BY JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
JOHN WAITE – NO BRAKES (1984)
Back in 2017, I wrote a couple of articles covering the John Waite solo releases Temple Bar and Rover’s Return. However, since then I haven’t returned to Waite’s catalog to write more about him.
The decision to cover another of Waite’s releases now came about not because I pulled the cassette out of The Big Box of Cassettes this time around. Rather, it was a post by a music friend of mine, Rob Keib, over on Facebook that served as the catalyst for this piece. I know Rob through seeing him at shows and shopping at the same record shop. He posted that he’d seen a documentary on Waite a week or so back (from the time this article is posted). It’s called John Waite: The Hard Way and he enjoyed it.
Seeing as I consider myself a big fan of John Waite, I looked up the movie and checked it out for myself. Rob was right, it was a very compelling look at the singer’s career and how he was dealing with life during the pandemic when touring was shut down.
Starting with his time in The Babys and then focusing mainly on his solo career after that (the Bad English days gets some mention but they don’t go into that band too deeply), the movie paints a picture of Waite as a driven, fiercely independent artist trying to make music on his own terms. Again, just a really great look into his life and career.
And so I thought that while Waite considers the Temple Bar album his finest work, I would go back and take a listen once again to my personal favorite album of his. And so now, here’s what I have to say about the No Brakes album.
Because “Missing You”, which remains a quintessential 1980’s power ballad, was such a massive hit back in the day, anyone not familiar with Waite might be expecting an album chock full of similar sounding tracks.
Well, that assumption gets upended pretty damn quickly with the opening song “Saturday Night”. This track is a ferociously rocking number that explodes out of the speakers with a relentless drive. You can’t help but get pumped up by this track. The guitar work, by the song’s co-writer Gary Myrick, is absolutely killer and John Waite takes no prisoners with a vocal turn that will knock your socks off.
That leads into “Missing You”, so the tempo shift is quite dramatic between the two songs. Now I make no secret of the fact that I had never heard of John Waite before I started hearing this song on the radio. And for a ballad, I not only loved it back then but even now when I hear it on the radio station I have to listen to at work, I’m always transported back to when I first heard the song. It’s a song that holds up even all these decades later. Hell, I can still remember how the video for the song played out without even seeing it.
I can remember how I was immediately taken with the album as a whole when I first got my hands on the cassette. Oh, and yes, the cassette I listened to in order to write the article is the one I bought back in the day.
I really liked the song “Dark Side of the Sun”, it had a kind of dramatic presentation to the music and the way Waite’s vocals came off in the song gave the song an added sense of life. When I would sing along (badly) to this particular track, I always liked the way “It’s a rock and roll wasteland” came off.
The song “Restless Heart” was the one song that John Waite wrote on his own for the album. (He also co-produced the album). It’s an intriguing track with a mid-to-uptempo pace. There’s a sweet guitar lick in the song that I like a lot as well.
The first side of the album ends with the song “Tears”, which was the album’s other single. While it wasn’t nearly as successful as “Missing You”, it did crack the Top 40 singles chart peaking at #37. It’s a solid rock number and I love the lyrics. I think John Waite was just incredible in his performance on this song.
The second side of No Brakes opens with the song “Euroshima”, the second song on the album that was a co-write between just Waite and guitarist Gary Myrick. When I first heard this song back in 1984, I remember thinking the way the music comes off, the song had kind of an post apocalyptic feel to it. Now, that was just my first impression back when I was all of 13-years old so it is likely wrong, but it’s funny how first impressions stick with you. Plus the song title kind of leads you that way. The song switches back and forth in tempo, the main lyrical passages are delivered in a slightly slower and hushed manner, but during the choruses, the music is far faster and the vocals grow into something far more intense. I always loved when I got the end of Side One because I knew I’d be flipping the cassette over and getting to hear this song right off the bat.
On “Dreamtime / Shake It Up”, you get a pretty damn enthralling rocking soundtrack to draw you in and then Waite seals the deal with his vocal turn on the song. The No Brakes album has an abundance of killer music to go along with Waite’s sometimes searing, sometimes soaring vocals and this song is a perfect blend of both aspects.
The intro for the song “For Your Love” immediately captures you with a burst of energy musically. Start to finish, the song rocks! And call me crazy, but I think one of the reasons for this is that the song is credited to the four main players on the album. Waite and Gary Myrick of course, but bassist Donnie Nossov and drummer Curly Smith have co-write credits for the song as well. I think the nucleus of the band being involved in the creation of the song gives it that much more in terms of a cohesive whole. Oh, and lyrically the song is damn good as well. I loved the line “My mind wanders / To the nights when I had you alone / Reality becomes science fiction / And my heart’s in the war zone”.
That creative foursome is also credited on the album closing “Love Collision”. While still more of an uptempo delivery, it’s not quite as intensely rocking as “For Your Love” but it is still a pretty damn good track and a nice way to tie the album up in a metaphorical bow.
To the best of my knowledge, the only John Waite solo release that has gotten reissued in the so-called modern day is the album Ignition. That came via the British label Rock Candy Records. If there have been others, I’m not aware of them.
That said, I think the No Brakes album would be a perfect candidate for a reissue/remaster release from either Rock Candy or some other label that specializes in such releases.
The reason I say this is that while Waite cites Temple Bar as his finest work, the No Brakes album was, is and shall always be my own personal favorite solo release from John Waite and I would love for more people to come around to my way of thinking about the album. It’s packed full of some incredibly rocking music outside of the massive “Missing You” hit song and every time I think of the album, I remember anew just how much I love it!
NOTES OF INTEREST: According to Wikipedia, the No Brakes album was certified gold in 1984. In the nearly 40 years since that certification, there doesn’t seem to be any further update on if the album ever got a higher level like platinum. It peaked at #10 on the Billboard album chart.
I got to see John Waite in concert back in 2018 in New Bedford, MA at The Vault. He put on a great show!
Despite my love of the No Brakes album, I had never really dug into the behind the scenes creation of it before now. What I found out was very interesting. There’s a HUGE Kiss-related component to the album’s songwriting! The song “Dark Side of the Sun” was written by Jean Beauvoir. Besides being with the Plasmatics and leading his own band Crown of Thorns, Beauvoir co-wrote and played on two tracks for the Kiss album Asylum.
Meanwhile, the song “Tears” is credited to Vincent Cusano and Adam Mitchell. Any Kiss fan knows Cusano better as Vinnie Vincent, but I was surprised to discover that Mitchell wrote songs for the Kiss albums Killers, Creatures of the Night, Crazy Nights and Hot in the Shade.
Bruce Brody, who played keyboards on the album, has worked with artists such as The Pretenders, Patti Smith, Joe Bonamassa, Rickie Lee Jone and both Lone Justice and that group’s singer Maria McKee in her solo work.