City Slang: Damn Yankees Revisited



Back when the first, self-titled Damn Yankees album was released on Warner Bros. in 1990, it was critically panned from many, if not all, corners. Fast forward 21 years, and the band is little more than an afterthought in the minds of most rock fans that were around at the time. They were a California-based hair-rock band but they didn’t form until 1989, a time when that style of music was being pushed aside in favor of heavier metal or grunge (the latter a media-created definition for a bunch of punk, art-rock and stoner-metal bands who all happened to wear corduroy pants and plaid shirts, most of them coming out of Seattle).

It’s true that the Damn Yankees name inspires little more than a few chuckles in 2011. But that first album really deserves another listen.

First of all, and of most interest to Detroiters, is the fact that Ted Nugent was the lead guitarist. Tommy Shaw of Styx sang and played second guitar. Jack Blades of Night Ranger played bass and sang. Some dude called Michael Cartellone played drums (Cartellone is currently the trillionth drummer in Lynyrd Skynyrd).

So that’s the personnel. At the time, the Nuge, Shaw and Blades all had an impressive pedigree in the world of hard rock, impressive enough for the Damn Yankees to be considered a “super group”. Sadly that tag means that, when looking back with nostalgia-tinted glasses, the band is often disregarded as a novelty. That’s silly, because our Ted is playing his ass off on this record. The other three guys frame his guitar work beautifully and the vocals from all three “front men” sound great.

Unlike a lot of hair rock albums, there genuinely isn’t a bad song on this record, from the opening, anthemic “Coming of Age” through the hit power ballads “High Enough” and “Come Again”, through to the hard rocking closer of “Piledriver”.

Look, the guys all look funny on the cover photos with their big hair, denim jackets and cheesy poses. The lyrical content is nonsensical too. But the hooks are fantastic, the musicianship is awesome, and Nugent proved for the first time since the early days of the Amboy Dukes that he is capable of taking a back seat now and again.

For Nugent fans or just the intrigued Detroit rocker, this record is highly recommended. One more thing though – there’s a song on the album called “Rock City” that, while a cool tune, seems to be about Los Angeles. Nugent should really have known better. There’s only one Rock City, and Kiss got that one right some years earlier.

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