Music Consumption in the MP3 Era
Music Consumption in the MP3 Era

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Sunday Morning Playlist: Arena Rock

Blue Oyster Cult [concert poster] (1979)   Styx [promotional poster]

Arena Rock, mostly extinct now, is a form of classic rock that gained popularity in the mid-70's and began to fade by the early 80's. As the name implies, it is not the music of underdog indie bands; it is music designed to be performed live in stadiums and arenas by megaplatinum titans. Its genesis stems from the convergence of three popular early 70's genres; heavy metal, hard rock, and progressive rock. Arena rock is none of the above, or a little bit of each; the music is "hard" insofar as it emphasises guitar pyrotechnics, it's progressive in the sense that many arena rock classics come from "concept" albums. It is set apart from its influences by an unnatural emphasis on big, anthemic hooks and giant verses. Arena Rock is also home to the power-ballad; a hard rock/heavy metal style of big syrupy romantic music. The lyrical material for most of these hits was remarkably narrow; boy-gets-girl, being a rock star, let's party, and variations on those themes.

While many of the bands classified here as "arena rock" have legitimate roots in other, more organic musical genres, they all share the enormous sales and sense of spectacle necessary to maintain a career of playing stadiums. By 1980, many of these bands were at the zenith of their popularity, selling millions of units, and only seemed on the way up.
Meat Loaf [concert poster]   Foreigner [concert poster]

They were done in by the obvious limitations in the style. Bombast grows boring, as do stadium concerts, where the performers are mere ants on the stage from the upper decks. Younger fans found a more personal connection with punk, new wave, and indie rock, and the older fans outgrew going to stadiums for their music. Arena rock stood outside the current musical trends of the day for the most part, and by the time the MTV 80's were really rolling it no longer bore any revelence; declining admission sales and album sales caused the music industry to tighten its belt considerably; venues became smaller again, recording and production costs were capped, and few arena rock bands were still around when the 90's alternative rock era began.

Much of this music lives on in a state of suspended animation on classic rock radio, a mausoleum devoted mainly to the late 70's. All of it is instantly familiar to rock listeners of a certain age. Some of it is still pretty good; the best arena rock bands were truly in their element when designing spectacle. Others sound pretty embarrassing now; dated and pompous. Still, all of it conjures up an important era in rock's history, and deserves some recognition for what it was.

Some important/influential arena rock artists/songs include:

1. Foreigner: Hot Blooded iTunes
Foreigner: Double Vision (1978)
Foreigner were latecomers to arena rock, not hitting their stride until the late 70's; however, they were one of the few arena rock acts to carry momentum well into the 1980's. Led by veteran guitarist Mick Jones, who had done sessionwork for A-listers George Harrison and Peter Frampton in the past, Foreigner was envisioned as a mix of rock, r&b, progressive-rock, and pop. What ultimately was created was a very watered-down version of this vision, with an emphasis on Jones' big, giant, guitar and Lou Gramm's vocals, which were more soulful than those of most arena rock frontmen. Their debut album, Foreigner, peaked at #4, and each of their next four albums also made the top-5. 4, from 1981, reached #1. Their streak ended in 1986; Jones and Gramm both focused on solo work, and Gramm had a hit on his own with "Midnight Blue". This led to a classic rock star riff, with Gramm ultimately splitting in 1989 after the weak Inside Information and tour. Gramm's career fizzled, and he came back in 1992, but by then the band's audience had evaporated. "Hot Blooded" is a strutting piece of cock rock from their peak years, taken from their sophomore, and best, album Double Vision from 1978.

2. Journey: Any Way You Want It iTunes
Journey: Departure (1980)
Journey is another arena rock band that ended up something different from what it was conceived as. Former Santana guitarist Neil Schon formed the band in 1973 with Santana bandmate Greg Rolie and some familiar names from second-tier San Francisco bands and released three albums as Journey from 1975-1977. These were mostly instrumental jazz/rock-fusion albums that failed to find a wide audience; Next, from 1977, peaked at #85. The rap against the band was that they were good, if unadventurous musicians, and lacked a distinctive character. So, in 1978 vocalist Steve Perry was brought aboard, and the next album Infinity, broke the top-40. Perry's presence is the difference; his soaring vocals were distinctive, and the band switched to a more hard rock style musically. "Any Way You Want It", from 1980, is the perfect distillation of Journey's classic sound; a top-30 hit, it boasts a larger-than-life sound with plenty of guitar fireworks, Perry's clarion vocal, and radio friendly air-pumped production. Great art it isn't, but as a tuneful and popular entry to the genre, Journey and "Any Way You Want It" are what arena rock is all about.

3. Heart: Magic Man iTunes
Heart: Dreamboat Annie (1976)
Heart, led by the Wilson sisters, Ann (vocals), and Nancy (guitar), was an unusual hybrid of Led Zeppelin-eque heavy metal and singer/songwriter-style folk/pop. Both of these styles were already on their way out when Heart's debut hit big in 1976, powered by the singles "Magic Man" and "Crazy On You", although Heart put a new spin on them that helped keep them in circulation a while longer. Heart wasn't actually formed by the Wilsons; the band, originally White Heart, was formed in 1963 by bassist Steve Fossen, and brothers Mike Fisher and Roger Fisher; the Wilson sisters began dating the Fisher Brothers in the early 70's, and wound up in Heart. "Magic Man" sounded like Led Zeppelin meets ELP; "Crazy On You" recalled Jefferson Starship. The band would have several more hits through the 70's, including the Zeppelin-esque "Barracuda" and "Bebe Le Strange", but by 1981 they were seemingly washed-up. In 1985, with new label Capitol, they launched an unlikely comeback as an adult-contemporary band and had the biggest hits of their career before running out of commercial steam again in 1990. They're still out there, though.

4. Blue Oyster Cult: Burnin' For You iTunes
Blue Oyster Cult: Burnin' For You (1981)
Blue Oyster cult is yet another band that started life with a fairly different sound and image before becoming arena rock heroes in the late 1970's. In the early 1970's, they were a conceptual hard rock post-psychedelic band with a sinister image, and dark, spooky undercurrents to their music, which was abrasive boogie rock with heavy metal overtones. A favorite with bikers, speed addicts, and rock critics, they reinvented themselves in 1976 with the glossily produced Agents Of Fortune, which spawned the surprise #12 hit "(Don't Fear) The Reaper". Although the band's lineup and essential vision remained unchanged, the music did, becoming more radio-accessable and mainstream rock-oriented, which earned them big sales for awhile. "Burnin' For You" snuck into the top-40 in 1981 as a single from Fire Of Unknown Origin, which proved to be their best-seller ever. It's an uptempo bass-driven number with heavy guitar, some boogie, some Beach Boy styled harmonies, and a ominous undercurrent. It's pop by Blue Oyster Cult standards, but remains a staple on classic rock radio to this day. Inexplicably, the band never capitalized on this hit; their next release was a redundant live album, and the next album, The Revolution By Night in 1983, barely entered the top-100. A version of BOC, with frontman Eric Bloom and guitarist Buck Dharma at its axis, continues to this day.

5. Styx: Lady
Styx: Styx II (1975)
Styx, from Chicago, was originally a progressive rock-oriented group in its early years reminiscent of Emerson Lake & Palmer and The Moody Blues, albeit with something of a mainstream tilt to it. The enormous power ballad "Lady", their first hit single, changed them forever. Taken from their second album, Styx II, it didn't become a hit until 1975, after four albums and right before a big change in labels from RCA to A&M and the addition of guitarist Tommy Shaw to the lineup. With A&M, the band entered its most successful phase, reaching the top-10 with five albums from 1978-1983. With Shaw, the band pursued a much more aggressive, guitar-oriented approach, while vocalist/keyboardist Dennis DeYoung favored a theatrical "concept album" approach to albums. This disagreement in direction actually worked to the band's benefit for awhile, as their albums took on a epic sprawl, while providing some good hard rock songs, too. However, following the fairly silly Kilroy Was Here album in 1983, the band went on haitus. Styx re-formed without Shaw in 1990, and continue to this day after numerous confusing lineup changes that included Shaw coming back, original drummer John Panozzo's death, competing Styx bands, etc. None of their post-1990 albums have broken the top-100.

6. .38 Special: Hold On Loosely iTunes
.38 Special: WIld Eyed Southern Boys (1981)
.38 Special reached arena rock status not via the usual prog-rock/hard rock route, but as a Southern rock boogie band, contemporaries of 70's legends the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The Skynyrd connection was particularly acute; .38 Special vocalist Donnie Van Zant was Ronnie Van Zant's brother. The band formed in 1975, and released their self-titled debut in 1977 (the same year Ronnie Van Zant was killed in a plane crash). While it and its followup Special Delivery didn't make many waves, the band's audience grew through relentless touring as well as some spillover from Lynyrd Skynyrd's fans. Rockin' Into The Night from 1980 was their big national breakthrough; its clean radio-friendly production, and song-oriented approach earned them a following among non-Southern hard rock fans. Wild-Eyed Southern Boys, from 1981, is their critical high-water mark; the album peaked at #18, and the single "Hold On Loosely", a mellow hard rocker with Van Zant's country-soul vocals, became a radio perennial. Their next album, Special Forces, from 1982 was their best seller, reaching #10 and containing the top-10 "Caught Up In You". Subsequent albums failed to generate much interest, as hard rock and Southern rock dropped of the mainstream's radar; they disbanded in 1991. Occasional reunion efforts since then haven't caused a stir beyond their core Southern audience.

7. Meat Loaf: Paradise By The Dashboard Light iTunes
Meat Loaf: Bat Out Of Hell (1977)
Arguably the quintessential arena rock album of all time, Bat Out Of Hell, from 1977, racked up some of the biggest sales of all time, and produced a show of pure spectacle while also providing classic rock radio some of its most enduring hits. Largely the brainchild of lyricist and musical arranger Jim Steinman, Bat Out Of Hell and its subsequent tour gained much of its legend from 300 lb. frontman Meat Loaf (Marvin Lee Aday), whose emotion-laden, passionate, comical, and campy vocals drew from his strengths as an actor and delivered the spectacle. "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" is an epic mini-opera, as ridiculous as its supposed to be, in which our hero tries to score a homerun off his girl in a car while real-life Yankees broadcaster Phil Rizzuto gives the play-by-play. The music is bombastic, operatic, rocking, and gothic; the vocals, shared with co-star Ellen Foley, are classic and never really have been duplicated, by Meat or anyone else. It's faux-trash on purpose, which ironically has given it a lot more staying power than many of the more "rock" offerings on this list. A follow-up, Dead Ringer, fared less well in 1981, and Meat Loaf and Steinman parted company until 1993 when a real sequel, Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, returned Meat Loaf briefly to the top of the charts. Since then, Meat Loaf has kept working, although none of his subsequent albums have gotten much attention.

8. REO Speedwagon: Time For Me To Fly iTunes
REO SPeedwagon: You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can't Tuna Fish (1978)
Along with Styx, Foreigner, and Journey, REO Speedwagon briefly was among the short-list of biggest arena-rock attractions of them all. This must have come as something of a surprise to both the band and their fans; it took ten albums and twelve years of touring before Hi Infidelity became a completely out-of-the-blue #1 album in 1981, yielding six charting songs, including the #1 power ballad "Keep On Loving You". However, the band had had some whiffs of success along the way; the formula that paid off was actually perfected on their 1978 release You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can't Tuna Fish, which peaked at #29 and contained two singles that charted in the mid-50's, "Time For Me To Fly" and "Roll With The Changes". All of their hits sound fairly similar; humongous hooks for choruses, usually reaching a dramatic crescendo after a slow build, lyrics almost always about getting love or losing love, and plenty of tuneful guitar work. Their next two albums after Hi Infidelity also made the top-10, and then the hits very abruptly dried up. Following the poorly-selling Life As We Know It in 1987, the band underwent multiple lineup changes and ceased to be a commercial force.

9. Boston: More Than A Feeling iTunes
Boston: Boston (1976)
Few debut albums become as titanic sellers as Boston, from 1976. In the late 70's, it was a rare teenager who didn't have this album; nearly every cut on it is familiar even to non-fans because of their constant radio presence that continues to this day. Boston never really was a band in the conventional sense; the demo for their debut album was recorded on a sophisticated 12-track home studio owned by guitar whiz and M.I.T. grad Tom Scholz. While a touring band of local musicians was assembled, consisting of fellow guitarist Barry Goudreau, vocalist Brad Delp, bassist Fran Sheehan, and drummer John "Sib" Hashian, much of the debut album consists of Scholz' demos. "More Than A Feeling" remains Boston's greatest moment, a heavy rock number lightened by its upbeat chorus and dense, meaty guitar pyrotechnics. Scholz was rushed into releasing the follow up, Don't Look Back in 1978 by impatient Epic records, and the album didn't fare as well; by the time he got around to releasing the third Boston album Third Stage, in 1986, the arena rock era had passed by; when the fourth album, Walk On finally appeared in 1994, most of Boston's fans had long since vanished. Scholz kept his one album every 8 years schedule in 2002 when Boston's fifth album, minus all of the other members, Corporate Rock was released.

10. Pat Benatar: Hit Me With Your Best Shot iTunes
Pat Benatar: Crimes Of Passion (1980)
Unlike many of the other arena-rock bands on this list, who usually paid their dues in one musical genre or another before conquering the world as arena rock stars, Pat Benatar's career gave the impression of being designed specifically as an arena-rock attraction, and her 1979 debut album, In The Heat Of The Night, proved to be an enormous seller that propelled her to stardom quickly, containing the top-40 hits, "Heartbreaker" and "We Live For Love" and a version of Johnny Cougar's "I Need A Lover". Born in Brooklyn as Patricia Andrzejewski, Benatar's image was one of streetwise tough sexuality, and her sound was largely due to the pumping arena-friendly guitarwork of her husband Neil Giraldo. He best album was her sophomore album, Crimes Of Passion, which contained the hard rock "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" which was her first top-10. She began courting the mainstream pop audience next, and hit #1 with Precious Time in 1982 and #4 with Get Nervous in 1983, before seeing her sales begin to erode quickly.

11. Cheap Trick: I Want You To Want Me [live at Budokan]iTunes
Cheap Trick: At Budokan (1979)
Power-pop legends Cheap Trick are somewhat miscast on this list, although their most influential album was probably At Budokan, which was a quintessential arena-rock artifact, recorded mainly at Tokyo's Budokan arena, although there was significant studio work done to it as well. Cheap Trick's roots date all the way back to 1969 and Fuse, a Rockford, IL band formed by guitarist Rick Nielsen and bassist Tom Petersson, who released an unsuccessful album. In 1975 the classic Cheap Trick lineup of Nielsson-Peterssen-Carlos-Zander was established, and the band pursued a direction that combined the punchiness of the Beatles' harmonic pop with high adrenaline hard-rock. The result is textbook power pop, and Cheap Trick became the most successful power-pop band on the planet. "Surrender" was their first radio hit in 1978, but it is the live version of "I Want You To Want Me" from Budokan, released in 1979, that captures their true essence, and remains one of their most beloved songs; the audience shreiks throughout. Petersson left the group in 1980 but rejoined in 1988; the classic lineup endures to this day, one of the longest-lived in rock history.

12. Peter Frampton: Do You Feel Like We Do? iTunes
Peter Frampton: Frampton Comes Alive!
For a brief moment in time, Peter Frampton was bigger than God, a man with a Midas touch, a talking guitar, a million groupies, and a million teen fans who took up air guitar or real guitar in his wake. That brief moment lasted about 3 years, from 1976-1978; few artists have fallen so far so fast commercially. Frampton Comes Alive!, a double live album from 1976, is what he built this enormous fanbase with. One of the biggest selling albums of all time, it propelled Frampton from little known cult guitarist to superstar status overnight. While many fans were attracted to his blonde good looks and pop ballads, it was his guitar playing that was really the draw on the album, and remains the best thing about it now. While "Show Me The Way" and "Baby I Love Your Way" were the big hits, "Do You Feel Like We Do?", the album closer, is what his legend rests upon; an 11-minute atmospheric and epic multi-suite hard rock number that features an extended section where Frampton, with a lot of help from a squack box, gets his guitar to "talk". While it's pure gimmick, it is still a pretty good hard rock tune; all of his studio material sounds better on this album. Frampton came by his guitar prowess honestly, having earned his keep since the 60's in The Herd and Humble Pie before embarking on a solo career. His downfall was swift; starring with the Bee Gees in one of the more noteworthy film turkeys of all time, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1978, and releasing a disappointing pop-oriented followup album to Frampton Comes Alive!, I'm In You, Frampton's momentum fizzled almost immediately. By 1981, he was out of the top-40 forever.

13. Kansas: Carry On Wayward Son iTunes
Kansas: Leftoverture (1976)
Kansas, from Topeka, were a rare band in America; they employed much of the classical-trappings of British progressive rock, and fused it with a heartland style American rock, giving them a distinctive and accessable sound that kept them in the major leagues throughout the late 1970's. Kansas released their self-titled debut in 1974, but it was their fourth album, Leftoverture, from 1976, that really established them. Art-rock almost to the point of put-on, as the snarky title implies, the album is full of complex, almost impenetrable suites with titles like "Father Padilla Meets The Perfect Gnat" and "Opus Insert". "Carry On Wayward Son" is the one most people remember; a cross between midwestern hard rock and arty pretense, it reached #11 on the charts, and helped the album to a #5 showing. Their followup, Point Of Know Return did even better, peaking at #4 and yielding three charting singles, of which the violin-based "Dust In The Wind" was the biggest and best. The band had more moderate success through 1980, but the conversion to Christianity of singer/guitarist Kerry Livgren and bassist Dave Hope led to internal frictions; a period of lineup instability followed which resulted in rapidly diminishing sales. The band's most recent studio album, recorded with Livgrin back in the fold, was Somewhere to Elsewhere from 2000; aside from a token appearence on the Top Internet Albums chart, it failed to draw much notice.

14. Ted Nugent: Cat Scratch Fever iTunes
Ted Nugent: cat Scratch Fever (1977)
Detroit-rock legend, guitar virtuoso, wildman, hunter, right-wing mouthpiece, Ted Nugent has specialized in essentially the same approach since launching a solo career in 1975, several years after his first group, the psychedelic garage rock Amboy Dukes, broke up. All of his albums, recorded with a variety of lead vocalists (including Meat Loaf on his second album), showcase his guitarwork, which generally is a fast boogie with heavy metal overtones. Derek St. Holmes, who appeared on his first album, resumed vocal duties on his third, Cat Scratch Fever, which remains one of his biggest and best; the title track made the top-40, reaching #30, his biggest single ever. Nugent's albums would continue to chart in the top-20 through 1980; after that, he found his sales eroding, although he still has fiercely loyal fans in the midwest. Largely absent from solo recording since the late 80's, he has only released two albums since 1988; Craveman, the most recent, appeared in 2002. However, he did enjoy major success in the early 1990's as member of the supergroup Damn Yankees, which also included Tommy Shaw of Styx.

15. The Tubes: She's A Beauty iTunes
The Tubes: Outside Inside (1983)
The Tubes never quite had the commercial success of the others on this list, but their theatrical stage presentations were purely arena rock in terms of sheer spectacle; towards the end of their run they also managed to chalk up a couple of hits as well. The band had its genesis in Phoenix, AZ at the end of the sixties, where guitarist Bill Spooner, keyboardist Vince Welnick and bassist Rick Anderson played in a garage band/barband called the Beans. The Beans relocated to San Francisco in the early 70's, where they added guitarist Roger Steen and drummer Prairie Prince; keyboardist Michael Cotten and roadie-turned-lead vocalist Fee Waybill completed the lineup of the newly rechristened Tubes, an unweildy septet. Their early shows became elaborate theater works, with plotlines and skits and Waybill taking on different characters and personas during the course of a performance. Much of it was X-rated adult humor, some of it was social commentary, some of it theater-group improv, some of it guerrila theater. Since their shows were the spectacle, and the albums secondary soundtracks, they seemed unlikely to ever hit big with the mainstream; their 1975 anthem "White Punks On Dope" bordered on glam-rock and bas banned from a lot of radio markets. Their turning point was a label-change to EMI/Capitol in 1981; The Completion Backward Principle, their seventh album was given a radio friendly production job that had the band sounding almost as well-heeled as Toto (some of whom augment the lineup), despite some zany lyrical references. It and the followup, Outside Inside from 1983, made the top-40, and were almost by-the-numbers arena rock albums; "She's A Beauty", a gistening arena-pop tune from the latter, peaked at #10. Their next album Love Bomb, stiffed in 1985 and the group broke up. In 1992, Vince Welnick became keyboardist for the Grateful Dead, of all possible groups.

16. Kiss: Detroit Rock City iTunes
Kiss: Destroyer (1976)
Cartoon superheroes Kiss dressed in wacky costumes and saved rock 'n' roll while getting all the chicks. Or so their comic book depicts them; in reality they were essentially the conceptual creation of Isreali-born bassist/singer Gene Simmons and guitarist/singer Paul Stanley, who placed ads for members and came up with Ace Frehley and Peter Criss in 1972. From the start, Simmons and Stanley wanted theater, and they played it up to the hilt with fireballs and fake blood and acrobatic performances and a big, noisy glam-rock-meets-heavy-metal sound. This larger-than-life approach got them noticed quickly, and their debut was released in February 1974. The band spent the next three years touring relentlessly, building up their stage show to ever epic proportions, and building up a fanbase that ultimately numbered in the multimillions, all of whom were encouraged to purchase piles of Kiss merchandise. "Detroit Rock City" is a reasonable simulation of the Detroit-rock sound with its sweaty boogie and thunderous guitar riffs. It propelled their 1976 album Destroyer to #11, a significant consolidation on the previous year's breakthrough, Alive. By 1980, they had already peaked, although they've almost always managed to chart their albums in the top-40 ever since, despite some lineup changes, costumeless albums, an expensive concept album flop, and repeated "farewell" tours. Their merchandise, which has since expanded to include things like caskets, continues, full steam ahead. Gene Simmons continues to add to his famed Polaroid collection.

17. Bad Company: Feel Like Makin' Love
Bad Company: Straight Shooter (1975)
One of the better supergroups of the 1970's, the hard-rock Bad Company was formed by ex-Free vocalist Paul Rodgers, ex-Mott The Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs, ex-King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell, and ex-Free drummer Simon Kirke. This gave them experience in hard rock, progressive rock, and glam rock, but with their first release (on Led Zeppelin's vanity label Swan Song, Bad Company in 1974, they established a fairly no-frills workmanlike hard-rock/boogie/metal sound; the album reached #1. Simple, but effective, their hits seemed tailor-made for radio, and the band routinely made the top-10 on the album charts through 1979. "Feel Like Makin' Love" is a strutting anthem of cocksure lust; it reached #10 in 1975. The band split in 1982, but re-formed without Rodgers (who was by then fronting The Firm) in 1986. In 1998 the original lineup convened to record some new tracks for The Original Bad Company Anthology.

18. Pink Floyd: Comfortably Numb iTunes
Pink Floyd: The Wall (1979)
Pink Floyd qualifies as arena rock, particulalry in terms of the band's mid-late 70's product, culminating in The Wall from 1979. The Wall was one of the most ambitious and expensive projects ever; designed as a stageshow-movie-album all at once, it was a tremendous spectacle that somehow managed to encompass the outer limits of rock 'n' roll pretension. Musically, Pink Floyd had been drifting away from their psychedelic space-rock roots for years, crafting an arena-ready sound that was accompanied by multimedia presentations. By 1979, they had almost ceased to be a band at all, becoming instead obsessive creatures of the studio, particularly bassist/singer Roger Waters, who soon found himself at odds with guitarist/singer Dave Gilmour over the band's direction. "Comfortably Numb" is a classic of arena rock proportions, with its enigmatic lyrics, bass-heavy, slow rhythm section, and two extended Gilmour guitar solos. Both Waters and Gilmour sing verses, creating an illusion of a cohesive band. The Wall was a big commercial success, reaching #1, and the tour was indeed a spectacle (one that did encounter some big glitches along the way), but Pink Floyd wasn't long for the world; after the Waters-dominated The Final Cut in 1983, the band split acrimoniously. The remaining three, without Waters, reformed Pink Floyd in 1987 to more arena-rock success.

19. Aerosmith: Dream On iTunes
Aerosmith: Aerosmith (1973)
Aerosmith straddled the fence between hard rock and heavy metal, and also applied some glam-rock to their early presentation, particularly frontman Steven Tyler. Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry met in 1970 when Tyler was still a drummer; after playing together in a power trio with bassist Tom Hamilton, the band eventually grew to a quintet with Tyler on vocals. The band toured relentlessly, earning opening positions on a wide array of bills, gaining them considerable exposure beyond the traditional hard-rock audience. "Dream On" from their 1973 debut, wasn't their biggest hit by a longshot; it peaked at #59. But it is arguably the first power-ballad of the arena-rock era, and set the stage for a formula they'd revisit over the next three decades. By 1982, they seemed to be washed-up; Perry and second guitarist Brad Whitford had left the band, and Tyler was a drug-addled shambles, collapsing onstage and missing gigs. Still, the band somehow pulled it together again when Perry and Whitford returned in the mid-80's, embarking on a comeback that has eclipsed their initial run in popularity. One of the few arena rock bands that can still pack an arena.

20. Loverboy: Working For The Weekend iTunes
Loverboy: Get Lucky (1981)
Arena rock was notoriously adverse to change; formula was what it was all about. So arena rock seldom strayed from its hard rock/progressive rock/heavy metal leanings. Still, as the 1980's rolled in, and record sales were down, it must have dawned on the major labels running the show that unless some new blood was pumped into the machine, it would eventually collapse under its own weight. Loverboy seemed like a solution. The Toronto quartet of vocalist Mike Reno, guitarist Paul Dean, bassist Scott Smith, keyboardist Doug Johnson, and drummer Matthew Frenette were latecomers to the arenas, forming in 1980, but gave the impression of representing a sort of future, since they took the standard hard rock cliches and applied them to a synthesizer influenced sound that seemed vaguely new-wavish; new wave had previously been anathema to arena rock. The combination seemingly worked; slick and glossy, but undeniably catchy, Loverboy's first three albums sold well in Canada and the U.S., particularly in the heartland, Get Lucky from 1982 and Give It Up from 1983 both reached the top-10. "Working For The Weekend" remains their enduring radio staple, getting airplay particularly on Friday afternoons even to this day. The band's fortunes fell apart with a flop album in 1985; by 1989 they were no longer selling at all, and folded. The band reformed in 1998, but suffered a tragedy when Scott Smith was drowned in a boating accident.

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Listen to Boston: More Than A Feeling [live in Long Beach, 1977]


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