The 21st January 2013 marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Skyscraper – David Lee Roth‘s second solo album following his acrimonious split from Van Halen. I mention this just in case you weren’t feeling old enough already.
Given that a quarter of a century is the average age of some of Roth’s more topical jokes, perhaps it is time for a re-appraisal of the album that gave Roth his biggest hit, but which remains under the shadow of his debut Eat ‘Em and Smile. So sit back, grab a bag of M&Ms (with all the brown ones taken out of course) and have a listen…
Skyscraper was a more polished, commercial and keyboard-based record than the debut. It gave Roth a huge hit in Just Like Paradise, which now sounds as cheesy as a tramp’s sock. What lifts the album is the increasing influence of Steve Vai on the record. Vai had played with Frank Zappa before joining Roth and he co-produced Skyscraper. Vai formed a real partnership with Roth in addition to providing the guitar histrionics as the punch-line to Roth’s jokes. Title track Skyscraper is a measured and crafted keyboard-based song splattered with a crazy guitar solo. The acoustic Damn Good is a classic tune that holds up well – it is laid back, reflective and dreamy. It also borrows an acoustic riff from Stairway To Heaven.
Hina was another interesting and quirky track – perhaps the highlight of the album for me – in which Vai sounds like he has used a delay pedal / effect to harmonise with himself. This was pretty innovative stuff.
So much for the songs that have stood the test of time. The extent to which you enjoy the rest of the album really does depend upon your tolerance for sub-Top Gun type keyboards and guitar trilling of the finest eighties variety. Nonsense, but good nonsense every once in a while, perhaps. It’s difficult to take a song titled Hot Dog and A Shake seriously – although Vai’s solo in this song displays jaw-dropping technique.
The album ends on a mature note: with a backwards message which when played the right way round says “Obey your parents and use a condom”.
David Lee Roth was and remains a showman with all the self-restraint of Keith Moon at a Drive The Car Into The Pool stall at a fun fair. I saw Roth live three times – once at Donington and twice at Wembley Arena (in November 1988 and March 1991). At the first of the Wembley gigs he abseiled from the ceiling of the Arena to a makeshift boxing ring in the middle of the floor where he soaked up the applause of the crowd for what seemed like five minutes without singing a note, before being carried through the crowd on a surfboard to the sound of Van Halen hit Panama. It was a typically modest, understated performance. He also, alas, came up with the same “ad libbed” jokes that he had used at Donington. In an attempt not to be outdone, ace axeman Steve Vai brought out a guitar with three necks and a heart shaped body for hit single Yankee Rose. (I’m still waiting for Lemmy to do the same thing with his bass).
Roth’s Bass player Billy Sheehan left the band before the Skyscraper tour began – he was reportedly unhappy with the final album, saying in interviews the original demos were better. Given that the eighties production is what dates the record most of all, it would be fascinating to hear them.
Sheehan formed Mr Big in 1988 with axe-whizz Paul Gilbert of Racer X and enjoyed modest success with the debut album and then a big breakthrough with soppy ballad To Be With You which reached #1 in the USA and #3 in the UK – from the second album.
Vai left Roth to join Whitesnake in 1989.
However, none of this is as interesting as the news that Spotify have the Spanish language version of Eat ‘Em and Smile (called Sonrisa Salvaje) in their archives. I knew of this album’s existence from the get go, and it always seemed intriguing – yet it isn’t until now that I have had the chance to hear a copy. Not since The Beatles sang Sie liebt dich instead of She Loves You has an artist recorded a record in two languages. Except for the many thousands of artists I have ignored for the purpose of that statistic who have done exactly that, of course. It might be a little hyperbolic to say you haven’t lived until you have heard Sonrisa Salvaje, but try listening to the Spanish Language Yankee Rose without a huge grin appearing over your face. Moreover, Sonrisa Salvaje is an album which – because it is in a foreign language – gives the listener the (entirely false) feeling that they are more intelligent and cultured because of the experience. Like when you watch a foreign film with subtitles (even if it is Battle Royale or a late night French film on BBC2 you are only really watching in case there’s some nudity).
There. A David Lee Roth record that makes you feel more cultured and intelligent after hearing it. That’s not something you expect to read about every day…
Record #142: David Lee Roth – Yankee Rose (Spanish Language version)