1986 marked the best financial year for hard rock and all things glam, especially in the US; from Bon Jovi’s global breakthrough, Slippery When Wet to Poison’s multi-platinum Look What The Cat Dragged In and Europe’s The Final Countdown. 1986 also signaled the debut of Philadelphia-born rockers Cinderella (formed four years earier), led by the charismatic, raspy, and downright sex-fueled Tom Keifer on guitar. Night Songs, the band’s first record, featured a breakthrough single in ‘Nobody’s Fool’, climbed the US charts to number 3 and went double-platinum in under a year. The band opened for many of Bon Jovi’s gigs on their Slippery tour, and the future looked bright for Keifer and the rest of the band; namely Jeff LaBar on guitar, Eric Brittingham on bass and Fred Coury on drums (though for their follow-up, such duties were taken over by a variety of stand-ins, including Cozy Powell).
So, two years later, the band were back again, this time with Long Cold Winter, sporting a largely blank cover and shift towards more blues-tinged hard rock than outright glam. But that’s not to say it rocked any less.
Long Cold Winter opens with the titanic ‘Bad Seamstress Blues/Fallin’ Apart at the Seams’. With a lap steel guitar intro – accompanied by some fine harmonica – the band are letting their intentions known from the get-go. This could be played in any New Orleans speakeasy; but as LaBar crashes in with an almighty riff, it’s obvious Cinderella aren’t abandoning their headbanger fanbase yet. This deliciously-southern five-minute stomper combines the best of blues and hard rock; with an edge of flashy glam. Keifer’s vocals shine through like nothing before, a pumping drumbeat behind him. It grows somewhat repetitive, perhaps, but all the same warrants a listen in full. A brilliant opener; the love child of Steven Tyler and the Georgia Satellites.
Cinderella follows it up with ‘Gypsy Road’, one of the best glam rock tracks ever put to record. It only reached 51 in the charts and to me, that’s an injustice. ‘And who’s to care if I grow my hair to the sky?’ Keifer booms in full force – rock perfection – ‘I’ll take a wish and a prayer, cross my fingers ‘cause I always get by!’. They’re words we can all live by. A glorious four-minute anthem that got me into the band and solidified my love for the Philadelphia boys.
Long Cold Winter’s third track is ‘Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone) – undeniably the band’s biggest song and an incredible ballad. It peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November of that year, and features some of Keifer’s gentler vocals – though still packing that trademark rasp. It’s one of those truly great ballads that pop up from time to time. Not, as blasphemous as it is to say, like any of the ones Aerosmith churned out in the 90s that seemed to come forth every time Joe Perry clapped his hands. ‘Don’t Know What You Got…’ is packed and overflowing with tension, heartbreak and emotion. We’re three tracks in and already any 80s rock outfit would kill to have just one of these on their sophomore record.
‘The Last Mile’ would probably be the best pure and simple rock track of the album if we didn’t already experience ‘Gypsy Road’. Nonetheless, the band bare it all in their background vocals on this blazing pumper of a tune. ‘I guess I’ve always been a travellin’ man, ‘cause when I’m movin’ I can make a stand’ further sculpts Keifer as the rock ‘n roll cowboy he is. I’ve heard someone dub him a ‘lesser Jon Bon’ before, but I couldn’t disagree more. I love the New Jersey preacher, but Keifer is his own kind of frontman. And every bit as charismatic. ‘Second Wind’, meanwhile, is one of the few throwaways of Long Cold Winter. This speedier number packs a mean riff and sense of urgency, but besides a punchy chorus there’s not much else.
If the album’s opener was Tom’s way of paying homage to the blues that made him, then the title track might as well be him wearing one of those sandwich boards you see diehard Christians don, reading ‘I only listen to B.B. King.’. Perhaps wasted on the more ‘faithful’ glam-heads, ‘Long Cold Winter’ is a nigh-on-six minute slow-burner of hearty blues and soul. Never before have the likes of Son House and Johnny Winter shown their inspiration on Keifer. It’s far from the same vein of ‘Gypsy Road’ but blistering all the same.
The Brittingham/Keifer penned ‘If You Don’t Like It’ is back to hard rock; with some outstanding guitar work from LaBar. We feel the full-throated wrath of Keifer emerge here, ‘So just sit back, shut up for a minute, let me tell you what I’m gonna do!’ It’s hard not to cackle maniacally along to Tom’s well-wishes. A personal favourite.
The contractual ‘slowy’ of the album in ‘Coming Home’ deals with Keifer praying his love is strong enough to wait just a little longer; soon he will be home. Cinderella proved in their next studio venture that they could hack it with both acoustic and electric (just listen to Heartbreak Station’s political ‘Shelter Me’ which bravely straddled both), and that’s no different here. An infectious tune we can all resonate with.
‘Fire And Ice’ is the album’s heaviest track; Crue-esque in sound and stomping away with ease; though half as memorable as what’s come before. Still, Keifer’s wiped the tears from his eyes and donned the electric six-string once more; passing the song’s three-minute runtime with little protest.
Just as Long Cold Winter opened with pumping rock and blues, it closes with a similarly southern-influenced ‘Take Me Back’. Lyrically not unlike ‘Coming Home’, it combines the heartfelt message of a homesick band on tour with the glam rock of ‘Gypsy Road’. It’s one of my favourites, and a worthy closer.
Cinderella’s Long Cold Winter, to me, is hard rock perfection. It captures the very best of 80s glam metal; injecting it with a refreshing dose of blues at times to create something fairly unique. Keifer is, as always, captivating in every fearsome roar that spills from his lips; gracing us with tales of heartbreak, homesickness and rejecting social conformity. I’m proud to give it a place in my own record collection – encompassing the ‘80s without feeling the need to throw in gratuitous ‘Woah-yeah!’s or synth solos. Lovely stuff.