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.
Y&T – CONTAGIOUS (1987)
Back In April 2020, I wrote about the Y&T album Ten for The Cassette Chronicles. Having loved the album, I wrote the following: “I have three other Y&T albums that I can write about in this series and Ten kind of makes me want to just dive into those albums as soon as possible so I can become an even more enthusiastic supporter of Y&T’s music!”
So much for the best laid plans, right? It has taken me a while to get around to writing about another album in the band’s discography for this series, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been resting idly in becoming more invested in the band’s music. I’ve been slowly acquiring Y&T’s back catalog on CD, purchasing it through the band’s website, and loving what I’ve been hearing that way.
But when it came to the Contagious album, I found that it is one of the albums they don’t offer for sale through their site. That leaves me with my cassette edition and thus I can write about it here and now.
But before I start talking about the album, I just want to send out my best wishes to Y&T’s main man Dave Meniketti. At the time I’m writing this, he’s engaged in a health battle against prostate cancer and I am looking forward to his full recovery.
Now, let’s take a trip back to 1987 and check out what Contagious is all about. And yes, the disclaimer from me here is that while I did hear “Eyes Of A Stranger” as part of the band’s set when I saw them live in 2019, I have no recollection of the material on the album otherwise. So I figured to get to experience this as essentially a “new” album. Of course, that pre-listen belief turned out to be a little incorrect. Somewhere along the line since its release nearly 35 years ago, I had heard the title cut as well.
Regarding that title track, I will say that Y&T wasted no time in getting the album off to a raucous start. With a collectively shouted “Hey” bursting out of the speakers, “Contagious” grabs you by the throat and throttles you with an explosively charged rocking soundtrack. Meniketti’s vocals have a great hook throughout but it gets particularly melodically inclusive on the chorus.
“L.A. Rocks” is another hook laden power rocking track. Great chorus and as I listened I could feel the blood rushing around my body, pumping me up big time! On “The Kid Goes Crazy”, the band is on point and on fire as they propel themselves through a relentlessly rocking soundtrack with a storyline about the “glitz and glamour” of life in the spotlight. This is just a phenomenal song!
I found that “Temptation” has a slower tempo for most of the song, kind of restrained in its delivery. But you can still feel the underlying power that comes out more to the forefront during the song’s chorus and towards the end of the song. The guitar solo caught my ear as well.
Side One of the album closes out with “Fight For Your Life”. The song starts out a little slow and might strike you as heading towards power ballad territory with that opening. But it quickly turns into a highly energetic anthemic kind of rocker.
Side Two opens with “Armed And Dangerous”, a track that much like the opening cut “Contagious”, bursts from the speakers with a kinetic spark that instantly gets you amped up. The band doesn’t hold back with the song being “in-your-face” throughout. Factor in a great solo and you have another winning track in my book!
That kind of fully upfront delivery continued on “Rhythm or Not”. It’s got a full course of electrified rock and roll with a strong soundtrack and a great gang vocal employed for the chorus, but there’s a little something extra that I can’t quite describe that gives the song an added dimension to it. If you listen, maybe you can tell me what it was that made me get into the song so much.
For a song where no one from Y&T had a hand in the writing, is it wrong that I enjoyed “Bodily Harm” so much? It’s a weird amalgamation of the harder rocking sound that you get with Y&T and the rather obvious thrust for a heavily commercially appealing hook and chorus. But while that might make for a song that was “trying too hard”, here it worked.
While I’m probably always going to think of Queensryche when I hear or read the song title “Eyes Of A Stranger”, I was kind of surprised at just how much I liked the Y&T “Eyes Of A Stranger” track. It’s very uptempo, but not quite as musically balls out as tracks like “L.A. Rocks” or “The Kid Goes Crazy”. Still, loved the way this one came together.
Contagious closes out with an instrumental called “I’ll Cry For You”. Though there are no lyrics of course, this is the track that comes closest to what you would call a power ballad. There’s a bluesy kind of guitar playing throughout and as the song winds its way toward its end, the intensity flares up and leaves you feeling quite fulfilled at the finish.
While Contagious may not have been the kind of commercial success that time and clarity suggest that Y&T so richly deserved, the quality of the band’s material didn’t waver on the album. This is a superbly crafted album that all these years later still has a drawing power that lives up to the album’s title.
NOTES OF INTEREST – The album, which peaked at #78 on the Billboard album chart, had 30,000 copies printed with the song title “Boys Night Out” on it. However, when Geffen Records (the label that released Contagious) put out a Sammy Hagar album with the same song title, Y&T was forced to change the title to “L.A. Rocks”.
While the band members were heavily involved in the songwriting for Contagious, there were a number of co-writers working on songs as well. Guitarist Al Pitrelli (Savatage) and bassist Bruno Ravel (Danger Danger) co-wrote “Temptation” with bassist Phil Kennemore. Meanwhile Taylor Rhodes, who has worked with Aerosmith, Kix and Celine Dion, co-wrote the album’s title track with Dave Meniketti as well as collaborating with Robert White Johnson (who also worked with Celine Dion) for the song “Bodily Harm”. He further co-wrote the “Eyes Of A Stranger” with Kennemore and Meniketti.
The artist Hugh Syme, best known for his lengthy collaboration with Rush, is credited for the art direction on Contagious.