How Terrible Timing Obscured Skid Row’s Promise
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When their eponymous debut arrived on Jan. 24, 1989, Skid Row seemed like the latest in a long line of hair-metal bands out for fortune and fame. Instead, as history has since shown, they were the last major success story to emerge from a dying genre.
Timing, as they say, is everything. Skid Row arrived in record stores almost five years to the day after the release of Bon Jovi’s first album, and fulfilling a deal struck years before between teenage friends John Francis Bongiovi, Jr. and David Michael Sabo, who had promised each other that whoever made it first would help the other get there too.
And because Sabo had been outgunned by Richie Sambora for Bon Jovi’s lead-guitar position at the 11th hour, Jon Bon Jovi did not hesitate to make good on his old vow when Sabo co-founded Skid Row a few years later with bassist Rachel Bolan, fellow lead guitarist Scotti Hill and drummer Rob Affuso. With the help of Bon Jovi’s powerful manager Doc McGhee, Skid Row soon found a talented and charismatic frontman in Canadian teen Sebastian Bach, and signed contracts with Bon Jovi’s publishing and record companies.
By the fall of 1988, Skid Row were recording their debut album in the idyllic setting of Lake Geneva, Wis., having paid a reported $35,000 to guitar god Gary Moore for the rights to the name of his ’60s-era band. By January 1989, “Youth Gone Wild,” the album’s first single, was already charging onto radio-station playlists nationwide on the strength of its meticulously conceived glam-metal riffs and a chorus as large as life.
Even though Skid Row had no qualms about playing up their big-haired, pretty-boy image, satisfying the massive female market with irresistible power ballads like “18 and Life” and “I Remember You,” their first album was largely packed with gutsy hard-rock nuggets (“Big Guns,” “Sweet Little Sister,” “Piece of Me”) marking them more Guns N’ Roses, complete with the occasional controversy, than Poison.
In other words, Skid Row were clearly intent on limiting the “pop” in their “pop-metal,” a move that also set them apart from bands like Warrant and Britney Fox, ensuring that their songs wouldn’t sound so dated in the long run. But in the short run, the band’s dedicated pursuit of heavier sounds on the sophomore album Slave to the Grind didn’t sit well with its label, management or Jon Bon Jovi. That accelerated Skid Row’s career collapse in the face of grunge’s incoming attack. Still, decades later, Skid Row continues to transcend most of the period trappings that eventually doomed so many of the group’s peers.
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