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.
DAMN YANKEES – DAMN YANKEES (1990)
On paper, the team up of Jack Blades, Tommy Shaw and Ted Nugent (along with newcomer drummer Michael Cartellone) might seem a wee bit strange. I know that when I first heard of the project, it didn’t seem like the AOR sound Blades and Shaw are most associated with would blend all that well with the frenetic histrionics that Nugent is known for.
But that’s why you have to listen before judging, because the self-titled debut album from Damn Yankees was a darn sight better than I think anyone that had doubts could’ve expected. Yes, the more AOR sound prevails throughout the release but there’s plenty of guitar pyrotechnics that are surely the influence of the Motor City Madman as well. Given the fact that the album went double platinum, a lot of people found the album highly enjoyable as well.
The Damn Yankees album was propelled by three hits. You had the requisite power ballad in “High Enough”, which was the biggest charting song for the band. It hit #3. I know that this is where I would usually dump all over the song because it is a ballad, but that’s not happening this time because I actually like the song.
While “High Enough” is their most successful track, I think the album’s opening song “Coming of Age” is the one that really gets people amped up to this day when they hear it. There’s something about that opening riff that gets me excited nearly 30 years later when I hear it on the radio. When I played the cassette for this article, I had the same kind of charged feeling too.
The other song that got traction as a single was “Come Again” and again, I really like the song. It starts out like it is going to be a ballad but after that initial intro, the more driving rock sound kicks in and fuels the song to a greater height in my mind.
There were a couple of songs released as singles but “Runaway” and “Bad Reputation” didn’t get nearly as much individual success as the first three released songs. That’s not to say they were bad songs though. They both follow “Coming of Age” in the track listing and they are both electric rockers that keep your energy level on high.
The title track for the album closes out the first side of the album and it is a big anthemic rocker. The chorus is huge which isn’t a surprise since that particular sound is evident throughout the album. The album’s producer was Ron Nevison and he knew his way around the entire AOR sound playing field.
After “Come Again” opens Side Two, the album races to the finish line with a killer set of rockers. Now I said that the writing credits don’t get too specific about who wrote what beyond the trio. But I thought the songs “Mystified” and “Piledriver” screamed Ted Nugent. Obviously I could be completely wrong about that, but that’s just where my mind went as I listened to the album once again. There’s a similar kind of guitar noodling sound on both tracks that give it a bit of bluesy start. That start disappears on “Piledriver” once the song gets going in full because it soon bursts into an all-out rocker that brings the album to a frantic and crushing end.
Speaking of frantic fretwork and huge anthems, the song “Rock City” goes a long way towards trying to redefine the phrase “playing with wild abandon”. There’s not an ounce of subtlety on this track and that’s a good thing. The band just goes pedal to the floor musically and leaves you breathless as they rock and roll you with the song.
And that’s kind of what you needed I think. While the band members obviously had their 70’s and/or 80’s rock pedigrees, the metal years were starting their wind down by the time 1990 rolled around. And this was anything but just flat out boring glam retreads. No, there’s a seamless blend of both melodic rock with fiery guitar runs and vocals that get you to sing along. The Damn Yankees is just a sublimely fantastic album that no matter how many times you hear it, you find yourself somehow energized by the material. For me, it’s an album that will always feel timeless no matter how much time passes.
NOTES OF INTEREST: I saw the band on tour in 1991 in Mansfield, Massachusetts at was then called The Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts. They headlined over Bad Company and Tattoo Rodeo. Bad Company was excellent and I loved the Damn Yankees set as well. Ted Nugent was crazy good on the guitar in particular.
This factoid manages to amuse me for some reason. The band released just two studio albums (Don’t Tread was the band’s second album and went gold when released in 1992) but somehow have THREE greatest hits type compilations to their credit.
The band has reunited in various incarnations over the years to perform songs in concert. The one real attempt to put out a new album came in 1999 but no one from the band to the record company was happy with the music they came up with for the planned third release. That album was reportedly going to be called Bravo.
Drummer Michael Cartellone was pretty much unknown before Damn Yankees but he’s gone on to a pretty good career. He toured with Ted Nugent’s solo band as well as with John Fogerty. He’s been the drummer for Lynyrd Skynyrd since 1999. He’s also played on albums for Accept, Brad Gillis, John Wetton and Shaw/Blades among others.