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Top 10 Dokken Songs of the '80s

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I try to check my biases mostly at the door while serving as your '80s Music Guide, but occasionally I can't help but draw heavily from my personal taste. That may be the case here, but I truly believe that the four-studio-album catalogue of L.A. hard rock mainstays Dokken contains many top-notch '80s songs. Having treated two of the band's '80s classics (the great power ballad "Alone Again" and the mid-tempo rocker "Into the Fire") elsewhere on this site, I'm even going so far as to leave those classics off this list to make room for some worthy sleepers. Here's my specific argument for Dokken's staying power.

1. "Breaking the Chains"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Elektra Asylum

Though Dokken's debut album of the same name did not hold up as a terribly consistent heavy metal album, it did offer this excellent, claustrophobic tale of paranoia, a song with as much bite in its menacing lyrics as in its instrumental blasts. This is the first classic mid-tempo metal classic of a career that ultimately proved productive in generating some of the strongest hard rock of the '80s. Don Dokken's vocals convey desperation effectively, an achievement rarely equalled by many of the band's mainstream metal contemporaries. And, of course, the driving rhythm guitar and wailing, memorable lead parts from George Lynch create an inherently distinctive sound far tougher and hauntingly gothic than your average glam/pop/hair metal band.

2. "Tooth and Nail"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Elektra Asylum
Anyone who insists on saddling Dokken with the dreaded hair metal tag should crank this one up, stand in front of the speakers, and hold on to some furniture for dear life. No hair band from Cinderella to Ratt to Warrant could have ever matched the shredding intensity of this speedy, snarling rocker, and I'm not sure this veteran band of the L.A. hard rock scene has ever been given enough credit for that singularity. Despite their constant battles of ego and artistic vision, Dokken and Lynch often match up perfectly in terms of the former's dramatic vocal style, the latter's mysterious and sinister riffing, and the quartet's appropriately dark, undeniably heavy metal lyrics. This is powerful stuff that enjoys a sense of permanence.

3. "Just Got Lucky"

The molten, intoxicating Lynch guitar sound continues its assault on this fine track, one of the band's earliest efforts that so gracefully combined fierceness with lovely, arpeggiated fretwork as well. The guitarist's Wall of Sound approach was certainly meticulous and based on technical skill, but I always loved the fact that there was also something palpably nasty about both Lynch's foundational riffs and his active solos. Combine that with some really nice songwriting in the verse and chorus and, especially, the rising bridge, and you have one damned effective '80s metal tune. The group may have sometimes looked a bit effete with its makeup and slick, colorful attire, but songs like this one could never be accused of sounding wimpy.

4. "Heartless Heart"

One of Mick Brown's most explosive drumming performances kicks the proceedings off nicely on this lesser-known track from Tooth and Nail, and the band's palette continues to widen with the effective, plentiful use of harmonies to go along with the thundering pulse of the song. Dokken eventually became known almost exclusively for lyrics about painful, failed romance, but there weren't many melodic metal contemporaries capable of doing so with the same flair demonstrated here. Like competitors Motley Crue and Kix, the music of Dokken was always characterized by a throbbing relentlessness, the musical equivalent of a jackhammer outside your house early Sunday morning. And in the business of hard rock, that's a pretty serious compliment.

5. "Unchain the Night"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Elektra Asylum
Heavy metal bands have always danced the thin line between the genuine sound of doom or threat and a cartoonish, over-the-top and too-serious pose that crumbles like a house of cards under the slightest pressure. I can't say with confidence that Dokken always landed on the favorable side of that equation, but carefully constructed tunes like this one do a pretty solid job of avoiding self-parody. Lynch's chiming guitar intro is moody and mournful enough on its own, but the tolling bells reminiscent far more of Metallica than Def Leppard really set the stage for another great riff as well as a notably eardrum-shredding vocal performance from Dokken the frontman. Textured hard rock has rarely managed to be quite this listenable.

6. "Slippin' Away"

While highly accessible, melodic songs like "The Hunter" and "In My Dreams" have maintained a lasting and justifiable popularity among Dokken fans, I find myself perhaps even more taken by just how memorable the group's deep tracks manage to be. This somewhat obscure track from 1985's solid Under Lock and Key dives squarely into power ballad territory but finds a way to do so without treading the same old ground of genre templates like "Alone Again." Dokken gives one of his finest vocal performances here, mournfully and convincingly presenting lovelorn lyrics that are a cut above most arena rock, lighter-aloft offerings. It's hard to be this irony-free and not inspire unintended laughter, but Dokken seems to know the secret quite well.

7. "It's Not Love"

One way to avoid the emotive pitfalls of metal is to inject a little tongue-in-cheek swagger to the proceedings, and Dokken uses his charisma masterfully during this tune's memorable interlude where the singer simulates a phone conversation with the vixen who so ruthlessly torments his sensitive heart. It's a welcome, off-balance moment in an otherwise relatively typical mid-tempo hard rock tune, but when a melody is this catchy and delivers a punchy chorus of this magnitude, one can more easily forgive the slick production that characterizes the content of Dokken's final great album. The unique sound of Lynch's inventive riff that anchors the quieter verse adds another layer of distinction to a deserving classic of the era.

8. "Jaded Heart"

Capable of mesmerizing, intricate acoustic guitar as well as crunching, wailing electric work, Lynch must have seemed sickeningly talented to his fellow guitarists in mainstream rock at the time. But even better for Dokken's legacy nearly a quarter-century later, the songs composed by the quartet were either sublime or simply superior in a sea of well-worn romantic subject matter. The "jaded heart" concept, after all, is one in danger of being done to death in arena rock circles, but somehow Dokken succeeds in delivering precise lyrics that reflect far more craftsmanship than might be obvious upon initial listen. It doesn't hurt that Lynch's guitar can rock suddenly, at unexpected times, and take a song into ever more interesting territory.

9. "Don't Lie to Me"

Lynch's studio guitar wizardry included a bag of tricks featuring layered guitars and a twin-guitar approach, which contributed significantly to the sweeping, anthemic rock sound Dokken perfected. Even so, this song has every excuse to be a secondary, filler album track, but the precision and exuberance of the band's performance transform it into a more than respectable anchor tune on Under Lock and Key, which I'm noticing that I seem to regard as the group's premier effort. I had always thought the tough growl of Tooth and Nail deserved that distinction, but the sheer amount of quality songwriting on that record's follow-up has made me reconsider. Even when more slickly produced, Lynch breathes new life into the power chord and solo alike.

10. "Will the Sun Rise"

It would be ludicrous to suggest that Dokken bears more than a passing resemblance to Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden, but behind the melodic, chiming guitars and pleading tenor the group did make a worthy effort to delve into mysterious subjects occasionally bearing a touch of the apocalyptic. It's not entirely clear if the lyrics of this tune offer anything beyond atmosphere, but compared to some of the silly quasi-mystical stunts pulled by contemporary metal acts, they take on a rather haunting, even literary glow. Musically, Lynch & Co. deliver with a reliability and forceful precision seldom matched in mainstream rock. To be sure, you won't encounter Dokken's lyrics in a college philosophy class, but this is still high-quality hard rock.
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