Rediscovered Steel – ‘Stay Hungry’ From Twisted Sister
Back in the mid-80s it was virtually impossible to tune into MTV without seeing Twisted Sister smashing through walls, throwing uptight parents down and generally cause a complete ruckus. The iconic videos for “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” were bigger than life clips that embodied the rebellious spirit that all great hard rock bands possess. For those metalheads without MTV in their homes, Twisted Sister’s appearance in ‘Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure‘ (performing “Burn In Hell”) was the first time they had even been introduced to the genre.
Originally released in May of 1984, Twisted Sister’s ‘Stay Hungry‘ went on to become not only the Long Island, NY’s biggest album of their career but also one of the most celebrated American hard rock/metal records off all time. Everything from the anthemic charge of the aforementioned songs to the Black Sabbath-like pounding of “Captain Howdy” is represented on the album. Artists as varied as Dimmu Borgir to Joan Jett have covered tracks from ‘Stay Hungry’ proving its influence far reach.
A 25th Anniversary Edition of ‘Stay Hungry’ that includes a bonus disc of unreleased outtakes and early demos from the original sessions, as well as a new track recorded especially for this collection by the 1984 lineup will be available June 30, 2009 from Rhino Records. Noisecreep spoke with vocalist Dee Snider about the making of the landmark album.
When you went into the studio to record ‘Stay Hungry’ was there a feeling within the band and your management that this was your do or die moment?
It was more of a feeling that the stars had finally aligned for us. We trusted that all the buttons were going to be pushed from a record company standpoint. We felt like were allowed to enter the golden gates (laughter).
The marketing people at Atlantic Records must have really gotten behind you.
Yeah, the European deal we had showed the people at the label in the U.S. that we could sell records. ‘You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n’ Roll’ (the album before ‘Stay Hungry’) did great overseas and in the States we were selling 2-3K per week when we were touring certain markets. The local label reps would call NYC and demand that they ship more units to these cities. That was perfect because it showed Atlantic Records that if they got behind our next album, we could get to the next level.
Your older material always had hooks in it but ‘Stay Hungry’ definitely had a few songs where it seemed like you were aiming at radio.
That’s the misconception people have about ‘Stay Hungry.’ When I wrote the songs I didn’t have some big plan to try and crossover or anything. I think what you’re picking up on with that record is me refining my songwriting skills. Like anything else, songwriting you get better at with practice and experience and by the time we did ‘Stay Hungry,’ I was much better at it. “We’re Not Gonna Take It” has been the biggest single of our career but I wrote that hook in 1980 so I had always had these big and catchy song ideas around.
How much did working with Tom Werman (Cheap Trick, Mötley Crüe) help on that aspect of Twisted Sister’s sound? He seems to get the best out of bands who write anthemic, radio friendly hard rock.
I think Tom Werman has been at the right place at the right time a lot in the past. I actually argued with him a lot on the albums he produced for us. For ‘Stay Hungry’ he wanted to leave off some of the biggest stuff on it! I remember playing him “I Wanna Rock” and he said he had already had done that with Molly Hatchet in the 1970s. I was like, “Are you f-cking crazy?” You hear that song and it’s a no-brainer; it’s a hit. He also thought “We’re Not Gonna Take It” sounded infantile and we went to war about leaving it or keeping it on the album. Can you imagine leaving off those songs? He just didn’t get it.
You have a song on ‘Stay Hungry’ called “The Price” that should have been a massive radio hit but it never really caught on commercially.
I think that Atlantic released “The Price” as an afterthought more than anything. We had two huge video and radio hits already and they wanted us to make another album. Tom Werman was actually pissed because he had wanted to do a radio mix for “The Price” but the label didn’t do it. He felt like if there was another mix of the track, programmers would have been all over it.
When you wrote “Horror-Teria: The Beginning” for ‘Stay Hungry,’ did you ever envision making a film based around the main character in it?
Not to completely scare you off, but that stuff was actually meant to be for a rock opera I was working on at the time. Don’t worry dude, it will never come out (laughter). Tom Werman heard “Captain Howdy” and “Street Justice” and he pushed me hard to give up the songs for the album. Now fast-forward to the 1990s and I’m sick of the horror movie scene of the time and I get the idea to make a film (1998’s ‘Strangeland’). Luckily I already had the perfect villain in the Captain Howdy character. We’re working on a sequel so keep your eyes out for that.
When the album took off the band members were already a bit older so I wanted to see if you guys avoided a lot of the stuff younger, greener bands go through.
You’re right about us being a bit older when we finally broke but we still fell into a lot of the bull that fame brings. You have to remember, we had been out there pushing since 1976. What happened was that we had been so focused on becoming successful for years and all we did was work. Once ‘Stay Hungry’ sold all of those records, we had time to think about all of the things that pissed us off about each other. It got really ugly once that happened. In terms of the drinking and drug stuff, I have never been into that anyway.
I’m sure people would look at photos of you from that era and expect you to be some kind of whiskey guzzling, pill-popping maniac.