Whitesnake, Fool for Your Loving (May 1980) — Heavy Metal timeline, part 18

And just as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was taking off, so one of the second-wave bands was drifting in a rather different direction. Whitesnake were David Coverdale’s project after the break-up of Deep Purple. By 1980 they’d parlayed their Purple-stable pedigree into a nice position of prominence. Their third album, Ready an’ Willing, give them their first hit single:

I have very mixed feelings about Whitesnake, and about David Coverdale in particular. What I love about his early Deep Purple recordings — the Burn album and especially live versions — is the rawness of his voice. It’s hugely powerful, but rough. Already on his second Deep Purple album, Stormbringer, you can hear that his voice is starting to smooth out (to good effect at this stage), and that process continued pretty much throughout his career.

Immediately after Purple disintegrated, Coverdale made two solo albums, Whitesnake and Northwinds, both of which I love (though to be fair, no-one else seems to). Off the back of these minor successes, he formed the first incarnation of the band Whitesnake, using several of the backing musicians from the solo albums. To my mind, the first two proper Whitesnake albums are a delight — inventive, varied, bluesy, and full of ideas. Trouble established what would be the Whitesnake calling cards: the heavy-blues title track begins “I was raised a gambler’s son / And before I could walk, I had to learn how to run”, which is pure Coverdale.

If you can get past the awful cover art, Lovehunter is an even better album. Its opening trio of songs, Long Way from Home, Walking in the Shadow of the Blues and Help Me Through the Day, are as good as anything the band recorded, and arguably the most solid opening of any album by any of the Purple-stable bands. Yes, there’s some filler elsewhere on the album, but it finishes strongly with the acoustic farewell ballad We Wish You Well — a song so timeless and universal that I’ve used it to close my folk-club set.

So things were looking good for Whitesnake by 1979, and most reviewers seem to think that their next album was better still. But for me, it’s where the rot started to set in. It’s not that I don’t like Ready an’ Willing. I do (though I think it has an excess of filler). By this point, Whitesnake had become the continuation of Deep Purple by other means, with drummer Ian Paice and keyboard wizard Jon Lord joining Coverdale. In Ritchie Blackmore’s place, Whitesnake still had their classic-era dual guitar combo of Mick Moody and Bernie Marsden — a pairing that gave them much of the distinctive character of their sound. Fool for Your Loving, with its classic Coverdale lyrics (“I was born under a bad sign / Left out in the cold”), is a fine example of riff-oriented melodic rock, and worthy of its minor success as a single (it reached #13 in the UK).

But, but, but …

With the benefit of hindsight, you can hear the smoothness starting to take over from the blues roots. That would accelerate through the next couple of albums. By the time of 1982’s Saints and Sinners, the band line-up had become unstable, and the distinctive pair of guitarists was broken up for good. In their place, Coverdale brought in players who were technically better but who lacked the character and soul of Moody and Marsden. By the time of the confusingly named 1987 album Whitesnake, the sound of the band was unrecognisable.

… and much more successful. That album went to #2 in the USA, and its followup Slip of the Tongue also reached the top ten on both sides of the Atlantic. It turned out that this was the Whitesnake that people wanted: slick, predictable, and devoid of anything that made them any different from the likes of Kiss and Van Halen. The best way to hear the difference is in the 1987 re-recording of Fool for Your Loving — a version that systematically boils all the charm out of the original leaving behind a residue of by-the-numbers Lite Metal that could have been recorded by pretty much anyone.

So for me the significance of Whitesnake is mostly negative. Just as the NWOBHM bands were starting to do something new and (in places at least) exciting, so Whitesnake’s convergence on the American “hair metal” sound, combined with Rainbow’s unconvincing gropings towards a commercial sound, confirmed that the old order had become moribund. Although at the time I was delighted by the Deep Purple reunion of 1984, in retrospect it looks like an inevitable move forced by the failure of the progeny bands to push on. And while the reunion album was good, going backwards was hardly the way to move forwards.

15 responses to “Whitesnake, Fool for Your Loving (May 1980) — Heavy Metal timeline, part 18

  1. That’s a very interesting review, but I just don’t like Coverdale…. The best thing from the review is the link to Burn. The studio version, because the live one is just atrocious. And I also liked the re-recording of Fool for your Loving more than the original, but that was just on a first listen.

    But what I really don’t understand is why you consider Perfect Strangers to be going backwards. To me it sounds like the most unique album from Deep Purple’s discography.

  2. Speaking of Kiss and Van Halen… will they be making an appearance? It seems we’re already late into Kiss’ timeline here at 1980.

  3. Andrei, I guess simply not liking Coverdale is one of those legitimate differences in taste that we have to find a civilised way to deal with. For me, he’s in the absolute top handful of singers, metal or otherwise. On the other hand, preferring the re-recording of Fool for Your Loving is … hmm. How can I say this without coming across as a cultural absolutist? :-)

    Regarding Perfect Strangers: I agree that when it came out, it sounded very different from earlier Deep Purple albums. But I guess that was mostly because nearly a decade had passed since they last made an album. The followup, The House of Blue Light sounded very similar, and I guess much of what’s followed from the various reformed incarnations has built much more on the PS/HoBL foundation than on classic-era Purple. I find myself wondering whether it would have been better if they’d just made the single reunion album, then gone their separate ways again after the tour.

    (Anyway, Concerto for Group and Orchestra is the most unique-sounding album from their discography :-))

    Jason, I’m afraid I don’t plan to cover Kiss or Van Halen. Partly it’s because they’re American bands and I’m more familiar with the Brits, partly it’s because I just don’t really rate them much (sorry!), but mostly it’s because I don’t see that either of them made a unique contribution to the progress of hard rock. Feel free to set me straight, though!

  4. Thinking about Kiss, I can somewhat see your point. I can’t really identify what heavy metal song of theirs to include. In fact their greatest contribution may be in their stage presence and theatrics. Ironically though if this list were about power ballads (I know, heresey!!) then Beth couldn’t be kept off the list.

    Also missing, and American, in my opinion is Alice Cooper, although he’s much in that performance realm too and also did the power ballad thing himself.

    Van Halen though probably rode the hard rock/metal line much more to the hard rock side.

  5. Excellent point about Alice Cooper, who has been around forever and really should have appeared in the series. Sorry about that!

    On Van Halen — I’ve never been at all clear on what the distinction between hard rock and heavy metal is, or even if there really is one. I’ve been using the terms more or less interchangeably in this series. Can you enlighten me?

  6. “I’ve never been at all clear on what the distinction between hard rock and heavy metal is, or even if there really is one.”

    I was getting that impression from the list so far. That’s interesting because to me they are definitely distinct. I wonder if it’s a generational thing? By the time I started listening to heavy music (early to mid 90’s) it seems to me they had diverged clearly, but in the 70s and early 80s perhaps they hadn’t.

    As an exercise I went back through the list so far and tried to classify each band:
    – The Kinks: Rock
    – The Who: Hard Rock
    – Jimi Hendrix: Rock
    – Cream: Rock
    – Steppenwolf: Rock
    – Beatles: Rock
    – Led Zeppelin: Hard Rock
    – MC5: Rock
    – Deep Purple: Hard Rock
    – Black Sabbath: Metal (specifically Doom Metal, giving it the claim of being the oldest sub-genre :)
    – BÖC: borderline between Rock and Hard Rock, probably I’d say Hard Rock
    – Rush: Rock (specifically Progressive Rock)
    – AC/DC: Hard Rock
    – Rainbow: borderline, but I’d say falls on the Metal side
    – Scorpions: Hard Rock
    – Iron Maiden: Metal
    – Judas Priest: Metal
    – Whitesnake: Hard Rock

    I’d be curious to hear how much others would agree/disagree with that.

  7. Out of curiosity I’ve been looking at wikipedia to see if there was some formal definition for the distinction, but even though Heavy Metal and Hard Rock have separate entries, the descriptions of the styles are more or less equivalent. There’s this paragraph on the Hard Rock article that kind of matches what I was saying before though:

    “In the late 1960s the term heavy metal was used interchangeably with hard rock, but gradually began to be used to describe music played with even more volume and intensity.[9] While hard rock maintained a bluesy rock and roll identity, including some swing in the back beat and riffs that tended to outline chord progressions in their hooks, heavy metal’s riffs often functioned as stand-alone melodies and had no swing in them.[5] Heavy metal took on “darker” characteristics after Black Sabbath’s breakthrough at the beginning of the 1970s.”

  8. Hard Rock is mearly Rock that really rocks while Metal is Metal. ;-)

    Sorry, I know thats so much an “I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I see it” kind of definition. I just had to do it. ;-)

  9. To honestly answer:

    I think the big distinction between Heavy Metal and Hard Rock basically comes down to vocals and guitars (I don’t think bass and drums differ much between the two at all). I’d classify hard rock as having more melodic vocals ( with metal having more distorted brash vocals (screaming, etc.)) and having more riff based lead guitar with a more laid back (less driving, less distorted) rhythm guitar.

    I have an example of Hard Rock vs. Heavy Metal from a band that should be showing up in a few posts. I’ll bring it back up when they appear on the list. No, not giving any hints.

  10. Interesting. Pedro seems pretty close to equating Metal = NWOBHM. Only his assignment of Black Sabbath as a metal band breaks that correlation.

    But the Wikipedia line — “the term heavy metal […] gradually began to be used to describe music played with even more volume and intensity” — makes sense to me. Thanks for digging it up.

  11. I was going to link to that Wikipedia page on hard rock, but was beaten by Pedro. This may be an uncool thing to admit, but I think that kind of nails it. The section’s happy to concede that music no more happens inside neat categories than anything else, and labels inevitably shift through time as the music shifts.

    I’d say, in a nutshell, that metal is hard rock with the blues element stripped away. Metal being a harder substance than rock, presumably that’s the basis of the term.
     
    Some people date it to Sabbath, who not only were less blues-based than Zeppelin or Purple, but virtually the genesis of the band as we know it came from discarding their original blues roots. Yet these things are relative, and they still sounded pretty bluesy – just less than their contemporaries. I’d go with Motorhead as the break point, as they stripped back the blues element so far you couldn’t help but notice. But you’d probably have to fast forward to a band like Sunn O))) to hear a band with no blues to them.
     
    Incidentally, if a Hawkwind track was to go on this list… I think you’d need to skip over the space rock era. Something like ‘Orgone Accumulator’ it would be hard to imagine a track more riff-based than that…

  12. Richard G. Whitbread

    Some of these bands, of course, don’t consider themselves to be simply either ‘hard rock’ or ‘heavy metal’. AC/DC and Motörhead have always staunchly maintained that they play rock ‘n’ roll…

  13. Motörhead? Who said anything about Motörhead?

    :-)

  14. Pingback: Motörhead, Ace of Spades (October 1980) — Heavy Metal timeline, part 20 | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  15. Richard G. Whitbread

    :-)

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