Dismissed at times as derivative and uninspiring, '70s and '80s hard rock band Whitesnake actually created plenty of strong music during the peak of the arena rock and hair metal eras. Frontman David Coverdale certainly knew how to maximize commercial appeal when the opportunity arose, but he also wisely navigated his way through a series of collaborators, a collective attitude that helped produce Whitesnake's best work. Here's a chronological look at that band's finest songs from its most productive period.
Though it appeared prominently on 1989's Slip of the Tongue in a rerecorded version, this track actually became a moderate U.K. hit and a modest U.S. single in 1980. As the lead-off track to that year's Ready an' Willing LP, Whitesnake's third official band release and the sixth recording from frontman David Coverdale in just four years, the tune works quite well as a bluesy, guitar-heavy mainstream rock standout. Many of the group's long-term fans and reportedly Coverdale himself prefer the original version, which features the impressive guitar work of co-composers Micky Moody and Bernie Marsden. This is melodic, driving stuff that in both versions showcases the undeniably powerful vocals of Coverdale.
Power guitars and the talents of Coverdale's one-time Deep Purple bandmates Jon Lord and Ian Paice help fortify this solid rocker from early Whitesnake's 1981 release Come an' Get It. Of course, Coverdale always had a great instinct for collaborators, stretching all the way from his mid-'70s membership in a latter-day lineup of classic rock legends Deep Purple to Whitesnake's 1987 leap to superstardom. Nevertheless, this is a muscular rock effort that manages to succeed across genres, and probably the only reason this music did not fare better commercially is that the burgeoning pop metal movement didn't quite know what to do with Coverdale's early work. A highly listenable if forgotten nugget.
Despite an impressive run of six consecutive Top 10 albums in Whitesnake's native U.K., the band is certainly most known for its massive American success, which began to register with the eventually double-platinum and cringingly titled Slide It In. Though originally released in 1983 and featuring largely the early Whitesnake lineup, the record took off when released in the U.S. in early 1984, drawing some MTV attention. This track provides a bridge between the group's flashier new lineup and its old blues-based sound, as Coverdale here sounds more like Bad Company's Paul Rodgers than any singer ultimately labeled heavy metal.
If Coverdale can be accused of a significant crime against music beyond merely his uncanny vocal and physical resemblance to Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, it's that he had an annoying tendency during the '80s to recycle his and Whitesnake's best tunes. In fact, this No. 1 pop hit from 1987, which also happens to be a near-perfect power ballad for the ages, is far from the only Whitesnake song to enjoy a much more successful run as a single the second time around. Originally appearing on 1982's Saints and Sinners, the radio-ready track was glossed up for the hair metal era. But in any form it's an undeniably strong romantic power rock classic.
Another highly charting pop single in the early spring of 1987, this ballad, co-written with ultimately brief Whitesnake member John Sykes, is a bit more toothless than its similar predecessor, as Coverdale may have embraced a winning pop formula a bit too enthusiastically for the band's own good. But the results didn't lie, it seemed, as Whitesnake's previous status as a hard rock and foundationally blues-based band quickly began to fade in contrast with the rising depth of the group's mainstream success. Coverdale's throaty vocals still manage to convey some emotion here, but it would be nice to have seen more respect paid to the singer's very different rock music past.
Few of us knew it at the time, but many of the songs that fueled 1987's smash Whitesnake LP had actually appeared previously on record during the band's far less popular days. This track happens to be one of these, making a slight mark upon release in 1982. And even though the 1987 re-recording became a Whitesnake staple following the band's big break on the late'-80s pop metal scene, the original version deftly represents the blues-based origins of Coverdale as a singer and songwriter. Reportedly inspired by the artist's own divorce, the song functions in both versions as a guitar-heavy slow burn, even if the latter version certainly piles on the showy licks and glossy production.
Much of the criticism leveled against Whitesnake - that the group drew too heavily from earlier influence Led Zeppelin - stems from this song, a genuine if very flashy guitar rocker that unfortunately goes to the classic rock well of bombast a bit too often. Based loosely on a riff Coverdale originally developed with Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore more than a decade earlier, the song actually stands on its own far better than many have perceived. More importantly, the genuinely hard rock track clearly links the band with its pre-pop metal past.
By the time the "new and improved" Whitesnake had generated unprecedented success, the band itself was in many ways a shadow of itself. In fact, the lineup that Coverdale assembled after dismissing writing partner Sykes and the rest of the band that originally recorded the band's multi-platinum smash seemed like just another set of hired hands. Nevertheless, this tune works quite well as a mid-tempo mainstream rocker, benefiting not only from the showy guitar playing of Sykes but also the fruit of what had once been a pretty decent songwriting partnership.