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.
TED NUGENT – IF YOU CAN’T LICK ‘EM…LICK ‘EM (1988)
After talking about the Ted Nugent album Penetrator a little while back in this series as a means of paying tribute to singer Brian Howe, I wasn’t sure if (or when) I might hear another album from “Uncle Ted”. But then I was sent a copy of this album and I knew that sooner or later I’d get around to writing about it. Obviously now is that time.
The album was released in 1988 and would end up being his last solo album for seven years. It was just two years later, in 1990, that the first of the two Damn Yankees albums would come out and Nugent was occupied with that band for a while.
We all know that Nugent’s reputation as a wild man of the guitar probably leads us to assume that his music is all kinds of over-the-top guitar driven histrionics with a host of single and double entendres thrown in as song titles and lyrics.
While the latter half of that statement still rings true with If You Can’t Lick ‘Em…Lick ‘Em, I was kind of surprised that the album was less like his 1970’s output and instead featured a distinctly directed focus on the more melody driven rock you would later hear Nugent be a part of with Damn Yankees. There’s plenty of guitar driven uptempo rockers here but you can hear far more melody than you might expect if you mostly know Nugent by reputation rather than a deep knowledge of his catalog.
The first side of the album is a bit hit and miss for me overall but there are some rather outstanding tracks at the same time. The opening song “Can’t Live With ‘Em” seemed a bit muted to me on first listen but when I listened again, I really found myself getting into the uptempo rocker and that feeling that the song was somehow muted and just waiting to bust loose disappeared.
“She Drives Me Crazy” was another rocking bit of music but I didn’t quite connect with the track all that much. As for the album’s title cut, I loved the long guitar solo that played out over the end of the song but if the song was meant to be some kind of anthem, it missed the mark a bit and came off sounding somewhat half-assed. It didn’t work for me at all, which is a shame since I thought the guitar playing was top notch.
But that slight disappointment was overcome by the last couple of songs on Side One. The more riotous feel you might expect from Nugent is amply evident in “Skintight”. The lyrics are not the least bit subtle and yet the song is simply marvelous.
The sex-drenched aspect of Nugent’s songs and lyrics are on full display with the song “Funlover”. That song has a lyrical line that would seem to sum up his philosophy with a nice little bow on it. I mean, there isn’t a whole lot of hidden meaning in a line like “Explicit sex /It ain’t my cup of tea / unless of course/ it’s happening to me”. And yet, between the totally unapologetic lyrics and the incredible soundtrack the vocals are combined with, I can’t help but absolutely love this song.
As for the second side of the album, the biggest shock for me was the first song “Spread Your Wings”. It’s a straight up ballad from start to finish. I kept waiting for a ballbusting burst of rock and roll to change the song’s tempo but Nugent played it straight. His vocal performance was pretty interesting too. Here again, he played it straight. Now, I don’t know if there was some hidden double entendre to the songs lyrics or title that I missed (which I suspect is entirely possible) but I really enjoyed this track a lot because it seemed to show that Nugent can go a little deeper than I would’ve expected. The fact that the song doesn’t go for the more wimpy side of balladry is another strong point in its favor.
Of course, that potential softer and straighter side of Nugent is just a brief moment when you consider the last four songs on the album are straight up rockers. There’s the breakneck speedy rocker “The Harder They Come (The Harder I Get)”. The guitar playing gets your blood pumping and Ted’s vocal growl enlivens the lyrics like “You’ve got 31 flavors…they’re all good enough to eat”. I almost feel ashamed of myself for just how much I loved this song. Pure lust driven rock and roll to liven up your musical playlist, that’s for sure.
“Separate The Men From The Boys Please” is solid but it is the last two songs that really capped off this listening experience for me. “Bite The Hand” has some fantastic guitar work and really got me jazzed up as I listened to the song. The closing track is “That’s The Story Of Love”. It’s a hard rocking song with a very cool vibe to it and there is a great chorus that really helps sell the song to the listener.
However you may feel about Ted Nugent the person, you can’t help but recognize his talents as a musician. I know that Nugent’s work from the 70’s is his bread and butter and that it seems like this period of his music catalog is pretty much ignored but I can’t help but say that I actually quite enjoyed the If You Can’t Lick ‘Em…Lick ‘Em album. It’s a great rock and roll album with an ample dose of pure melody and despite a couple of tracks that didn’t work for me, it was an eye-opening experience for me. Discovering more about this side of Nugent’s musical personality kind of makes me want to explore more of this part of his career to see what else there might be waiting to jump out at me.
NOTES OF INTEREST: The album closing song “That’s The Story Of Love” was co-written by Ted Nugent with Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora.
The If You Can’t Lick ‘Em…Lick ‘Em album was the first album to feature Ted Nugent as the sole lead vocalist. He also played the bass part on the title track.
Chuck Wright, who is best known as the bassist for Quiet Riot, played bass on eight of the album’s songs. The late Pat Torpey (Mr. Big) played the drums for the album. Rhythm guitarist Dave Amato would go on to play with Jimmy Barnes, REO Speedwagon, Cher, Richie Sambora among others.