Saturday, December 13, 2008

Artist Spotlight - Loverboy

I never noticed until now how much actor John C Reilly resembled Paul Dean (l.) - can we expect a Will Farrell / John C Reilly parody of Loverboy soon?

When I read the news on Melodicrock that Loverboy is going to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame next year, I felt the need to show my appreciation of the 80's Arena Rockers. Mike Reno, Paul Dean, Matt Frenette, Doug Johnson and Scott Smith made up a healthy part of my listening diet in high school. Because in that decade it was fashionable to throw on a big headband and wear matching black leather outfits with your friends. Actually, the group's image or insult inducing name wasn't what I listened to them for, Loverboy was a straight up Pop Rock unit with touches of New Wave and a bit of gusto. And now, the career of one of Canada's finest - Loverboy!

Loverboy (1980)

One of the first records I ever bought, the quintet's debut album was one I didn't think much of at the time. I thought the sound was muddy and the songwriting not quite as "clean" (meaning they tended to get a little rawer and darker than their later albums). And the album art was confusing, the front cover looked Punk yet the band photos on the back looked Brady Bunch. Back then I played exactly three songs from this record: the fun-kay Turn Me Loose, the mid tempo fist pumper The Kid Is Hot Tonite and the automatically dated Lady of the 80's (because I wanted a lady of the 80's of course. Oh Justine Bateman, where are you now? Mallory! Sha la la la...). Their upbeat anthemic sound with Reno's strong vocals (although he always seemed to enunciate like a guy with marbles in his mouth to me) was a huge draw for me. A few years ago I picked up a Loverboy comp that had "Prissy Prissy" and "Little Girl" on it, I found that I now liked those attitude driven rockers as well. Careerwise, this record got the band's career off to a good start and sold well.

Get Lucky (1981)

For a few months, Loverboy captured the sound all of America wanted - barrelling Pop Rock feel good tunes with swerving New Wave synth hooks. The first single Working for the Weekend became a Rock standard, leaving people like me going off the deep end and wanting more cow bell. "Weekend"s impact drove Get Lucky to Platinum sales and was one of the best selling records of 1982. I was also hooked on the slower jams Take Me To The Top and When It's Over, both rendered with cool passion. The semi ironic Lucky Ones had some 'tude and the Bryan Adams penned Jump (not the Van Halen song) added more rockin' fun. Even the record's off moments worked. The ridiculous street cred posturing of Gangs in the Street shoots for drama but finds the funny instead. And Emotional is a rip of the Stone's Respectable. Nonetheless, Get Lucky was a benchmark of greatness in my book. And the toe tapping It's Your Life is in a class by itself, keyboardist Doug Johnson shines on this album.

Keep It Up (1983)

While the debut album was one of the first records I had bought, the first Loverboy item I owned was a cassette of Keep It Up. It all started innocently, I was watching Friday Night Videos and saw what is only the-greatest-music-video-ever Queen of the Broken Hearts. I videotaped that thing and played it over and over in that super annoying way that teenagers do when they find something new (my brother's relentless playing of New Edition is burned in my brain. Didjya get my secret? Didjya? Didjya?) I wanted to run out into the desert to meet Hot Girls in Love and rock out in a sandstorm. Yes, in reality I would probably die of dehydration and have no survival skills and any beautiful women that live in a desert alone are probably part of a cult but I was a teenager, I didn't know that. I only knew that it looked cool.

My neighbor Mike who used to tune me into new music hated Loverboy and ridiculed drummer Matt Frenette for moving his mouth while he played. Mike would say "What is he doing? Saying the notes?" Then Circus magazine compared the ballad "It's Never Easy" to a Todd Rundgren song and he borrowed Keep It Up for a month.

Elsewhere on the tape there were a lot of nuclear fear in tracks like "Strike Zone" and "Meltdown". I used to think the funky "Passion Pit" was about an orgy (I'll say it again, I was a teenager!) My last strong feeling from this tape came a few years later, I was playing it in my car when my friend Rick started saying "Predictable. Mew-sick." over and over during "Chance of a Lifetime". Couldn't deny it, he had me there. But I still like it.

Lovin' Every Minute of It (1985)

This tape was the one I played more than any other Loverboy before it. Bruce Fairbairn had done a phenomenal job of Producing during the first three Loverboy campaigns. Guitarist Paul Dean wanted something different than the tight and slick sonics the band had before, so Judas Priest Producer Tom Allom was brought in. The keyboards were peeled back a touch, the New Wave jettisoned and a lot more guitar was added. This was Loverboy's Arena Rock heart free of any frills. The Mutt Lange written Title Track was commercialized headbanging lite establishing the format Def Leppard would use well a few years later. The Journeyish power ballad This Could Be The Night was effective and included a co-write with the Journeymeister himself, Jon Cain. Another Bryan Adams cut, the stomping Dangerous, also had an impact. For me the highlight was "Friday Night", a party hard shout out to people still working for that weekend. And the not to subtle innuendo of "Bullet in the Chamber" is classic. I wore this tape out.

I saw Loverboy live on this tour and had a blast. They were incredibly energetic and sounded fantastic. Shortly after the band would have their last big hit, Top Gun's Heaven in your Eyes.

Wildside (1987)

I covered this album in detail before so I'll be brief this time. Wildside started off promisingly with the fast paced Bon Jovi collaboration Notorious. But it quickly fell off after that. Despite the return of Bruce Fairbairn to the Producer's chair the band was admittedly tired at this point and it showed in generic songs like "Walkin On Fire" or "Hometown Hero". After three consecutive Platinum records Wildside could only go Gold illustrating the fall off. They even dropped the typewritten logo! Solo attempts followed like Paul Dean's now out of print excursion that included the excellent "Sword and Stone" while Mike Reno popped up on a Two Corey's soundtrack with "Whenever There's A Night".

Big Ones (1989)

Normally I wouldn't include a Greatest Hits in a Spotlight because it usually doesn't add anything new. Not the case here as Big Ones adds three new songs in. The single Too Hot had minimal impact but when teamed up with its counterparts "Ain't Lookin' For Love" and "For You" the group shows they were looking to reclaim some energy and glory. Almost no keyboards are in these songs leaving heavy guitar and Reno's youthful voice. Big Ones failed to recapitulate the band's career, instead it put the punctuation mark on what would be the end of their peak period.

Six (1997)

I keep meaning to get the disc but never have so I really can't say anything about it. Loverboy was pretty far off my listening radar at this point, I didn't even know this was released until years later. I will take this spot to talk about the sad event that brought Loverboy back to national attention, in 2000 bassist Scott Smith drowned in the San Francisco Bay. It was pretty big news around here, a tragic end to the a fine bassist who embodied the band's young spirit (in videos he was portrayed as the smiling playa of the group).

Just Getting Started (2007)

Nearly a decade later Loverboy recorded their most recent effort, Just Getting Started. While it would be easy to write off anything Loverboy does at this point, I downloaded this album when I was subscribing to E Music and found it to be very good. Mike Reno dominates this album as he was inspired by the end of a relationship, the songs have that famous mix of big rockers like the title track or "Lost With You" and power ballads like The One That Got Away. I played this one in my car a lot last year, a worthy slice of Pop Rock that succeeds in both modernizing their sound while staying true to their roots.

So congratulations Loverboy to your induction to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. As they prep for the ceremony only one question remains: will it be red leather or black leather? Can't wait to hear that cow bell!


Some Kinda Wonderful said...

Wow! I never really realized how many Loverboy tunes I knew. And knew the words to, too. Cool post, Mr. Mike, add my congrats to yours. Way to go guys!

Mr. Mike said...

Thanks Some Kinda Wonderful! I'm happy to see the band get the positive recognition they deserve.

Cally said...

I am a avid/huge LOVERBOY FAN. You know your Loverboy. Sometimes I get razzed for knowing every song from every album, but heck, I think these guys rock!! Love those headbands and leather pants, then and now. I have a website if you would like to see my craziness...

I also run a myspace page for them and a facebook page for them. Glad to call them my friends!

Mr. Mike said...

Thanks Cally! I looked at your website, very nice. Cool site!