"It was unbelievable. Every second was an inspiration": How a single show rejuvenated the Scorpions and sent them on the path to superstardom

Scorpions studio portrait
(Image credit: Deborah Feingold/Corbis via Getty Images)

It wasn’t easy to upstage Van Halen in their prime, but calling in the US Air Force will do the trick. It was Sunday, May 29, 1983, and Scorpions were second on the bill on the so-called Heavy Metal Day at the Us Festival, the massive music jamboree near San Bernardino in California organised by promoter Bill Graham and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, which also featured Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest and a rising Mötley Crüe. 

A problem was that Van Halen were being Van Halen. The headliners may have honed their chops covering early Scorpions songs Speedy‘s Coming and Catch A Train in their formative LA club days, but now they weren’t above a little inter-band shithousery. And so the Scorpions found themselves prohibited by order of Dave Lee Roth and co. from using their full stage set, beyond a bit of pyro to open the show. 

Fortunately, the band’s Liverpool-born tour manager, Bob Adcock, hit on a brilliant idea. The resourceful scouser put a call in to a nearby US Air Force base, and asked if they could fly some fighter jets over the festival site at the precise moment the Scorpions kicked off their set. “Sure,” came the reply. “Why the hell not?” 

“The planes were outstanding,” recalls guitarist Rudolf Schenker, a man who exists in a permanent state of full-tilt enthusiasm. “Five fighter jets flying above the stage and over the mountains just as we started. You could not do that today. Van Halen heard about it and weren’t happy.” 

Assisted by the appearance of some multimillion-dollar military hardware, the Scorpions stole the day from under the noses of Van Halen. But that Us Festival appearance was more than just a victory for Germany over America in some imaginary heavy metal Cold War. It also represented a turning point for the Scorpions. The album they released early the following year, Love At First Sting, was a slab of exhilarating 80s heavy metal designed to appeal to American audiences. 

Propelled by the timeless MTV hit Rock You Like A Hurricane, it did just that. Suddenly, Scorpions were no longer Euro-metal curiosities with funny accents. They were global superstars. 

“We always wanted to make a better album each time,” says Schenker. “We pushed ourselves: ‘Let’s do it better, let’s do it better.’ With Love At First Sting we did it.”


In 1970, the then 22-year-old Rudolf Schenker told a German music magazine that the Scorpions would become “one of the thirty biggest rock bands in the world”. It seemed like a preposterous idea at the time. But 1982’s Blackout album reached the US Top 10, and saw the band headlining New York’s prestigious Madison Square Garden for the first time. 

“At that time, the band was very tight,” says drummer Herman Rarebell, who joined the band before 1977’s Taken By Force album and stayed until 1996. “We said: ‘Let’s stick together, go for the same goals.’ That changed later on, of course, but at that point everyone in the band was united.” 

But that sense of unity wasn’t quite as strong as he suggests. They began work on Love At First Sting in early 1983 at Stockholm’s Polar Studios, owned by Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson of ABBA. Dieter Dierks, their producer-come-mentor who worked on every Scorpions album from 1973’s Fly To The Rainbow to 1988’s Savage Amusement, was present. But Rarebell and bassist Francis Buchholz were not. In their place were former Rainbow drummer Bobby Rondinelli and ex-Wild Horses/ soon-to-be-Dio bassist Jimmy Bain. 

“Herman and Francis were both smashed after touring,” says Schenker. “We had already booked the studio to make this album. Everything was really upfront, nothing was behind people’s backs.” 

Rarebell has a different memory of it. “I was a total alcoholic, totally on drugs. It was rock’n’roll to do that stuff back then,” he says. His playing was suffering, and he needed to get help and straighten himself out. “But they went behind my back [by getting Rondinelli in]. I said to myself: ‘Fuck this shit, I’m going to leave.’”

It was Dierks who eventually persuaded Rarebell not to quit. The producer reminded him that they had enlisted Don Dokken to sing on the demos for Blackout after Klaus Meine had to undergo surgery on his vocal cords. Pragmatism took precedence over sentimentality in the world of the Scorpions.

“Dieter Dierks said: ‘Listen, don’t take it badly, it’s not personal,’” says Rarebell.

In the end it would be the Us Festival that bought the splintered band back together. “We got an offer to play it, and we said: ‘Mamma mia, we have to take it!’” says Schenker. 

They called a halt to the Polar Studios sessions, and in May 1983 flew to the US for a short tour, culminating in that jet fighter-augmented Us Festival appearance.

“Everything about it was fantastic,” remembers Schenker. “It was unbelievable. Every second was an inspiration. When we finished and we’d done so well, we said: ‘We have to go back in the studio and do it together.’ The Us Festival was like having a second chance. It was an energy bomb: ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’”

That second chance got underway after the Scorpions returned home to Germany. This time around they holed up in Dieter Dierks’s studio in his home town of Stommeln. Bobby Rondinelli and Jimmy Bain were gone; Herman Rarebell and Francis Buchholz had been reinstated. The sessions they’d recorded in Sweden were totally scrapped – something that prompts no small degree of schadenfreude in the drummer. 

“I knew his playing would be much too busy for these songs,” says Rarebell. “And then Dierks said: ‘I can’t use any of this material, you have to come down to the studio and play the drums on the whole album again.” 

“It was working good,” Schenker says of the sessions in Sweden, “but it didn’t sound like the Scorpions. We had this energy from the Us Festival. We realised we had to do it [the album] together.” 

Although the Swedish sessions were canned, the band held on to the material. The band had gradually evolved from the psychedelic-edged hard rock of their earliest albums to the gleaming heavy metal of Blackout, and the new songs had an even more melodic edge. “It was touring with bands like Foreigner and Aerosmith and Journey that taught us,” says Rarebell. “We saw how they wrote, and we learned fast.” 

Among the songs they’d written were a string of what would become solid-gold Scorpions classics, chief among them being Rock You Like A Hurricane. Schenker had written the song on the Blackout tour, but it needed a set of lyrics to match its propulsive riff. That task fell to Klaus Meine and Herman Rarebell. 

“Klaus and Herman wrote the lyrics together,” says Schenker. “It was Klaus’s very romantic, harmonic mind and Herman’s very dirty mind.” 

The drummer certainly bought the sleaze. “I thought we needed a rock song with lyrics that should be forbidden,” he says. “The original title, for me at least, was Fuck You Like A Hurricane. The record company looked at me and said: ‘You’re completely out of your mind!’ Which I was.”

The song was nothing if not autobiographical. “I would open the curtains in the morning after partying all night to let the sun come in,” he says. “The question was always, [to imaginary sexual partner] ‘And what is your name?’ For me it was a wild time, it really was sex and drugs and rock’n’roll.” 

While the album’s opening lines ‘It’s early morning, the sun comes out/Last night was shaking and pretty loud’ were fairly tame, other lyrics wouldn’t wash today. ‘The bitch is hungry, she needs to tell/So give her inches and feed her well,’ Meine sings, presumably not referring to his pet pooch. 

“Looking back at it now, it makes you laugh,” snorts an unrepentant Rarebell. “There are all these songs that go: ‘Motherfucker, asshole…’ They would never have been played in America back then. Now you could release it as Fuck You Like A Hurricane and nobody would give a shit.” 

At the other end of the spectrum was Still Loving You, a textbook 80s Euro-metal power ballad. Schenker had been trying to get it on a Scorpions album for seven or eight years. “For every album, I’d start [hums opening chords] and there’d be no reaction,”says the guitarist. “Klaus liked it, but the rest of the band were: ‘No, Rudi, that’s too much.’ But then when we started rehearsing for Love At First Sting, I played the lick again. Then Matthias [Jabs, guitar] comes in, then Herman comes in, then the bass, then Klaus, and there we were: Still Loving You.” (Schenker claims the song was responsible for a mini-baby boom after it was released as a single in ’84, although evidence to support that is elusive.) 

The rest of the album wasn’t short of killer tracks: statement opener Bad Boys Running Wild (“Our The Boys Are Back In Town,” according to Rarebell), the grandstanding Big City Nights, yearning band-on-the-road anthem Coming Home, and anti-war broadside Crossfire, a lost gem written about divided Cold War-era Germany but just as potent today. But the defining characteristic of the album was how slick it was, even compared to Blackout. It sounded like a record written with MTV and radio in mind. 

“No, no,” counters Schenker. “It was pure instinct. It was what we needed to do to make the perfect Scorpions record.

'The perfect Scorpions record’ was released in March 1984. Keeping up the tradition of striking album artwork, the arty yet provocative cover for Love At First Sting featured a black-and-white image of two semi-naked models in a clinch. The band had initially approached Andy Warhol to shoot it, but the artist insisted on keeping the rights to the image. “We couldn’t make T-shirts and all the other stuff,” says Schenker. Instead they tapped up veteran fashion photographer Helmut Newton. 

Schenker: “When we were doing the shoot, Klaus had some ideas: ‘Can you do it this way…’ And Helmut Newton looked at him and said: ‘Do you want to do my job here?’ Klaus didn’t say so much after that.” 

The album was preceded by first single Rock You Like A Hurricane. In keeping with the band’s supersized ambitions, they enlisted A-list video director David Mallett – famous for his work with Queen, David Bowie and Blondie – to direct the promo clip. The result was a classic of its time, featuring prowling panthers, Spinal Tap-esque perspex tubes, and the band playing in a less than structurally sound cage surrounded by rabid fans and scantily clad models – the wrong side of sexist, maybe, but undeniably memorable.

“David Mallett made all these girls go crazy on the gates [to the cage],” says Rarebell. “He wanted to impress the American record company with it, because MTV was so important in America. Everybody watched it.” 

The video certainly did its job, helping to push the single into the Billboard Top 30 and helping its parent album to peak at No.6 in the US (it reached No.17 in the UK). The tour in support of Love At First Sting – with the then-little-known Bon Jovi as support – similarly kicked things to another level, even if it got off to a shaky start when the band decided to scrap their stage set just before the tour started. Luckily there was a ready-made solution in an unused AC/DC stage set. 

“It was built for them and they didn’t take it,” Schenker says. “When they offered it, we thought: ‘We don’t have the right one now, maybe we could live with this one.’ That’s the one we used in the end.”

The epic Love At First Sting tour lasted more than two years, taking in multiple nights at NYC’s Madison Square Garden, an appearance at the huge first Rock In Rio festival in ’85, and a second-on-the-bill appearance at the 1986 Monsters Of Rock festival at Donington, as well as producing the hugely successful World Wide Live album. The album sold more than three million copies in the US alone (only 1990’s Crazy World, featuring global megahit Winds Of Change, has sold more worldwide). At the end of it all, the Scorpions were bona fide rock A-listers. 

The current incarnation of the band, still led by Schenker, Klaus Meine and longtime guitarist Matthias Jabs, will celebrate the album’s 40th anniversary on their upcoming tour – although the chances of any US jets flying overhead during their set are slim. 

“It was the peak of the eighties for us,” Schenker says of Love At First Sting. “We were working like crazy, everything was crazy. It was the biggest any German band had become. We felt like ambassadors."

The Scorpions Love At First Sting European tour kicks off in Istanbul on May 23. They play London’s Wembley Arena on June 8. Get tickets.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.