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Made a crummy summer of '84 much cooler - 94%

Gutterscream, July 1st, 2017
Written based on this version: 1984, 12" vinyl, Atlantic Records

“…welcome to the abandoned land, come on in child, take my hand…”

How better to reward kids after months of being classroom fixtures than with a few summer months of freedom? Still, it’s a too-short stretch of time that soars by much faster than the one school manages to slow to a crawl, and it usually feels as though there’s barely time to burn that stolen yearbook page by page before ‘back to school’ sales deflate spirits and litter the psyche of every kid in town. Taken day by day, however, I find such months can be as liberating as they’re meant to be. This prediction remains unchanged even as I survive my dreaded freshman year of high school, notoriously one of the institution’s bumpier chapters, and while initially arriving to the fanfare of trumpets, this summer’s vacation instead has rambled on a little worse for wear with each passing week.

Regardless, even a boring week of summer is better than a nifty week at school (whatever that is), and suddenly the six to seven shit-stained hours school usually sucks from my weekdays are smelling much rosier - excuse me as I redirect all attention to my trusty Fisher dual-cassette boom box that I practically wear like a prosthetic limb. Y’see, having my music readily available makes any soggy occasion I'm stuck with/in a little crunchier. It's this little slice of freedom that makes having to wash my 'ol man’s stupid pick-up truck against my wishes all the more bearable 'cos I've got Metal on Metal fanning it dry at top volume. Even being stuck in a shoe store isn't as passionately boring when I've got Headhunter flying through my noggin' (one of the greatest days of my life has something to do with buying my first Sony Walkman).

Still, this particular summer was thus far running on empty. Lick It Up, Welcome to Hell, Mob Rules, Bark at the Moon, Apocalyptic Raids, Defenders of the Faith, Shout at the Devil, Show No Mercy, You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n’ Roll, Balls to the Wall, Screaming for Vengeance, Piece of Mind, Pyromania, Flick of the Switch, The Last in Line and even friggin' 1984 can polish this continual turd of a summer only so much. Then some time in July comes a super summer savior sporting a familiar mass of blonde poodle curls.

“…and like a siren’s call he’s gonna have his way…”

Turns out to be a ten tune tiger, ordered to Stay Hungry by the same unruly gents who I’m glad couldn’t stop rock ‘n’ roll last summer, and honestly I can’t recall an instance when this tape wasn't nestled comfortably in one of the boom box's two tapedecks for the remainder of the summer and beyond.

Well, before I know it, summer vacation’s last stagnant days close in. I sit at the edge of my driveway for some reason, and my stomach's full of impending dismay at the menace of a fresh school year gearing up to kick me dead in the groin, and I actually find myself hoping Stay Hungry can somehow get me out of going back. Search me and my fourteen year old logic, but that’s the disillusioned level of influence and even respect that the Sista's career break-out album had on me.

Two album copies, a cd, at least a pair of worn out cassettes, an IPod, and 30+ years later, some form of Stay Hungry still usually isn’t far from reach, and while Under the Blade is technically heavier by better shunning most outright commercialism and You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n’ Roll plays less intricate, yet more down to earth games with its songcraft, Stay Hungry out-eats both projects in catchiness, creativity, confidence, song-by-song diversity, disposal of filler and even probably song placement.

Now, the passing TS glancer isn’t immune to assuming most or all of this lp’s fanfare comes from the now often despised and usually clicked past single “We’re Not Gonna Take It”. For the countless kids who had to be physically unglued from spaced-out hours of MTV monitoring, this particular stand-out (and of course its video) becomes a deal breaker or deal maker that’d fracture and send pieces of opinion flying in at least two directions.

“…are your dreams and desires riding down an open road?

Here’s one. Imagine some card-carrying S.M.F. – Harvey’s his name – flips his car’s radio dial to his reliable station of choice and is confronted with the happily poppy, faux bad boyz slam-yer-fists-hard-on-the-table-in-disgust-messaged “We’re Not Gonna Take It”. Is this new Slade? Nope, but for a fan recognizing The Twisted Ones’ sonic benchmarks doesn’t require much effort, and at this point Harvey can do little but soak his head in this known cool band’s new anthem apparently straight from their freshly-pressed follow-up to YCSRnR he’s been fixin’ to pick up. Already he’s glanced at his radio with disgust about six times. Holy christ, is that an Ojeda solo? What’d he do, hit his head? Furthermore, Harvey’s critical thinking kicks in and becomes pretty sure this new teeny-bopped single will be gunking up airwaves that are usually attuned to his musical tastes. Then the revelation hits – what if this…direction...stinks up the whole album? Betcha Harvey’s overjoyed with that prospect. Then he gets home in time to find a skid of over-amused twelve year olds glued to a television set where the song’s very own Kidco-rated video is playing.

Moi? Damn right I found the video funny…the father drooling on himself during his own tirade, the kid’s absolutely alien air guitar timing to what’s playing on his stereo, the five of ‘em squashed and singing outta the second story window, the door gag. Then again, for me Gilligan’s Island was and remains a half-hour hilarity-fest. But even my at-the-time dumb kid brain knew the video to be ingenious promotion, marketing and exposure. Seriously though, the mirroring of National Lampoon’s Animal House (which was still six years fresh at the time) and welcome reappearance of damn good sport Mark Metcalf and his Neidermeyer-like antagonism could actually win Harvey the Annoyed Motorist over (moreso than the song itself could, I’ll bet), at least until he’s molested by good ‘ol “I Wanna Rock”, the grower of similar roots which plants itself as resident back-up anthem (along with a video with even sillier Metcalf abuse). Maybe we’ll come back to this. Maybe not.

“…if you don’t have what it takes, don’t try to play, you’ll lose your stakes…”

With any luck, Harv’s enough of a stalwart fan to ignore Gay Song 1 and A Tad Less Gay Song 2, sees the cover and thinks Dee about to gnaw on his bone is par for their course and decides to pick the record up anyway - or better yet, a heroic friend of his snags it first and together they take Stay Hungry for its first car ride in the 'ol Sanyo tapedeck. Now, who thinks it’s coincidence the cassette’s infectious first and title track is placed in a position where it can successfully assure Harvey and his buddy Cecil that the Sistas' pantyhose aren’t cutting off oxygen to their brains, or at least no amount out of the ordinary. ‘Cos “Stay Hungry” is nearly faultless in its placement at the album's start, for all it needs is its natural, seamless urgency to galvanize new listeners into foraging deeper into the album’s buffet.

Also not a coincidence is “We’re Not Gonna Take It” hammered between two of the disc’s strongest protagonists. “Burn in Hell” is, for untold Twisters high and low, Stay Hungry’s final boss and holder of the title, consciously slow to stir across its own coolly-doomed, yet deceptive landscape while simultaneously preparing its true bestial nature for the ultra-unpredicted pounce into Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and every single sit-up-in-yer-seat-suspiciously-yet-abruptly-with-a-half-incredulous-smile/half-surprised look caused by it (including Snider’s comically confused one in the shot). I know I’ll always cherish that scarce instance when life didn’t blow for like eight seconds.

“…make yourselves comfortable, my place is so divine…”

The previous track’s forsaken atmosphere continues in part of “Horror-teria”, known more charmingly as “Captain Howdy”, and allows him the decadently comfortable living he’s accustomed to. Similar to, yet more ominously threatening than “Burn in Hell”, “Captain Howdy” successfully creeps along the edge of taste; its filmy ambiance and dark insinuation are mysteries to no one, yet each is necessary to justify championing the questionable gallantry of the more pipe-hardened, often impertinent and still naïve “Street Justice”, the slightly younger and less crafty sibling of the Captain. However, unbeknownst to Howdy, “Street Justice” is also “Horror-teria”’s preventative measure built specifically to end the destructive cycle Howdy has wrought with his heinous activities, even while “Horror-teria” is responsible for bringing both into existence and paternally keeps its firstborn safe from the righteous punishment of the second. In other words, these two songs falling under the single main umbrella of "Horror-teria" actually makes them individually stronger by showcasing the two as connecting parts of the same story, like cause and effect or crime and punishment. Any of that make sense?

The flip side’s northern reaches boast a much more cordial habitat with a bluer sky and an atmosphere that's the opposite of side one’s grim-eyed southern turmoil of family rivalries, corrupt conflicts of interest, and third degree hellfire that for some of the more innocent bystanders has thickened up a little too much like tar in one area. The upkeep is the responsibility of sacred song runner-up “I Wanna Rock”, the disc’s second biggest chart hopper that actually cleaned up better on the smaller record charts of Norway, New Zealand, and South Africa than the larger UK and US ones, yet it wouldn’t see its name in lights until a single is released for it in October.

Slightly lower (and slower) in the sky is where the song with the targeted mainstream bare two-step gives way to one that probably took three times as long to write and would become TS’s second full-lengther power ballad and a-side of the lp’s third single. By a pretty wide margin “The Price” is Stay Hungry’s sole plateau of reason, not (only) for its obvious puff characteristics, but for fleeing from the predictable love-jumps-off-cliff theme, and whereas on YCSRnR, “You’re Not Alone (Suzette’s Song)” finds kinda close tactical company in unruffled “I Am (I’m Me)”, “The Price” has no recognizable ally. I personally think each is as good as the other.

Usually untalked about “Don’t Let Me Down” and “The Beast”, like the parts of “Horror-teria”, are day and night without the family quarrel. Easily more excitable is the former, placed here to awaken waters calmed by “The Price” and serves a similar purpose to Ozzy’s “Slow Down” on previous year's Bark at the Moon. Hmph, well now that I lured BATM outta the woods, in a landscape less seedy than “Captain Howdy” and less biblically black than the slower preface of “Burn in Hell”, “The Beast” senses this other predator (distinguishable by ‘Ozzy’ written across its left paw), marks its territory and prowls with an intent that’s as purposefully ominous as it is natural of animal instinct, yet its strike-point chorus can lean either way.

“…don’t be side tracked or shunted, let pretenders feel your bite…”

Finally, “S.M.F.” is the album-ending (and often show-ending) philosophical credo for which their droves of fans adhere (or vice-versa, I dunno), shortened and edited from endearing ‘sick motherfuckers’, and as a billboard for band/fan homage is likely the most fitting to finale this gatecrash to success. I, however, opine the title track could’ve easily staked a claim here at the back gate as it charges to the attack, its fervent chorus becoming a peripherally heroic farewell and whose clarion call against placation, dispirit and defeat - imploring us to stay hungry - is the album’s final declaration to fans. Funny enough, finding an alternate spot for “S.M.F” is a challenge.

Saying things weren’t too rosy behind the scenes of this record's recording and release is quite an understatement. Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, Kiss) and Roy Thomas Baker (Queen), the Sistas’ first choices to produce, are superseded by bill-paying Atlantic’s call to Tom Werman, who’s been accused of phoned-in ethics whose workload flows over to engineer Geoff ‘well, I’ve the right name for it’ Workman, but supposedly neither were too interested in the band’s wishes or suggestions. Other stories surfaced when French, Mendoza and Snider re-recorded the album in ‘04 as Still Hungry, detailing in the extensive liner notes everything from the record’s overall thin and glossy sound they hate, to who forced who to work with whom, to failed persuasions to trash some of the originals and replace ‘em with covers like Saxon’s “Princess of the Night” and “Strong Arm of the Law”. Then there’s the mysterious quashing of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” advanced radio/DJ promos being mailed out in the UK and the record eventually performing much lousier than in other places, and the feel-good finale of Atlantic’s US label boss Doug Morris calling the act “the worst fucking piece of shit in the world”, but naturally that was before the album sold and made millions.

Heat from pre-ignited internal fires also rose steadily, fanned by Snider receiving the lion’s share of exposure as evidenced on the front cover, which was actually supposed to be (a derivative of) the back cover, then Mendoza actually admitting on VH1 to wanting Snider dead…it’s amazing Come Out And Play got to the friggin' sandbox.

“…but I’m so sad the party’s over and we can no longer play…”

It’s no surprise some of the band’s former intrinsic elements had to be sacrificed for the possibility of Stay Hungry to achieve this level of success. Their former acceptable commercial spectrum widened to fit new approval needs. A lot of the hard-fought seriousness accrued from their previous slabs is sabotaged by cartoony main singles and sleeve, and with this maiming of seriousness comes an unraveling of some of the act’s intrigue. However, while it seems clear the hit writers’ drawing board suffered nicely under this album’s arm sweat, Snider claims to have written the chorus hook for “We’re Not Gonna Take It” way back in ’80, so it’s possible as much wasn’t given up as it appears.

Obligatory closing assertion: Stay Hungry is of course the initial mega-spark of Twisted Sister’s future short term, stadium-lit existence oh so many performers would kill for. It’s short term ‘cos by ’87 they’d rather be in the same room with a hungry yeti than each other. But for awhile and at the very least, the Sistas, after plugging away in the industry since the early/mid ‘70s, wouldn’t and couldn’t be treated as second or third stringers, begrudgingly content with free beer and maybe an order of chicken fingers at the end of the night.

A special shout out goes to my poor next door neighbors, wherever they are, married German and Panamanian immigrants who, as I washed that goddamn pick-up truck in the driveway, no doubt wished for my tape player’s batteries to eternally run dry or leak like a macaroni strainer all of the place, but the thing took something like thirty-nine D-cells, and grow on trees they didn’t, so screw ‘em.

Hit factor and chart tackler: The US Billboard 200 (15), the UK Albums Chart (34), the RPM100 Canadian Chart (6), Swedish Sverigetopplistan Album Chart (3), New Zealand Album Chart (11), Norwegian VG-lista Album Chart (10), and the German GfK Entertainment Chart (48).

Fun Fact k95fg: the title track is inspired by and dedicated to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ’76 film Stay Hungry, who also used “We’re Not Gonna Take It” during his campaign en route to governor of California.

Fun Fact \d2a8: MTV hated the video for “We’re Not Gonna Take It” ‘cos of its unusually long non-musical intro. They cried tears of joy after it became more popular than breathing.

“…how long I have wanted this dream to come true…”