Sunday Old School: Warrant
Few bands will ever sniff the success Warrant had in 1989-1990: two multi-platinum albums, a Rolling Stone chart number one single, and a headlining tour. The band created a song named “Cherry Pie” and sold millions of more records because of it! (True story.) Then they were off the radio, then conflict, and then finally abuse and the death of their lead songwriter. The band continues to carry on, but it will never be the same as the summer of ‘89.
The band Warrant was formed in 1984 by guitarist Erik Turner, but it wasn’t until 1988 (and after Turner went and saw the band Plain Jane) when the group starting taking shape. The band signed with Columbia and the line-up for the first album was Turner (guitar), Jani Lane (vocals), Jerry Dixon (bass), Joey Allen (guitar) , and Steven Sweet (drums). After signing and receiving an advance Lane promptly blew his cash on a black Corvette that he crashed shortly after. (True story.) In 1989 the band released their debut album, ‘Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich.’ Eventually four singles and videos were released to support the album. With a lot radio play and heavy MTV coverage it wasn’t long before the band was touring with Motley Crue, Poison, and Cinderella as well being featured in glam music rags on. Two of their biggest singles were “Down Boys” and “Heaven.”
“Down Boys” was Warrant’s first single. By this time the template of releasing a “heavy” song followed by a ballad had been established. Down Boys was to be their initial release with Heaven (their ballad) to follow. The video begins with a shot of a homeless man, but then cuts (for most of the video) to the band performing in front of cameras. They are all wearing leather jackets. Warrant uses this video to introduce the world to their choreographed move of dropping to their knees and swaying their hair back and forth. This move occurs in the beginning of the song, the arc, and near the end. There is very little story to the video (unless of course you believe a band wearing black leather jackets is the story); however, the homeless man does reappear in the end, this time it appears that he now owns a club named DOWN BOYS (there is a neon sign in the background) and is receiving a lot of money. I’m going to assume the band had pooled their money together to buy a small venue then decided to trade it for leather jackets to the homeless man who immediately sold the venue for cash to buy wine because that’s typically what they do.
Warrant’s first ballad and most popular song was “Heaven” if you use “Heavy Metal Ballad” compilations as a barometer of a song’s popularity. If you don’t, then you probably believe Cherry Pie is their most popular song. The band all in white is a nice touch given the lyrics and works well with Jani thrusting forward with his guitar on his hip. The initial pictures of the band definitely give this video a LOW BUDGET ALERT but you forget about this quickly when we see the extreme close-ups the camera takes of Lane. The hair is TOO big and eyes TOO dreamy! It’s just too close. As a follow-up to their initial video we see the progression of the Warrant moves, adding a head bob as they drop to their knees. Near the end of the video the band “spots” a fan with a very small DOWN BOYS tattoo on her arm. This “fan” has band wagon jumper written all over her face. If there was a WHERE ARE THEY NOW: TATTOO EDITION I’m certain this tattoo has been covered, probably something to do with Nirvana or The White Stripes. Overall this is a semi-listenable song, but as the video goes on appears that Jani Lane’s white spandex gets tighter and tighter. This has always been my primary concern with this video.
The second album, ‘Cherry Pie’, was released in 1990. The album was originally to be called ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’; however, Columbia wanted an arena pump-your-fist song instead. Rumor has it Lane wrote “Cherry Pie” in minutes on the back of a pizza box.
The video was over the top, even for the late eighties. A couple of observations: Jani’s hat is the exact hat all the skateboarders wore in my High School. I don’t believe Warrant and this video led to the end of eighties glam, but the polka dot shirt Lane is wearing may have contributed. At this point in their career, Warrant had really refined their synchronized knee drop-head bob dance move. Did you know that Bobbie Brown appeared in a couple episodes of Married With Children? So technically: Al Bundy was there first, just saying. Unacceptable scenes that occur over a one minute span: The Pie Drums. The Fire Hose. The “Smile Ten Miles Wide.” The guitars flying out of the guitar. The video ends with a cherry pie flying toward Jani Lane.
The band went on to tour with Poison and David Lee Roth before headlining their first tour with Firehouse and Trixter. They also release videos for the singles “I Saw Red” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
The lyrics Jani wrote for “I Saw Red” is based on a real life incident where he walked in on his girl and best friend. You can tell this is a painful song because he isn’t wearing any headgear. It’s too bad the director didn’t have revenge on his mind. Instead of piano with candlelight and confetti/rose petals falling Lane could have been singing as $100 bills rained down.
Is it just me or does everyone think of Fredo and Michael Corleone in Godfather II whenever they see small fishing/row boats? Not even one minute into the video for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and there is a body, a fishing boat, a swamp, AND backwoods strumming: DELIVERENCE ALERT! DELIVERANCE ALERT!
The video is about witnesses to the involvement of local police in a double murder and has nothing to do with the Harriet Beecher Stowe novel by the same name. Had things worked out differently their follow-up could have included the song The Scarlet Letter and had nothing to do with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book by the same name. ANYWAY, the band is performing in a cabin and bullets are ripping through, there is cop brutality (maybe a rape?), and then a brutal show of violence as one of the members of Warrant takes his guitar and knocks a chair right off the set. Near the end of the song Lane is singing on his knees and then the cops are confronted with a True Romance/Quentin Tarantino type shootout ending.
In 1992 Warrant released their third album, ‘Dog Eat Dog.’ The record achieved critical acclaim and is often discussed as the “best” Warrant album by hardcore fans. Following their third album Lane temporarily left the band to start a solo career. The band was dropped by Columbia. The next year Lane returned (1994) to do a series of club shows with the band; also that year Allen and Sweet left the band, replaced by Rick Steier and James Kottak. In 1995 Warrant released their fourth album titled ‘Ultraphobic’, and again despite being “critically acclaimed” sales were down. In 1996 Kottak left the band and was replaced by Bobby Borg (Beggers & Thieves). The band released a “Best Of” compilation and then followed with the grunge influenced album, ‘Belly to Belly’, that once again, was welcomed by die-hard fans and featured some of Lane’s best writing, but didn’t sell. The band would begin turning into a revolving door of musicians, but that didn’t stop the greatest hits, cover collections, and a live album from being released.
In 2002 Jani’s debut solo album; ‘Back Down to One’ was completed. Shortly after its release Lane was admitted into rehab for alcohol and drug related issues. In 2004 Lane left the band and tried to start his own version of Warrant which was shut down through the legal system. Lane was replaced by Jaime St. James (Black N’ Blue) and they released their seventh studio album titled ‘Born Again.’ Meanwhile, still out of rehab, Lane joined super group Saints of the Underground. In 2008 Lane rejoined Warrant, but then parted ways for good later in the year due to song writing differences. Lane was replaced by Robert Mason on vocals. In May 2011 (with Mason on vocals) the band released ‘Rockaholic.’ Three months later Jani Lane was found dead in Los Angeles.
The current version of Warrant continues to tour. By all accounts they are doing just fine. Mason compliments the band well and everyone appears to get along, something that is apparently very important to this band. Looking back on Warrant it’s impossible to not associate Jani Lane and his song writing with the current line-up (they continue to sing his songs) and wonder if commercial success had continued - maybe the outcome would have been different. Warrant was never going to be Motley Crue, Ratt, or Quiet Riot; they did however create a “Warrant sound” that cascaded through their albums (even after they ditched the glam pop). They started with lip stick and cherry pies, and then they went heavy. Success is a funny thing, and unfortunately (as in this case) it doesn’t always have a happy ending.
I SAW RED
UNCLE TOM’S CABIN
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