Hanoi Rocks' first five albums repackaged: No bells, no whistles, but what a beautiful noise

Hanoi Rocks: The Days We Spent Underground 1981-1984 celebrates the pre-major label days of the band who reinvented the template for high-energy, sleazy rock’n’roll

Hanoi Rocks: The Days We Spent Underground 1981-1984 cover art
(Image: © Cherry Red)

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In 1979, Finnish singer Matti Fagerholm and guitarist Antti Hulkko sowed seeds for what became Hanoi Rocks. In February 1981, after adopting the respective stage names Michael Monroe and Andy McCoy, the band released their debut album, Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks (7/10). It hit the shops while the five-piece were on a three-month, 102-date tour. Playing that many gigs, they got good. In fact, considering there were so few templates for high-energy sleazy rock’n’roll bands – the members of Mötley Crüe had only just met each other, and Guns N’ Roses didn’t yet exist – they got very good indeed. 

Audiences saw this when Hanoi Rocks first came to London at the end of 1981. Their performances impressed reviewers from Sounds and Kerrang!, who, noting their post-punk energy and glam trappings, drew comparisons to Aerosmith, The Clash, the Stones and the then-defunct New York Dolls.

In truth, as the first three of the five CDs here indicate, Hanoi Rocks’ studio albums couldn’t match the energy of the live shows. The band knew this, and have long-criticised the sound on both the debut and its 1982 follow-up Oriental Beat (6/10, here as it was, not the 40th-anniversary remix). CD3 presents Self-Destruction Blues (5/10), a simple compilation of early singles and B-sides, released seventh months later to capitalise on the band’s fast-growing reputation. 

Despite their naivety, all the above boast memorable highlights: Tragedy, Don’t You Ever Leave Me and Lost In The City on CD1; Motorvatin’, Don’t Follow Me, Visitor and Oriental Beat on CD2; I Want You and Taxi Driver on CD3. On CD4 – Back To Mystery City (8/10) – songwriting and sonics take a significant step forward thanks to production by ex-Mott The Hoople pair Dale ‘Buffin’ Griffin and Pete ‘Overend’ Watts, because London-based drummer Razzle had by then talked and played his way into the line-up.

Having hit their studio stride, CD5 – 1984’s 18-song All Those Wasted Years (9/10), recorded live at the Wardour Street Marquee – captures Hanoi Rocks at full gallop. It works as a thrilling ‘best of’ spiced with a handful of A-list covers including Alice Cooper’s Under My Wheels, The Stooges’ I Feel Alright, and Train Kept A-Rollin’ done Aero-style. 

After these five, a debut major-label release was overshadowed by the death of Razzle, then an acrimonious split. Such a shame. Ironically, despite the lack of any extras, that implosion makes The Days We Spent Underground 1981-1984 irresistible.

Neil Jeffries

Freelance contributor to Classic Rock and several of its offshoots since 2006. In the 1980s he began a 15-year spell working for Kerrang! intially as a cub reviewer and later as Geoff Barton’s deputy and then pouring precious metal into test tubes as editor of its Special Projects division. Has spent quality time with Robert Plant, Keith Richards, Ritchie Blackmore, Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore – and also spent time in a maximum security prison alongside Love/Hate. Loves Rush, Aerosmith and beer. Will work for food.