Dokken’s 1985 Elektra Record’s release, Under Lock And Key, didn’t quite make the band a household name; that didn’t happen until the “Dream Warriors” video a year later, But, it served notice to the other top metal acts of the day that they were a force to be reckoned with. Their previous album Tooth and Nail and their follow up effort Back for the Attack both saw tremendous commercial success. Under Lock and Key stands as the band’s best, most consistent album. This was the classic lineup of Don Dokken (vocals), George Lynch (guitar), Jeff Pilson (bass), and Mick Brown (drums) at the height of their creative power. There isn’t a single misstep on this album and there’s something for every kind of fan.
The first track, “Unchain The Night,” opens with a synth gong and clean acoustic arpeggios, but soon kicks into gear with Lynch’s signature dirty yet clear distorted guitar sound. Don Dokken’s smooth vocals have just the right amount of power, particularly with the scream going into Lynch’s effortless thirty second guitar solo. It’s a fantastic album opener.
“The Hunter,” the first single off the album, peaked at number 25 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock charts. It’s a classic Dokken song about looking for and losing love. This song has a sweet groove led by the rhythm section of Mick Brown and Jeff Pilson. Lynch turns in a another superb guitar solo and Don warbles his way to the conclusion as only he can.
The centerpiece of the record and possibly Dokken’s most popular song is the track “In My Dreams.” Beginning with a Def Leppard-ish band tacet with everyone singing the chorus; they go to the well with another break-up song but this one is angry and powerful and everyone is perfectly on point. It’s one of only three Dokken songs to hit the Billboard Hot 100 list, charting at number seventy seven (for completist’s sake, the other two songs are “Alone Again” and “Burning Like A Flame”). George Lynch really shines once again with a near-perfect solo, very melodic to begin with and ending in a blazing fury of notes. “In my Dreams,” set the stage for what was to come next on the record.“Slippin’ Away” is a more mature answer to “Alone Again”, with Don’s vocals having an almost pleading quality. And that fades into the biggest head banger on Under Lock And Key: “Lighnin’ Strikes Again.” This is the band’s heaviest song to that point in their career and it caused many a metalhead to stand up and take notice. It was also a nice preview of where they were going musically with their next album, Back for the Attack. Don’s power is on complete display on the track. The song ends with a series of screams that feel like aren’t going to make it to the proper pitch, but he manages to pull them off well.
“It’s Not Love,” the last ‘popular’ song off this album, is another song about lost love (seeing a pattern here?) that begins with clean guitar that quickly goes crunchy. It’s probably the second best track from this offering and has the shortest guitar solo, but not a single note is wasted. The music video, which featured the band performing the song on a flat-bed truck driving through LA, joined “In My Dreams” in heavy rotation on MTV.
The remainder of the album is filled with a mix of balladeering (“Jaded Heart” and “”Willl The Sun Rise”), great pop hooks (“Don’t Lie To Me”), and another head banger (“Till The Livin’ End”). All in all, Under Lock and Key is a power album that shows all of Dokken’s moods, from playful to sensitive to hard rocking. They came of age with this album as songwriters and musicians and proved that their Gold selling Tooth And Nail wasn’t merely a fluke.