This week’s pick is the album that saw a change in style for a long-running band and a shift that would pay massive dividends. The band was on the verge of ending and instead launched one of rock’s most successful albums in the genre’s commercial peak.
Whitesnake – self-titled
Released March 23, 1987 via EMI/Geffen Records
My Favorite Tracks – Still Of The Night, Crying In The Rain, Here I Go Again
The giant success of this record wouldn’t come without drama and turmoil. David Coverdale had been plunged into depression over Whitesnake’s prior lack of success and personal issues with his band. While guitarist John Sykes helped write the album, Sykes and the rest of the band were out before touring on the white hot record. The group that appeared in the mega-successful videos for this album was not the same group that made the album, save for Coverdale and Adrian Vandenburg’s involvement in recording Here I Go Again.
There are several different versions of this album – it was self-titled in North America and other places, while in Europe and Australia it was called 1987. Japan had yet another name for it and there are different track lists across the disparate versions. For simplicity’s sake I’ll cover the 9 track US version.
Crying In The Rain
The opener marks one of two songs redone from the 1982 Saints And Sinners album, both re-recorded songs would be hits. Originally a blues-based rocker, John Sykes reportedly despised blues music and turned it into a heavy metal riff fest. The lyrics are a depressing look inside Coverdale’s mind through a divorce, dude was down in the dumps a lot apparently. While the premise of crying in the rain seems silly, the song’s riffs and presentation keep it from slipping into parody.
A standard fare, fast rocker about being a bad boy, a pretty common offering for 80’s rock. It’s a good offering for the “wild in the streets” theme that was ever-present back then.
Still Of The Night
The album’s lead single was a modest chart hit but would serve to generate interest in the album and was a very popular music video. This song is a fantastic composition with John Sykes going full on guitar god and the full album version of the song is a nice series of movements with the violins and build up back to the rocking at the end. The video was the first of three from the album to feature future Coverdale wife Tawney Kitaen, who would become one of music video’s most iconic performers for the videos.
Here I Go Again
The other re-recorded song from Whitesnake’s earlier days and one of the mega hits from this album, this is the most widely-known song from the Whitesnake discography. The song about venturing on one’s own has remained in cultural consciousness enough to be meme material these days. The video was a monster hit and features the late Tawney Kitaen’s most memorable video performance.
The song topped the Billboard Top 100 and was in constant MTV rotation. And yes, the album cut and single version are two different recordings with some differences, I’d personally take the album version.
Give Me All Your Love Tonight
Another single, this one didn’t quite crack the top 40. It’s an uptempo rocker about love, which in hair metal parlance means sex, as I’m sure everyone is aware. The single release is noteworthy as it features a redone guitar solo from Vivian Campbell, marking the only time he contributed music to Whitesnake material.
Is This Love
The album’s other massive hit single originated when Coverdale was trying to write a song for Tina Turner. David Geffen told Coverdale to keep it and here we are, with the track going to number two on the charts. The song couldn’t be any more elementary in its concept but again its presentation is fantastic and it’s one of time’s honored power ballads.
Children Of The Night
It’s another badass rocker about going out and getting in trouble. It’s a track worthy of partying and headbanging to.
Straight For The Heart
Getting toward the end of the album with this rocker about Coverdale going to get his girl. This song definitely jumps the hair metal shark a bit but it’s still a fun time.
Don’t Turn Away
The US album closes with a power ballad that keeps the rock going in full effect. It offers a nice inspirational message that hooking up with David Coverdale will cure whatever ails you.
Whitesnake was a monster success, launching the band from the brink of extinction to the toast of the town. The album would go on to eight US platinum certifications and would peak at number two on the Billboard 200, being blocked from the top spot by monster albums like The Joshua Tree, Whitney and Bad. It was a stunning reversal of fortunes for Coverdale, who was despondent after failing to break through significantly with his prior work. The rising tide of this album would lift other ships, most notably Slide It In, which went from a modest gold certification to multi-platinum.
While the album and singles did very well in traditional markets, Whitesnake’s videos were perhaps the most iconic part of this album cycle. The trio of videos featuring Tawney Kitaen were all over MTV. The band dressed the part of ’80’s rockers for their videos, something Coverdale admits was pandering to fashion. But hey – no arguing with the success of it. You were rockers in the 80’s, might as well go all in.
Whitesnake is an interesting band in that they found success almost all at once, with the self-titled album outshining the modest success that the US release of Slide It In had. The band’s music is a lynchpin of classic rock radio but it’s stuff from these two albums that comprises the entirety of those playlists. The old blues rock albums are well-regarded but also left to be discovered by the active seeker. Albums after the self-titled wouldn’t land quite the same way, though in retrospect 2003’s Good To Be Bad was a critical success and catalyst for a new era of Whitesnake.
But at the end of the day, it is this album that serves as Whitesnake’s defining legacy. The group shot out of a cannon and landed square in the rock/metal prime of the late 80’s and hit on a success not seen by all that many others. Leaving behind the blues-based rock and injecting a metal guitar hero’s sound into the mix lend to some staggering results, even if said guitar hero was booted from the group before touring behind the record.