White Lion: ‘Big Game’
Released on August 10, 1989 (Atlantic Records)
Review by Lance Lumley:
I could write a novel about how much White Lion‘s Big Game release was an influence in my teen years (I won’t, don’t worry). It seems like I was always playing it that I don’t even remember the day I actual bought the cassette, which I still own for memories, even though I upgraded it on CD. In fact, a few months ago, Sleaze Roxx‘s own editor Olivier challenged me on Facebook to list albums that influenced me, and Big Game was one of the first I wrote down. From playing it in my buddy’s car cruising around the streets riding to the local roller skating rink (he passed away a few months ago), to when I started drumming in local bar bands playing it in my car coming home at 3:00 am, I consider this release one of the best in its time.
White Lion were one of those bands that had a following. Guitar player Vito Bratta was all over the guitar magazines at the time (some writers billed him as the next Eddie Van Halen), but still many don’t mention them today when it comes to being one of the awesome bands in the late 1980s-1990s. Whether fans lumped them in with the “One Hit Wonder” hair bands (which the band had several hits, debunking that theory), thanks to the power ballad infomercials on television, or just because they had a limited run, White Lion are one of the most underrated bands of that rock era. Vito Bratta‘s melodic guitar work, Mike Tramp‘s signature style of vocals, and Greg D’Angelo‘s drumming on their records (let’s not forget James LoMenzo‘s solid bass work) showed a solid unit of musicianship; adding radio friendly songs, along with a heaviness that could appeal to the hard rock fans as well as the Top 40 radio listeners.
The opening song, “Goin’ Home Tonight,” is one of the songs that if you challenged me to name the first track off of albums, I would get right in a trivia contest. I played this road-themed song coming home from playing at local bars in the bands, or even sometimes, when the crowds were either non-responsive or just didn’t show up at times, I would sit in my car during our set breaks, playing it due to me rather wanting to being elsewhere at the moment. The interlude by Bratta is perfect for the opening of the album as a whole, along with the catchy chorus that I had sung along with many times.
Track two may be one of my least favorite songs on the album, only compared to the other tracks being so strong. “Dirty Woman” has the typical 1980s sleaze rock lyrics that is a salute to the sunset strip in California, with bands like Ratt, Poison, or the David Lee Roth era of Van Halen. The opening part reminded me of a style in the veins of Living Colour. The drumming on the song, along with the catchy chorus is something I noticed when re-listening to this song recently. The guitar work throughout the whole album is priceless, and although I consider this a weaker song, it’s only because all the others are so strong from here on out.
“Little Fighter,” the first single from the album, is what made me run out and buy the album after seeing the music video on MTV. Many did not realize that the song is actually about a GreenPeace boat. Maybe it’s because the lyrics are so positive and uplifting that it could have been about facing hard times and overcoming them, which is how I interpreted it. This song was in my workout play lists, when I was trying to get myself motivated (I am not a gym person, but we would play it when I would workout in my pal’s basement). I used this song in my college English class for an assignment, where we had to find either a poem or a lyric about a not known event in history. I remember the teacher being impressed with the words, which shows the songwriting skills of Bratta and Tramp. The name “Little Fighter” at the time, would have been a great name for a 1980s pro wrestler, where the song could have been used. The guitar work, along with the dynamics of the song, gives its appeal to me. This song was, for a while, my “Eye of The Tiger” — a theme song for me when it came out.
The ballad “Broken Home” is next, coming off of the three rocking songs. The lyrics, covering the social issues of child abuse, is another thing I liked about the band. Even though Tramp and Bratta wrote about political and social issues at times, they did it mostly in a way that still made a great song that didn’t sound over political. This ballad is similar to the band’s hit “When The Children Cry” from their previous release. The guitar solo comes in a little heavier, with a strong emotion that intensifies the song.
The next two songs happen to be my favorites from the whole band’s catalog. “Baby Be Mine” has a great groove with poetic lyrics to it. This song takes the typical guy trying to chase the girl, with the dynamics of a lighter music tone at first, then kicks it hard during the chorus. The song stops coming out of the bridge after the solo, fooling the listener that the track is done, then kicks back in with emotion and power again. This song is jam fest. The production at the end of the song gives an extra feel, along with the drums cutting out except for the cymbal crashes into the fade out.
I would say, along with “Baby Be Mine,” and “Tell Me” (from the band’s previous album Pride), “Livin On The Edge” may be my favorite all-time song by the band. The song has a blues / hard rock edge to it. Much like “Little Fighter,” the song gave me the strength and grit to go through whatever I was dealing with at the time. Living near Youngstown, Ohio, where jobs are scarce and never lasting (check out the history of the area if you’d like), people in the surrounding areas have a hard work ethic and the never say die grit to them that they fight to overcome situations on a constant basis (this is true in many other smaller communities like it). Even going to college at Kent State, this song was one of my go-to songs to keep me focused and determined on the goal at hand. The lyrics like “My 501 blues have seen better of days” and “I’ve got a college degree that means nothing to me” resonated to me (especially after graduating with an English degree that hasn’t provided the expected results in income and career). The song is an anthem to us underdogs to just keep moving and chug away until a break comes.
“Let’s Get Crazy” starts off similar to “Detroit Rock City” by KISS, with a distant opening before the song kicks in. Instead of a cassette, or eight track, being put into a car’s player like in the KISS song, this starts with the band playing an ending to a song before kicking into an onslaught of power drumming and guitar fills that celebrate the ending of the work week and releasing the tension on the weekend. This sounds like a tribute to Van Halen‘s “Hot For Teacher,” with Vito‘s skillful fingers all over the fret board. This is a four and a half minute train ride that steams through with a catchy sing along chorus. This is one of the heaviest songs on the release in my opinion.
“Don’t Say It’s Over” is a relationship song trying to fight breaking up. This is a more radio friendly song, with a quick ending, as opposed to a fade out. The melodic solo by Bratta, even though the song may seemed geared to getting a hit single to some hard rock fans, is still a wonderful listen. This is another great song, and the placement of this comes off nicely after the all out forcefulness of the last song.
“If My Mind Is Evil” is a song I used to skip at times when I owned the release, but recently have realized how different the song is compared to the others on the album. The lyrical phrasing is different than the other songs, not being similar throughout. This is another heavy song, almost to the same levels as “Let’s Get Crazy.” The topic of a television preacher was a common theme in the 1980s (hence my skipping it when I was younger, being someone who grew up in the church), but this song could be added to someone’s Halloween play list for this year, which I will add to mine.
The Golden Earring cover “Radar Love” comes in at track ten. I remember the music video, where the band is playing at a bar, while many police officers are driving down the road. When the police end up at the bar, the band is gone. This was the second single from the album, and I will admit, I was never a fan of the original song. However, I dig this more heavier version of the song, which features Bratta and the drumming of D’Angelo. Even though it’s a cover, this is a great song to prove critics wrong about the underrated musicianship of the band.
The final track, “Cry For Freedom,” goes back to the social issues. I never remembered this being a single, probably because it did not get airplay in my area, but it was released as one. The rhythm groove makes the song for me, and after the five minute mark, when the listener thinks the song is over, the song fades back in with a short instrumental jam, where drummer D’Angelo goes into a march playing style, which fights since the song is about war. This is a good ender on the album.
White Lion had it all for me — quality musicians, powerful songs, and a good vocalist / frontman in Mike Tramp (in a time where many bands needed a good looking, long haired singer to front the bands for the image aspect, but his voice was unique which set him apart from the pack). They mixed ballads with rockers, and radio friendly songs, along with solid lyrics and catchy choruses. They were not on the same level as bands like Bon Jovi, which also made their appeal to me. I am not knocking Bon Jovi, but White Lion still had a smaller fan base in my area, which made them “my band,” where many liked the band’s hits (at least in my area) but did not dig deeper into the albums.
As a drummer, I had respect for the quality playing of Bratta, without having to argue the technical aspects with my guitar playing friends (my one friend used to say that since I was a drummer, there was no way I could know what a good guitar player was). The next album from the band started to show an awkwardness as a total album for me (where D’Angelo and LoMenzo leaving the band shortly after Main Attraction was released), but Big Game was the perfect collection coming off of the success of Pride. Don’t get me wrong, some great songs are on the following album (“Love Don’t Come Easy,” “Farewell To You,” and “You’re All I Need”), but as a whole, even when I bought it, I sensed something was off compared to “Big Game.”
Big Game is the band’s peak album, both musically and songwriting, along with so many wonderful memories that still takes me back to my youth when I listen to it today. This is a disc that is never too far away from my player.
Review by Metal Mike:
Just over two years after the release of Pride, White Lion delivered Big Game. Where Pride hit #11 on the US 200 Album Billboard charts, Big Game maxed out at a respectable #19 in 1989. The first single from Big Game was “Little Fighter”, charting at #12 Mainstream Rock, back when charts meant something. Although the band’s Pride album hit platinum status (two million sales), their follow-up was certified gold with only 500,000 units sold.
According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, WhiteLion wrote and recorded this album immediately after the Pride tour, “… a decision the group later came to regret due to the effects of fatigue from the heavy touring.” Yes, I can hear that on Big Game, it seems rushed and almost like the band was trying to recreate the Pride album without putting much thought into creating anything new.
Let’s face it, most of White Lion’s songs from Pride and Big Game don’t really stand the test of time. Sure, singer Mike Tramp and guitarist Vito Bratta wrote some killer songs back in the late ’80s…. some of which were my favourites. For example, I tried to learn “When The Children Cry” on guitar because all the girls loved it at parties, but I was crap at playing guitar and simply embarrassed myself. I spent hours learning how to play “All You Need Is Rock And Roll” on the drums. It taught me how to work foot pedals for maximum effect and I got kinda good for awhile. Not sure I could recreate it now in my old age but it was such great fun “back in the day”.
So, when I heard that “Let’s Get Crazy” was supposed to be an extension of “All You Need is Rock And Roll” from the previous album, I was excited. Admittedly, “Let’s Get Crazy” is a pretty good tune, and I do like it, but as far as the way drummer Greg D’Angelo worked the drum lines from Pride to Big Game, I felt it was something of a step down. That said, there were some tracks that really caught my attention. “Little Fighter” had its moments, and a solid message about the Rainbow Warrior, a Greenpeace ship sabotaged and sunk by the French government in 1985. I never quite clued into the message until years later, but back then, the message wasn’t as important as the musical delivery.
I have a soft spot for “Baby be Mine”, since a girlfriend at the time figured that was her top song of the moment. I still like it to this day, not simply for that reason, but because of the well written guitar and vocal lines. Now, “Living On The Edge” was a track I immediately added to my cassette mix as a drumming practise mix. It’s a great tune with a catchy chorus, and an overall feel of hopping on a Harley and hitting the open road. Thirty years later, Mike Tramp continues to release songs like this.
I will only talk about two other tracks on Big Game. “Cry For Freedom” was White Lion’s attempt to recreate “When The Children Cry” from Pride. A decent song overall, although it’s not something that would have stood out in the crowded 1989 hair metal music landscape. The cover of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” — I could tell you personal stories about my history with that song, but I’ll err on the side of discretion… I’m sure I could be sued if the stories went public. White Lion produced a sexy interpretation of the classic tune. Something I still add to my mix lists. Probably for historically memorable reasons rather than the quality of the track and production.
Of the 11 tracks on Big Game, only four really still stick with me. The remainder sound quite dated and unremarkable. Absolutely, White Lion were good for their time, and produced decent music. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate Big Game as an album, but 30 years later, there’s better music to be had.
01. Goin’ Home Tonight
02. Dirty Woman
03. Little Fighter
04. Broken Home
05. Baby Be Mine
06. Living On The Edge
07. Let’s Get Crazy
08. Don’t Say It’s Over
09. If My Mind Is Evil
10. Radar Love
11. Cry For Freedom
Mike Tramp – vocals
Vito Bratta – guitars
Greg D’Angelo – drums
James Lomenzo – bass
Gang background vocals by “Bikers From Hell” — Greg, James, Vito, Terry and Scott
Produced, recorded and mixed by Michael Wagener
Additional Engineering by Christopher Steinmetz
Mastered by George Marino
Mike Tramp’s Official Website
James LoMenzo’s Facebook Page
Reviewed by Lance Lumley and Metal Mike for Sleaze Roxx, August 2019
White Lion‘s “Radar Love” video:
White Lion – Radar Love (1989) (Music Video) WIDESCREEN 1080p
A cover of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” was released as the second single in 1989, from White Lion’s third studio album “Big Game”.Personnel:Mike Tramp — L…
White Lion‘s “Little Fighter” video:
White Lion – Little Fighter
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Fighter_(song)⌣̊┈̥-̶̯̊͡”̶̥♥̲̲̲ : Little Fighter ♥̲̲̲”̶̥-̶̯̊͡┈̥⌣̊Are you cryin’ tonight, are youFeelin’ alrightI’ll tell t…