In America, Whitesnake are remembered as just another hair band. To most people, they arrived with Whitesnake and ended with Slip of the Tongue. The only thing to distinguish them from the other legions of '80s rockers is the fact that Whitesnake went platinum eight times--a lot of copies shifted no matter who you are. In Europe, however, it's a different matter. There, Whitesnake was titled 1987 and was really just another Whitesnake album. 1987 wasn't Whitesnake's first British platinum album; it was merely the sixth of eight consecutive top 10 albums. They were a respected classic blues-rock band with a strong following who happened to throw sell out to American glam metal for a couple of albums. I mean, I wouldn't say they are cool in Britain, because dad rock is just as mocked a genre as hair metal, with all its ridiculous Spinal Tap-ness, but Whitesnake are more in a bracket with Rainbow and UFO than Winger and Pretty Boy Floyd.
At first, having done so well in Europe, David Coverdale didn't see the need to attack the American market, but eventually David Geffen convinced him to do just that. Top A&R dude John Kalodner (you'll see his name a lot on this site) was assigned to the band. Coverdale relocated to the USA, and their last album, Slide It In was remixed with heavier guitars from former Thin Lizzy man John Sykes for the US market. The album did OK, so Coverdale went into the studio with production duo Mike Stone and Keith Olsen to produce what would become the Snake's biggest hit, 1987. You probably know the rest. Long time fans found the album a load of commercial-pop-sellout crap, but to everyone else, it was immense. Whitesnake were at heart a genuine classic rock band with blues roots, and the genuine power of that coupled with Def Leppard's top 40 pop metal style proved a lethal combination; a majestic album.
Personally, though, I think the whole thing's totally over the top. The huge production, those keyboards, John Sykes awesome vibrato and fat guitar solos… On one level, yes, it's very cool, the guitars are totally shredding and it's totally larger than life. On another, it's so pompous and inflated, like a classical symphony or something, and it's impossible to take seriously. You can't take any hair band seriously, but with the others there is always some tongue in cheek; some self-mockery. Def Leppard may have sung "Make Love Like a Man", but it was funny. Hair bands got away with all the cheesiness and excesses with a self-deprecating humour. You couldn't take them seriously, but you weren't expected to. Whitesnake's album is far too earnest for my liking. I really love the squealing guitars and David Coverdale's huge voice (he is quite possibly the best British singer ever) growling "Are you ready to rrrrrraaaawk?" but at the same time I find it cheesier than a hundred Cherry Pies. The bottom line is that, with '80s rock, we're going to laugh anyway. The question is, will we be laughing with them or at them?
And anyway, I think a lot of the songs on 1987 are over-rated. Let's not kid ourselves; people bought that album for "Here I Go Again" and "Is This Love", not "Bad Bad Boys" or "Cryin' in the Rain".
I infinitely prefer 1989's Slip of the Tongue, which suggests that I probably shouldn't go into A&R work, because it only sold around 15% of what Whitesnake 1987 managed. That was still good enough for a US platinum disc. It starts out with the title track, which could be off 1987 and has an even more cringe-worthy lyric (again, it should be funny but it's delivered with no trace of irony). Steve Vai played all the guitars on Slip of the Tongue and he is usually criticised for having a thinner guitar sound than John Sykes. Actually, I prefer Vai; Syke's sound was part of what was over the top about 1987. Vai's pyrotechnics are really just as ridiculous, if not more so, but -- maybe I'm imagining it -- I could swear he's laughing when he's doing totally stupid stuff like the solo in "Cheap n' Nasty". The songs on Slip of the Tongue are just more accessible; it's more a pop-rock record -- more my sort of thing. I think "Now You're Gone" is a better pop single than "Here I Go Again" (the best track on 1987, by the way), and "The Deeper the Love" is a far superior ballad to "Is This Love" (what is all the fuss about that song?!).
Anyway, it's a bit weird what happened to Whitesnake after that… as I understand it, Coverdale wanted to wind the band up but was offered a lot of money to tour in support of Greatest Hits. Then for some reason Restless Heart slipped out in 1997 and no one bought it.
Whitesnake are now back together, with a lineup featuring Reb Beach (Alice Cooper, Dokken, Winger) on guitar. They've done some successful touring and a live album is in the can from the tour, ready for release. Coverdale says he is aware of the demand for a new album, but doesn't want to get involved in record company politics. John Kalodner would sign him to Sanctuary, but probably not without John Sykes in the band. Watch this space. Well, not this space. Probably better off watching the Rock Hole blog.
Best album: Where have you been? That's what I spent this entire page discussing! Anyway, my opinion is Slip of the Tongue; everyone else's is Whitesnake (aka 1987). I honestly don't know which of the early Whitesnake records is considered best by the purists. Probably Live in the Heart of the City, a highly regarded live album (as you would never guess from the title!)
Official website: www.DavidCoverdale.com
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