Revisiting Slaughter’s Debut Album, ‘Stick It to Ya’
It's often said that when one door closes, another opens, and that definitely ended up being the case for Mark Slaughter and Dana Strum after their gig with the Vinnie Vincent Invasion ended in a heap of hard feelings and shredded contracts.
Slaughter and Strum parted ways with Vincent, and the band's label, Chrysalis Records, pulled the plug on its association with the Invasion. For Vincent's former employees, however, that collapse served as the entree to the duo being offered a deal of their own -- the first step toward putting together the band Slaughter.
"God, how I hated dyeing my hair blonde and being all made up and singing that music," Slaughter groaned after the Los Angeles Times asked him about his stint with the Invasion. "One of the happiest days of my life was Aug. 28, 1988. That's when I was through with that band. There was only one good thing about it -- it was my stepping stone to building Slaughter."
According to Slaughter, that writing was on the wall from the beginning. "Another guy got the job and made the first album but then he left. I did the first tour and the next album. Vinnie didn't like my singing but the record company did," he recalled. "That's why they signed me after Vinnie's band folded."
Emancipated, Slaughter and Strum recruited guitarist Tim Kelly and drummer Blas Elias, heading into the studio during the summer of 1989 to record their debut LP, Stick It to Ya. Co-produced and co-written by the founding duo, the album arrived in stores on Jan. 27, 1990 -- a time when the polished rock sound they favored was still popular, but would shortly find itself superseded by grunge and hip-hop at radio.
Looking back, Slaughter benefited from extreme good timing with Stick It to Ya. Arguably the last new hair metal band to make it big before the post-Nirvana crash, they hit the Top 20 with the LP -- which eventually went double platinum -- and sent three singles ("Up All Night," "Fly to the Angels" and "Spend My Life") into the Top 40 of Billboard's Hot 100 chart. So rapid was the band's ascent that Chrysalis rushed a live EP, Stick It Live, into stores before the end of the year.
Watch the Video for Slaughter's 'Fly to the Angels'
Their success may have seemed to happen overnight, but as far as the band was concerned, it came as the result of plenty of hard work. "We knew that it had to be about the songs -- ultimately the success had to come down to the songs," Slaughter told Metal Sludge. "I think Dana and I were the only band of our genre to produce our own music. We had complete artistic control over every aspect of that album. We didn’t have to make it or tailor it to this producer’s idea or this A&R guy’s vision, we didn’t have to write this song or that song; we just made a record and it felt great."
"Everybody dreams about it. We've all been in other bands and done other things that weren't successful. No matter what, whether we were successful or not, we were gonna do it anyway," insisted Elias. "We finally found a combination of guys that we're happy with. We all got along together. We made good music that we like to play. It's not something that we were expecting because music has to do with people's tastes. It's not something that you deserve. It's a matter of what the people like. We're just very glad and surprised that it did so well."
"We had big aspirations," Strum admitted in an interview with the Baltimore Sun. "I didn't want to have money to pay for an apartment, I wanted to own the whole town. But, realistically, I never expected two and a half million albums, an American Music Award, and touring all 50 states and most of Europe. The music industry couldn't have provided a better opportunity for anyone."
Not that Slaughter's vision for the album was out of step with what was happening on rock radio at the time; in fact, as he told Creem, the band deliberately set out to fit in with the popular sound of the era. "We understand the music business very well, and when we structured this music, we focused it to where it would be played on the radio, where the tour would be non-offensive and just good times," he pointed out. "All the tunes were written in the way of having a good time. What we're trying to do in this is just basically enjoy life, enjoy our band, getting up in front of all those people and really going out there and having fun. That's what it is to us, it really is. There's no high like it in the world, really."
Sadly for the members of Slaughter, the high didn't last long. By the time they returned with their Stick It to Ya follow-up, titled The Wild Life, their brand of good-time rock had just about reached its commercial expiration date -- and although the album hit the Top 10 and went gold, it didn't exert anywhere near the level of impact that its predecessor enjoyed. By the mid-'90s, the band had fallen victim to EMI's Chrysalis merger, cast off alongside label vets like Huey Lewis, Billy Idol and Pat Benatar.
Unlike a number of their contemporaries, Slaughter managed to persist after their genre's sales decline -- and with mostly the same lineup, too, although they were increasingly forced to carry on without Kelly, who was sidelined by legal woes prior to the release of 1995's Fear No Evil and was killed in a car accident in 1998. As far as many record buyers were concerned, the band disappeared almost as quickly as they'd arrived, but a smaller group of faithful fans have continued to turn out for the "good times" Slaughter have always promised.
Perhaps some of the band's low-key persistence lies in its refusal to take itself too seriously. "It's nice to be original," shrugged Slaughter in 1990. "But what hard rock or metal band really is? You can't play this music and not sound like certain bands. You try to bring your own original touch to the music -- but often you can't. Most of the kids aren't listening for originality -- they want that energy, that surge of power. That's what we give them."
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