Damn Yankees released a second album, Don’t Tread. The album sold enough to be certified gold, but did not reach the heights of their first release. The music on this album rocks just as much as the first; personally, I feel it is an underrated album that has plenty of great rock songs. I will include three songs from this second album.
Don’t Tread On Me
This is the first track on their second album and it picks up right where the first one left off: great guitar work, smooth vocals, and an infectious chorus. “You better not set your sights on me / ‘Cause it might spoil your victory” – great stuff, and yes, another superb solo.
Where You Goin’ Now
This song is every bit as good as High Enough. It is a perfect blend of what all four members of the band had to offer. This song received some good airplay, but I wish more people were familiar with it – the band’s talent really shines through. There is a line in this song that says, “There’s a crack in the mirror / There is a hole in the sun / Full moon in the midnight sky / And you feel like you want to run.” I am not sure that there is a connection here, but Night Ranger released an album entitled Hole in the Sun in 2008.
Silence is Broken
Here is another great song that I fear too many people have not heard. Musically, this song has everything a fan of rock needs. And the lyrics are not bad either, “The silence is broken now / It’s over now / The words have been spoken / And with every word you say / You blow away / The tears of another time.”
I do not think that it is too much to say that Damn Yankees was one of the best supergroups to grow out of the ‘80s rock era. The combinations of these great rock artists produced some very high quality rock music. If you have not given this band much of a listen, now is the time. Be sure you include the second album Don’t Tread – it is a hidden gem.
On a quick side note: Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades combined without Ted Nugent to record two albums together. Hallucination in 1995 and an album of cover songs called Influence in 2007. I highly recommend that first one – great music.Follow @returntothe80s