The Y&T albums you should definitely own

Y&T backstage in 1983
The classic Y&T lineup in 1983: L-R Joey Alves, Dave Meniketti, Leonard Haze, and Phil Kennemore (Image credit: Paul Natkin via Getty Images)

For Dave Meniketti, the lead singer and lead guitarist with Y&T, there’s one night in the summer of 1982 that he’ll never forget. 

For an American band inspired by British acts such as Led Zeppelin and The Who, and originally named Yesterday And Today after a Beatles album, it was a thrill to play at London’s famous Marquee club. What Meniketti had not anticipated was the warmth of the welcome that Y&T received there – so warm, in fact, that rubber on a guitar stand melted during the gig. As he recalled to Classic Rock: “I had heat stroke after that show.” 

The early 80s were the best of times for Y&T, when they emerged, after long years of struggle, as one of the great hard rock groups of that era. It was in the early 70s that the band formed in Oakland, California, and the classic lineup established with Meniketti alongside rhythm guitarist Joey Alves, bassist Phil Kennemore and drummer Leonard Haze. They made two albums as Yesterday And Today, both of which stiffed. After rebranding as Y&T, they enjoyed considerable success, in the UK and Europe especially, with a trio of landmark albums: Earthshaker, Black Tiger and Mean Streak

A powerful live act, Y&T played on the biggest stages, touring with AC/DC and appearing at the Reading Festival in 1982 and Monsters Of Rock in 1984. Their biggest hit came in 1985 with Summertime Girls, a bandwagon-jumping hair-metal anthem with a comedy video to match. 

By the end of the 80s the classic line-up was no more, as Haze was replaced by Jimmy DeGrasso (now with Black Star Riders), and Alves by Stef Burns. A couple of flop albums led to the band splitting in 1991. But just four years later the quartet of Meniketti, Kennemore, DeGrasso and Burns reunited for two albums: Musically Incorrect and Endangered Species

Since then there has been only one more album, 2010’s Facemelter, featuring Meniketti and Kennemore plus guitarist John Nymann and drummer Mike Vanderhule. Sadly, Kennemore died the following year, Haze in 2016, and Alves in 2017. For Dave Meniketti, the sole survivor from the band’s glory days, there is still work to be done. An acoustic EP, Acoustic Classix Vol. 1 was released in 2018, and a Kickstarter-funded documentary, Y&T: On With the Show, arrived the following year. 

Later this month Y&T begin a 50th anniversary tour (tickets are available now), and Dave Meniketti remains true to the words he sang back in 1981: ‘Hungry for rock, ready to roll.’


Earthshaker (A&M, 1981) 

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Earthshaker (A&M, 1981) 

If ever an album delivered on the promise of its title, it was this one. Earthshaker was a hard rock tour de force with all the raw power and take-no-prisoners attitude of Montrose’s legendary debut. In a stroke, Y&T went from nobodies to cult heroes. 

Livewire electricity coursed through songs such as Hurricane, Hungry For Rock, Young And Tough and Squeeze, I Believe In You, a heavy blues, was a showcase for Meniketti’s gritty voice and guitar-hero histrionics, while the atmospheric intro to Rescue Me, an epic track described by Meniketti as “the most popular song on the record, if not of our career”, was the inspiration for <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">Metallica’s Fade To Black.

Black Tiger (A&amp;M, 1982)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Black Tiger (A&M, 1982)

After the all-important breakthrough with Earthshaker, the follow-up was a defining statement. As Dave Meniketti said: “Black Tiger is our signature album.” Produced by Max Norman, who had engineered Ozzy’s post-Sabbath comeback records, Black Tiger sounded a little slicker than Earthshaker

But while the single Don’t Wanna Lose was made for radio, the meat of the album was heavy rock, with hard-and-fast head-bangers in Open Fire and the title track, boozy rowdiness in Barroom Boogie and high drama in the euphoric anthem Forever. In 1982, with this album and a triumphant Reading Festival performance, Y&T were flying.

Struck Down (London, 1978)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Struck Down (London, 1978)

With their first two albums, both issued in the late 70s under the name Yesterday And Today, the band couldn’t buy a hit. But in the self-titled debut, from 1976, there were signs of what was to come, most evident in the fast, hard-driving Earthshaker. And in the follow-up, Struck Down, there was more muscular rock and also a greater sense of ambition. 

The title track was a mighty slow-burner, like a heavier <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">Free. On a grander scale were two tracks with echoes of <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">Dio-era <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">Rainbow: Dreams Of Egypt, an overblown historical epic, and Stargazer (Round And Round), with psychedelic vibes the prelude to flat-out heavy metal thunder

Mean Streak (A&amp;M, 1983)&nbsp;

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Mean Streak (A&M, 1983) 

In a year when <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">Def Leppard’s Pyromania and <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">ZZ Top’s Eliminator combined hard rock with cuttingedge technology, there was nothing fancy about Y&T’s Mean Streak. These guys were never innovators, they just rocked. 

This album had its subtler moments, in the grand power ballad Midnight In Tokyo, and in Lonely Side Of Town, a finely crafted AOR number with shades of early <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">Survivor. But on the whole the record was typically boisterous heavy metal rock’n’roll. And while a couple of songs were throwaways, the title track was a classic, as hardhitting as anything off Earthshaker or Black Tiger.

In Rock We Trust (A&amp;M, 1984)&nbsp;

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">In Rock We Trust (A&M, 1984) 

The daft-looking robot on the cover of Y&T’s sixth album was transformed (like Maiden’s <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">Eddie) into a stage prop. It was also a sign of an increasingly gonzoid sensibility in the band’s music. 

For heaviness they had <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">Judas Priest producer Tom Allom. For hooks they had AOR cult hero Jeff Paris as co-songwriter. And in two standout songs, the dumb-by-design approach worked like magic. Rock & Roll’s Gonna Save The World had a riff derived from AC/DC and a super-stupid chorus, while Lipstick And Leather was <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">Kiss with a side order of S&M. As for the robot, its appearance at Monsters Of Rock in ’84 got more laughs than David Lee Roth.

Down For The Count (A&amp;M, 1985)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Down For The Count (A&M, 1985)

Y&T had only one hit song, and they milked it. Summertime Girls, first featured as the sole studio track on the ’85 live album Open Fire, was also included in this studio record from the same year. At a time when hair-metal was all the fashion, Y&T rode that wave with Summertime Girls, radiating California sunshine. 

And while their newly glammed-up image was not a natural fit – especially for Leonard Haze, who looked more like John Belushi than like a member of <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">Poison – they channeled their inner teenagers in this album’s party bangers, and nailed a glorious AOR number in Face Like An Angel.

Ten (Geffen, 1990)

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Ten (Geffen, 1990)

It was apt that this album opened with a song named Hard Times. After the failure of 1987’s Contagious, their debut for new label Geffen, the band were in deep shit. Ten was their last shot at the big time. And while it didn’t turn out as they hoped, they at least gave it their best shot. 

With former <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">Journey drummer Steve Smith playing on most tracks, this was a high-class hard rock record, with shades of <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">Led Zeppelin in the stuttering riff of Hard Times and the acoustic textures in Ten Lovers, and AOR mastery in Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark. But as Dave Meniketti later commented: “Grunge was coming in. The writing was on the wall.”

Musically Incorrect (Music For Nations, 1995)&nbsp;

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Musically Incorrect (Music For Nations, 1995) 

The two albums Y&T made in the late 90s were knowingly titled. In an era dominated by grunge and nu metal, Musically Incorrect and Endangered Species were widely ignored, but in both there was something heroic in the way the band remained defiantly old-school, loud and proud. 

Endangered Species had meaty songs in Gimme The Beat, Still Falling and Hello, Hello (I’m Back Again) – the latter, wisely, not a Gary Glitter cover. But it was Musically Incorrect that rocked hardest, with Meniketti ripping it up on guitar in the heavy, blues-based Long Way Down, and having a blast with a powerful remake of I’m Lost from Struck Down.

Facemelter (Frontiers, 2010)&nbsp;

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Facemelter (Frontiers, 2010) 

Y&T’s first album in 13 years came with overt references to their glory days. The title had the cockiness of Earthshaker, and the OTT cover image was by the artist who had served the band so well on Black Tiger and Mean Streak, John Taylor Dismukes. 

As it turned out, Facemelter did not have the fizzog-frying power of those 80s classics, with Meniketti’s voice no longer the force it once was. But this album’s best songs – Shine On, I’m Coming Home, and especially the deep and heavy ballad If You Want Me – proved that Y&T were still a class act. Facemelter was a solid comeback. Sadly it was also Phil Kennemore’s swansong.

...and one to avoid

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Contagious (Geffen, 1987)&nbsp;

<a href="" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Contagious (Geffen, 1987) 

When Y&T signed to rock powerhouse Geffen Records, they thought they had it made. They were wrong. In the same week that Contagious was released, the label also issued <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">Whitesnake’s 1987 and <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction

As a result, Contagious got lost in the shuffle. But in truth it was a pretty lame record, a cynical attempt at emulating the big rock acts of the period; its title track was a <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">Bon Jovi knock-off, shiny pop metal complete with the obligatory ‘whoah-oh’ chorus, while the big ballad, Temptation, sounded like a poor man’s <a href="" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant=""" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"">Def Leppard. Contagious duly bombed. From such a great band, this was nowhere near good enough.

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”