In the minds of some, San Francisco's Y&T will forever be remembered for 1985's quintessential '80s, pop-metal anthem "Summertime Girls". And that's a shame because prior to this leap into the commercial world, the band created some outstanding melodic, guitar-drenched, American hard rock and metal. Two of those albums are definitive: 1982's "Black Tiger" and 1983's monumental "Mean Streak", both of which have been digitally re-mastered and re-released on CD with bonus tracks and new liner notes.
Known as YESTERDAY & TODAY during the '70s, the band's name change first appeared on 1981's well-received "Earthshaker". It was the release of 1982's "Black Tiger" though that landed the band on the world stage, the quartet masterfully blending its blues-based hard rock swagger with an increased emphasis on melody. Powered by vocalist/guitarist Dave Meniketti's shredding solos and powerful singing, the chunky riffage of Joey Alves, and backing vocal muscle of bassist Phil Kennemore and drummer Leonard Haze, songs like "Hell or Highwater" and "My Way or the Highway" are stripped down, no-nonsense slabs of blues strut and attitude. The call-and-response chorus and loping rhythm of the former make it the album's consummate blues buster.
"Barroom Boogie" is another classic example of the blues-based style. Meniketti's speak-singing about a girl chasing, liquor soaked night in the bar is just plain hilarious. Kennemore's rolling bass lines heard between the stop-start riffing on the verse is one of many examples of the man's importance to the band's sound. It will soon become redundant to say, but Meniketti's soloing on the track is terrifically ripping. The raucous song would go on to be a classic, one that sounds as fun today as it did all those years ago.
A NWOBHM vibe became part of the equation on the straightforward metal of the up-tempo title track and "Open Fire". The twin-guitar harmonizing of album intro "From the Moon" is to "Open Fire" what JUDAS PRIEST's "The Hellion" is to "Electric Eye". Those same licks (this time with Haze's drum beat) forms the beginning of another era-defining metal-meets-melody chugger called "Forever", the soaring chorus one that would become synonymous with the Y&T sound. Both the title track and "Open Fire" are muscular Y&T standards and great heavy metal songs.
Rounding out the album are two songs that exemplify the band's love of pure pop songwriting. In the case of "Don't Wanna Lose You", it is a simple matter of unashamed melancholic poppiness, twin-guitar melodies, and mid-tempo stutter stepping. The vocal harmonizing on the song would also become part of the signature sound, and few bands have ever pulled it off as well as Y&T. A beautiful ballad-esque track called "Winds of Change" ends the album. It is Meniketti's most passionate vocal performance on the disc.
As explained in the liner notes, bonus track "Somebody for Me" was originally titled "Full Contact Love" and given a new title, melody, and lead guitar parts in 2005. It is a tough, mid-tempo cruncher that is in some ways reminiscent of the swagger of vintage Paul Rodgers and BAD COMPANY (with a pinch of '70s TED NUGENT in the main riff).
As it turned out, before "Black Tiger" was even recorded, world traveled overseas that European fans were quite giddy about the American band, prompting Y&T to fly to the U.K. to record with Max Norman (a story also stolen from these fascinating liner notes). I'm pleasantly surprised at how well the crunch and clarity of album comes off even today, the re-mastering mainly bringing it out further, as opposed to killing the vibe through digital overkill.
It is hard to tell whether those without any sort of affinity for the early years of heavy metal (i.e., the youngsters) will dig "Black Tiger". Everyone else would do well to check out a fine example of the heartfelt melodic sensibility and bluesy American hard rock of the band's first big shot across the bow.