The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s that I have acquired through Purchase Street Records in New Bedford, MA.
The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from the 1980’s 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.
Winger – Winger (1988)
I know that it is somewhat fashionable to kick Winger whenever it comes to talking about bands that represented the downside of the 80’s metal heyday, but I think a lot of people have selectively convenient memories when it comes to the band’s debut album.
The four members (Kip Winger, Reb Beach, Paul Taylor and Rod Morgenstein) of the band each had a solid musical pedigree prior to the formation of Winger (The Dixie Dregs, Alice Cooper and studio work on the Twisted Sister album Love Is For Suckers are just some of their combined background).
The album and band, accompanied by some hit videos, was a solid performer out of the starting gate. It eventually went platinum. They toured all over the place (I saw them open for Bad Company at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre in 1988, where I got to meet the band. Heck, I still have the album cover flat they signed as well as the jean jacket that a couple of them signed as well).
As for the album itself, it was a bit hit and miss in parts, but the high points are really quite good. The first three songs on Side 1 are probably some of their best work in the first part of their career. “Madalaine” was a great uptempo rock song that amply fit the bill for that first single to introduce the band to listeners and get them hooked for the rest of the album. “Hungry” was a song that was pretty good upon first listen and gets better over time. I hadn’t heard that particular track in a while and found that I really got into it all over again when I listened to it for this article. And then you have what is probably the band’s most famous and controversial song, “Seventeen.” Now back in 1988 singing about some hot chick that was “only seventeen” might’ve been mildly offputting for some, but in general the song was just that, a song. You’d find yourself singing along without actually considering doing something statutory. Of course, in this day and age, that song wouldn’t even be allowed on an album with the sentiments it conveys. Can you imagine how controversial it would be now?
The last two tracks on the first side of the album are a little troubling for me. The ballad “Without The Night” was a mediocre at best slice of yearning and whining. But that is nothing compared to what is rightfully considered one of the worst cover songs ever recorded. I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to cover the Jimi Hendrix song “Purple Haze” but they need some professional counseling. This is only compounded by the fact that the record company actually allowed this dreadful song on the album.
Side 2 of the album started off with the more uptempo “State of Emergency” but it just isn’t a song that meant a whole lot to me then or now. But the double shot of “Time To Surrender” and “Poison Angel” that follow show the band in a pretty in your face rocking kind of way. It gives listeners a shake and they are the kind of song that always manages to get me fired up.
Of course, “Hanging On” isn’t much to write home about so that kind of dampens the enthusiasm for Side 2 a bit. The album closing with Winger’s big ballad hit “Headed For A Heartbreak” is a prime example of what happens when a metal band did a ballad that was designed to get as much airplay as possible and make the women fall in love with the band. When I first heard the song, I liked it. There’s no denying that. But then when it became a single, you couldn’t get away from the song and I found myself growing to hate the song. Even now, my acquired distaste for the song, due to it being completely overplayed, kind of made the song “white noise” to me. Your ears just kind of push the song to the background.
Now despite my varied criticisms of the album, I do like the album overall. It was a fun release during a fun time for rock and metal fans. And believe me, Winger was quite popular. Like I said, I know people like to pretend that they didn’t like Winger when they were big, but they are generally lying their butts off. And why is that? Well, we have a crappy cartoon called Beavis & Butthead to thank for that bit of revisionist history.
Yeah I said it! I thought that MTV cartoon was a flaming dung heap in the first place, but Winger obviously has a bigger axe to grind because once the show made them their weekly whipping boy, Winger’s career cratered like you wouldn’t believe.
But for those who don’t follow trends and stick to what they believe, the debut Winger album still stands out as a good memory.
NOTES OF INTEREST: Dweezil Zappa plays a solo on the “Purple Haze” cover. Guitarist Reb Beach played with Dokken on their 1999 album Erase The Slate and has been a member of Whitesnake since 2002. Winger’s 2014 album was called Better Days Comin’ and is chock full of great fast paced rockers (ignore the gawdawful ballads).