Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalogue. Occasionally, a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Decibel site to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. This time around, Greg Pratt defends Warrant’s Cherry Pie.
I bought a new vehicle recently: as part of the financial brutality I got a free three-month subscription to SiriusXM, which I promptly upgraded to a six-month package because, man, Hair Nation is an awesome channel (shout-out to DJ Keith Roth over there). So I’ve been cruising around a lot listening to hair metal and hard rock classics, and one really jumped out at me: Warrant’s song “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Now, we all know the deal (and, look, I know you’re stoked on the new Devourment and have strong feelings on Batushka and stuff, but don’t even pretend that you don’t know the deal): glammers Warrant put out their second album, Cherry Pie, in 1990, and rode a massive wave of success on the strength of the absolutely vapid title track, the only song most people will really remember the album—hell, the band—for. That’s a shame, and today we change that.
Alright, let’s get the title track out of the way with here. This song is the reason why no one wants to talk about this album, and I get it: it’s totally stoopid, basically offensive, and just embarrassing. I mean, it’s catchy as hell and encapsulates the era nicely, but it also is a horrid way to start the album, basically turning away any interested parties at the door if they’re here for something with a bit more substance than a dollar-store chocolate bar. I can’t deny that, like dollar-store chocolate bars, it’s fun, and it gets stuck in my head at random a lot, but it doesn’t help my case here, so let’s move along. (Side note: hard to believe that promo video is even real.)
Vocalist Jani Lane famously did not look back fondly on that song; the moment when he shoots the person off camera the look in this interview just destroys me every time:
Alright, now, getting right to the heart of the matter: according to some sources (including Lane), this album was originally going to be called Uncle Tom’s Cabin before the suits got involved, and I like that version of history much better because this song absolutely rules. The opening slide-guitar intro is actually not bad, the guitar tones once the song proper kicks in are great, and when things actually get heavy, this one is undeniable. The chorus is melodic hard rock perfection; the chord change at 2:01, forget about it, man. Even the subject matter is suddenly far more interesting than fucking “Cherry Pie,” the band—depending on how you look at it—taking literary influence or just spinning a down-south yarn about murder and deadly secrets. This song is good. Really, really good. Songs like this are why I will always love good hard rock. Most bands of the era would have killed to have written a song this good, this smart, this—yes—sophisticated.
Alright, time to come clean: I kinda really dig Warrant’s ballads. I mean, they do a good job of them, and Jani Lane’s voice was perfectly suited for the quieter material. And never were they more on top of their ballad game than they were with “I Saw Red.” I don’t care that I’ve been in the pages of Decibel singing the praises of Grief and Entombed; I’ll go on the record here saying this is an excellent song. When I was a kid listening to this song, I thought the lines “I saw red/when I opened up the door/I saw red/my heart just spilled on to the floor” was actually about—work with me here—Lane stumbling into a crime scene and seeing blood splattered everywhere (which kinda makes sense after “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”; brutal album). “And I didn’t need to see his face/I saw yours/I saw red/And then I closed the door.” Crime scene! It wasn’t until about two days ago that I learned the song was a true story about Lane walking in on his best friend and girlfriend in bed together; Lane apparently then had a nervous breakdown and the band’s debut album, the not-as-great-but-okay-I-guess Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich, had to be delayed because of all this, according to the internet. This story actually makes “I Saw Red” even more powerful; I love this song. Three tracks in here, and we’ve got one dud and two stone-cold hard rock classics. No matter what happens next, Cherry Pie is justified.
“Bed of Roses” is next, and I must admit to always forgetting what this song sounds like due to that song title, which I’m pretty sure has been used, like, three times by Bon Jovi by this point. And the song is, admittedly, not a stone-cold classic, but it’s a good piece of melodic rock, written well, with uplifting melodies and an air of—seriously!—intelligence amongst the wafts of bubblegum. Dig the ending, dig it all, man.
“Sure Feels Good to Me” is a bit of a throwaway, the band throwing in a quick and concise fast rocker that leaves zero impact although sounds half-decent while playing, the band rocking a bit harder and faster than any of us really remember.
“Love in Stereo” is a huge rocker, big riffs enjoying some open space, the band using the momentum of the late-night party, the hot summer days, the endless summer evenings to write what I can only imagine is an ode to sex with twins, like I’m pretty sure many great songs of the era were. Songs like this don’t further my “this is literary” narrative explored earlier with “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” but, look, the band placed that song as track two on the album, so I’m arguing that they were trying—like prisoners held captive—to give us a sign that there was something else happening here.
“Blind Faith” pulls out the acoustics so you know you’re in for another ballad; it’s no “I Saw Red” but it’s got vocal melodies for miles, a huge, ascending chorus, and moody verses that hint at more than just another breakup ballad. I dunno, man: here I am defending Warrant ballads in 2019 and I’m just totally unashamed to feel this way.
I always filed “Song and Dance Man” next to “Sure Feels Good to Me” here as songs that are more debut-era Warrant than, ahem, Uncle Tom’s Cabin-era Warrant, but I really should be giving this song more credit. Although it still has a sense of cloying hair-band to it, this song is, again, hinting at more going on behind the Warrant façade than we all remember, than we were all forced to believe with this album’s lame title track. I have a hard time making this song my own somehow, but I’m 90 percent there.
“You’re the Only Hell Your Mama Ever Raised” just begs to destroy brain cells with that song title; file next to Poison’s insufferable cover of “Your Mama Don’t Dance” not just for obvious reasons, but because I don’t really need to ever hear either again. Granted, this one has one of the album’s heaviest riffs on it during the verses, so let’s at least give it that much. That chorus just makes me want to run screaming, though.
The album’s last original song, “Mr. Rainmaker,” is huge and awesome, the band ending off with another big, killer rock anthem. And there are brains here, man; sure, the brains are baking on the Sunset Strip, but there are brains, there are killer verses and there’s a damn near perfect chorus. This, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “I Saw Red” would make for an absolutely great EP.
The band then, surprisingly, throws on a Blackfoot cover, “Train, Train.” Hearing Lane belt out “all a-fucking-board!” as this one starts was always a bit alarming, as was hearing Warrant give a tip of the hat to Blackfoot, really. But what a great way to say, hey, give us more credit than our record label wants to: we got this. Throw this on my aforementioned dream EP as the last track as a way to send us into the good night with a smile on our faces and the rock in our veins. I repeat, because we all tend to forget this: Warrant covered Blackfoot on Cherry Pie. And that’s awesome.
Then there’s “Ode to Tipper Gore.” Look, Warrant are on our side, man. They ended off the album they’re remembered for with 50 seconds of curse-infused stage banter dedicated to the one and only Tipper Gore. Considering how huge the band was and was about to come, this is pretty amazing. The album was released as a clean version without this song, and with a very snarky beep placed over the aforementioned “all a-fucking-board!” (and I have a childhood memory of having a version with “Ode to Tipper Gore” just being a 50-second long beep, but can find no record of this existing online, so I might be off there) but for my money, this original version shows the band how they wanted to be shown.
I’d love to see this album re-released as Uncle Tom’s Cabin with the song “Cherry Pie” gone and all the cursing remaining; it would go a long way to restoring credibility to a band who could just never get it, but who, looking back, actually deserve it.