Top 10 Dick Wagner Songs
With our list of the Top 10 Dick Wagner Songs, we pay tribute to a man who had a lifetime of service to rock and roll. Whether it was as a behind-the-scenes session player, or with full-power command of the stage, Wagner’s guitar playing was anything but typical. Over the course of his nearly 50 years in the business, he remained one of the most respected guitarists around, lending his talents to the likes of Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, Kiss, and Aerosmith, (that’s him on the some of the leads on ‘Get Your Wings’). From his innocent beginnings with garage rockers the Bossmen, through his full-throttle assault with the Frost and beyond, the man knew his way around a guitar. He and sparring partner Steve Hunter made the songs of Lou Reed blossom into another world on ‘Rock and Roll Animal,’ and his knack for penning a good song as well certainly didn’t hurt. We salute but a mere fraction of the great things Wagner was connected to along the way.
We kick off our list of the Top 10 Dick Wagner Songs with an early, obscure highlight. On their 1969 debut album, ‘Frost Music,’ the Frost were out to prove themselves as rivals to home turf bands like Grand Funk Railroad, Bob Seger System and the MC5, as well as acts like Cream and Jimi Hendrix. They took the hard rock, loud guitar approach and drove it home. Wagner’s guitar on ‘Mystery Man,’ one of many highlights from their catalog, is flashy and powerful, yet never overplays the stage.
The debut single from the band that would become the Frost. Originally known as Dick Wagner and the Frosts, the band released two singles before opting for simply the Frost. On this killer from 1967, Wagner rips out some sharp and snarling lead work. The song, co-written by Wagner, is prime Detroit garage rock with just the right amount of psychedelic overtones. A buried treasure for sure.
Peter Gabriel‘s first album after leaving Genesis (also known as ‘Car’) took Gabriel’s artistic inclinations and placed them firmly in a new setting, away from the first half of the decade and into a very contemporary place in 1977. Wagner, as he had done with Alice Cooper and Lou Reed before him, helped add some flash to these new recordings. ‘Slowburn’ remains one of the album’s high points as Wagner’s guitar here shines atop a dramatic Gabriel canvas.
From the simple, downtown New York groove of the original Velvet Underground version of ‘Sweet Jane,’ the song was transformed into a genuine big-time rock showcase in the hands of guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner. The pair had joined up with Lou Reed for a tour that would become the ‘Rock and Roll Animal’ tour. Recorded live in Dec. 1973, this new band took a handful of Velvet Underground classics, and transformed them into anthems.
It’s been no secret over the years that if Peter Criss or Ace Frehley weren’t up to snuff, other players were brought in by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley to lend a hand. On the band’s 1976 classic ‘Destroyer,’ Wagner, who had worked with producer Bob Ezrin previously through Cooper and Reed, was called in. On ‘Sweet Pain,’ another of the Top 10 Dick Wagner Songs, Wagner lets loose a blistering solo that, in retrospect, is not in the style of Frehley, but fits the song without blinking an eye.
‘The Black Widow’
When Cooper split from the original Alice Cooper Group, he and producer Bob Ezrin didn’t need to look to far for musical sparring partners. Wagner had, in fact, already contributed some (uncredited) guitar parts to the ‘School’s Out’ and ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ albums. On the ‘Welcome To My Nightmare’ album, Wagner got to shine in full. His solo on ‘The Black Widow’ is tastefully dangerous, and that riff is the hook. Like many of the tracks on the album he also had a hand in the writing, and Wagner would work with Cooper frequently throughout the years.
Tim Curry made his first splash as Dr. Frank N. Furter in the classic movie, ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ and as he proved in that role, he could command the stage, not only with his charisma, but with his powerful voice. On his second album, 1979’s ‘Fearless,’ Curry teamed up with Dick Wagner for an album full of the sounds of the era. Take funk, punk, disco and pop, stuff it in a blender, whip to a frenzy, then add heaping helping of Wagner’s guitar playing. The man turns in an economic solo on ‘Charge It’ that is blistering without overkill. As with most of the songs on the album, it was co-written by Curry and Wagner.
‘Stand In The Shadows’
‘Stand In The Shadows’ is the centerpiece of the 1969 debut album by the Frost, ‘Frost Music.’ For all of its eight minutes, the band build a mountain out of the song, full of melody and dynamics. Wagner’s guitar is at the fore, cutting loose and moving from snaky and seductive to flat-out brutal, while never running out of steam.
‘Only Women Bleed’
A ballad from Alice Cooper? At the time, that seemed impossible to comprehend, but surprise of surprises, he pulled it off. It certainly helped that the song, co-written by Cooper and Wagner, was, quite simply, a great song. Out of character as it may have been, it showed a different side to the king of shock, and at the same time, proved that Wagner was not only a virtuoso guitarist, but could also write a hit song. In the spring of ’75, the record made it all the way up to No. 12. It has been covered a wide variety of artists including Tina Turner, Etta James, and Lita Ford. The title would also serve, in part, for the title of Wagner’s 2009 autobiography, ‘Not Only Women Bleed: Vignettes From the Heart of a Rock Musician.’
‘Help Me Baby’
On this raucous live track from second Frost album, ‘Rock and Roll Music,’ Wagner goes off the rails to deliver a blistering solo to rival any of the competition out there at the time. While the Frost never quite reached the attack of the MC5, they came pretty damn close on ‘Rock and Roll Music,’ so it makes our list of the Top 10 Dick Wagner Songs.