“Mellow rock is just a bloody crime” - Feel the Shake
You can’t fault these dudes on concept. The 80s were littered with bands that tried to merge snotty punk rock with glam-metal and it was usually a snooze (TSOL) or an outright disaster (Discharge) but Jetboy really looked like they were gonna nail it. Outta the gate, they seemed a lot more with-it than most of the tatterdemalions haunting the Strip in the late 80’s.
For one thing, they named themselves after a NY Dolls song. Pick up an old Creem sometime, most of the glam metal bands in operation never even mentioned the Dolls, despite their crucial influence on literally every aspect of that scene. So they had that going for them. And after parting ways with their original bass player Todd Crew in 1987 (who died of an overdose a few months later), they managed to snag international playboy Sami Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks fame to replace him. And there has never been and will never be a band more hip than Hanoi Rocks. And their singer, Mickey Finn (not to be confused with the bongo player from T Rex), had a mohawk like Wattie from The Exploited, which was a wild move for a metal band in 1988.
Put all that together and you’ve got a band ready to drag flash metal away from the bloated, toothless, arena-bound puffball power-balladry radio-bait it had become and back into the seedy dives and incendiary punk clubs where it came from. But then they signed to a major label which, I mean, when have mohawks on major labels ever worked out?
Jetboy formed in 1983 in San Francisco. Few years later they moved to LA and signed with Elektra in ‘86. And that’s when the trouble started. They recorded their debut, Feel the Shake, but it was shelved while the band tried to get the besotted Crew back on track and while their record label tried to figure out whether Jetboy was the next Poison or the first Guns N’ Roses or maybe some Cinderella-esque blues metal thing. And really, given their penchant for power-pop hooks, it sorta seemed like Jetboy maybe just wanted to be Cheap Trick with a mohawk. Oh, and since most of their punk verve was gone by the time the record was recorded/re-recorded/remixed/re-released (on MCA; it’s a long and confusing story), that haircut started to make very little sense. So there was a lot going on between ‘86 and 1988, when Feel the Shake was finally unloosed. And when it was, well, not many people really felt the shake.
Feel the Shake sounds like it was created by committee, which of course it was. A lot of people had poked their fingers into the Jetboy pie by 1988, so it’s hard to say how different it might have sounded without all the hassles it took to get it released. But as it stands, it’s a schizophrenic album that has all the trappings of sleaze metal but none of the chest-beating, Harley-riding machismo. That’s largely because of the sugary pop hooks that sneak into almost every song. Twenty-ish years later, guitarist Billy Rowe formed glammy power-pop band American Heartbreak, and that sorta sounds like what he was swinging for here. It’s just not the right time or place for it. And so we have a band that’s attempting too many things at once, and not really nailing any of them.
But, you know, Sam fuckin’ Yaffa was in the band. And Jetboy did generate a lot of press, even if they didn’t exactly tear up the charts. They followed up Feel The Shake two years later with Damned Nation, a much more traditional glam metal album, albeit on the sleazier side of the street. Most people consider it their best. I think the band does, too. At the end of the day, Jetboy decided that they were not GN’R or the NY Dolls or Cheap Trick or Hanoi Rocks, they were actually Faster Pussycat. Now, you may argue that Faster Pussycat was merely an inferior version of all those other bands, and I would tend to agree with you. But I was not signed to MCA in 1990, these dudes were, and that was the choice they made. And while it may have been the right choice for them artistically, Damned Nation did not propel them into the big leagues. Or any leagues. They broke up in 1992 under the heavy weight of Seattle and the burgeoning alt-rock nation.
That wasn’t the end of the story, though. In 2010, the mostly-intact band picked up where they left off with Off Your Rocker, a back-to-basics EP that hardcore fans went nuts for. The band has been active ever since, albeit on a much more modest level. And that’s great. But it’s still not the band we were promised in 1986, man. Jetboy the band was never quite as good as Jetboy the big idea. But what the hell, the video was cool.
Next week: She’s so filthy!