David Lee Roth: ‘Skyscraper’
DAVID LEE ROTH
Released on January 26, 1988 (Warner Bros. Records)
Review by Tyson Briden:
When David Lee Roth released his second full length album in two years, I have to admit I was majorly disappointed. The band consisting of Roth, guitarist Steve Vai, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Gregg Bissonette was indeed a band made in heaven. A true superstar line-up. The band’s 1986 album, Eat ‘Em And Smile was a collection of inspirational, good time music that I played over and over again for the next two years leading up to Skyscraper’s release. What was it about Skyscraper that bothered me so much? Well let’s see — first of all, the band had added keyboard player Brett Tuggle. Strike One. Bassist Billy Sheehan was replaced by drummer Gregg Bissonette’s brother Matt. Strike Two. As for the songs you may ask? Well they just didn’t live up to the in your face direction of the first album. Strike Three.
So that was me speaking in 1988. Let’s fast forward to January 2018. A lot has changed since then. My musical tastes have surely gone in a different direction. My maturity as a listener really has changed my outlook on how I perceive an album. So a few weeks ago upon learning that the 30th anniversary of this album was fast approaching, I decided to give it another listen. I can’t even begin to think of the last time I had put the Skyscraper CD in my stereo. Like I stated, this was an album that did not inspire me in any way, shape or form back in ’88.
Well, I will truly admit that upon listening, I fell in love with this album for the first time. Amazing how so many years can go by and suddenly one day, it just clicks. The analogy I can associate this too, is in terms of my relationship with my wife. My wife and I met some twenty years ago, but we just didn’t make sense. Of course there was that un-relented sexual tension between us, but it just wasn’t our time. We would drift off into the sunset, meeting other people, with me having children, her trying to figure out who she was, living our unfulfilled lives without each other. Until one day, it all came full circle. There I was in 2013, recently separated from my first wife, playing in two bands every weekend, broke and living with my parents. As I was onstage playing the infinite Bon Jovi ballad “Always”, our eyes met. There she was, in all her beauty, dancing with another dude. What the hell? Who is that guy? She’s way too pretty for him. She will be mine. Oh yes, she will be mine. Turns out the guy she was dancing with liked her much more than she liked him. Regardless, it was at that point that fate took its course and the rest is history. From that point forward, we became inseparable. That is how I now feel about Skyscraper. Funny how time can change your outlook and perception of things isn’t it?
As I listened to this album for the first time, I couldn’t believe how much I was truly enjoying its contents. So much so, that when it was finished, I let it run through for a second time. Then a few days later, I decided to look through my extensive album collection. I did manage to find my original vinyl copy I bought back in ’88. I do admit the vinyl sounds much better than the CD. Much warmer. As I listened to the first track “Knucklebones”, I found this keyboard heavy cut to be very dynamic. The production on the vocals was very impressive, with the phrasings overlapping each other. Almost as if there were two singers battling against each other. Kind of like on “Billion Dollar Babies” where Alice Cooper and Donovan trade off lines. “Just Like Paradise” was — and still is — a track that I always loved back in the day. “Rockin steady in her Daddy’s car, she got the stereo, with the big guitars and that’s alright… alright!!!” The perfect analogy to start the lyric of an anthem.
One thing I am noticing about Roth’s lyrics is how cleverly inventive they are. Of course with Roth that is something we have become accustomed to dating back to his early days with Van Halen. He may not have had the greatest voice in the world, but what he makes up for with is his charismatic vocal delivery. The guitars of Steve Vai are very precise. The licks aren’t the most complicated, but they are perfectly executed. This shows the creativity of a man who knows when to not overplay. The perfect lead-off single in my eyes. “The Bottom Line” is a track that could have easily fit onto the Eat ‘Em And Smile album. It is here that Vai really shines. Sheehan’s bass playing is showcased as well with a nice little fast breakdown section. The biggest downfall possibly is the keyboards that accompany the track. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the keyboards sink the song, but I’d be curious to hear what the track sounds like without them. Possibly the guitars could have had more of an edge as well. Still a solid track regardless.
“Skyscraper” is a track that really did nothing for me back in the day, but as I listen to it today, I find it to be so dynamic with interweaving parts. Roth’s vocal approach adds a nice organic, ambiance. This could be possibly termed as a track where Roth was spreading his wings musically. It is keyboard heavy with the odd guitar part that adds nice depth. The solo for instance really gives Vai more room to breathe as an artist. The song really has a great feel to it. “Damn Good” is definitely a stand out track on this album. Once again, Roth is stretching out his musical wings. At this point the whole break up of Van Halen makes sense to me. Both Roth and Eddie Van Halen needed to show themselves musically. As painful as it may have been to the diehard Van Halen fans at the time, a track like this really makes sense for Roth as a solo artist. Besides out of this came two great bands. Maybe different than what the two had done together, but in hindsight I am happy for the split. Too many cooks in the kitchen makes for an unsavory meal my friends.
“Hot Dog and A Shake” opens with such juvenile, yet genius rock n roll vocals. “I see ya shake shimmy cross the burger shop floor. I never seen a woman move so slow.” Maybe somewhat cheesy, but Roth pulls it off like only Roth can do. “Stand Up” is a typical pop flavored track that fits perfectly within the confides of the album. Nothing jumps out at me, but it doesn’t have to. It is what it is. “Hina” on the other hand maybe the closest thing Roth had done to date that had any similarity to his work in Van Halen. Categorizing what album it may have fit perfectly on, well Diver Down of course. I hear the similarities of Vai’s playing to that of Van Halen, but still Vai’s interpretation still sounds like him. With that said, there are glimpses but not a true rip off.
“Perfect Timing” is a song that I can’t get out of my head. For the last two weeks, this track is stuck in my head when I wake in the morning. To me, that says job well done by Roth and co. A song you can’t get out of your head typically is the key to success. Now I don’t recall this being played on the radio, but to me this is just another great track within. “Two Fools For A Minute” shows the ever so flamboyant side of Roth that you either love or you hate. There’s really no happy medium when it comes to a personality, or better yet ego like David Lee Roth’s. We all know what to expect so it’s not so surprising that Roth’s extreme obnoxiousness is on display. At the same time that’s what makes his act so appealing. I love the scatting he does at the end of the track. Very comical. “I gotta be home before the end of the record.” I love it — so cleverly achieved. Great ending track.
Overall… I love it. For months to come, I see this album being in heavy rotation on my turntable. I am really glad that I got the opportunity to re-evaluate this piece of ’80s rock history.
Review by Deke:
January 1988 and one of my first purchases that year was Skyscraper by Mr. Roth! We all know the deal with Halen and Dave back in the ’80s so I won’t really go there! Dave though stepped up and released one of my favourite all time great solo albums two years earlier in 1986 (Eat ‘Em And Smile) after leaving Van Halen.
Great anticipation awaits so when I purchased Skyscraper on CD (one of my first CD purchases ever back in ’88), I was surprised by the sound. Dave was always changing it up. But man, did he ever change it up with ’80s polish, very slickly produced by Dave and co-produced by Steve Vai! But who cares? There’s Dave on the cover of Skyscraper climbing some big ass mountain in a country known as somewhere so this pic tells us that Dave is still out there ! Wonder what one of the Picasso Brothers has up his sleeve …
“Knucklebones” — Wow! Dave is streamlining his sound! Gone is the live hard-hitting sound of Eat ‘Em And Smile. In is a more technically ’80s sounding record borderline almost sterile sounding! The drums are sounding, ummm different! Who cares though? It’s freezing time in Thunder Bay in January of 1988 and Dave‘s cooking a batch of new tunes! Steve Vai rocks the guitar like you knew the mother would! Vai is awesome in Roth‘s band! Whitesnake? Don’t get me started man! Dave leads the parade and “You can feel it right down to your Knucklebones!”
“Just Like Paradise” — Brett Tuggle cranks the keys on this radio/video smash that was I betcha, the highest charting single off of Skyscraper, but the sound or the production is weak. Whatever, Dave pulls of one catchy chorus that even if you’re yelling out ‘commercialism’ during this track, when all is said and done, you’re still mumbling well after the song is done…. ‘This must be just like living in paradise.’ Case closed! Also the vid is you know, full of selling points for the tour — a boxing ring! Stage kicks, Vai double necked hearted guitar! All the trimmings….
“The Bottom Line” — Ahh, there we go. Dave fires up the musical bong and takes a hit and lays into the “Bottom Line” which easily could have fit on the Eat ‘Em album! Billy Sheehan and Steve Vai along with Gregg Bissonette take the reins on this one and rocket it skyward. Super duper cool rock song! Love the middle part where it sounds like the song is…. wait? Is Dave backward masking his music? Ha…..
“Skyscraper” — ‘I’m Falling Fallin Fallin’ The title track and it’s a tour de force of ’80s production. Dave goes all tech and Stevie Vai is on board as well. Did you know that the backward message at the end of the song says “Obey your parents and wear a condom!”? Ha ha ha ha…. That goofy Dave! He may go all gloss and shit but he has his sense of humour!
“Damn Good” — Vai lays down some excellent acoustic guitar and it’s an exact opposite of “Skyscraper” (the tune). No frills — just solid acoustic picking by Mr. Vai! Dave‘s just chilling and reminiscing about those “damn good times.” Great tune!
“Hot Dog And A Shake” — Yep, Dave and Stevie dump the acoustic and now rock it up looking for a shake to go with that hot dog! Ha! This is late ’80s. Vai goes wanky with his whammy bar and it’s the tour opener of the Skyscraper Tour! Lyrics are goofy, song is goofy but hell, it’s Roth so goofy to me via Dave = Street Cred!
“Stand Up” — Keyboards drive this tune! To be honest, I kinda skipped this track…
“Hina” — Oh yeah man! Now we’re talking! “Hina” is a great track! Vai does some real cool fucking around at the start of the track on his guitar and Gregg Bissonette joins in and then Billy Sheehan is grooving da bass and then the ringmaster himself — David Lee — tells us “he’d like to get know the natives but he’s only flesh and blood!” Umm what? But cool regardless! During the chorus, Dave is singing “Come back back back back….” What a great fucking track! One of the DLR Band‘s best tracks! Ever!
“Perfect Timing” — Keyboards drive this tune! To be honest, I kinda skipped this track…. Did I just not type this two songs above? More importantly, there is no actual bass on this tune. Brett Tuggle and his Casio keyboard give Mr. Sheehan the day off and I guess that may be one of the reasons Billy bolted after Skyscraper‘s release.
“Two Fools For A Minute” — Guess that makes Dave three! He says it, not me. This is cool shuffle demon Dave! Rhyming off cool lingo lines. Guitars are real good courtesy of Steve, some real quick bass runs by Billy and toss in a side order of horns and boom, classic send off and Dave 1988 is off and running…
In conclusion, Dave, Steve, Gregg and the soon to leave Billy put out an album totally different from Eat ‘Em And Smile. At the time, I was like “Huh”? But over time, make that 30 years time, maybe that was Dave‘s plan! Put out first actual full solo album release sounding like previous band (Van Halen) and when all the fan boys lap it up, it’s time to change gears and these fan boys will follow, and follow we did but it came at a cost (kinda). Today, I still find I can listen to this album but “Hina” is the winner. There are a few misses as well and if you read this, you will know what I’m talking about!
Still though, Skyscraper is an interesting record with almost Dave and Steve kinda getting a little serious at times. Maybe they should have called this The Joshuascraper after that U2 album (The Joshua Tree). Nevertheless, it was pretty good to start 1988 with the Diamond One!
Review by Olivier:
David Lee Roth‘s second full-length studio album Skyscraper is when I officially started losing interest in what the former Van Halen frontman was coming up with musically. Sure, I listened to Skyscraper quite a bit and ended up purchasing a number of Roth‘s subsequent solo albums after that but it was never the same. After the entertaining Crazy From The Heat EP (well to be fair, the two very entertaining videos for ”California Girls” and “Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody”) and his very solid debut full-length album Eat ‘Em And Smile that sounded more like Van Halen than the latter’s 5150 release with Sammy Hagar at the helm, my expectations for Roth‘s next album were high and sadly, the flamboyant singer wasn’t able to meet them, or on any subsequent occasion except for a few songs here and there.
There is no question that the first single off Skyscraper — “Just Like Paradise” — was and still is fantastic. It’s catchy, easy to sing along to and puts me in a great mood each time that I hear it. It was the logical lead off single and guaranteed that I purchased my vinyl copy of Skyscraper as soon as the album was released. However, most of the rest of the album leaves to be desired and doesn’t match up to Roth‘s prior musical outputs. Funny enough, the once trend setting Roth was now a few years behind. While most hard rock and heavy metal bands went keyboard (or guitar synth) crazy in or about 1986 — a few examples are Mötley Crüe‘s Theatre Of Pain, Van Halen‘s 5150, Iron Maiden‘s Somewhere In Time and Judas Priest’s Turbo — Roth delivered his keyboard heavy effort Skyscraper in 1988. Once the man who was setting the trends for what was to come, Roth was now reduced to following what seemed to work for others in the hope that commercial success would follow as well.
I am not sure exactly what happened but Roth‘s all-star band on Eat ‘Em And Smile also was no longer. Although bassist Billy Sheehan is credited as playing on Skyscraper, he is nowhere to be found in the band’s videos for “Just Like Paradise” and “Stand Up” which looked more now like the Roth with sidekick Steve Vai show. Listening to Skyscraper in its entirety on the 30th year anniversary of its release and for the first time in more than 20 years confirms in my mind why Sheehan likely left the band. The songs simply aren’t nearly as strong as on Eat ‘Em And Smile and are way more pop oriented and even frankly a little on the dull side. After listening to Skyscraper after all these years, there are only a handful of worthy songs to listen to. “Just Like Paradise” is of course a great song and had it not been on Skyscraper, the album would have likely flopped pretty badly. “Damn Good” is a slower acoustic number that is well, damn good with some great melodies and where — wait for it — Roth‘s vocals actually shine through. “Hot Dog And A Shake” picks up where Eat ‘Em And Smile left off, is a faster paced song and sees guitarist Steve Vai shine through and put his stamp all over that track. “Perfect Timing” should have been the second single off Skyscraper. While it’s a tad too poppy for my taste and could have been slightly heavier, it’s catchy and a feel good track that is unfortunately buried deep on the album.
Other than that, Skyscraper is mostly miss on a hit and miss record. “Knucklebones” is one underwhelming album opener. Roth and company should have went with “Hot Dog And A Shake” in that regard. “Skyscraper” is a heavy keyboard ballad that still deserves to be skipped thirty years later. The chorus for “Stand Up” is excellent, catchy and sing along material and Vai‘s guitar playing quite memorable at times but Roth‘s monotone mumble jumble verses really drag the song down and are likely the reason why the track never became a big hit. Well, that and the heavy keyboards throughout the song…. I remember how pissed off I was back in the day when I saw that “Stand Up” was the second single and video off Skyscraper. All I could think of was how they had made the wrong choice and as it turns out, the album kind of faded away after that. “Hina” had potential and could have been a classic type Van Halen song but falls in the lame category by the time the chorus hits. The album closer ‘Two Fools For A Minute” is the type of off kilter Van Halen closer that you might expect from Roth but suffers from keyboard overload at times.
Overall, Skyscraper starts the trend on Roth led albums that the singer would unfortunately never be able to stray from for the rest of his musical career — one or two great songs per album with the rest being a whole lot of filler.
02. Just Like Paradise
03. The Bottom Line
05. Damn Good
06. Hot Dog And A Shake
07. Stand Up
09. Perfect Timing
10. Two Fools For A Minute
David Lee Roth – vocals
Steve Vai – guitar
Billy Sheehan – bass
Gregg Bissonette – drums
Brett Tuggle – keyboards
John Batdorf – backing vocals
Gary Falcone – backing vocals
Tommy Funderburk – backing vocals
Tom Kelly – backing vocals
Joe Pizzulo – backing vocals
Dr. Funk – bass synthesizer
Todd Grace – programming, keyboard programming
Richie Raposa – programming, keyboard programming
Produced by David Lee Roth and Steve Vai
Engineered by Gary Wagner, Doug Parry, Magic Moreno, Steve Holroyd, Marnie Riley, Stephen Shelton and Paul Levy
Mastered by Bernie Grundman
Mixed by Magic Moreno and Bob Cats
Reviewed by Tyson Briden, Deke and Olivier for Sleaze Roxx, January 2018
David Lee Roth‘s “Just Like Paradise” video:
David Lee Roth – Just Like Paradise
David Lee Roth Just Like Paradise. This song is from the year 1988 off of Dave’s third solo album “Skyscraper”
David Lee Roth‘s “Stand Up” video:
David Lee Roth – Stand Up (Skyscraper ’88)
Album: Skyscraper 1988