This week, we take a look at one of the more frustrating bands to come out during my formative years. One whose music has not aged very well commercially and who may only be remembered by a small window of people who grew up in the 80’s. This is a band that had all the tools to hit it big such as a killer guitar player, a lead singer with a robust vocal range, and songs filled with memorable hooks and alluring harmonies. But alas, it was a band that couldn’t get out of its own way. We are talking about Dokken.
Dokken was a very talented band whose early catalog ranks up there with most artists from the hair metal days. Unfortunately, they became an all-too-common victim of what got a lot of bands from that era, namely ego and internal strife. Vocalist Don Dokken and uber-talented guitarist George Lynch hated each other to the point that the band ceased to exist right at the height of their popularity, reconvening in the mid-nineties when groups of the hard rock/hair metal regime had fallen off the popularity pedestal in favor of grunge.
It was fun while it lasted. For a stretch from about 1983 to 1988, Dokken, at least from a musical standpoint, was at the top of its game. Don Dokken and Lynch were complimented nicely by a strong rhythm section in bassist Jeff Pilson and drummer Mick Brown. When I need that little kick of nostalgia, Dokken is one of my go-to bands. Here are their studio albums ranked from worst to best.
A sharp change in direction to alternative rock, this one is perhaps the band’s most criticized. While there are some decent moments, notably, Bitter Regret, there is a more than a fighting chance I may never listen to this album again.
Best Song: Bitter Regret
Best Deep Cut: Bitter Regret
Dokken reunited for this one, which was originally expected to be a Don Dokken solo effort. The album flopped commercially, mostly since bands of this mold were not well received at the time. There is a subtle shift from the melodic hard rock the band hit it big with to a sound more akin to the alternative style that was hitting the airwaves. It’s not a bad record at all; it’s just not a great Dokken release.
Best Song: Too High to Fly
Best Deep Cut: Too High to Fly
Erase the Slate is a step back toward the classic hard rock sound that made Dokken successful, albeit with plenty of late nineties production. The title track, Maddest hatter, Shattered, and Haunted Lullabye are the highlights. This would be the one album to feature guitarist Reb Beach and the final one bassist Jeff Pilson plays on.
Best Song: Maddest Hatter
Best Deep Cut: Maddest Hatter
The first Dokken album to feature new bassist Barry Sparks, and the only one consisting of Europe guitarist John Norum, Long Way Home, although heavily influenced by the sounds of millennial modern rock (at least in terms of production), offers glimpses of the band from yesteryear. Namely, the occasional signature Don Dokken wail that was prevalent on the early records. Give a listen to Sunless Dyas, Little Girl, Magic Road, There Was a Time, and the cover of the Yardbirds’, Heart Full of Soul.
Best Song: Magic Road
Best Deep Cut: Magic Road
Oh, what could have been. Hell to Pay, the first record to feature guitarist Jon Levin, starts out like a ball of fire before a nondescript ballad zaps all of the momentum that the band never recaptures. Indeed, The Last Goodbye, Don’t Bring Me Down, Escape, Haunted, and Prozac Nation have the listener wondering to what heights Dokken can take them. Unfortunately, Care for You begins the decline that sees the album close with five ballads out of the final seven songs. That said, the first five songs are so strong, it lifts the album up to this rather high ranking on the list. How high could it have gone?
Best Song: Escape
Best Deep Cut: Escape
The latest Dokken album, it is the first not to feature drummer Mick Brown, who was unavailable. Veteran Jimmy DeGrasso filled in behind the kit. Meanwhile, bassist Barry Sparks had given way to Sean McNabb for this one. Broken Bones is a fine release that continues the band’s recent attempt to come full circle regarding its sound. Listen to Empire, Best of Me, Victim of the Crime, For the Last Time, Tonight, and the title track.
Best Song: For the Last Time
Best Deep Cut: For the Last Time
A triumphant return to the classic Dokken sound, Lightning Strikes Again takes its name from a song of the same title off the Under Lock and Key album. After two decades of sonic and style experimentation, some good, some bad, it is refreshing to listen to a record from the band that pays homage to yesteryear. Standing on the Outside, Give Me a Reason, Heart to Stone, Point of No Return, Judgement Day, and This Fire are the strengths of Dokken’s finest release since 1987.
Best Song: Point of No Return
Best Deep Cut: Point of No Return
The band’s debut, originally released in Europe in 1981, Breaking the Chains saw the light of day in the US in 1983. Considered a failure by Elektra Records, Dokken’s management had to convince the label to give the band another chance. The lead-off title track is the best song here, while Felony, Stick to Your Guns, and the live cut Paris is Burning are notable.
Best Song: Breaking the Chains
Best Deep Cut: Paris is Burning
This is the final record before the band broke up for the first time, and it was not a bad way to go out, even if the group killed its own ascent by imploding. There are plenty of hits, including Burning Like a Flame, Heaven Sent, Prisoner, and opener, Kiss of Death. In addition, album strengths include a remake of Dream Warriors, as well as the Lynch-led instrumental, Mr. Scary. These moments overshadow some of the filler, no doubt due to the ambition of releasing 13 songs.
Best Song: Kiss of Death
Best Deep Cut: Standing in the Shadows
Dokken made good on its promise to its label with the strong Tooth and Nail. The album is chock full of the formula that made a band successful in the day with loud crunchy guitars, screeching vocals, and catchy choruses. There are four Dokken classics on this one: the title cut, Just Got Lucky, Into the Fire, and Alone Again. Don’t fall asleep on Turn on the Action.
Best Song: Into the Fire
Best Deep Cut: Turn on the Action
The best Dokken album was released in 1985. The trifecta of Unchain the Night, The Hunter, and In My Dreams gets things off to a rollicking start, while It’s Not Love is noted for its popular MTV video. Songs to maybe revisit include Lightnin’ Strikes Again, Jaded Heart, and Don’t Lie to Me.
Best Song: In My Dreams
Best Deep Cut: Lightnin’ Strikes Again