Actually, it was really cool of Rock Candy to have both King Kobra first albums re-released on February 10, 2017. Being a diehard fan ever since the band first started, it's nice to see that now a whole new generation can have access to these classic albums. Let's face it – if you grew up in the 80s, not only the great, shocking and down to earth looks of the band, but also their perfect songs, with catchy choruses and melodies, not to mention their explosive hooks, did catch the attention of each and every fan of the genre, and the band's legacy lives on till this day. Well, these reissues are surely special treats, since they come as Special Deluxe Editions with fully remastered audio, sixteen-page full colour booklets with essays about the making of each album, interviews and enhanced artwork with unseen pictures. King Kobra is a band who certainly deserves that!
Before the reviews of each album, I have to say a few things about King Kobra. I need to. I still remember when "Ready To Strike" was first released in 1985. I was eight years old back then, and it was the beginning of a new era in music with bands like Mötley Crüe, Ratt, W.A.S.P. and Twisted Sister... I was hungry for the combination of image plus music... And once you were in Brazil and was into this kind of bands, well, you were in trouble... Heavy metal was the big thing then, and Iron Maiden and Metallica fans were out everywhere to make sure that we, then named "posers", would be bullied until most of us finally gave these bands up. The "danger" of being a fan of the Hair Bands was really exciting...
There was this highly respected magazine called "Metal", that covered everything that was going on around the world at the time - to be honest, they only read import magazines as Circus and Hit Parader and re-wrote what they had previously done, giving it all the perspective of "what a headbanger should think and listen to"... Reward the calendar thirty-three years ago and there was a series of vinyls released as the "Heavy Metal Attack" collection. King Kobra's "Ready To Strike" was being released in Brazil, but since I was eight and didn't have money of my own, I always waited for Metal Magazine's reviews to ask my parents to buy me a record.
Shortly after its release, the album review was on that magazine, which I bought in a monthly basis. The first thing that called my attention was that "Ready To Strike" got a really bad review. Just like we do here on Melodic Net, “Metal” Magazine gave the album only one star. It emphasized it was former Vanilla Fudge and Ozzy Osbourne drummer Carmine Appice's new band, and that they sounded terrible. After some detailed reading of it, I knew right away which the next LP mom and dad were going to give me...
Maybe two weeks later, King Kobra's "Ready To Strike" was on my record player. The outrageous band picture on the back cover was a plus, since there were four obnoxious blondes and Carmine Appice. All I can say about the music is that it wasn't like anything I had heard before... Kiss had gotten me started in music, Mötley Crüe had become my favorite band... and King Kobra had taken it to the next level, with top-notch production, sinth guitars mxed with eletronic drums (still unusual at the time), and they also had an ace upon their sleeves: my favorite singer ever - Mark Free.
Before these reviews were actually online, I tried to contact all of the five original King Kobra members for interviews. We (at Melodic Net and you, dear readers) were really lucky, since both guitarists, David Michael-Phillips and Mick Sweda were super kind giving me amazing interviews! Remember that, as a lifelong fan, most of the asked questions were mostly what the fans of the band always wanted to know!!!
So, it's more than a pleasure to talk about these two albums, which still remain as some of my all time favorites - both "Ready To Strike" and "Thrill Of A Lifetime", each one far different from the other, but classic albums that, even not selling like Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Bon Jovi or Twisted Sister, still stand the test of time.
"READY TO STRIKE" - TRACK BY TRACK
01 - "READY TO STRIKE"
Way different from the bands that were huge in 1985, King Kobra had two amazing guitarists, David Michael-Phillips and Mick Sweda. Both the band and producer Spencer Proffer were smart enough to make great use of them on the album's title track, on this adventurous double guitar intro. The melodies are so beautiful, so different from what was popular at the time that, back then, it was kind of a surprise. It made one look again at the band's photo to make sure it was really a Glam Rock band. David and Mick could display their great playing briefly (and bassist Johnny Rod was in the background as well), until the band started rocking hard.
Carmine Appice's powerful drum sound, Johnny Rod's simple but accurate bass lines along with the heavy and melodic edge by David and Mick, prepared the atmosphere for, in my humble opinion, Mark Free's voice to kick in. And what a voice!!! The opening lines "up here in this tightrope, trying not to fall, the spotlight is on me tonight and I want to have it all" fits just perfectly!!!
That's a typical rocker, with really catchy chorus (cuz I'm ready to strike, cocked and loaded tonight...) and out of this world melodies. Mark's voice shines on it, and by the very first listen you could tell Carmine's vision of this then new band was simply the best thing he had done in his whole successful career. Such amazing lyrics, indeed. The guitar solo and the outro solo for the song like a glove, that's what can be said about them! In short, "Ready To Strike" is such a powerful song that not only it became a timeless hit and a great album opener, that it also gained a new version on King Kobra's album later "Hollywood Trash",with Baton Rouge singer Kelly Keeling, years later. No doubt it's a timeless song!
02 - "HUNGER"
The second tune off the album starts with an agressive and powerful band groove, and some furious vocals by Mark Free. A typical 80's song that shows a lot of attitude when it comes to music and lyrics. Powerful guitar work and Carmine and Johnny making a heavy bottom... You get some heavy instrumental music and blend it with Mark Free's vocals, until the catchy, poppy and commercial chorus and bang - here it is the album's (unfortunately) only single.
Once again the rhythm section of Carmine Appice and Johnny Rod prepare the listener for the guitar solos, which are pretty amazing, since there's a combination of two different lead guitars - at that time, if I'm right, only Dokken's George Lynch had done it, as the only guitar player of his band... Whoever who has watched the "Hunger" promo video can tell King Kobra had it all: they were a great looking band with superb musicians. Of course, lots of people could just comment on the image, and some still do. But if one has some minimum musical knowledge he can tell King Kobra was much more than four blonde guys and Carmine Appice. At the time, image was one of the most important things. Let's not blame them if they had the looks. But only narrow-minded music fans can deny they were top-notch players... Top song by a top band. A hit single that never got the deserved attention.
03 - "SHADOW RIDER"
"Midnight is my time, I'm a Shadow Rider"... That's undoutbfully one of the best songs off the "Ready To Strike" album. The music graciously delivered by the band makes Mark Free's vocals shine even more than on the first two tracks, ranging from sexy to very, very melodic, until one could hear how high were the notes the then unknown blonde singer could reach. Drums and guitars are somewhat perfect here, and the lyrical spum "Life's more than a magazine" could sound cheesy, but I personally thought it was one of the best lines of the whole record! Seriously, both the band and the producer were clearly worried about the lyrical content – which some can call silly, but I call brilliant!!! The vocal melodies are incredibly in place and Carmine shows that he was really making an effort to become one of the best drummers of this style back then... A great guitar solo to follow and there you are a perfect Hard Rock song. "Shadow Rider" could easily have been released as a single. Just the kind of perfect song for 1985 - a pure rocker but commercial, catchy, with great lyrics to match. I guess this was the song that made Mark Free become my favorite singer back then. There was no way out of that later.
04 - "SHAKE UP"
If King Kobra was accused of being too commercial, well, let’s plead them guilty. But they should be proud of that (and they certainly were). "Shake Up" sounds like a song meant to be on the radio. Commercial? Certainly. A bad song? Not at all. Another great song that make mainman Carmine along with guitarists David and Mick, bassist Johnny and singer Mark Free sound like gold. Musically speaking, "Shake Up" is perfect. A great drum sound and Mark's performance, once again, making one wonder where the experient drummer Carmine found this rare, impecable voice. Needless to say that the guitar work on this track is also killer - how the hell did people think these guys weren't talented?!?!? Call it a pop rock song, call it a rocker, one can't deny it's another fantastic song. Written especially to be on the radio? Maybe. Great lyrics again and the untouchable melodies and Mark’s vocals are simply outstanding... This one could have been bigger than most 1985 Bon Jovi songs, for example. Hard to tell why such song never (again) got the deserved attention from the radios. A perfect band with perfect music for their time. Can a whole generation be stupid or was it all about the record label? Damn, such a classic song. Hats off to this one.
05 - "ATTENTION"
That's Carmine's song to shine on the album!!! More of a rocker than the two previous songs, "Attention" has got everything it takes to be considered a real rock hit song - explosive drums, some amazing guitar work and Mark Free's vocals... They meant business with this one. An extremely powerful, catchy and cheesy chorus (We're gonna get your attention before the night is through, we're gonna get your attention, then we're gonna voodoo you!) that, once again, makes one wonder why King Kobra was never considered one of the biggest bands on the planet. Seriously, the lyrics on this one are relly amazing and Mark could give them the right feel, no doubt about it! The bridge part before the cliché drums and vocals part is also quite cool, and then back to the never ending chorus repetition... Well, isn’t that great? Shame on the record label's poor promotion at the time and even on music fans...
06 - "BREAKING OUT"
The second side of the album at the time started with this killer synth-guitar playing in "Breaking Out". I personally always thought, for no special reason, that the first track on most albums' side two was special... "Breaking Out" was not only special, but another rocker, keeping the pace up after "Attention". Besides the already mentioned killer guitar intro, the song itself blasts into this kick-ass drum and bass power energy, adding a raunchy guitar riff, that ends up in Mark singing so melodically that, honestly, gives the songs a little more than a couple of different atmospheres. The chorus is pretty good as well, and one can tell the synth-guitars here and there did make a difference for better. Another explosive two lead-guitar solo that breaks into the song chorus again.A really nice tune.
07 - "TOUGH GUYS"
“Tough Guys” has always been one of my favorite tracks off this album. Carmine’s classic drum intro fill and the opening guitar riff leads to Mark’s soulful singing really meaningful lyrics. That’s a voice. That’s a singer. And whoever was the main songwriter of this song deserves to be idolized. Not only its music but also its lyrics are perfect. The tune’s pre-chorus warns the listener that “Tough Guys” has got some of the best choruses ever, and it’s undoubtfully one of Mark Free’s best ever performances to date. How couldn’t this then unknown blonde singer have become my favorite one after listening to this masterpiece? That would have been perfect for radio. That could have been #1 on MTV. If you listen to it closely, even Johnny Rod’s bass lines are more elaborate than what most Glam Rock bassists could think of doing at the time. The bridge is quite cool, taking us to another simple, but perfect double lead guitar solo, reminding us all that all the guitars throughout the song were carefully worked on by David, Mick and probably, the producer. It’s been more than 30 years that the “Ready To Strike” album was released, and “Tough Guys” has been one of my favorite songs ever since then.
08 - "DANCIN' WITH DESIRE"
“Dancin’ With Desire” was nother very adventurous song for a band like King Kobra RO record, for its not being ‘a real ballad with only acoustic guitars or pianos...” or even synthesizers! This ballad-like tune is really interesting due to its atmosphere, which was basically made because of the synth-guitars and acoustic ones, and Mark Free’s unique pipes. Different from most singers of his era, it’s clear Mark was more worried about his singing than about his sounding sexy, handsome or even a rockstar. Great lyrics again, differing from the ballads of that generation. Its chorus sounds really mysterious, and the melodies are just unforgettable here. The two guitars solo’s feel fit the track so well that one wonders where Carmine is, until he and finally hits the skins along with the bands’ ending the song. An interesting song, not as good as the other ones, but certainly, a great tune.
09 - "SECOND THOUGHTS"
King Kobra comes back to the “Hollywood lights” with this one. A very radio-friendly, guitar-oriented song, “Second Thoughts” is a very commercial tune, that shows the band keeping on the good work. Even though it’s a good song, there’s the feeling it’s kind of a “filler” here. Great guitars, drums, bass and, well, there’s Mark Free... But it simply doesn’t compare to the rest of the album. A poppy, nearly catchy, but cool chorus plus some great guitar work and another great solo are featured on it. I could say “Second Thoughts” is the weakest (not the worst) song off “Ready To Strike” by far. Well, name a band who has never put a filler on an album.
10 - "PIECE OF THE ROCK"
Most times bands finished their 1985 with songs that really didn’t mean much, but King Kobra got it right with “Piece Of The Rock”. A quick, melodic, two-guitar intro breaking into this epic rocker... Well, here we can find some of the best guitar work and also great vocal melodies. Maybe it’s only my impression, but it may have been the song where they used synth-guitars the least. Mark Free’s versatile voice is proved to go from heavy to pop, from melodic to sexy, from soulful to heavy again. The best singer ever. The epic sing-along chorus is catchy as hell, and shows the “Heavy Metal Side” of King Kobra (as bands like Icon and W.A.S.P. were doing at the time too). There’s this great guitar solo that probably made Malmsteen envious, and the bridge to the end of the song. A really great album closing tune. One more solo just to make sure everybody’s got the message. And guess how the song ends? Of course, with Mark Free’s wide range vocals to wrap the great “Ready To Strike” album up.
“Ready To Strike”, “Hunger”, “Shadow Rider”, “Shake Up”, “Attention”, “Breakin’ Out”, “Tough Guys” and “Piece Of The Rock”.
For a complete review of the “Thrill Of A Lifetime” album, check this link out:
For a cool interview with original King Kobra guitarists David Michael-Phillips (now David Henzerling) and Mick Sweda, check this link out: