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Top 6 Night Ranger Songs of the '80s

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It was never particularly cool to be a Night Ranger fan, even at the band's mid-'80s peak. This was especially true for male rock music lovers, something I found out from others' reactions when I excitedly bought the band's 1989 greatest hits compilation late in high school. But compared to a great deal of competing '80s arena rock, this is truly premium stuff, built on soaring melodies and tasty hooks as well as the work of some nifty rock instrumentalists. Still, it's the songwriting of usual creative general Jack Blades that raises Night Ranger's best songs to another '80s music level.

1. "Don't Tell Me You Love Me"

Jeff Watson (left) and Brad Gillis (right) of Night Ranger performing at the Oakland Colusium in Oakland, California, 1984.
Tim Mosenfelder/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Night Ranger always rocked harder than most detractors gave them credit for, mostly thanks to the dual guitar attack of Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson. But this track from the band's 1982 debut, Dawn Patrol, proves that the quintet, at its best, demonstrated a highly effective rock synergy with contributions from all members. Jack Blades, the band's primary songwriter, had a hand in writing almost all the band's memorable material, and he's also one of the strongest clear-voiced lead vocalists in melodic hard rock. And although the fact that Blades is so front and center here may have led many to see him as the band's clear leader, future recordings would reveal an unselfishness that made the group's music unique.

2. "Sister Christian"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Geffen

Night Ranger would never rock with the same intensity after the 1983 release of Midnight Madness, something the band may have realized on some level but not with the finality assured by the success of this legendary No. 5 hit power ballad. "(You Can Still) Rock in America" may have met with some success with rock fans, but its silliness precluded staying power. "Sister Christian," on the other hand, became an emblematic '80s tune for good reason. Written wholly by Kelly Keagy and sung with convincing passion by the band's drummer as well, the song defined Night Ranger, for better or worse, thereafter. It also helped that the film Boogie Nights reintroduced the song so memorably into the pop culture consciousness.

3. "When You Close Your Eyes"

Despite Night Ranger's clear status as a pop/rock band (and no longer a hard rock act) by its second album, this great tune shines as one of the best musical convergences of the '80s. Aside from a spectacular sense of melody throughout, the song benefits from an element I hadn't noticed until I carefully revisited the track recently. Not only did Blades share songwriting credits with keyboard player Alan Fitzerald and guitarist Brad Gillis on this one; he also demonstrated tremendous savvy in sharing lead vocal duties with Keagy. The brilliant decision to move from Blades on the verse to Keagy on the pre-chorus to an entire band effort on the chorus helps the song kick with an emotional intensity the painfully nostalgic lyrics require.

4. "Four in the Morning"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Geffen

Blades' songwriting takes another solid turn on this pleasant and melodic if purely middle-of-the-road offering from Night Ranger's third full-length release, strangely titled 7 Wishes. But if you were like me and chose to listen to straightforward mainstream rock during the mid-'80s, there wasn't much better of that type of music than this. More than ever, Fitzgerald's keyboards play a significant role here, but the band's solid instrumentalists come through to deliver a nearly flawless mid-tempo masterpiece nonetheless. Blades was always the hookmaster for this particular band, but he delivers another brilliant triple threat in a perfectly fitted verse/pre-chorus/chorus pattern.

5. "Sentimental Street"

Absolutely no trace of Night Ranger's hard rock past resides in this elegant power ballad, the band's second and last Top 10 pop hit. Even so, the track is elevated and possibly saved by the passionate, urgently rough-edged lead vocals of Keagy. Upon initial listen, there's not a huge difference between his vocal style and that of Blades, but a closer listen here and, of course, to the shared lead vocals on "When You Close Your Eyes," reveals interesting and unique nuances in Keagy's seasoned rock music voice. The song itself, another Blades composition, reveals a mature sense of pop songcraft that proves the bassist's mastery of melody once again. I'm not sure what the hell this song is about, but it certainly does sound nice.

6. "Goodbye"

This beautifully arpeggiated elegy to lost romance likewise benefits from excellent, selfless band judgment in placing Keagy once again on lead vocals. Even better, it most certainly stands as one of the best, least cheesy power ballads of the '80s, suffering from very few dated production qualities. Songwriter Blades demonstrates yet again that his ability to craft moving tales of romantic nostalgia ranks near the top if not the pinnacle of '80s rock artists. Night Ranger continues to take plenty of heat for being a somewhat neutered version of '80s hard rock, but the truth is that the band basically perfected melodic hard rock in a way many empty hair metal bands could only dream of.

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