Poison: ‘Poison’s Greatest Hits 1986-1996’

Released on November 26, 1996 (Capitol Records)

Poison are one of those bands from the 1980s that gets placed in an “either/or” category where some people loved the band (especially the female audience) and others HATED them for their glam look and sometimes simple songs about partying and having a good time. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground with them. No matter where you stand on the band, they were without a doubt one of the biggest acts of the 1980s, which made sense for the record label to eventually throw out a greatest hits release. At the time of the release, singer Bret Michaels was recovering from a car accident so label Capitol Records decided to withhold their studio album and put out a compilation release. Poison’s Greatest Hits 1986-1996 included most of the band’s singles, as well as two other tracks with current guitar player Blues Saraceno, who replaced Richie Kotzen.

Opening with the rock anthem “Nothin’ But A Good Time,” the CD starts on a strong start having a fun feel with one of their biggest records, so why not start strong at the very beginning, welcoming the audience to the event? The record keeps the up-tempo /party vibe going with “Talk Dirty To Me” and “Unskinny Bop.” The selection flow of the record is similar to the band’s live concerts by starting with a few rocking songs to draw the audience in and get them excited to join the party. Although “Unskinny Bop” wasn’t a major favorite of mine when it came out, the bass groove by Bobby Dall on the song is what draws me the most to the song, along with drummer Rikki Rockett adding to the rhythm section. Lyrically it may be simple, but the music draws the listener in from the start.

The mega-smash “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” is next, settling down the listener after three rock songs. When the song came out, I was a fan of it, and love their second album Open Up And Say…Ahh!; it is one of my favorite albums from the decade. If this song wasn’t such an overplayed song, I would argue that Open Up was a perfect album. I can’t deny that this song still being played today on radio and other outlets show its worth that great songs last, but I have seen too many acts, from bad country bands, to even singer Bret Michaels himself (putting versions of it on several solo records) playing it, which has me skipping the song. I don’t think it is their best ballad either, but one can’t have a greatest hits release without the biggest song of their career on it (hitting #1 in the U.S). Overplayed? Yes, but it has to be on this album or it would not truly be the greatest hits package.

The band’s second album gets two in a row with “Fallen Angel,” one of the songs that caused me to run out and get the cassette at the time. I was a music fan who rarely bought the full album based on the first single (due to money issues) and I wanted to hear some of the other songs before buying the full album, settling at times for getting the singles and checking out the B-sides before deciding to get the full-priced album. “Fallen Angel” is the song that did it for me, with its somewhat darker opening guitar riff by C.C. DeVille, and the lyrics about a girl moving to LA to chase her dreams. I still love cranking this song.

My favorite ballad from the band is “I Won’t Forget You.” My brother had the band’s first cassette, and I remember at first, due to the cover, wondering what the heck I was looking at. When I would listen to it when he was not at home, I would replay this song over and over. Not only does the song have great lyrics about looking back on a past friendship / relationship, but the opening guitar has a melodic feel (along with a wonderful solo) that grabbed me from the beginning. It was radio-friendly with a touch of blues to it. I also love the sound production-wise on the drums, especially during Rikki Rockett‘s fills throughout the song.

By the time “Stand” came out, I was into other groups and was out of the Poison loop. However, because of this release, I discovered the song and enjoy the single when I first bought it. Sometimes, this is what originally made compilation albums work. Yes, many bands and labels put out so many of these releases, which seems money-grabbing, but here, it got me to like songs that I didn’t buy the album or checked out of the band, which helped me discover more of their work. Kotzen was in the band here, and I think I checked out when I found out that DeVille was gone from the band (for the time being — he later returned to the group). The band seemed to be into country mode at the beginning (or staying with the “Unplugged” craze), with the opening mandolin. I am a country music fan (especially what is considered “classic country” now), so I didn’t mind adding this instrument, but the adding of a choir and the lyrics about the anti-rich (or religion however you interpret) was too much similar to “Something To Believe In” for me and didn’t hold up as well, especially since the band was writing about partying and blowing money on booze and girls one album before. Listening to it now, though it’s a pretty good track.

“Ride The Wind” is one of my favorite songs that some non-Poison fans may not speak of when listing great songs by them. I saw the band on their summer tours in 2001 and 2002, and this was one of my favorites to hear live.  This is a catchy song with some various dynamics to it, and more mature songwriting feel than just parties. I have read that some considered this the band’s version of Bon Jovi‘s “Wanted Dead Or Alive.” The title track from their debut album Look What The Cat Dragged In shows the band’s rawness after a few songs with a different style in their later records. Some “Hits” records start at the beginning of the career and end with the newest, but the flow here is nice with the mix of the years where one doesn’t get lost in just one era. Another solid song in my opinion, which again, has a darker tone at the beginning from DeVille with a flavor of punk to it. Lyrically, it totally describes living in the ’80s, working all day then going out at night to see bands and hang out.

The party vibe of “I Want Action” continues the debut record contribution. I was never a fan of this song, but the placement here makes the flow of the record listenable where I wouldn’t skip over. Again, a song showing the early raw feel of the band. The album Flesh & Blood gets two songs in a row with “Life Goes On” and “(Flesh And Blood) Sacrifice.” I remember the video of “Life Goes On” being very similar to Van Halen‘s “Finish What Ya Started” when I first saw it. The liner notes in the Greatest Hits CD state that this was about an ex-girlfriend of DeVille who was shot and killed. “Sacrifice” is the band’s attempt of writing about an eternal love, where Michaels states in the liner notes he was reading horror books at the time and was his attempt at a Dracula-themed song. These are two tracks I skip over when listening to, even today. I have nothing against the horror theme, but when I want that I’ll go to the a pro like Alice Cooper.

“Cry Tough”  is one of those songs that just encourages me to go and conquer the world. The strong drums starting the song, along with the “never say die” attitude is a track I never get tired of listening to. The dreams of making it big on the Sunset Strip may be gone, but this isn’t outdated in sound or lyrical content. It is one of my favorite album-opening songs (it’s from the debut album), and still fits here later in the song selection. The cover “Your Mama Don’t Dance” is another song that has gotten its overplay status, but it still holds up. Taking nothing away from the original, I always found this one to be better and more rocking, than the folk-flavored hit from the ’70s. Poison added an energetic feel to the song.

“So Tell Me Why” is a song from the band’s live CD. Similar to what KISS did on Alive II, the band added some studio songs to the live release. The guitar work from DeVille is nice to listen to, which was his last before departing the band and he was out of the band by the time the single was released. In seeing the music video for this, fans could see DeVille in the concert footage that was used in the “I Won’t Forget You” videos and the other shots of the band are basically as a trio. Vocally, Michaels is solid on this track and doesn’t overdo it, with some crunchy and melodic guitar throughout. This is another song that I discovered from this compilation album, which did its job in getting people like me to listen to other tracks.

“Something To Believe In” is a much better ballad in my opinion from the band. It may be my second favorite ballad from them. The songwriting is stronger than just a party vibe, and although I am a Christian and the song got some flak from my youth leaders about a fake TV preacher (which was odd denying that they existed), the lyrical content can be as relevant today as it was when the single was released. The song was inspired by the death of a security guard, but there is more going on than just the passing of a friend. This is a song where critics of the band can look at and see layers and depth to the songwriting.

The two bonus tracks in “Sexual Thing” and “Lay Your Body Down” featuring Blues Saraceno on guitar, and appeared on the next studio release. “Sexual Thing” has a harder edge with a funk groove to it, as opposed to the radio-friendly style the band was known for. Even though parts of the song may sound like a demo, the music is the best part of the song. If one didn’t recognize Michaels‘ voice, one may have a hard time knowing it was Poison. The more bluesy “Lay Your Body Down,” has guitar fills and piano. I usually don’t like ballads ending an album (even if they are bonus tracks), but this is a rare gem on the album. Rockett‘s drumming and the rest of the band, shows the band clicking together.

Some may have laughed at Poison as musicians. There are some great stories in Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock‘s wonderful book Nothin’ But A Good Time on how some of the labels and fellow musicians scoffed at Poison not only getting signed, but thinking they would be gone in two weeks and never make it out of LA. However, the music has lasted through the decades, and this release is a nice collection of the ten first years of the band. Poison and the label could have shied away from putting material out (say the Kotzen era), but the group displayed all of the eras at the time. I have a like/dislike of greatest hits collections (again, money-grabbing or not putting all of the hits on a release), but this one works rather well, in flow, covering the years, and giving the listener plenty of tracks, with 16 and two (at the time) unreleased songs for a total of 18 choices. Regardless of what you may think of the band, this is filled with rockers, ballads, and anthems that helped define the 1980s-1990s glam rock scene. Poison fans were not disappointed with this release. I know I wasn’t when I first bought this, and am not to this day.

Track List:
01. Nothin’ But A Good Time
02. Talk Dirty To Me
03. Unskinny Bop
04. Every Rose Has Its Thorn
05. Fallen Angel
06. I Won’t Forget You
07. Stand
08. Ride The Wind
09. Look What The Cat Dragged In
10. I Want Action
11. Life Goes On
12. (Flesh & Blood) Sacrifice
13. Cry Tough
14. Your Mama Don’t Dance
15. So Tell Me Why
16. Something To Believe In
Bonus Tracks:
17. Sexual Thing (previously unreleased)
18. Lay Your Body Down (previously unreleased)

Band Members:
Bret Michaels – lead vocals
Bobby Dall – bass
Rikki Rockett – drums
Blues Saraceno – lead guitar (17, 18)
C.C. DeVille – lead guitar (1-6, 8-16)
Richie Kotzen – lead guitar (7)

Band Websites:
Official Website

Reviewed by Lance Lumley for Sleaze Roxx, November 2021

Poison‘s “Talk Dirty To Me” video:

Poison‘s “Fallen Angel” video:

Poison‘s “Unskinny Bop” video: