30 Years Ago: Autograph Release ‘Sign In Please’
Today, Autograph are widely viewed as one-hit wonders of the L.A. hair metal scene, thanks to their mega-smash, ‘Turn Up the Radio.’ But anyone who's heard the band’s debut, ‘Sign In Please,’ knows there was much more to the band than that.
In fact, that album, released in Oct. 1984, boasted a level of professionalism and finesse that was well beyond most contemporary efforts then emerging from the long untapped, suddenly bustling Southern California club scene. And it’s terribly ironic that these very “advantages” may have worked to Autograph’s disadvantage. To put it another way, while stardom-bound punks like Motley Crue and Ratt were still cutting their teeth, the men in Autograph were comparatively seasoned pros, having polished their talents with numerous bands over the years.
None more than singer, guitarist and chief songwriter Steve Plunkett, who had already experienced some success with AOR band Silver Condor. He invited lead guitarist Steve Lynch (a former bandmate in Looker), bassist Randy Rand (of Wolfgang), keyboardist Steve Isham, and drummer Keni Richards to contribute to his planned solo album.
But everything changed when Richards managed to pass along the fledgling new group’s resulting demos to David Lee Roth, who in turn invited the still-unsigned, newly named Autograph to open for Van Halen on the massive North American tour in support of their ‘1984’ album.
Three months later, right after their opening set at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Plunkett, Lynch, Rand, Isham and Richards found themselves placing their own autographs on a major label contract with RCA Records. The band soon returned home to L.A. and financed the completion of ‘Sign In Please’ with the help of producer Neil Kernon.
Their efforts yielded an impressive batch of amazingly competent, catchy and sleek melodic hard rockers in ‘Send Her to Me,’ ‘Cloud 10’ and ‘Thrill of Love.’ There was also a made-to-order ballad called ‘In the Night,’ and the blockbuster hit that would simultaneously establish and curse the band’s career, ‘Turn Up the Radio,’ which, by the way, almost got left off the record.
But, once added and chosen as the lead-off single, RCA’s deep coffers paid for a state-of-the-art music video, complete with sexy cyborgs, laser beams, matching perms for the whole band, and a pioneering example of prominent product placement, by way of a “cutting edge” Papermate erasable pen (which, of course, tied back neatly to the band’s moniker).
Within months, Autograph had themselves a Top 40 hit and album (both peaking at No. 29), collected a gold record for their efforts and were touring with the likes of Heart and Motley Crue. But their hastily recorded sophomore follow-up, ‘That’s the Stuff,’ fell well short of expectations and 1987’s ‘Loud and Clear’ virtually vanished almost without a trace.
Come 1989, Autograph had been dropped by RCA and gone their separate ways after deciding that their best days were behind them. Though they would never be forgotten thanks to ‘Turn Up the Radio’ and, to a smaller degree, the very fine debut album that spawned it, ‘Sign in Please.’