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Thirty-Five Years Later: Twisted Sister – Stay Hungry

Twisted Sister is as New Jersey as it gets. These guys were literally doing the eight days a week, cut your teeth and bleed yourself dry school of rock trip at the exact same time and place as Bruce Springsteen. Founded in 1973 by guitarist Jay Jay French, Twisted Sister followed the same Bowie-esque glam rock sound that produced bands like New York Dolls and T-Rex. After a few years and line up changes, the band joined forces with Danny Snider soon to be known as Dee so that they could sound more like Led Zeppelin. Twisted Sister went on to develop their sound for another five years on the club circuit throughout New York and New Jersey. Embodied by the DNA of bands like Rainbow, UFO, and Dio era Black Sabbath, Twisted Sister developed into a rock and roll machine with music that was incredibly tight and crisp. In short, they were and still are a perfect ROCK band. Without going too deep into history here, one needs only to hear their pre Stay Hungry track, “You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll” which brought the group into the world of videos and MTV.

At the time, the look of this band played a major role in building their following. Dee’s hair in “You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll” is downright frightening and screams sick muther f’er. But, listen to the vocals on that track; it’s pure METAL. Dee’s voice is fire on the same train tracks that the locomotive force of the band is barrelling down. “You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll” is a pure rock anthem from start to finish and sets up the playing field for the two behemoth songs that make up what most folks immediately remember when they hear the name Twisted Sister – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock.” Built on the same formula of video visuals and rock anthem as “You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll,” the two monster singles alone would be enough to ensure Stay Hungry a place in the halls of the metal kings forever. But I’m not going to talk about those two tracks because they are perfect and awesome. Those videos are where a good portion of metal-heads between the age of 15 and 50 got their first taste of metal. It was the album that we all were sure would make our parents angry (RE; The Cover Anyone know what that leg Dee is chewing on is?). The only response you could have after this album came out was – “I Wanna Rock!!!!” I won’t waste anyone’s time with histrionics here; we know those songs and the videos like the backs of our hands. But stop for a minute and try to remember the rest of Stay Hungry because it is spectacular.

The album starts with the title track, “Stay Hungry” which is pure guitar/bass/drum rock. Dee Snider’s voice-driven performance is perfectly balanced by the rhythm machine that is Jay Jay French (guitars) Mark Mendoza (bass) and A.J. Pero (drums). As I’m listening to this song thirty-five years later, I’m floored at how tight these guys were. Eddie Ojeda screams the exact “right” guitar solo needed over the top of this thing.

Stay hungry, feel the fire
Stay hungry, don’t explode
Stay hungry, with desire
Stay hungry, you’re alone

Track number two and the first single, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” goes right back to the aforementioned rock anthem formula; it’s absolutely a great song. But let’s move on to track three, “Burn in Hell.” I cannot listen to this song without getting a very Beavis and Butt-Head grin on my face. The band is seriously drinking out of the same watering hole as Dio and other metal bands from this period on this track. Dee’s voice lends itself well to the wail of the chorus:

There’s just five words to say as you go down, down, down
You’re gonna burn in hell
Oh, burn in hell

“Burn in Hell” transitions perfectly into the “Captain Howdy/ Street Justice” melody. I can only imagine that this was a performance piece that the band had played out in clubs, and that’s how they ended up together as a single track on the album. “Captain Howdy” is a full homage to horror movie bubble gum. Dee even used the character, Captian Howdy as the framework for the villain in his underground horror movie classic “Strangeland” (VERY worth checking out if you can find it). The Captain blends straight into “Street Justice.” I’ve always imagined that this song is the second act of a two-part play. Whereas you want to “Stay Away From Captain Howdy” in act one, act two brings you back with a rock opera drama and the earworm chorus:

LET NO MERCY SHOW
CALL FOR STREET JUSTICE

After hearing these songs years later, “Street Justice” makes me want to bang my head more than the next track “I Wanna Rock.” This is pure 80s Hard Rock. And the next track, “I Wanna Rock” is exactly what it is – another perfect anthem crafted by one of the best voices to ever to sing heavy music;  we all love this track.

Track six, “The Price” takes me right back to school dances of the 1980s. But here’s the thing, this is isn’t a hair metal ballad. It always seemed to get put into the same mix as the poodle-haired rockers of the time, but Twisted Sister’s crack at the power ballad is pure gold from start to finish. Dee’s voice is as suited for delivering a slowed down emotive feeler of a song as it is for singing a song about kicking the crap out of a child abuser. I’ve wondered how the record label failed at making this song the third hit because, in retrospect, it’s such a great radio friendly track. My guess is the juggernaut of the two video hits kept the band moving so solidly forward that the label lost interest in the power ballad. BUT STILL:

Oh it’s the price we gotta pay
And all the games we gotta play
Makes me wonder if it’s worth it to carry on
‘Cause it’s a game we gotta lose
Though it’s a life we gotta choose
And the price is our own life until it’s done

“Don’t Let Me Down” and “The Beast” continues in the same early 80’s horror/satan focused metal that would come to make Tipper Gore so angry. The guys were literally feeding males from ages 8 to 20 with material for notebook drawings for the next thirty-five years. This is incredibly fun metal that takes us straight into the final bit of awesomeness from this record – “S.M.F.” First, how can you not love a song with that name? Cause yeah, I think we all were sick muther f’ers. It makes me feel so good to hear this track now because when it came out, I thought my sixth-grade self was such a badass. It was a doorway to so much more metal down the road:

You’re a walking wonder; you’re a metal machine
Look, and you’ll see you’re a lot like me
You’re an S.M.F.

Twisted Sister should be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame since multiple generations have been moved to bang their heads to the majesty of this band. Dee Snyders voice alone is among the greatest in metal along with Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford, and Ronny James Dio. Dee and the group went on to make more music but none as time tested as Stay Hungry. This is a perfect album of a specific type of metal from a specific time and place. It will take you to that metal place if you close your eyes and let it!

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