Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: Dokken, "One Live Night"
Dokken—"One Live Night"
Release Date: 1995 (Japan), 1996 (U.S.)
Label: Victor (Japan), CMC International (U.S.)
Run Time: 62:35
Dokken may have been one of the biggest bands of the late '80s "hair metal" boom, but they initially had trouble getting traction when they reunited in the mid-1990s. Dokken's 1995 comeback album, Dysfunctional, reportedly sold fairly well, but it still did not meet the expectations of their U.S. label, Columbia Records, so they were dropped. Fortunately the "retro" minded indie label CMC International Records, who specialized in '80s rockers who'd been abandoned by the majors, snapped them up. Dokken's first album for CMC was 1996's "unplugged" concert disc One Live Night, which had been released by their Japanese label (Victor Entertainment) the previous year.
Thanks to the wildly popular MTV Unplugged program, acoustic albums were a dime a dozen during the 1990s. Countless bands and artists lined up to appear on the hit show and perform a "stripped down" set of their greatest hits which could then be released on CD afterwards (see: Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Eric Clapton, KISS, Mariah Carey, Rod Stewart, etc., etc.).
Dokken never appeared on the MTV Unplugged show, but it didn't stop them from trying to ride the wave anyway. One Live Night went almost completely unnoticed at the time of its release, but as far as this long time fan is concerned, it was one of the better albums to come out of the "unplugged" fad.
"In My Dreams"
Semi-Unplugged? Almost Unplugged?
One Live Night was recorded on December 13, 1994 at the Strand in Redondo Beach, California and features the newly-reunited band running through a set of old favorites, plus some extra, unexpected goodies. Several tracks from Dysfunctional (which had not been released in the U.S. yet at the time of the recording) are included in the set, plus bonus covers of the Beatles' "Nowhere Man" and ELP's "From the Beginning." Guitarist George Lynch is the only band member who was "plugged in" during the set, adding his trademark shredding electric leads to each song while vocalist Don Dokken and bassist Jeff Pilson strummed away on acoustics.
"Just Got Lucky"
As you might expect, Dokken's melodic nature translates well to the acoustic realm, so the bulk of the songs on One Live Night sound fantastic. The band may have been split up for more than five years before this gig, but it's quickly obvious from their performance that their time away from one another did not diminish their instrumental skills, or their knack for rich, soaring vocal harmonies.
The epic ballad "Alone Again" (from 1984's Tooth and Nail) is a highlight, and the old classics like "In My Dreams" and "Into the Fire" mesh well with then-new Dysfunctional songs like "The Maze" and "Nothing Left To Say." In fact, hearing the semi-unplugged renditions of the new material on this disc helped me gain a new appreciation for the Dysfunctional album, which I'd bought as a new release the year before but had never quite "clicked" with me. When I first heard One Live Night, I was particularly impressed by the performance of "The Maze," which prompted me to pull the studio version off the shelf and eventually, to re-evaluate the entire Dysfunctional album. 25 years later, I listen to Dysfunctional just as much, if not more, than most of the "classic" Dokken catalog and it's become one of my go-to discs when I'm in the mood to hear the band.
All in all, the band sounds like they were having a lot of fun during this show. The intimate, relaxed setting gives everyone a chance to show off their considerable instrumental chops, and three out of the four band members have the opportunity to shine vocally. As usual, Don handles the bulk of the lead vox, but Jeff Pilson takes the mic on "Just Got Lucky" and drummer "Wild" Mick Brown performs "Tooth and Nail." This prompts Don to joke about George Lynch taking a lead vocal as well. George declines, but the six stringer still gets to show off a bit with a sizzling rendition of the instrumental piece "I Will Remember," from his 1993 solo album Sacred Groove. Don, Jeff and Mick each take turns singing parts of the set closing "It's Not Love," which is turned into a grungy, down 'n' dirty blues number that ends the album on an excellent note.
Summing It Up
One Live Night was also released on video, both on VHS (remember those?) and later on DVD, but as of this writing it is out of print in all formats. The CD and DVD currently command ridiculous collector's item prices on sites like Amazon, but some songs from it can also be found on the budget-line release Dokken: Yesterday and Today, mixed with electrified live tracks from a later concert disc, 2000's Live From the Sun.
The reunion of the "classic" Dokken lineup didn't last very long (Lynch was out of the band by 1997, followed by a seemingly endless series of lineup changes that continues to the present day) but at least we have One Live Night and Dysfunctional to remember this era by.
If you missed One Live Night when it was new, it's well worth a listen if you want to hear a slightly different side of these '80s metal legends, or if you're a fan of unplugged rock discs in general. Happy hunting.
© 2020 Keith Abt