There are names in Classic Rock that anyone who considers them an aficionado of the genre will (should) know. W. Axel Rose, David Lee Roth, Bon Scott, Bruce Dickinson, Ritchie Blackmore, Eddie Van Halen to name but a few. Amongst that list and arguably equal with any of them is David Coverdale. Former Deep Purple lead singer (leading the band to no less than two Gold albums) and front man for Whitesnake for 34 years he has earned his status amongst the Rock greats with blood, sweat and certainly some tears.
When the self-titled Whitesnake album was released in 1987 (it was released with the ‘1987’ title in Europe and the band name in the States) the band had already released one E.P and five albums and been through seven different band members. They had encountered success on the way though, with four of the albums gaining entry into the top 10 albums in the UK charts and two top 20 singles. However they had, with the exception of the third album ‘Ready and Willing’ which crawled into the top 100 album charts, failed to crack the American market. It was, as stated by David Coverdale himself at the time, make or break time.
As Whitesnake sought to start work on the album that would later be the ‘1987’ release, it seemed as though the music gods were doing all they could to ‘break’ them. In 1983 John Sykes, fresh from departing from the break-up of Thin Lizzy, was purposefully recruited by Coverdale to give Whitesnake a more modern edge, both with his playing style and his song writing abilities. So far so good I hear you cry. In 1985 drummer Cozy Powell left the band after his and Coverdale’s relationship become untenable. Only in the band for three years Powell had given the band a thundering drum track and had been involved in two of the bands top 10 album hits. Powell’s departure was a blow to Coverdale, perhaps not personally but certainly musically. It took the intervention of record executives at the bands label, Geffen, to persuade Coverdale to continue the band disillusioned as he was at the bands inability to break the US market. For their part the record executives were aware of just how potent the Coverdale/Sykes partnership could be.
Sykes was given the duties as lead guitar player in Whitesnake with Coverdale looking to him to provide the flair and aggression to help the band break the US market and lend his considerable talents to song writing duties. Sykes was an amazing guitarist and a very creative song writer and it was felt that the combination with Coverdale would result in some of the bands best music. The three members (Murphy on Bass being the third) of Whitesnake auditioned for a new drummer in LA in 1985. They eventually – after, legend has it, seen 60 drummers – settled on Aynsley Dunbar who featured the rock band Journey on his CV.
However much of 1985 and 1986 were lost to inactivity due Coverdale experiencing a serious illness which threatened his very singing career let alone the recording of the new album. During this period of time Sykes expressed, more than once, his displeasure at this delay and suggested that the band recruit another lead singer to finish off the recording. This, obviously, didn’t go down well once Coverdale heard of it. Once recording started again the band sped through the material Coverdale/Sykes had written, widely acknowledging it was some of the best – lyrically and musically – the band had ever produced. As the band neared the completion of the recording in late 1986 Coverdale fired Sykes – the remarks of finding an alternative lead singer ringing in Sykes’s ears – and brought in Adrian Vandenberg as a replacement. Just on the cusp of releasing the now finished album Coverdale, not content with losing such a key member of the group as Sykes, fired the others and recruited – along with Vandenberg – a whole new band with which to tour and promote the 1987 album.
The act of dismissing the entire band by Coverdale has long been discussed by members of the rock and roll world. Sykes was no surprise but having only just recruited Dunbar no-one had seen that coming. The traditional rock n roll excuse of ‘clash of personalities’ was rolled out at the time and this has been the ‘party line’ ever since. Was it that? Or was it, that as the 80’s reached a close and MTV airtime started to become more crucial to a bands ability to break through to new markets that Coverdale wanted to surround himself with others who shared his ‘Rock God’ persona and appearance? Certainly the latest members of the band, Rudy Sarzo on bass and Tommy Aldridge on drums, had the right rock pedigree coming from Ozzy Osbourne’s and Garry Moore’s bands respectively. When the singer was asked by Billboard in 1988 about working with musicians who didn’t play on the album, he explained, “My prime concern when I was putting this lineup together was who could play the music, who could take it further and who could look good doing it.”
It is no secret that Coverdale has something of an ego and that this developed during his ‘Purple days and in no small way contributed to his departure. With his own band it has been stated that he could pretty much run riot with his demands and whilst he wanted talented band members – like Sykes and Powell – he was not going to let them steal the limelight from him. Whatever the reason(s) behind the wholesale band change it did nothing to hinder the album sales…
Released in April 1987, it reached number 2 on Billboard Top 200 charts, spawning two hit singles: “Here I Go Again ’87” (which reached number 1 in the US) and “Is This Love” (which reached number 2 in the US). ‘Still of the night’ quickly became the most requested video on MTV – featuring the new line up – although arguably this may have more to do with it featuring a certain soon to be Mrs Coverdale wearing little else but a white silk nightie!
Whitesnake ‘Here I Go Again on My Own’
With its combination of blues rock and hard rock ‘Still of the night’ – the album opener – really sums up what’s so great about the album. It has a blistering introduction, with a guitar shrill before Coverdale’s trademark gravelly vocal kicks in. Yes it can be classified as hair rock and certainly the band members are probably responsible for some of, if not all of, the whole in the O-zone layer with the amount of hair spray they must have used but it does nothing to detract from the music. The album combines elements of their blues rock roots with a new, harder edgier sound which never veers into an area which the record company might have considered not commercially sensible in order to break the US market. ‘Still of the night’ even features a ‘break down’ moment when the songs pace lessens and Coverdale sings over keyboard only. With the middle eight a great combination of keyboard and drums Coverdale’s vocals once again soar into life to bring the guitars back in and the pace quickens again.
Of course the song that is probably most widely known from this album, certainly in the non-rock circles due to being included endlessly on ‘Fathers dad’ compilations albums and alike, is ‘Give me all your loving’. With its simple keyboard and guitar formula it’s a track that gets you tapping and nodding along without even noticing. Yes, lyrically it’s not going to win awards (as proven when I submitted snippets from one of the songs from this album as ‘sonnet’ for an A-level English project. I got a C. Coverdale would have a fit!) but classic rock and roll was never about poetry – it’s about feeling and passion and this song has both in spades. It’s a song that when performed live lends itself perfectly to some singer/crowd interaction and is a staple of their set even now. In fact, by and large, the vast majority of the songs on this album are included to this day when Whitesnake take to the stage – an acknowledgement from the band to just how much of influence this had, not only over their career but also to bringing in new fans to the ‘Snake fold.
Whitesnake ‘1987’ brought the band success in US and confirmed their status as a headline act for many years to come. In keeping with how the album was recorded by the time they had come to record their follow up album the band had seen more changes but the constant remained – Coverdale. With some bands its arguable whether they are the same band when they experience so many members coming and going but with Whitesnake it is David Coverdale’s band and provided he remains then the fans will keep going to see them – just as long as they keep playing the hits from the album that made Coverdale the Rock star that he is to this day.
Words: Brian McKay
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