Released on January 3, 1978 (Casablanca Records)
Few records in the history of rock and roll have had the enduring impact that Angel’s White Hot album has had on me. This 1978 release from one of rock and roll’s most underrated groups is not only one of my all-time favorite albums, in my opinion, it stands as worthy of a place amongst other great seventies glam rock albums like Sweet’s Desolation Boulevard, Starz’s 1977 release Violation, and most of KISS’ mid-late ’70s studio output. Matter of fact, it was that very same KISS that had a hand in the launch of Angel helping the band land a spot on the Casablanca Records roster and in turn creating what many considered to be the musical and visual antithesis of KISS. Where KISS were all black leather and studs and wrote about sexual conquests, Angel wore white spandex and lace spinning tales of mystery, love, and heartbreak.
Perhaps the only thing the bands had in common besides a record label was a love for rock and roll, catchy anthems, and a killer raven-haired guitar player with a cool name. Well alright, they both had a band “theme” song on their first album and along the way, each had a tune named “Any Way You Want It” but really, aside from that, the only real common thing between the two bands was a cool live show and that while KISS had Ace Frehley, Angel had Punky Meadows. Yeah, Frehley would go on to influence an entire generation of rock guitarists but Meadows has the distinction of being immortalized in a song by rock legend Frank Zappa. These days, both guitarists can boast putting out recent solo albums that trump anything their previous bands have released anytime in the past decade or so.
But in 1978, just as Ace Frehley and KISS were scooping up rock fans’ concert and merchandise dollars, Angel were hoping their fourth album (and first with new bassist Felix Robinson) would finally be the one that would break them into a KISS level rock and roll stratosphere. Armed with the knowledge that in the early days, KISS struggled to sell albums despite packing mid-size venues, the band continued to tour performing to sizeable audiences while hoping that the record buying audience would eventually catch up. History would show that the huge sales would never come but in early ’78, Angel would not only release what many consider to be the ultimate Angel album, but also land their only top 50 single, a rocking cover version of The Young Rascals song “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore.”
But while the band would go unnoticed by the world at large, they were surely noticed by myself and some young rock fans looking for something that, while still fun and catchy, contained just a bit more than simple “baby baby” lyrics. Yeah, early on, I dug the Bay City Rollers but come the age of eleven, even my still developing brain craved more especially regarding how to express myself to the opposite sex. Sure, KISS had the macho approach down pat but I wasn’t quite there yet and Angel, while offering a more mature take on things, gave me something I could better handle. In two Casablanca bands, I had the best of both worlds — Angel for the sweet side, and KISS for the sexy side, with a mild bit of crossover in the middle. But anyway, back to the original story I had in mind before I got so easily sidetracked.
So yeah, picture if you will a dark, eerily lit, snow-covered winter’s day, my then 11-year-old self walking alone through a cold deserted American apartment complex just outside of Frankfurt, Germany. It’s winter of 1978 and no one besides me is stupid enough to even consider venturing outside yet in the distance comes a sweet sound. The sound of keyboards intertwined with electric guitar punctuating the air like William Tell’s arrow tearing through the apple on his son’s head. Suddenly, much like a thought dead hero walking from the ashes, a figure carrying a small hand-help cassette recorder appeared. Tall and wearing a worn, olive green military jacket, this long-haired older kid blaring the most wonderful rock music I had never heard — music that at that moment appeared to be ironically the perfect soundtrack for the snow-buried housing area.
Half frozen and more than likely looking pretty pathetic, I summoned up just enough courage to softly mutter “What are you listening to?” to which the only reply was the sound of the kid removing the cassette from the player, handing it to me, and walking off into the cold. This unexpected gift I saw, once I got over my shock, was a once blank BASF cassette containing the words “Angel White Hot” hand-written on the label.
My first excited thought once I got home was just to pop the tape in and hit play but my quirky OCD type arrangement tendencies provided the patience (though if I remember correctly, it was a very impatient patience) to hit rewind and start the tape at the beginning… and what an amazing beginning it was.
Starting with keyboards, Angel’s White Hot warmly pulls the listener in gently before suddenly seizing with a barrage of drums and the introduction of album opener “Don’t Leave Me Lonely”, a track brimming with pomp and Hollywood bravado that ushers in the listener to what it turns out was a new chapter for the band. To this day, the breakdown lyric “The curtains close, I view the final scene, we part again but don’t let the movie end” remains a go-to in times of change and even listening now conjures of great memories and still invokes confidence in me. The keyboard solo, while not as rock and roll as maybe a blaring guitar, is just as capable of prompting air-instrument action as any guitar or drum solo.
While it’s a shame that Angel never had a charting single with any of the many great originals the band wrote, fans can’t be cross with the fact that the group’s only top 50 song was their cover of the previously mentioned Young Rascals tune. Just as Van Halen possessed the ability to take well-known songs and make them totally their own, Angel’s spin on “Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” is an example of a band upping the quality of song by making it their own. The version is all Angel — complete pounding drums from Barry Brandt, flowing bass guitar courtesy of new recruit Felix Robinson, the moody organ of future Giuffria / House Of Lords founder Gregg Giuffria, and the tandem guitar / vocal finess of Meadows and singer Frank DiMino. Oddly enough, if Meadows could be considered Angel’s answer to Ace Frehley, DiMino, if only due to his diminutive stature, looks, powerful voice, and hand gestures, might at first glance be confused with the legendary Ronnie James Dio, at least as evidenced by Angel’s promo video for this song.
If anyone thought that Angel deserved to merely live and die by way of a charting cover song, then they surely never heard the rest of White Hot. “Hold Me, Squeeze me” follows with one of the most killer openings as the bass guitar kicks into a thunderstorm of drums creating a rocking bed for Giuffria, Meadows, and the piercing vocals of DiMino to fly over. Few choruses are as catchy and plenty of better known songs would love to had either the guitar OR keyboard solo on this one. Fans of the band Starz would fall head over heels with the song and possible even share their Starz badge wearing time with Angel. While the track leaves the listener wanting more, the band are smart enough to follow it up with the similarly catchy “Over and Over.” Just listening to the first few tracks one HAS to be shocked that Angel weren’t way bigger of a band than they were.
Ending side one with “Under Suspicion”, a song that I can only compare to say the drum groove of Cheap Trick’s “Big Eyes”, Angel leave no doubt that a) they could hang with any rock band on the planet at the time, and b) DiMino is one of the most unheralded vocalists in not just rock and roll, but all music. Even now DiMino is capable of outsinging most of his vocal contemporaries and doing so in close to the same key and range. If this closing song of side one stands as a showcase for anyone, it’s this underrated frontman.
Side two takes off with perhaps my favorite Angel song ever — the slow building “Got Love If You Want It” that, while starting off with a subtle synthesizer, kicks in hard with a fast driving blast topped off with DiMino’s take-off backwards reverb vocals. The tune ends up driving hard in a way that classic songs like Deep Purple‘s “Highway Star” and Mötley Crüe‘s’“Kickstart My Heart” similarly take off — fast and to the point. This is rock and roll road trip material here folks and the perfect addition to any soundtrack created for that ride to the big rock concert. But just when the band are poised to take it up even a few more notches they pleasantly and perfectly switch gears with catchy groover “Stick Like Glue” (perhaps the most bubblegum song on the album) before entering territory that their legendary label brothers Kiss could only wish they could get admission to.
Maybe the biggest shame hidden on White Hot is the fact that ballad “Flying with Broken Wings (Without You)” never became the huge hit it should have become. Coming dangerously close to Cheap Trick’s “Voices”, Angel’s own power ballad masterpiece is lifted with a powerful finale that combines a searing guitar with an uplifting repeating vocal line that is nearly as impossible to not sing to as it is to not get it stuck in your head.
Maybe the only critique I have for White Hot is that the band chose to end the album with “The Winter Song” which, while beautiful in its right, might not have had the same impact as finishing off with second to last track “You Could Lose Me”, yet another song on White Hot that rocks while showcasing the incredible talents of the band. Matter of fact, I still believe to this day that Guns N’ Roses lifted inspiration for one of their biggest hits from the track but of course that’s just an opinion and you know what they say — opinions are like David Lee Roth — all over the place.
Speaking of all over the place, while my soundtrack for the winter of 1978-79 contained the songs from this great album, it would not be the last time I would carry it in life or the last time I saw the kid who gave me the cassette. On the school bus after the Christmas break, I caught his attention as he walked by and he asked me if I was digging the cassette. After gushing on and on about the album’s songs, he handed me a cassette with no writing on it that contained music that over time I learned was from the band’s 1977 album On Earth As It Is In Heaven. But at that moment, I just stared at it puzzled before looking back, perhaps to ask what was on the tape, only to realize that the kid was nowhere to be found on the bus.
It was only after I saw a more grown up version of the kid working at the neighborhood Post Exchange that I stopped believing in the possibility of this kid being an angel sent to deliver me the music of the band Angel. Though I did find it odd that when I said hello and thanks again for the cassettes, he simply asked “Do I know you?” and went back to mopping the floor. That was the last I saw of the kid but over the years, I would go on to purchase vinyl, cassette, and CD copies of each of Angel’s albums all over the world cranking them on winter days and nights in places as far away as Germany, Italy, England, Canada, and most of the eastern United States. I guess on the coldest of days it’s never bad to have something “White Hot.”
01. Don’t Leave Me Lonely
02. Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore
03. Hold Me, Squeeze Me
04. Over and Over
05. Under Suspicion
06. Got Love if You Want It
07. Stick Like Glue
08. Flying with Broken Wings (Without You)
09. You Could Lose Me
10. The Winter Song
Frank DiMino – lead vocals
Punky Meadows – lead guitar
Felix Robinson – bass guitar
Barry Brant – drums
Gregg Giuffria – keyboards, Moog, IIIC synthsizer
Produced by Eddie Leonetti
Angel‘s “The Winter Song” video:
A track from the album “White Hot”
Angel‘s “Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” video:
70’s Band Angel Covering Rascals song updated audio and video remaster