30 Years Ago: Dokken Finally Arrive With ‘Under Lock and Key’
After bursting onto the public conscience in 1983 and ’84, the so-called hair-metal movement based primarily in Southern California arguably achieved its mainstream tipping point in 1985. Countless bands were suddenly flooding the nation’s airwaves, record stores and MTV, including the heretofore somewhat underrated Dokken, which would enjoy their first significant exposure with their third studio effort, Under Lock and Key.
Like many of the L.A. scene’s charter bands (Van Halen, Quiet Riot, Legs Diamond, etc.), Dokken was largely comprised of wily veterans who’d been struggling to make a name for themselves since the late ‘70s. But their publicists were less inclined to tip fans off to information like this than they were to disabuse them of the notion that their long-haired idols were really just a gang of friends united against the world by music. Of course, the fact is that most bands comprise something of a marriage of professional convenience, more so than true comradery – and Dokken were no exception where its two driving creative forces were concerned.
Although they were named after singer Don Dokken (a well-connected veteran of ‘70s rockers Airborn who nearly replaced Klaus Meine in the Scorpions, at one point), it was with songs mostly written by another band named Xciter, featuring guitarist George Lynch and drummer Mick Brown, that Don managed to hustle a European recording contract in 1982. Meanwhile, Lynch was confident that his local notoriety as L.A.’s third most admired guitar slinger, after Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads, was such that he could headline his own band – and he would, eventually, with Lynch Mob. Still, he also had to concede the value of Don’s business smarts.
Together, Dokken, Lynch, Brown and bass player Jeff Pilson (who replaced the Ratt-bound Juan Croucier) took another important step up the heavy metal ladder with 1984’s excellent Tooth and Nail LP, which finally broke into the U.S. Top 50, but initiall fell well short of gold sales. (It would earn that benchmark a few years hence.) Peers like Ratt and Motley Crue were already banking platinum albums by now, however, so Dokken knew they had to up their game. In keeping, they pulled out all the stops for Under Lock and Key, which really had a little something for every kind of heavy metal fan.
For the diehard head-bangers in the front row, Dokken hammered home a pair of fist-pumping speedsters in “Lightnin’ Strikes Again” and “Til the Livin’ End”; for their softer-hearted fans, they crafted a pair of lovelorn power ballads in “Slippin’ Away,” “Jaded Heart” and “Will the Sun Rise”; and for everyone in between they delivered a handful of tough but melodic hard rockers in “Unchain the Night,” “It’s Not Love,” “Don’t Lie to Me,” “The Hunter” and “In My Dreams.” The latter pair of singles peaked individually at No. 25.
All in all, Under Lock and Key would fulfill its mission and best its predecessor with a top U.S. Billboard position of No. 33. Even more importantly, the album would hang around the charts for an impressive 67 weeks, slowly grinding its way to the all-important gold certification. That offered proof that Dokken were a force to be reckoned with, capable of going toe to toe with the best hair metal talent out there.
“At that point, we had really matured as a band," Lynch later told Guitar World. "You could really see the evolution of our writing from Breaking the Chains and Tooth and Nail. Under Lock and Key sounded better than our previous albums. We were really polished and at the top of our game.”
Even the decision to open for Twisted Sister on the latter’s historically disastrous Come Out and Play tour was just a momentary stumble, as Dokken proceeded to convert new fans left and right over subsequent jaunts with AC/DC, Judas Priest, Dio and Accept.
Dokken’s next album, 1987’s Back for the Attack, built on the growing foundation established by Under Lock and Key, with added help from having one of its songs headline the latest Freddie Krueger movie soundtrack. The group announced its breakup in 1989, however, while still at the peak of their commercial powers – leaving a sour taste around their final years together.
Perhaps that’s why Dokken's third album is now widely perceived as their definitive work, and certainly the best representation of their unified talents in the service of music.
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