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Excerpt from Unauthorized 80's (The Story of Poison)
By David S Grant
Saturday, December 01, 2012
Rated "PG" by the Author.
An excerpt from David S. Grant's new book "Unauthorized 80's"
The story of Poison starts in the industrial town Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. With a name like that do we really need to say 'industrial'? For those unfamiliar with this town, it's just West of Hardhatville.
In 1985, Bret Michaels (vocals), Rikki Rockett (drums), Bobby Dall (bass), and Matt Smith (guitar) set out for the Los Angeles Sunset Strip, determined to make it as the next big hair band. Initially, the band struggled to survive; Matt Smith specifically couldn't handle the poverty and left for back East. During this time Bret Michaels states that his only possession was a toothbrush. Behind The Music: One Toothbrush and Six Bandanas -- The Bret Michaels Story.
With Smith's departure, the band started looking for a new guitarist. In the end their search came down to C.C. DeVille and Slash. Slash was clearly the better guitar player, but C.C. had that over the top glam look the band coveted. Essentially, Poison picked make-up over substance. This decision would end up being one of the most significant events in eighties heavy metal music. Not only was C.C. the right pick for Poison, but not taking Slash off the market proved to be more important, keeping the door open for him to join Guns N' Roses just months later.
Early on Poison made a conscious decision to wear more make-up, tease their hair higher, and increase Aqua Net sales more than the other hair bands. The release of their first album, Look What The Cat Dragged In, would introduce the world to this glam foursome. The album depicted four head shots of the band, leading to criticism that they ripped off the cover idea from Motley Crue's Shout At The Devil, which actually, was ripped off from The Beatles Let It Be album. The cover would also lead to several debates. First, were these in fact men? After establishing that yes, in fact, these are men the discussion would turn to which was the prettiest of the group? Most of the time it was Rikki Rockett edging out Bret Michaels in the beauty contest. I believe the amount of eye shadow Rikki used had a direct impact on this outcome.
Their first video, "Talk Dirty To Me", showed the band in full costume and make-up, rolling around a stage. No audience, just the band on a sound stage. With what would be become the patented 'Jump and Roll' move, a choreographed step meant to show band unity and rock n' roll at the same time, Poison was not only for metal heads, but the mainstream MTV audience as well. With several costume, headband, and hat changes it was clear that their look and catchy hooks with sex and rebellion at the core would carry a band that noticeably wasn't breaking down any walls musically. The video did so well they created the same video over and over. The format used for "I Want Action" and then "Nothing But A Good Time" continued with the band on stage (no crowd), rolling around in between costume changes. Later, "Unskinny Bop" would use a similar format, only with a bigger stage and digital girls placed on the sides of Michaels. It was the image being marketed more than the music and it was genius, cementing Poison as one of the biggest bands of the eighties.
The videos showcased the talents of each member in the band. Rikki Rockett's primary talent was playing the drums while standing. In "Talk Dirty To Me" we even see girls holding up the drums Rikki is playing, very unconventional and much cooler than playing while sitting. Bobby Dall was the trouble maker, the bad kid of the group. We know this because he is the one always smoking cigarettes in the videos. He plays the same role as the bad kid in the boy bands, usually the one that grows a beard. Despite lacking in the shredding category, C.C. DeVille's skills of guitar throwing and ability to spin on the floor while playing a solo are second to no one. It's important to note that sometime during their third album C.C. decided to start wearing trench coats, this phase lasted approximately two years with no reason given. Someday I would like to see this explored further. Bret Michaels' job description included strutting, thrusting, subtle looks into the camera, and the ability to coordinate many hats and bandanas with spandex and leather. Both Dall and Michaels were fans of cowboy hats, but were never worn at the same time because that would look foolish.
The second album, Open Up And Say Ahh!, included the ballad "Every Rose Has Its Thorn", a soft song written by Bret Michaels in a laundromat after a bad breakup with a stripper. In the video, a concert montage, we see the bitter sweet side of life on the road. In one scene Bret is walking off the stage and throws a towel into the face of a roadie. Just minutes later we see Michaels throw a plastic cup of beer at a chalkboard that reads POISON. Chilling scenes. Regardless of the video, this song captured the broken hearts of teenagers across the globe, placing this song in history as the ballad of all ballads.
Poison's third album surprised many when they listened to the song "Something To Believe In"; a sweet song about a friend that had gone off to war and died. This song proved that Poison could in fact write about something other than sex. A serious video accompanied the song. The seriousness of each Poison video was told by the number of crosses Michaels wore around his neck. The next single, "Life Goes On", also had a video that this time featured Michaels wearing two crosses, proving to be their most serious song to date. However, this video didn't capture the sweetness of the previous ballad, coming off as cheesy with neon words and images of the band members floating across the screen.
In 1991, Poison played the MTV Video Award show. Backstage a fight broke out between C.C. DeVille and Bret Michaels, leading to an eight year break-up between the two. The grunge movement and drug use (C.C. had developed quite the cocaine habit at this point) was blamed, but I still believe the video for "Life Goes On" was the initial sign of this band breaking up. The band would trek on though, bringing on Richie Kotzen to replace C.C. for the Native Tongue album. Now they had a talented guitarist and songwriter, unfortunately he was suspected of nailing Rikki's fiancee so he was fired. The firing of Kotzen was another example of this band playing by their rule, however weird those rules were. In 1994 Blues Saraceno filled the open guitarist position, but Poison was already sliding off the charts and only a couple of Saraceno's songs would make it on a greatest hits album. More sad news for DeVille, Blues is still remembered as the guy who replaced Eric Clapton in Cream, not C.C. in Poison.
A couple greatest hits albums would be released before the band patched up their differences and got back together in 1999. Touring and playing their old hits, Poison was again back and a hit with their fans. Since 2000 Poison has released the albums Crack A Smile, Power To The People, Hollyweird, and Poison'd, the latter a collection of covers. None of these albums approached the success of the first three albums. It was the first three albums where credit should be given for writing the same song (about sex) over and over again, yet somehow making it fresh enough that you wanted to listen. Michaels' gift to write catchy hooks left after the third album. Despite only three major albums, Poison has over fifteen million records sold, making them the fifth most successful rock band from the eighties behind AC/DC, Guns N' Roses, Motley Crue, and Def Leppard.
In addition to the constant touring (they continue to tour as a band with other eighties acts) the band has also penetrated reality television. In 2006 C.C. Deville starred in the VH1 show The Surreal Life, a show that takes B-list (and C-list) celebrities and places them into a house together for a month. DeVille entered the house immediately after completing rehab for his cocaine addiction. It's unclear if at the time C.C. thought this was one of the twelve steps.
Bret Michaels has taken reality television to a new level with his VH1 show Rock Of Love. The purpose of the show is to put many women in one house and Bret gets to sleep with them, often more than one at a time. That is the point, right? Put it this way: Have you ever been in a gentlemen's club with a guy who dated one of the dancers? It is uncomfortable. Now what if that guy had slept with all of the dancers? This is the territory Bret Michaels treaded during the show. In three seasons Michaels set multiple viewing records for the network as well as introducing us to Big John, Bret's glorified security guard who also added babysitter for the girls (when Bret wasn't nailing them) to his resume. Rock Of Love also gave the viewers at home a new drinking game, taking a shot of tequila whenever Michaels said the word awesome. In addition to his VH1 franchise, Bret is taking his suitcase of bandanas to Celebrity Apprentice, a show hosted by Donald Trump, where millionaire contestants try not to get fired. In 2010 Michaels had an appendectomy followed by a brain hemorrhage, the latter leaving Bret in critical condition for over a week. In a somewhat miracle fashion, Michaels returned to the Celebrity Apprentice finale (just one week after leaving the hospital) and was 'hired' by Trump. After Michaels used his recovery to shoot yet another VH1 reality show titled Bret Michaels: Life As I Know It where he ended up proposing to his long time girlfriend and mother of his two daughters. At present time it's coming out roses for Bret, finally finding his 'rock of love', after only several reality shows.
Poison was, and continues to be, a band that defines the eighties hair bands and the rock star party hard attitude from this genre. A band that understood the glam look (pushing make-up and hair styles to a level early glam acts Motley Crue and Ratt only dreamed) and choreographed moves on video was more important than the actual music being produced. After Poison hit it big, many other bands joined and used their template for success; leading to the saturation of hair bands and the eventual bubble breaking in the early nineties.
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