You know what I am? A thrash freak. You know what else I am? A glam freak. As many know, the two typically don’t go together well, so it really warms up my heart when an album like Skid Row’s debut self titled record makes its rounds into the ears of metal goers. I say this because, like W.A.S.P. and Twisted Sister, Skid Row are one of the few bands lumped into the glam genre that usually get a pass with thrashers. Although Slave To The Grind may be the preferred record by that type of listener, Skid Row certainly has its place on the shelf, and more importantly, it is celebrating its thirtieth birthday!
The story of how this band came to be is one of my favorites. Skid Row formed in 1986, and guitarist Dave Sabo had been longtime friends with Jon Bon Jovi. The two worked out a deal that if one of them made it big in music, they’d promote the other. If you’ve got your history down, you’ll know that 1986 was an explosive year for Bon Jovi, as Slippery When Wet fired up the charts. So with that, Skid Row would open for them quite often. To complete the lineup, a very young Sebastian Bach was discovered when they heard him covering Led Zeppelin tunes, and before they knew it, the band had been complete. With the band just barely being out of their teens, Skid Row would drop and make a pretty fast impression.
It makes sense to start with why this record seems to stand apart from other glam albums. 1989 was a time where glam metal was getting overly poppy and softening to the point that it was a stretch to even call it metal. Think Winger, Firehouse, Slaughter, etc. Nothing against those bands, I’m a fan of all of them, but they didn’t exactly help the dying glam scene. On the contrary, Skid Row was just as explosive as any of the heavy metal records of the early eighties, and the heavier glam acts such as Dokken, Ratt, or Quiet Riot. Tracks like “Big Guns,” “Piece Of Me,” “Here I Am,” and “Making A Mess” are pedal-to-the-metal with full steam ahead, representing some of Bach’s most sinister vocals, bordering on screams. The riff construction on these tracks is also amped up to great heights. “Here I Am” does a killer job at mixing bopping riffs with thick distortions to make for the ultimate treat, and “Big Guns” couldn’t be catchier if it tried, whether you’re talking about the chorus or the verses. Hell, even “Rattlesnake Shake” has its moments too.
Of course, Skid Row would spawn a lot of big radio hits as well, with “Piece Of Me” actually becoming a single. But the big obvious one was “Youth Gone Wild,” which turned into a stadium jam and a late ‘80s anthem almost on the spot. “Sweet Little Sister,” “Can’t Stand The Heartache,” and “Rattlesnake Shake” would all take a similar approach, bringing in more accessible and friendlier vibes, but not quite reaching the ranks the way “Youth Gone Wild” did. Gang vocals were a prominent part of the entire record, but these songs exaggerated that feature even more. Even though they aren’t as heavy, they still fit the general idea presented on this disc very well, and I can’t get enough of them.
And lastly, you have to give a strong acknowledgement to the ballads. “18 And Life” is a very tragic, minor-key tune focusing on somebody fucking up their life far too early. “I Remember You” focuses more on legit feelings and memories, giving the listener a better gut feeling and lacking the dark undertone that the former has. Both songs also became huge hits quite quickly, but what’s interesting about them is that they gain weight in the harder riff department rather fast. There are stronger bridges in these tracks than most ballads would display, and yes, Bach belts out some high pitched balls of fire at some point in both tracks. “I Remember You” is placed perfectly, being the second to final track with the bass heavy “Midnight / Tornado” closing off the record. Boy what a ride this album is; peaks and valleys in intensity but full on force with brilliance!
Given the timing of Skid Row being released, there’s no question that it stuck in many minds of the time. Quite truthfully though, I also think that the harder riffs combined with the radio friendly aura helped push the new wave of hard rock bands that would take form within the next decade. I’m talking about bands like Buck Cherry, or ones as late as Three Days Grace and Halestorm. Although Halestorm didn’t break ground until almost twenty years after this album, Lzzy and Arejay had formed their band shortly after this as young teens and cite this as influence. Guns ‘N Roses would also help kick off that movement, and although G’NR and Skid Row don’t really fit the bill of these late ‘90s and early 2000s hard rock bands, they were some of the last bands to make an impact before grunge took over. You either conformed, or you tweaked the formula, and those bands did just that.
While it’s clear that this album had crushing reception back then, it also holds up well today. The fact that thrashers and speed seekers can still get behind this is all you really need to know. Sebastian Bach tours solo now, and every time I’ve seen him, the venues have been beyond packed to the brim. Older fans that have been around in the early days as well as younger rock n roll junkies like myself make their ways there, and it’s no secret that the first Skid Row album isn’t dying out anytime soon.
Skid Row came out on January 24th, 1989 through Atlantic Records, and is easy to come across in CD and Cassette formats. Vinyl was dying at the time, so original copies are a little harder to come by, but they exist for sure. As usual, there are CD remasters and LP repressings, all available at this here music database.