I like Motley Crue. I like Ratt. But which is best? There’s only one way to find out…..
Actually, it’s a pretty easy question isn’t it? (no – it’s not “neither”). Not only have Motley Crue sold millions, they have had at least two books in the best-seller lists and have had far more cultural (and musical) impact. However, if we cast our minds back to 1985 it was not quite so clear cut…
Digressing slightly, a recent Guardian article asked the question “what is the greatest album cover of all time?”. Amongst the winners were some names you might expect (New Order, Iron Maiden) and some you might not (the Manic’s Holy Bible?)
When I was a teenager however, there was little doubt which was the favourite amongst my group of friends.
The first inkling I had of this was when one of my friends asked to borrow the album. I didn’t think glossy LA metal would be his thing at all. He returned the record (with some others) a week or so later.
“What did you think of Ratt?” I enquired.
“Great” he said, with a slightly awkward look on his face.
“What was your favourite song?” I ventured, sensing a slight shiftiness in his manner.
“Oh, all of them….” He stared at the floor like a boy in the headmaster’s office.
“You didn’t play it did you..?”
“Well….not as such…”
It didn’t take the mind of Sherlock Holmes – or even Doctor Watson – to see why my friends were keen to borrow the album. I’m not sure any of them ever played it. The main attraction was the girl on the cover. Believe me, in the eighties she was quite a looker with that frizzy hair all flowing down like that… I guess it was that or the underwear section of the Freeman’s catalogue…
The decision not to play the record was a hasty one however. Ratt were seen in the UK as contemporaries of Mötley Crüe. Invasion of Your Privacy was released at a similar time to Theatre of Pain and (in my view) was by far the better record. Opening track You’re In Love is a nailed-on classic of ’80s metal. Their previous album Out of The Cellar (front cover showing a young Tawny Kitaen on all fours – almost as tasteful as the pair of fishnet-stockinged legs with rats climbing all over them that adorned the band’s first EP) coincided with Crüe’s Shout At The Devil (front cover showing tasteful pictures of four ugly guys – also probably wearing fishnet stockings – and bad make up).
So far so good.
However it is interesting to compare and contrast the two bands’ fortunes from this point.
Unfortunately for Ratt, Crüe made a leap forward with Girls Girls Girls, and a further leap with Dr Feelgood, whereas Invasion remains Ratt’s high watermark. Follow-up Dancing Undercover showed little musical progression, and lacking a trick-pony drummer or blonde lead singer, they failed to dent the UK’s consciousness, or indeed the charts. As watermarks go though, the Invasion of Your Privacy album is a good one.
The press were not convinced. Reporting on a live show, Kerrang! magazine did praise the band’s integrity. No backing tapes were used in the choruses they trumpeted. I think it was praise. What they actually said was “the backing vocals were so bad, they couldn’t possibly have used backing tapes”.
Frontman Stephen Pearcy was also criticised. He was described in the Kerrang! letters page as having the “stage charisma of a snail” when the band supported Ozzy’s UK tour. Even bankers and estate agents get better press coverage than that.
An article in Kerrang! followed them to LA. Drummer Bobby Blotzer‘s erratic behaviour was analysed sympathetically. Perhaps he was misunderstood, the writer suggested. Nothing to do with any alcohol (or other) consumption, I’m sure.
I got to see them live in October 1990, supporting their Detonator record (which was a half-decent return to form, but heavily co-written by Desmond Child) at the Town and Country Club, Kentish Town: a medium sized venue that they failed to sell out. The previous year, Crüe had sold out two nights at Wembley Arena. It was an odd contrast. Pearcy was quoted as saying the gig was the nail in the coffin for the band’s chances of UK success. He was right, although perhaps a little slow on the uptake. I have still yet to meet someone in the UK who liked Ratt.
One of the best things about music is when a band makes a great album and then gets better with every subsequent release. But sometimes they don’t get better. Some bands spend their whole careers searching for the magic ingredients that made a particular record special. This can be frustrating for fans. But I prefer to see it like this: some bands never get to make a great record in the first place. Those that do are the lucky ones. And Ratt did make a great record – and still had time for a few more decent songs after that. And it also had a great cover too…
Record #94: Ratt – You’re In Love
Footnote: In 2002 Ratt guitarist Robbin Crosby died of a heroin overdose, aged 42. RIP.