As a prelude to this article, I will quote Anthrax’s Scott Ian from some VH1 retrospective series: “Ratt wrote some very good pop songs, to tell you the truth. Round and Round is a great song. You just can’t get argue with that.”
Many bands like to advertise themselves as truly disparate units, but Ratt really were that bunch. Bobby Blotzer (the drummer) was the one who was the most interested in hard rock. Juan Croucier (the bassist) was the one who was the most interested in R&B, funk and soul. Robbin Crosby (the rhythm guitarist) was the one who was the most interested in heavy metal and punk. Stephen Pearcy (the singer) was the most interested in pop music (even though he wasn’t the only one who came up with the vocal melodies). Finally, Warren DeMartini (the main lead guitarist) was mostly interested in melodic rock. He’s the sort of guy who you could imagine listening to The Cure and U2 (who both started in 1976). As such, you can imagine how phenomenal that Ratt were.
When focusing on this classic line-up, every album that they did was a classic. In my mind, there is no filler. Every song is memorable. They have songs which are light, hard, funky and heavy. They have songs which are angry, sad and comedic. It speaks to the versatility of Ratt that, like Queen and Faith No More, they had songs which you can play in either a metal club or a gay bar. They have mosh-worthy tunes, party anthems and ballads. Speaking of which, Between the Eyes is Ratt’s coolest ballad. This is saying something, because `80s metal ballads weren’t all that cool unless you’re talking about the thrash bands.
As a teenager, I was so remarkably lucky to have purchased the European version of Ratt’s 1983 début – the self-titled EP. It contained an earlier version of a song (You’re in Trouble) that was released on their first LP. What makes the EP version different is that it was the first grunge song (i.e. easy-listening doom metal like like Black Sabbath). On any version, there was another grunge song (You Think You’re Tough). The overlooked EP also proved to be ground-breaking because it contained one of the first thrash songs (Sweet Cheater), the first sludge metal song (U Got It) along with the first groove metal songs (Tell the World, Back for More and Walkin’ the Dog).
The 1985 re-release doesn’t do much justice to the heaviness of the 1983 release (especially on vinyl). The way that Ratt are visually presented also doesn’t do justice to the coolness of the songs. Their first LP, Out of the Cellar (1984), was groundbreaking for containing a disco metal song titled In Your Direction – predating Crush ’em by Megadeth. I was told by a guy, who was one of my elementary school and junior high classmates, that if Ratt were that good of a band then he would’ve heard of them. My response is that they didn’t get much exposure in England.
Strangely enough, a couple of members were interviewed on Sky TV back in the eighties but that was it. When it came to channels such as MTV2, Kerrang and Scuzz, Ratt didn’t get any exposure. It was different on VH1, but that channel is often perceived as being for middle-aged people with square easy listening tastes (such as adult contemporary). I always thought that the video of Back for More should’ve been aired due to the cameo appearances which were made by Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee.
Also, the video for You Think You’re Tough should’ve been aired due to the cameos that were made by the aforementioned Mötley Crüe members and Ozzy Osbourne. Lastly, the video for Nobody Rides for Free should’ve been aired because it was advertising Point Break (which has such a big cult following in England that Hot Fuzz referenced it). When I was in a pub, I came across this song in a jukebox. I wanted to play it so that people would start liking Ratt, but (in comparison to other songs which were played) the volume was too low for anyone to get into it.
It’s a shame that Ratt weren’t a household name in England. Their first 5 albums are more diverse than Metallica’s first 5. Out of the Cellar was considered to be heavy metal for the standards of the day, but it’s melodic groove metal by today’s abrasive standards (still more metal than Metal Health by Quiet Riot). Juan mentioned that one of the reasons why Ratt were underappreciated as a heavy metal band by younger generations is because of the ’80s production values (this explains why Metallica’s black album is their first album to sound heavy instead of hard like Iron Maiden).
As for the other Ratt albums, Invasion of your Privacy was melodic heavy metal. Dancing Undercover was the funky album (it did for them what Hot Space did for Queen). It was influenced by the similarly funky Undercover by The Rolling Stones. Each song is different even if the instruments are the same – dance, hip-hop, blues, rap, thrash, pop, jazz, soul, funk and R&B. Reach for the Sky was blues metal (including a jazz rock song where a washboard is used to imitate the sound of a tap dancer). Detonator was country metal. It’s a poor pity that Ratt never got the chance to do industrial metal. The closest that you’ll ever get to hear that is Vertex (Stephen’s defunct band after Ratt had split).
For me, each of the golden age Ratt records sound different because of the mixing as much as the genres. The eponymous EP was where no-one stood out because they all had equal impact. Out of the Cellar was the best album for Stephen’s vocals (cigarettes, cocaine and champagne would later get the best of him). Invasion of your Privacy is where the drums stand out but not in an overbearing way that’s reminiscent of Lars Ulrich. Dancing Undercover is where the bass stood out. Reach for the Sky is driven by Robbin’s beefy rhythm guitaring. From Warren’s perspective, I’ve saved the best for last because Detonator was where his lead guitaring reached its zenith. When Ratt fell apart in the early `90s, it was just as well because he couldn’t top his leads.
Ratt would’ve been taken more seriously as a metal band had they succeeded in enlisting Tom Allom (instead of Beau Hill) as the producer for Out of the Cellar. The fact that Tom had worked on the most popular albums of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest would’ve given more publicity in metal mags, thus more credibility. On a literally lighter note, he produced the début album of Def Leppard (On Through the Night). Unfortunately, Tom was too busy working with Judas Priest on Defenders of the Faith.
On the subject of Judas Priest, they would’ve been a national institution if they succeeded in getting Reckless on the soundtrack of Top Gun. The success of their pop metal albums would’ve been greater. Their pop metal songs produced by Stock, Aitken and Waterman would not have been shelved. It was actually Ratt who rejected the offer to have a song (Reach for the Sky) on the Top Gun soundtrack. Warren was responsible for the rejection because he reasoned that The Rolling Stones wouldn’t have sold out like that. Reading about Ratt made me think about the irony of that dubious statement.
In the beginning, Robbin and Juan were very eager to avoid Ratt being perceived as a heavy metal band because they wanted to appeal to a mainstream audience. Towards the end, they were anxious to avoid Ratt being pigeonholed as a pop metal band. Instead of being hypocrites, what stopped Ratt from obtaining major success was the choice of singles (it’s a case of a 50% home run). Out of the Cellar (a reference to the band moving away from the underground metal scene) could’ve been as big as Quiet Riot’s Metal Health (a hard rock album) had Scene of the Crime replaced Lack of Communication as the third single (although with chick replacing b!tch).
To make matters worse, the single that was chosen was repeated on the B-side. Instead, Ratt should’ve persuaded the company (Atlantic) to opt for I’m Insane. When a mainstream metal band releases singles, they have to please the metalheads as well as the mainstreamers. It’s like what Dee Snider of Twisted Sister said – you get the ballad, the macho credibility song, the party anthem and the racing track (pardon the unintentional pun). The best example of such an album is Cherry Pie by Warrant (the last pop metal album to go double platinum).
Ratt’s 2nd album, Invasion of your Privacy (1985), could’ve sold 6 million copies (ala Metal Health). Like with Lack of Communication, What you Give is What You Get was a memorable yet momentum-lacking song which was the third single. As was the case with the previous third single, the song was on both sides. Instead, the third single should’ve been You Should Know by Now. The music video could’ve been a spoof of quiz shows. The momentum of Ratt’s career would’ve been such that they would have an unprecedented (for them anyway) 4th single – Dangerous but Worth the Risk. The music video could’ve been an explosive house party which makes sense because the song is a party anthem that could’ve been used in high school or college movies.
Ratt’s third album, Dancing Undercover (1986), had the perfect choice of singles but the music video for Body Talk is only above-average at best with it being a performance video containing hyper-speed slow motion in a way that would later be a signature choice for Hong Kong film-director Wong Kar-Wai. The video only contained band footage because the idea was for the band to be featured on a television set during a scene in Eddie Murphy’s The Golden Child. However, the entire video wasn’t shown on screen…so the video that was aired on MTV could still have shown clips from the movie. Both the album and the movie would have been more profitable had the video director along with the movie company had thought more carefully about cross-pollinating products. Despite the video for Dance featuring a cameo appearance from Linda Kozlowski, whose Crocodile Dundee had yet to come out in that year.
The making of Ratt’s 4th album, Reach for the Sky (1988), was so dark that Juan didn’t want to degrade anyone by providing anecdotes when he was asked about it on his site’s old forum. This speaks volumes given how churlishly candid that he often was in the noughties. Anyway, this album only had 2 music videos. The problem is that I Want a Woman was the first single. Way Cool Jr. (featuring saxophones and a harmonica) would’ve been a better choice. The second single should’ve Bottom Line – the ultimate song about marriage (the music video could’ve showcased Ratt as a wedding act). The B-side should’ve been What I’m After (which has a meaty riff that Stone Sour would use for a song titled 30/150) because it’s more upbeat than What’s it Gonna Be?
Ironically, one of the things which could have helped get Ratt some much needed recognition would be to act in films. For example, Guns ‘n’ Roses (most of them anyway) appeared in a Clint Eastwood movie titled The Dead Pool (1988). A cooler example was filmed one year later. Bad Influence (starring Rob Lowe and James Spader) allowed Nymphs to play a song (The Highway) in the film’s coolest scene. On the subject of acting gigs, look what we have here:
Ironically, Robbin’s brother worked at a movie production company. When Ratt got new management in 1989, it was because they had already been heavily eclipsed in popularity by Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Def Leppard, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Metallica, Mötley Crüe, Poison, Skid Row, Warrant and Whitesnake. Slash, in his 2007 autobiography, documented that the history of great rock bands has been littered by careers ruined by changing managers. In my mind, one of the things that made Ratt great was that they never released albums where the title of the album is the same as a song. This made them self-aware along with the fact that they never had songs with “rock” in the title.
A critic claimed that Ratt would’ve been seen as the new Aerosmith had it not been for the latter (who recorded a seventies song titled Rats in the Cellar). In the late eighties, Aerosmith resurfaced with the double whammy of their respective P-initialed albums – Permanent Vacation (1987) and Pump (1989). On a similar note, Ratt’s rap metal song (Slip of the Lip) was recorded before before Faith No More released Epic. What would’ve helped Ratt would be having made a contribution to the Days of Thunder soundtrack, especially given Stephen’s interest in drag racing (which was his first career goal).
Ratt’s 5th album, Detonator (1990), could’ve rivaled the success of the 5th Mötley Crüe album (Dr. Feelgood went on to sell 6 million copies thanks to 5 singles). I’m sure there are many Mötley Crüe fans who would disagree with this, but bear in mind that Mötley Crüe are only seen as the better band because they have diverse lyrics and better videos. As far as the music, Ratt were the better band but most people only know them by their singles. Regardless of the fact that Crosby spent most of his time in rehab during the making of Detonator, the album’s guitar tracks would’ve had powerful texture if Bruce Fairbairn hadn’t rejected the opportunity to produce Detonator. For instance, Givin’ Yourself Away could’ve been a powerful hit that resonated with metalheads, mainstreamers and the miscellaneous. Inspired by U2’s With or Without You, it was their only power ballad.
It probably didn’t help that Ratt were more interesting to look at backstage than on stage. A guy who worked in the radio industry circla late eighties and early nineties had told me that Stephen turned down an invitation to have Ratt open for Mötley Crüe on their Dr. Feelgood tour. Apparently, the invitation was dismissed out of sheer egotism. This is ironic considering that Ratt considered having Bob Rock produce their album. Warrant would end up benefiting immensely by being the opening band instead, hence why Cherry Pie became the success story that it was in 1990 (as did Poison’s Flesh & Blood). Ultimately, Ratt settled on an arena tour with Vixen and Stryper which insulted in dwindling ticket sales.
As it stands, Stephen left because the band was in debt. Warren left because he didn’t want to be sued. Only Juan and Bobby remained. They should’ve renamed the band as Rodent to avoid being associated with their glam rock era. They should also have brought Crosby back into the fold to mould their new sound because it was the triangular rhythm section which provided the backbone of Ratt’s style. That trio were the holy trinity of metal. Also, with Robbin’s deep voice leading the fray and Juan’s melodic voice in the back – they were a match made in Heaven.
It’s very easy to see what the album titles would’ve been. Rat Race would’ve been a way to pay respect to the past while acknowledging the need to keep up with the current times, especially when you listen to a 1991 Skid Row song called Slave to the Grind. The second album might’ve been called Juggernaut because of the meatier-than-expected sound. It’s all too easy to envision the cover – a beautiful woman is behind a bar while holding 2 jugs of beer which are positioned in front of her biological jugs. It’s easy to envision this incarnation of the band releasing an industrial metal album titled Rattled.
Even then, there was no guarantee that Rodent would’ve become bigger than Out of the Cellar. My skepticism is more do with the cancellation of MTV’s Headbangers Ball than the grunge plague. The show was cancelled in 1995 for reasons which weren’t stated but were implied by the timing. 1994 saw the release of a movie which introduced the Spinal Tap of the nineties. It is titled Airheads. Brendan Fraser’s Chazz was the new David St. Hubbins and Steve Buscemi’s Rex was clearly the new Derek Smalls, whereas Pip (Adam Sandler) was the new Nigel Tufnel (in terms of IQ but not instrument). Where Beavis and Butthead celebrated metal, Airheads debunked it (despite the fact that it was only slightly more profitable than This is Spinal Tap). Beavis and Butthead became the new Headbangers Ball.
In 1995, Dave Mustaine (from Megadeth) complimented Ratt:
“That’s another band that a lot of unfortunate luck happened to. Stephen is a unique guy, Warren is a great guitar player, Robbin was pretty cool and Juan seemed like a nice guy.”
In a 2002 book titled Bang Your Head: The Rise and Fall of Heavy Metal, Juan Croucier was quoted as saying that he thought that Ratt should return to their hardcore sound for Detonator. The consensus was that heavy metal was in the past whereas pop metal was the future. Although it wasn’t specifically addressed, the consensus was because Hysteria (the 1987 Def Leppard album) had sold 9 million copies by the time that it was January 4, 1989. When Juan saw how Metallica had a huge hit with Enter Sandman, he knew that Ratt had blown it big time.
In the December 2013 issue of Metal Hammer, Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) said something which makes Ratt look good in the grand scheme of things:
“The music industry has a lot of top-40 pop bands made for 14-year-old girls and housewives. It’s like what it was in the `80s – you’ve got bands that sound like margarine commercials, literally writing music for car commercials, but a lot of great stuff on the subversive indie labels. Not the “alternative” labels that churn out dross for collegiate couples – music that’s basically a soundtrack for an English major couple sitting in a coffee shop!”
Ratt are a treasure trove. They are so good that they didn’t need lyric sheets for their vinyl releases. They are so great that Slash, when mocking them (without mentioning their name in his memoir), redid the intro of Scene of the Crime for a Guns ‘n’ Roses song called Sweet Child O’ Mine. They are so groovy that Pantera had used the chorus riff from I’m Insane for Medicine Man. They are such a gem that Fear Factory used the chorus hook of Between the Eyes for Descent. Even the almighty Judas Priest borrowed the main riff of Slip of the Lip for Love Zone. Ratt were also influential in another way – the video for Way Cool Jr. inspired the directorial style and twist ending of Smack My Bitch Up by The Prodigy.