It’s an elusive thing is authenticity, as hard to achieve or find as great talent, a great song, or finding something interesting to look at during a sightseeing tour of the financial district of Luxembourg.
It can make all the difference to a musician’s career. Take Dylan’s reputation against that of Donovan. Or George Michael’s against that of Andrew Ridgeley.
If there was a textbook to tell you how to achieve authenticity (there isn’t of course, otherwise it wouldn’t be authentic) it might start with a list of “Don’ts”. They might include the following:*
- Don’t be a glam metal band. Definitely not. Always a bad starting point.
- Don’t have Gene Simmons from Kiss or Jon Bon Jovi as a mentor or use them to help you get signed to a major label.
- Most important of all, don’t pose on an album cover dressed in zebra patterned or snakeskin-effect Lycra leggings and pink boots.
In short, don’t do what Tom Keifer’s band, Cinderella did.
Cinderella hailed from the Philadelphia suburbs and released their AC/DC / Aerosmith-tinged debut album in 1986. They sought authenticity the hard way, i.e. whilst wearing Lycra. As they searched, they recorded a great debut album, albeit with possibly the worst cover you could possibly imagine. And I’m sure you have a pretty vivid imagination.
Let’s take a look at that cover for their debut album, “Night Songs”.
Cinderella? If there are four uglier sisters in this world, I have yet to meet them. They have scarves hanging from their belts. Wait, even from their ears. One of them is wearing leather underpants, with some sort of webbing, over his white trousers. Even a conservative MP wouldn’t wear that in the darkest of dungeons, no matter how many oranges you offered him.
And yet despite appearances, this album is better than, for example, both AC/DC’s “Black Ice” and Aerosmith’s “Music From Another Dimension”.
Side one had the U.S. hits, but side two is better. “Hell on Wheels” has a great riff and slide guitar, “Save Me” is none more LA Metal (via Philadelphia, of course), whilst “In From The Outside” is an Aerosmith riff all the way, until the song brilliantly segues into a moody, chugging and quite superb guitar break for the final minute, a bit like the way Aerosmith’s “Rats In The Cellar” does. “Push Push” might just be the best glam rock riff of the eighties, whilst “Back Home Again” is very Mötley Crüe, and – surprisingly perhaps – none the worse for it.
So why this talk of authenticity in a metal band with bigger hair than Russell Brand in zero gravity? That comes from interviews Keifer gave at the time, where he said he wanted to move the band in a bluesier direction.
“There’s a lot of feeling to blues, a lot of emotion” he told Sylvie Simmons in RAW Magazine, “We definitely have a blues influence”.
He went on to describe how he got into the blues, via Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, the Stones, and then back to BB King and Muddy Waters.** This was a little unusual at a time when rockers such as Mötley Crüe were more commonly interested in hanging out with Ozzy Osborne, consuming a large proportion of Columbia’s agricultural resources as they did so. And that was when they weren’t being woken from their slumber by defibrillator machines after overdosing on a fatal cocktail of heroin and stupidity.
“Night Songs” went triple platinum, as Cinderella supported David Lee Roth and Bon Jovi in the USA. I saw Cinderella open the Monsters of Rock Festival at Donington in 1987, where they premiered a new song, “Gypsy Road” which subsequently appeared on second album “Long Cold Winter”, an album where Keifer’s search for authenticity would intensify.
Long Cold Winter opened with a slide Dobro guitar riff that screamed “Take Me Seriously!”
We did, although it was trickier when we saw Keifer descend from the ceiling playing a white grand piano on the MTV video for hit single “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)”.
Elsewhere, the title track was very much in the style of Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, whilst “Coming Home” was a decent up-tempo acoustic ballad that still sounds good today.
LCW sold two million copies, but it wasn’t until Cinderella’s third album, “Heartbreak Station”, released in 1990, that Keifer finally transitioned the band away from their Glam Metal beginnings. “Heartbreak Station” included the services of The Memphis Horns on the funky “Love’s Got Me Doing Time” and the Stonesey “Shelter Me”, which reached the U.S. Top 40. “Winds of Change” (no, not that one) closed the album with some Zeppelinesque string arrangements. Production aside, which retains some of-it’s-time stylings, this is an LP that Keifer is rightly proud to call his favourite of his Cinderella output.
So Keifer eventually found the authentic sound he was looking for. It turned out that sound was similar to the one The Rolling Stones found circa “Honky Tonk Women”, but if you’re going to take a sound, that’s not a bad one to use. In the meantime, whilst searching for that sound, Keifer also produced a classic Glam Metal album that may not have had an awful lot of authenticity, but was still a damn good record.
Authenticity? Who needs it? Sometimes, instead of worrying, you should be dancing.
Postscript: In 1991 Keifer’s voice finally gave way after all that touring. When you play the songs, this will come as no surprise to you – Keifer’s voice was not of the sweet-sounding sort of tone that might have had Aled Jones dropping his fee to keep out the competition.
Then Grunge happened. The follow up Cinderella album, “Still Climbing” was delayed until 1994, by which time the world had moved on.
Cinderella went on hiatus in 1995, but has reformed and toured regularly since then. Here’s a playlist I have compiled of some of their best bits:
* I might have added “Don’t use a session drummer when recording your album and allow stories to circulate that your drummer wasn’t up to the task”, but The Beatles showed on their first single that isn’t always a barrier to greatness.
** He wasn’t the only one. In the eighties, plenty of artists thought that playing the blues helped them gain credibility, and for the most part we believed them – just take Bono as an example.