By the time the Scorpions became a household name in heavy metal and hard rock circles, those two related genres had become big business in mainstream rock music. Even so, this German band worked hard to distinguish itself from the pack, and during the '80s these Teutonic warriors quickly achieved superstar status. Even though the band released only four studio albums during the decade, each was filled with an amazingly astute blend of high-powered rockers, melodic, mid-tempo numbers and premium power ballads. Here's a chronological look at the best Scorpions tunes of the '80s, culled from a high-quality short list.
1. "The Zoo"
Though this track from 1980's Animal Magnetism did not make a major impact as a single - and remains one of the most underrated songs from the Scorpions oeuvre - it powerfully confirms the band's singular status as one of heavy metal's most accomplished riff masters. Even having not heard this tune for 20 years, the listener can't help but instantly recognize the unforgettable Rudolf Schenker guitar phrase that fuels its slow-burn intensity. Meine's lyrics and vocals betray their European origin, as the somewhat exotic phrasing feels otherworldly and distinctive. Ultimately, despite an extremely slow tempo, the song packs a powerful punch, perhaps even elevating itself to a place on the very shortest of Scorpions best lists.
Here, for perhaps the first time, the Scorpions introduced their nearly trademark combination of slow, arpeggiated guitar and monster riffing within the same tight composition. The band would repeat this blend of aching ballad and heavy mid-tempo rocker a few more times through its career, and the styling never grows tired for Scorpions fans. Meine's vocal style and timbre are certainly not for everyone, but in the verses of this track, they're positively stunning and haunting. When the familiar refrain kicks in, the pure slickness of the achievement could come off as overly orchestrated, but the artistry of the Scorpions is such that the song feels entirely organic. The dual guitars of Schenker and Matthias Jabs are masterful here.
Here's another riff to die for, delivered as accompaniment for a fist-pumping rocker of unrestrained energy. Meine goes into full banshee mode here, and it's a wonderful moment in spite of the extreme nature of his style. 1982's Blackout is full of quality songs, including the rocking title track and the melodic "Arizona," so it's more testament to this track than it is an affront to the ones that don't get the honor of a blurb in this space. In the hands of a typical hard rock band, a song like this could be awfully conventional, but the Scorpions take it to an exemplary height. The majesty of a band like the Scorpions lies in its rare deep album track quality, and Blackout is just one of several Scorpions albums to shine this way.
Bluesy, passionate guitar parts kick off this, yet another deep track, with a bang, and then the group settles in again to a familiar but never boring pattern of ballad-styled verses punctuated by a melodic, riff-rich chorus. For some this kind of craftsmanship might seem less than inspired, but to my ears this is just a hard rock band that knows what it's doing backwards and forwards. If riff-happy heavy guitar rock does not appeal to you, perhaps you can find something to criticize in this sparkling effort, but I don't see how anyone who's even a mild fan of the style can avoid a tip of the proverbial hat for this one (or, at least, tip of the mullet wig). With Blackout, the Scorpions were in position for a Teutonic takeover.
For some music fans, the absence of "Rock You Like a Hurricane" from a Scorpions best-of list ranks as a rather obvious sort of pop culture blasphemy. However, I would argue that the world's great familiarity with that anthemic track and its unforgettable guitar riff arrived long ago at a level that excuses any such omission. While a great song, "Hurricane" actually may not belong among the top five songs from 1984's masterpiece Love at First Sting. Number one on that list, to me, belongs to this nearly perfect power ballad that bleeds with emotion even as it generates some of the finest arpeggiated guitar chords and blistering lead parts you're ever going to hear in mainstream rock. The Scorpions sound at its most polished and fierce.
Most of the credit for the rise of the loud-quiet-loud aesthetic in rock and roll justifiably goes to alternative rock bands like the Pixies and Nirvana. However, the Scorpions also used this technique, particularly during the band's '80s heyday. This scorching rocker is a great example, beginning as a quiet, slow and arpeggiated number before exploding relatively quickly into a fast-paced romp that helps keep the group a world apart from most of its hard rock contemporaries. Again, there is not a throwaway track to be found on this album's 40 minutes of running time, and so the selection of "Coming Home" is a serious endorsement of its lasting quality. "Big City Nights" is a great song, too, but "Coming Home" earns its slot.
When a band produces '80s music as accomplished as the Scorpions did, I generally make it a policy to do everything I can to avoid duplicate artist content across the expanse of my site. Because of the high quality of the Scorpions' four studio albums and nearly 40 original songs released during the '80s, I'm following that pattern almost exclusively. Except for this song, which for my money is very close to the most perfect mid-tempo hard rock song of the era. The quality of the guitar solos alone is more than enough to recommend it, but the melodies that make up the verses and, especially, the bridge of this underrated tune, are simply breathtaking. "Keep me in your mind, Till I come back to love ya," Meine croons. Brilliant.
Though not one of Sting's five released singles, this anthemic rocker easily could have and probably should have been one. After all, it's accessible and yet raunchy at the same time, both characteristics few bands but the Scorpions could possess simultaneously. And even though it probably overdoes things in the machismo department on a few occasions, the track displays the tremendous balance that was always alive in the Scorpions as both a heavy metal and pop/rock act. Back in the day I used to make fun of Meine's accent and how he pronounced "way" as "wee" in the chorus, "Bad boys running wild/So you better get out of their way." It's still slightly amusing, but it's impossible to deny that this is fine music.
In part because of the explosion of Scorpions mania in the wake of Love at First Sting and its lengthy ensuing world tour, four long years passed before the group's follow-up to that triple platinum record. Savage Amusement certainly boasts plenty of fine vintage moments for the band, but it is far slicker and more mechanical than its predecessor. Some of that can be blamed perhaps on the fact that 1988 was one of the peak years of hair metal and pop metal, and the Scorpions were just fitting into that pattern. Still, this lead-off track gallops ahead at full speed and refuses to waver, and by virtue of being a product of this particular band, it's naturally far better than most of the other songs of this period's popular metal.
In my opinion, even though the Scorpions' greatest success was still to come - with the overrated mega-hit "Wind of Change," from 1990's Crazy World - the group was slightly on the wane as the '80s came to a close. Not all that noticeably, of course, as in the scheme of things a power ballad like this one has much to recommend it and little to criticize. It's not up to "Still Loving You" level, I'll grant you, but this remains a highly listenable relic of the late '80s. The powerful thrust of the dual guitars from Schenker and Jabs has no peer in '80s rock and stands highly among that engrossing sound's best prototypes. Meine's pleading "Once again" and the melodic turn that accompanies the phrase simply prove transcendent.