How Cinderella Began Their Hair-Metal Fairy Tale With ‘Night Songs’
Timing, as they say, is everything. And that’s certainly true in rock 'n' roll, where different bands can strike it rich or strike out completely based on the volatile whims of music buyers, record labels and radio stations.
Cinderella, as much as any band, experienced both sides of this double-edged sword. The Pennsylvania-spawned quartet arrived to a welcoming marketplace on Aug. 2, 1986, when their debut album, Night Songs, was released.
Back then, Cinderella members singer and guitarist Tom Keifer, guitarist Jeff LaBar, bassist Eric Brittingham and drummer Fred Coury (who joined shortly after the album’s recording) had more going for them than just an impressive debut. They had the vocal support of no less a hair-metal superstar than Jon Bon Jovi, who was credited for “discovering” the band after catching their set in a Philadelphia club during the recording of Bon Jovi's 1985 album, 7800 Degrees Fahrenheit.
As LaBar later told Guitar World, “I wasn't in Cinderella at the time, but I was in a band that opened for them. Jon was so impressed that he went back to Derek [Schulman, who had signed Bon Jovi to Mercury] and told him he really needed to check out the band. So Derek came out, saw Cinderella play live and pretty much said the same thing every other record company had said about them: great look, great songs, great energy. They just need to change the drummer and the guitar player.”
In 1985, LaBar continued, “Tom and Eric began holding auditions. I had already known Tom because we both grew up not far from each other. I also remember that two of the other guitarists who auditioned were ‘Snake’ Sabo [who later joined Skid Row] and Reggie Wu [from Heaven’s Edge].” LaBar got the gig, Cinderella got their deal and work soon began on Night Songs with producer Andy Johns.
The results conformed to the stylized hard rock popular at the time, but only superficially. Fans who listened closely and didn’t get too hung up on Night Songs’ now-dated cover photo (showing the four musicians in a pink fog-shrouded alley, decked out in teased hair and their frilliest leather and lace regalia) noted blues-rock fundamentals nestled underneath the band’s glam cosmetics.
The title track set things in motion on a deliberate, stately pace, but later cuts like “Once Around the Ride” and “Hell on Wheels” were breathless sprints, while mid-paced rockers like “Nothin’ for Nothin’,” “Back Home Again” and “Somebody Save Me” (later issued as the album’s third single) balanced muscular riffs and melodic hooks.
But before any of these songs could even catch on, Cinderella nearly floundered right out of the gate, when the LP's first single, “Shake Me,” was a commercial bust. Luckily for Cinderella, Mercury Records quickly switched gears to the album’s power ballad, “Nobody’s Fool,” and that did the trick. It soon was a radio and MTV hit.
Then, when Bon Jovi invited Cinderella to be the special guests on their blockbuster Slippery When Wet tour, Night Songs catapulted up the Billboard chart, peaking at No. 3 in early 1987 and going on to earn triple-platinum certification. The success indicated that Cinderella’s career was off to a great start, and 1988’s smash second album, Long Cold Winter, confirmed this.
But then the tide turned, and Cinderella were faced with the wrong side of that timing sword. When their third album, 1990's Heartbreak Station, was released, it revealed scaled-back glam gimmicks and an ever brighter spotlight on the classic rock influences that had always underpinned Cinderella’s music. Then the new decade’s alternative-rock boom wiped out the band, as it would most all of its ‘80s peers. In 1995, Cinderella's fourth LP, the ironically titled Still Climbing … , fell on deaf ears.
Cinderella had to sleep in the bed they'd made for themselves, yet Night Songs still resonates with fans all these years later. When interviewed about his 2014 solo album and tour, Keifer was asked why he still performed Night Songs standouts like “Somebody Save Me,” “Nobody’s Fool” and even “Shake Me.” He replied, “I think they’re just songs that people caught onto back then. They’re the favorites, they’re the ones that people really respond to live and that I really enjoy playing.”
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