David Lee Roth’s Skyscraper: 30 Years Old Today

Diamond Dave hit the ground running with his 1986 solo debut Eat ‘Em And Smile. That album had a raw, live-in-the-studio sound, courtesy of producer Ted Templeman and some of the greatest rock musicians of all time (Steve Vai, Billy Sheehan, Gregg Bissonette), but sophomore record Skyscraper – released 30 years ago today – was something completely different: a meticulous, layered, fussed-over project.

Vai was promoted to co-producer, Roth enjoying his energy and studio nous, and his influence is all over the record. Vai told Classic Rock magazine recently about their working relationship: ‘We got on really well. We were friends. He listens and doesn’t assume to know everything. But it was his band. He made all the executive decisions. I’m very good at assuming a role and knowing where the boundaries are. I expect that from other people when they’re working with me.’

Vai took his time doubling parts, sculpting solos and thinking of the songs orchestrally. His playing is absolutely brilliant. He forensically explores every chord and adds humour too, an aspect missing from 99% of rock guitarists. The more challenging compositions (‘Bottom Line’, ‘Hina’, the title track) rehearse the concepts that Vai would pursue on his breakthrough Passion And Warfare solo album.

So Skyscraper is musically rich but great fun too. Vocally, Roth has such a strong presence and he busts his butt trying to entertain. Lead-off single ‘Just Like Paradise’ – described by Dave as his tribute to The Beach Boys – reached a very impressive #6 on the US Hot 100, ‘Perfect Timing’, ‘Damn Good’ and ‘Stand Up’ are pure pop, co-written by Roth and keyboard player Brett Tuggle.

‘Two Fools A Minute’ is quite unlike any hard rock this writer has heard, basically a live-in-the-studio take with a succession of nutty mini-solos by Vai and Sheehan. It’s something akin to a heavy-metal show tune, complete with ‘cheesy’ horn section. I love Dave’s little ‘Sizzlin’ to the top!’ exclamation before Vai’s solo and his increasingly weird comments as the track goes on: ‘Where’s the drummer?…Nah, we can’t let Stevie drive…’

There’s a distinct lack of low-end on Skyscraper though. Billy Sheehan’s number was up. He left after the album’s recording and didn’t take part in the hugely successful, 10-month world tour. But he would take a lot of this album’s approach to his next band project, Mr Big.

Skyscraper divided critical opinion on its release but was a big hit, reaching #6 in the US and #11 in the UK. Happy birthday to a fun-filled and oft overlooked minor classic of the ’80s.

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Story Of A Song: Mr Big’s Addicted To That Rush

Mr_Big_Self-TitledIn the world of late-1980s US rock, guitar virtuosity was the order of the day. Eddie Van Halen’s massive popularity had ushered in a huge raft of poodle-haired, fleet-fingered plank-spankers such as Zakk Wylde, Marty Friedman and George Lynch (whose playing I’ve never actually heard – I just remember their names from Guitar World and Guitar Player, though I’m off to Youtube to check them out NOW…).

Though I was very definitely a Van Halen man, and also had a real penchant for Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen, I was always much more into people like Scott Henderson, Jeff Beck and John Scofield than the thousand-notes-per-second boys, brilliant musicians though they undoubtedly were.

But then my friend James Broad played me ‘Addicted To That Rush’ by Mr Big. It had the unmistakable whiff of early Van Halen about it, not least with its double-time groove, similar to ‘Hot For Teacher’ and ‘Satch Boogie‘. Guitarist Paul Gilbert was clearly a veritable fire-breather with an incredible facility for high-speed, heavily-chromatic solos, but also had quite an original tone and refreshing sense of humour.

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Mr Big in concert, yesterday

But basically ‘Addicted’ was a flagrant display of muso shock and awe, not just from Gilbert but also ex-Dave Lee Roth bassist Billy Sheehan (how many other HM tracks have had the balls to start with a tap-bass solo?) and drummer Pat Torpey (check out his intricate hi-hat work in the opening section). Oh, and the singer has a fine set of pipes too.

The rest of side one from their 1989 debut album was also great. Side two was not so hot though, and I really hated their pop breakthrough (‘To Be With You’).

But there’ll always be ‘Addicted To That Rush’. Hit it!