Celebrating everything that makes the second album from the Vancouver rock legends both awesome and absurd
1981 was, to put it kindly, a fraught year in my life.
The first half of that year, I was under same roof as an abusive stepfather who, thankfully in retrospect, didn’t know the truth of my identity or it would have been worse.
By the midway point of the year, even burying that identity for my own safety, things were completely untenable. After a particularly violent beating by my stepfather, my mom, saving my life, put me on a plane to another part of the country to live with my father.
I was a scared 13-year-old with identity issues that would remain for buried for decades, looking for comfort where I could find it — in places like the radio.
What I didn’t know was that my radio would be different than I expected. I was moving to northwest Washington State, about 10 minutes from the Canadian border, situated in a valley with tall enough hills on either side that radio reception was often limited to stations out of Vancouver.
This brings us to something some of you may not be familar with — Canadian content rules. It would take too long to explain the formulations that go into determine it (and the occasionally bizarre determinations that result), but music stations have been required, for 50 years now, to devote a certain percentage of their airplay to Canadian content.
During this period, it meant I was hearing some bands that I would have never heard if I wasn’t in the middle of nowhere 10 minutes from the Canadian border– Doug and the Slugs, the Headpins and Carole Pope & Rough Trade and others.
VIDEO: Doug and the Slugs “Too Bad”
But, not every artist who met Canadian content requirements would be an unknown. Rush was in the middle of its commercial peak with Moving Pictures still hot and Signals to come the following year. April Wine and Triumph were at their biggest as well.
And then, there was Loverboy, not just a Canadian band, but a Vancouver band that had blown up.
In fact, their debut album and lead hit single “Turn Me Loose” had charted higher in America. The stage was set for the follow-up, which arrived a year later with Get Lucky in October, 1981. It was another hit, yielding two top 40 singles in the states — “Working for the Weekend” and “When It’s Over.”
Those two, along with “Take Me to the Top,” “Lucky Ones” and “Jump” would all get album rock airplay.
Now, 40 years later, the album still makes for a solid piece of musical comfort food that’s more well-crafted than the band’s retrospective bright colors, spandex and headbands reputation would suggest.
Not that the cover shot of a butt in red leather pants downplays that reputation, but I digress.
Now, let’s get this out of the way, it’s not a front-to-back classic in retrospect. Even at nine songs, it has some skippable content.
“Emotional,” for example, is at the level of average bar band trying to do its version of the Stones with guitarist Paul Dean reminding everyone why he was not the band’s lead singer. Dean is no Keith Richards.
“It’s Your Life,” meanwhile, sounds like an unmemorable B-side best left on the cutting room floor.
But at its best, it offers reminders that Loverboy could produce quality AOR, with a radio-ready production by Bruce Fairbairn with new wave keyboards mixed in with the guitars and the hooks.
Start with where the album does — it’s biggest hit — “Working for the Weekend.” That opening cowbell is remembered by anyone who listened to rock stations in the ’80s, especially at 5 p.m. on Fridays.
VIDEO: Loverboy “Working For The Weekend”
Years later, separated from that oversaturation, it sounds like the exuberant pop AOR rush it is. It’s got the catchy chorus complete with that recognizable riff that leads back into the verses. It’s the kind of song that a band like the Darkness would have killed for years later, although they would have done it tongue-in-cheek.
Loverboy plays it straight, a sincerity that helps rather than hinders, when it was easier to pull off playing this kind of material without irony.
“When It’s Over” outdoes Foreigner at its own ballad game, with Reno singing his tail off and those keyboards fleshing things out.
“Only the Lucky Ones” has Fairbairn turning a production into just this side of Corganesque over-the-top, with synths instead of guitars. But, he doesn’t bury the riffs, the vocals and the song has a groove that you wish the band had explored more.
“Jump” includes the Bryan Adams-Jim Vallance team, soon to have big success on Adams’ records, among its co-writers. It plays like a better version of future Adams big dumb rockers like the Reckless clunker “Kids Wanna Rock.”
Like much of what Loverboy did, it ain’t that deep lyrically, but “When I say “jump”, you better jump (jump, jump)” will get stuck in your head whether you like it or not. And, dang, Cheap Trick should have covered it in the ’80s.
VIDEO: SNL’s Norwegian Actors’ Playhouse
Did I mention lyrics? That brings us to “Gangs in the Streets.” Back in 2009, SNL did an underrated one-off sketch called “Norwegian Actors Playhouse” in which it was insisted that the actors, who’d never been to the U.S. instinctively had the culture down and performed an American cop drama with “no trace of an accent whatsoever”, only to have accent-thick lines like “I grew up on the streets of Times Square maaaan. We all had to mug each other. Everywhere we looked was pollution but I became a tough cop with a cigarette,” being delivered straight.
“Gangs”, lyrically, reads like one of those “Norwegian actors” wrote it. Musically, it’s one of the better pieces on the album, but the mental image of spandex-clad “gangs” it conjures amps up the cheese factor a tad too much, eliciting unintended chuckles in the process.
“Watch Out” isn’t one of the standout tracks, but darned if it doesn’t sound like one of those guitar-based mid-tempo rockers that bands had in the lower reaches of the Top 40 during this late 70s-early ’80s timeframe.
Reno and Dean are the stars here — check out the latter’s fills throughout “Take Me To The Top” — but the others make their presence known. This might not have been a band that drew legions of instrument wonks to their various players, but they all do their jobs effectively.
AUDIO: Loverboy Live in Pittsburgh 1986 FM broadcast
The ’80s grew less kind to Loverboy artistically and commercially, especially after their third album Keep It Up — 1985’s Lovin’ Every Minute Of It and and 1987’s Wildside lacked the consistency of their predecessors. The hooks were fewer, the sense of exuberance felt more forced, a bit of adult contemporariness had seeped in and the band broke up in 1988.
Fairbairn moved on, having huge successes with Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and others before his sudden death in 1999.
They first reunited for a benefit show for musician/producer Brian MacLeod (Chilliwack, the Headpins), who was battling cancer. The experience of playing together again spurred them to resume touring.
VIDEO: Loverboy at Herrinfest 2019
They’ve done so ever since, overcoming the death of bassist Scott Smith in 2000. They still put out albums intermittently (2007’s Just Getting Started being worth checking out as it stands closest to their prime-era material).
Loverboy seemingly exists in a place where they aren’t quite as reviled as other “corporate rock” bands of the late 70s and early ’80s (The Dude didn’t say, “I fucking hate Loverboy,” after all), but also haven’t been subject to a massive critical rethinking that holds their output in higher esteem.
Unlike some comfort foods of your youth that don’t hold up as well as you remembered (looking at you, Hostess fruit pies), “Get Lucky” has enough moments that do that it still remains enjoyable, even 40 years after its release and over 10 years after the kid that first heard it ended her denial and no longer needed the welcome escape of some occasionally cheesy, mostly well put together new wave-ish AOR guitar rock.
Come on baby, let’s go, indeed.