I've been collecting hard rock and heavy metal CDs since the late '80s.
Savatage, "Fight for the Rock"
Original Release: Atlantic Records, 1986
Reissue: Ear Music, 2011
I recently completed my Savatage studio discography by adding 1986's mostly-maligned Fight for the Rock CD to the collection. The album is widely considered to be Savatage's worst (even by the band members, who have been known to refer to it as "Fight for the Nightmare" in interviews), so it seemed appropriate that I saved it for last.
Fight for the Rock was an ill-fated attempt to turn the Florida based heavy metal band into a radio-friendly hard rock hit machine, and was a rare misstep in a catalog that is considered one of the strongest in melodic metal. My inner Savatage ultra-fanboy will not allow me to "hate" Fight for the Rock, so in this review I will attempt to defend certain tracks on it. Let's press "play" and find out where it all went wrong. . .
"Fight for the Rock"
Behind the Scenes
The liner notes from vocalist Jon Oliva in EarMusic's 2011 reissue of Fight for the Rock are worth the price of the CD all by themselves,. They paint a picture of a naive, rookie band who were totally at the mercy of managers and a record label who had unrealistic goals in mind for them.
Atlantic Records had plucked Savatage from relative obscurity after two successful indie releases (1983's Sirens and '84's The Dungeons Are Calling EP). Their Atlantic debut, 1985's Power of the Night, kept Savatage's underground headbanger following happy, but didn't translate into success by major label standards. When it came time to start work on Fight for the Rock, the young quartet (Jon Oliva and his guitarist brother Criss, new bassist Johnny Lee Middleton, and drummer Steve Wacholz) were shipped off to London to record with producer Stephen Galfas, under strict orders to create an album with more commercial potential. The band had a limited amount of time to come up with material, so much of Fight for the Rock consisted of cover songs, re-recordings of older tracks, and some simplistic new songs that were cobbled together in last minute writing sessions at the band's temporary London digs.
Savatage's less-than-ideal recording situation was not unique—Atlantic Records was notorious for mishandling their hard rock and metal roster around this time. The British speed/power metal band Raven ran into a similar "be more commercial!" road block while they were signed to Atlantic, resulting in the trio's disastrous The Pack Is Back album, which coincidentally was released the same year as Fight for the Rock.
Their whole thing was, 'You need to grow up, and you need to write songs that are going to be on commercial radio. so you can generate income.'
— Jon Oliva quoting the band's management, from the album's liner notes
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Fight for the Rock received a tepid response when it was released in June of 1986, barely scraping the lower rungs of the Billboard album charts (its peak position was #158). Obviously the "go commercial" experiment didn't work. Songs from Fight for the Rock were rarely, if ever, performed live in concerts after its supporting tour.
"Day After Day" (Badfinger cover)
The thing is, Fight for the Rock isn't altogether terrible—Savatage was far too good a band for that. Its worst sin is that it's not very memorable. The title song is a simplistic, Twisted Sister style anthem that is totally beneath a band of this caliber. A re-worked version of "Out On the Streets" (originally from Sirens) was apparently recorded with an eye towards releasing it as a single, but according to Oliva, "they (Atlantic Records) didn't do anything with it."
"Crying For Love" is another re-worked oldie that came from an early demo session, originally titled "Fighting for Your Love." The cover of Badfinger's "Day After Day" shocked some fans, but I thought it worked well and it actually foreshadowed a lot of the plaintive, piano-based material that Savatage would create later in their career. According to the album notes, the band were using the same studio where Badfinger had cut the original, and the piano that appears on Savatage's version was the same one played by Badfinger.
"The Edge of Midnight" and "Hyde" are the two songs on Fight for the Rock that sound most like "traditional" Savatage. I'd go so far as to call the barn burning "Hyde" the highlight of the album. "Lady in Disguise" and "She's Only Rock 'N Roll" are pleasant, but forgettable fillers, and the album comes to a close with a cover of the Free oldie "Wishing Well" and the heavy-duty "Red Light Paradise," my second favorite cut. Oliva claims that the sinister tale of crawling through the London nightlife was inspired in part by Kiss' "I Was Made For Lovin' You!"
Ear Music's reissue adds two mostly pointless bonus cuts - an acoustic demo of "This Is the Time" (from their 1995 rock opera Dead Winter Dead), and the ballad "This Is Where You Should Be," which some fans might know from the 1996 best-of collection, From the Gutter to the Stage.
"Red Light Paradise"
Summing It Up
Fight for the Rock will probably never become one of my go-to Savatage albums, but I'm glad I finally own it. The liner notes and stories from Jon Oliva about the disc's troubled production were enlightening and helped explain why Fight for the Rock turned out the way it did.
Overall I think I probably like this album better now than I did when it was current, and I think that many Savatage fans might look back on it in a more charitable light if they re-visited it today..
Final analysis: Fight for the Rock is a "diehards only" purchase—not essential, but not a complete waste of time either.
© 2020 Keith Abt