Now, Dokken is not just a 80’s band. In fact, their last album, Broken Bones, came out in 2012. But this article looks at what they accomplished in their early days, at the pinnacle of popularity. This is ClassicRockHistory, after all… but if you suspect me of nostalgia or changing tastes, I may bear some guilt there.
At the beginning Dokken fronted the lineup of Don Dokken on lead vocals, George Lynch on lead guitar, Juan Croucier on bass, and Mick Brown on drums. Shortly after the release of their first album, Breaking the Chains, Juan left Dokken for Ratt, and was replaced by Jeff Pilsen, who remained until the early 2000s. Of the original lineup, only Don and Mike remain.
If you know anything about Dokken, you’ve likely heard of the rift between Don and George. Like any feud, the reasons vary with whom you ask. There’s even some talk that it may have been artificially hammed-up to generate publicity, but if you’re asking yourself why they couldn’t just concentrate on music, then you and I are having the same thought. It seems especially tragic in the light of what they could have done together, but we’re fortunate they gave us their best when they did. You could say we “just got lucky”… OK, that was bad, I know. Don’t hurt me. Instead, let’s check out what Dokken did together.
# 10 – “Alone Again”- Tooth and Nail
As the name implies, this track is sad and mournful, and if it were your first listen to Dokken you might think they were a ballad band. Wrong. About halfway through each verse, the hard guitars kick in to put us on notice, “Folks, we’re a metal band, and we’ll have no melody without serious crunch.” Fine by me, that’s what I’m here for. (In their later days Dokken would in fact throw in some acoustic numbers, but it never became a central feature of their sound.) Being halfway between ballad and rocker, the song has something for everyone. That which is probably why it tied one other track for Dokken’s all-time high for a single: #20 on the Billboards in 1984.
# 9 – “Unchain the Night”- Under Lock and Key
Under Lock and Key is Dokken’s third record, as their popularity is on the rise in 1985. It also marks the beginning of their “glam” phase. Yes, Dokken does fall prey to that silliness. You have to wonder how many rockers look back and wonder what possessed them to gussy up like an Elle supermodel. And that hair! Maybe they locked lips with a Van De Graf generator? But you know what, who really cares when the music’s this good? Under Lock and Key refines the band’s sound, and “Unchain the Night” is a great lead-off track for it. Like the rest of the album, the song boasts as much sting as ever, but with a glossy polish to it. There is a croon of occasional keyboards, and the vocalists perfect their harmony into crisp cohesion, not far from the likes of Stryper. “Unchain the Night” blasts the listener with a solid piece that the rest of the album will remain faithful to.
# 8 – “Just Got Lucky”- Tooth and Nail
From their second album, and the first to reach platinum in the United States, this number is classic Dokken. They haven’t gone glam yet, and they haven’t prettified their production. The tune delves a little into a major key in the verses before hitting a minor key in the bridge and chorus. There is a deep and satisfying ‘thump’ to the bass drum and a drawn-out ‘whang’ from Lynch’s lead guitar. Uncomplicated and glorious.
# 7 – “Dream Warriors”- Back for the Attack
Who can hear this one and not remember the bad ‘ole days of Freddy Krueger? The song opens with some clean licks and rhythm guitar, but rapidly swells into full metal roller-coaster. George Lynch razors the air with full power chords, and Don Dokken’s vocals have never been better. He swoops, he howls, he harmonizes with ethereal talent. And by the time he’s done, you’re practically frothing at the chance to kick Krueger’s wrinkled rear… And the song peaked at number 22 on the Billboard Top 100 charts in 1987; Krueger or no Krueger.
(Editors note: This video also stars Patricia Arquette and is easily one of the most entertaining metal videos of the 1980’s. Dokken vs Freddie Krueger; yeah!)
# 6 – “Long Way Home”- Dysfunctional
From their 1995 album, this tune comes at a time when Dokken had put the synthesizers away and gone back to grittier sound effects (again following the general trend from the ‘80s to the ‘90s grunge era). But their melodies continued to evolve in complexity. This piece takes the same basic riff and mixes it up between clean and hard guitars, while also throwing it on top of different base keys. Their subject material has also grown in insight, as lasting bands tend to do.
Sitting in the crossfire all alone
Waiting for a world to show the way
Tried to find a rose without a thorn
Such a foolish notion fades away
Maybe the insight stems, in part, from the fact that by now the group has disbanded completely while both Don and George went on to create solo albums, then gotten back together. Word has it that at this period Don wants to give another try to producing a record as Dokken-the-band, not just another solo act, and so he invites George back. Regrettably it won’t last; in 1997 George leaves again, not to return.
# 5 – “Lost Behind the Wall”- Back for the Attack
Back for the Attack is released at the peak of the band’s popularity, lofting to number 13 on the Billboard charts in late 1987.The album achieved gold and platinum status shortly thereafter. “Lost Behind the Wall” looms as a slow but unstoppable metal juggernaut, decrying the fate of someone who fights without an end in sight.
As with “Long Way Home”, the melody is skillfully interspersed between soft and hard guitars, and in a break from tradition, the band opens the first stanza with long metal chords before switching to cleaner notes in the following stanzas.
# 4 – “Paris Is Burning”- Breaking the Chains
Breaking the Chains is the record that started it all. There are actually two versions: the 1981 release which was widely acclaimed in Europe, where Dokken was extremely popular before making it in the United States. Dokken the released a version of the album in the United States in 1983. While either version defined the band was still developing their sound, it also sports at least a few pieces that gave an early peek at George Lynch’s virtuosity. “Paris Is Burning” is one of those. It’s only available on the 1983 release, as a live recording from Berlin in 1982. It is also the only song on this list along with #3 below- to feature Juan Croucier on bass before Jeff Pilsen takes over. The fast ungentle pace slams the ears until the chorus peels off into its own haunting trajectory. While the crossed motifs of failed love and physical disaster hold promise, the added noises of crowd-roar build the apocalyptic theme to a frenzy which should raise more than one listener’s heart rate. It’s a frenzy to hint at greatness to come.
# 3 – “Breaking the Chains”- Breaking the Chains
You know this one, of course you do. It is the first tune to get radio airplay in the United States. While the record itself stayed below the Billboard top 100 albums charts, the hit single made it to #32 in 1983, putting Dokken’s name on American headbangers’ lips. For a hard rock song it has an oddly catchy melody, as the chorus swings from one chord to the other. You can bang your head to it, or maybe just tap your foot.
# 2 – “Kiss of Death”- Back for the Attack
Now we’re getting serious. Right from the beginning George throws out three different rhythms faster than we can adjust. The pace is mad and unceasing, no cuddly parts here. Don arches into a sustained pulsing chorus, supported by George’s galloping fretwork. The theme, of course, is the femme fatal. Who hasn’t had an occasional fascination with meeting one- or being one? If only we get out alive. The chorus shows a cool double-entendre:
With the kiss of death
The kiss of death
She promised paradise as she lied upon her bed
Like a fallen angel with the Devil’s charm
She promised paradise with the kiss of death
# 1 – “Lightning Strikes Again”- Under Lock and Key
And now we’re here. The Dokken/Lynch combo stuns and scorches. We can resist and be immolated, or just let it carry us. George flings machine-gun riffs into our aural synapses; delight or mayhem are the only possible reactions. Three-quarters into the song and George hurls out a shrilling solo, one of his best. As for Don, his raspy howls elevate to a pitch rare even for him. He sounds on the verge of cracking and fading, which would be a drawback for any other genre. But here it fits just perfectly, thank you. There is a deep bass voice, ominous but ultra-awesome at each stanza’s start to provide great counterpoint. The whole affair culminates in a fabulous fill by Mick. If you’ve come looking for metal thrills, you should be pleasantly wrung-out by the time this one’s over.
“But wait,” you exclaim, “what about ‘Into the Fire?’ What about ‘In My Dreams’, or ‘Prisoner’, or ‘Burning Like a Flame’?” (the latter being the one other tune to tie ‘Alone Again’ for number 20 in the Billboards- three years later.) “What about ‘Too High to Fly’ from Dysfunctional, which got up to 29 in 1995?”
You know what? You’re right. Dokken has many more great songs than what I’ve named here; that’s the drawback of picking only ten. Any of them are legit contenders for the Top 10 Dokken Songs list. In the end of course, the beauty of music is we get to pick our own favorites and listen to them over and over again. Myself I’ve enjoyed pulling out tunes I haven’t listened to in a long time for this review. They used to say, “Keep rockin’ with Dokken.” But I’ll say to you, “Just keep rockin’, period.” Peace!