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Revisiting Dokken's "Under Lock and Key"

I've been an obsessed hard rock & heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.

Dokken "Under Lock and Key" album cover

Dokken "Under Lock and Key" album cover

Dokken – Under Lock And Key

Year: 1985

Genre: Hard Rock/Glam Metal

Label: Elektra Records

Tracks: 10

Run Time: 42:26

Dokken's third studio album, Under Lock and Key was released in 1985 and it's the album that made me into a fan boy for life, though I must confess that even after all these years, I still can't quite decide if Under Lock And Key is my favorite Dokken album, or if its follow-up Back For The Attack should hold that title. When I look at it logically, I think Back For The Attack is an overall stronger collection of songs, but I still tend to lean towards UL&K strictly for nostalgic reasons. After all, Under Lock and Key was the album that turned me from a casual Dokken fan to a full on, gotta-have-everything fanatic. I was already a fan who had loved both of Dokken's previous releases, Breaking The Chains (1983) and Tooth And Nail (1984), but Under Lock & Key was clearly designed to take the band to the next level.

The Rise of Hair Metal

The release of Under Lock And Key was perfectly timed. Hair Metal was beginning its meteoric rise towards mainstream popularity in 1985, and Dokken were poised to ride that wave with their most accessible album yet.

Producer Neil Kernon, who had previously worked with everyone from Hall and Oates to Queensrÿche, buffed off most of Dokken's rough "metal" edges that were still hanging around on the fringes of Tooth and Nail, which made Under Lock And Key a much slicker, more melodic album than its predecessors. Dokken's new polished sound fit right into radio and MTV playlists and led to an updated look for the band. Gone were the denim vests & bullet belts of the Tooth & Nail era, in came the teased hair, brightly colored spandex, and tight pants. Don and George quickly became favorites amongst the teenybopper "Metal Edge" magazine crowd. Unlike many of the good looking "hair metal" pin-ups of the day, however, Dokken had the musical firepower to back it up.

MTV Comes Knockin' For Dokken

Dokken shot videos for three songs off of Under Lock And Key: "The Hunter," "It's Not Love," and "In My Dreams." "The Hunter" never really caught fire, but MTV supported the hell out of the other two videos. I can remember a period in late '85 and early '86 where the classic video for "It's Not Love" (which featured the band performing the tune on the back of a flat bed truck as they were towed through Hollywood) was absolutely inescapable! Every damn time you turned on MTV it was on there!! The stylish video for "In My Dreams" also got major play.

If I sound like I'm being hard on Dokken, I'm not really trying to be. I've owned Under Lock And Key since it was a new release and even though I'm a little sick of the singles due to their being beaten into the ground by repeated MTV and radio play over the years, there is still a ton of great stuff on this record, like the opening track "Unchain the Night," "Will the Sun Rise," "Don't Lie to Me," and the token heavier tracks, "Lightnin' Strikes Again" (one of my favorite Dokken songs ever!) and the slam-bang closer "Till the Livin' End."

Under Lock And Key quickly reached platinum status and was the first Dokken album to crack the Billboard Top 40 chart, reaching a position of #32. The band supported the album by touring their rear ends off as an opening act for Aerosmith, Judas Priest, and just about anyone else who would let them share the stage with them. I saw them open for Priest in the summer of '86 while they were touring for this album and they were on fire at that time! It was a great kickoff to a great show.

Summing It Up

In many ways, Under Lock And Key was Dokken's high water mark. As their mainstream profile increased, egos began to clash and personality conflicts between certain band members (*cough cough Don Dokken and George Lynch cough cough*) would eventually reach a breaking point. For now, though, Dokken was ever so briefly on top of the hard rock world, and Under Lock And Key is still an essential hair-metal listen to this day.

© 2022 Keith Abt