On first listening to the debut album of American 80s-90s band Skid Row, one might make the mistake of thinking they’ve put on a Bon Jovi record by accident. And it makes sense. Audibly they have the ‘Oh yeah!’s now infamous with glam rock/hair metal, riffs straight out of Richie Sambora’s back catalogue, and visually they might as well be twins, with long blonde hair and leather jackets. Hell, they even come from the same state.
But that doesn’t mean you should cast off Skid Row as some inferior alternative to the bigger boys from New Jersey. They have their own songs, and boy are they rockin’.
Skid Row, the band’s eponymous debut released in early 1989, is their biggest record to date, going 5x Platinum and spawning four hit singles, two of which made the Top 10 in the charts, and all of which received heavy airplay on MTV. Coupled with opening as a support act for Bon Jovi on their 1987 Slippery When Wet tour and receiving high praise from the band itself, this thrust Skid Row into stardom, and rightly so.
The album begins with the track aptly named ‘Big Guns’, telling the age-old tale of a man on the lookout for an escort in the dead of night. But as lead singer Sebastian Bach points out in roaring vocals, ‘She got the big guns, pointed at my heart. Bang, bang, shooting like a firing squad.’ It’s an impressive start to the album, with drums like claps of thunder to get you headbanging if you weren’t already. It’s hard rock bordering on metal, it dares to go further than Bon Jovi ever could – and we’re only one song in.
‘Sweet Little Sister’ is a track laden with fast-paced guitar work that ignites like a speeding train, crashing into you with all the power of a rocket engine. ‘I know a thing or two about our sweet little sister… She’ll love ya black and blue, she’s Mona Lisa with a new tattoo…’ Bach explains in a song that remains one of the highlights of the album, despite its non-single status.
‘Can’t Stand the Heartache’ sounds like the most Jovi song on the record, and that’s no dig. Its lyrics prophet the inevitable doom of a relationship, whilst remaining a rocker through and through. ‘Piece Of Me’ opens with an infectious bassline that bursts into razor-sharp guitar and banging drums, all complete with high notes galore. ‘I need a fix of rock ‘n roll’ describes the hysteria of metal and glam at the time.
’18 And Life’ is perhaps the band’s signature hit – Their ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’, if you will. This rock ballad (for to call it a power ballad still underplays its brutality) lays out a tragic story of a kid gone wrong, turning to drink and killing another before he’s either jailed or shot down in the street. It’s moving, it’s effective, and its solo is one of the best things to ever come out of the hard rock movement. It also achieves all that in only four minutes.
‘Rattlesnake Shake’ is a playful track about, well, a girl who tries to use what God gave her, to little avail. ‘Shake, shake, shake it like a rattlesnake’ about sums this one up. It’s one of the more ‘filler’ tracks on the record, but by no means a skip.
‘Youth Gone Wild’ is perhaps where the band oversteps the line from hard rock madness to social commentary in one fell swoop. ‘They call us problem child, we spend our lives on trial, we walk an endless mile, we are the youth gone wild!’ are words almost any teenager or young adult can relate to, even today. It’s a song that’s never stopped being relevant, and it’s possibly the best track on the album. It invigorates and crackles with so much energy, it might as well be a tesla coil put into song.
‘Here I Am’ and ‘Makin’ A Mess’ are your standard rock songs. They’re the last bit of “filler” on the album (and at this point you should have gathered there’s not a lot on here in the first place) but they’re still likable tracks. The latter is a fast-paced rocker to prepare you for the next stop.
‘I Remember You’ is a true power ballad, showing the softer side of the band and how they master every aspect of the rock/metal genre. Reflecting on the moonlit memories of a lover now gone, it’s Bach at his rawest, and it sounds fantastic. At five minutes, it’s the longest track on the album, but you won’t for one second wish for any less.
‘Midnight/Tornado’ is a foot and, hell, whole body-stomper of a climax. ‘When the clock strikes, midnight…’ is impossible not to shout along to, and ends in a riff so grueling it’s like wet concrete. That’s how hard it hits you, too.
All in all, ‘Skid Row’ is an album that should remain as a staple on the playlist of any classic rock, hard rock or metal fan for the rest of time. Rivaling even their chart superior, Bon Jovi, it’s a rollercoaster from start to finish. I just hope you’re buckled in.