From the land Down Under, Rose Tattoo first came together as a hard-hitting, punk-style rock group in 1976. For eleven years, they rocked the fans which featured music heavily influenced by the likes of fellow Australian musicians, AC/DC. The Rolling Stones and Billy Thorpe also served as sources of inspiration. Hits such as “Bad Boy for Love” and “Scarred for Life” are just a few songs from the group’s discography that left an impression on an audience that was heartbroken when they disbanded the first time in 1987.
The original lineup of Rose Tattoo featured Leigh Johnson, Ian Rilan, Tony Lake, Michael Vandersluys, and Peter Wells. Fans may remember Wells as the bass guitarist for the heavy metal group, Buffalo. Also in the lineup was Ian Rilan. However, before Rose Tattoo became a familiar name among Australian fans, Johnston left his role as rhythm guitarist and was replaced by Mick Cocks. Also, Lake’s lead vocalist duties were substituted by Gary “Angry” Anderson while Vandersluy’s role as a drummer was substituted by Dallas Royall.
Straight out of the starting gate as a rising star in the Australian rock music scene, Rose Tattoo’s fan base included members of AC/DC. It was because of this they were able to score a recording contract with Albert Productions. When they made their debut with “Bad Boy for Love,” it quickly put them on the map as rock heroes among their fellow countrymen.
Rose Tattoo’s self-titled debut album was released in November 1978 and quickly became a favorite, first in Australia, then in Europe and North America once they toured the nations belonging to these two continents in 1980. Going into 1981, “Rock N’ Roll Outlaw,” served as the first single from Rose Tattoo that broke into the top ten among a series of official European music charts.
Assault and Battery was Rose Tattoo’s follow-up recording that hoped to continue making a positive impression on hard rock and heavy metal fans. This was certainly the case as it became a number-one favorite in the UK heavy metal music scene. When the group played at the Reading Festival in 1981, Anderson head-butted the amp stacks enough times to draw blood. By the time they returned to their Australian homeland, Rose Tattoo’s quest to mark the fans as favorites were accomplished.
When the group returned to Australia from touring, they began to work on their third studio album, Scarred for Life. This was the album that had Robin Riley replace Cocks in the lineup before it was released in 1982. This led to a North American tour as an opening act for groups such as Aerosmith and ZZ Top. While Rose Tattoo failed to make a mainstream impression at the time, it did earn a fan base in the underground heavy metal music scene. This included winning over the band members of Guns N’ Roses who were inspired enough to cover one of the group’s tunes, “Nice Boys” in 1986.
When Rose Tattoo completed their tour, Riley, Royall, and Wells each left the lineup in 1983. This left lead vocalist Anderson and bass guitarist Gordon Leach as the only two members left before guitarists Greg Jordan and John Meyer came on board. Also joining the lineup was drummer Scott Johnston as the group recorded and released Southern Stars in 1984. After this, Leach left the band as he teamed up with former bandmates, Cocks, Rilen, Royall, and Wells as part of their lineup, Illustrated Men.
Going into 1985, Angry Anderson played a character in the hit film, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The movie starring the legendary Mel Gibson, along with rock goddess Tina Turner, became a global blockbuster. It was enough to heighten Anderson’s name as a star. After 1986’s Beats from a Single Drum was released, Rose Tattoo disbanded not long after Meyer left the group and Anderson decided to embark on a solo career.
In 1986, Beats from a Single Drum was an album released by Rose Tattoo before it broke up as a band. “Suddenly” was a ballad that was among the tracks featured on it. However, it failed to make much of an impression at the time. When Anderson went solo in 19876, this album was tweaked, then released again but as his solo album. Again, “Suddenly” somewhat remained in obscurity as a single until Kylie Minogue was inspired enough by it to convince the Australian-based soap opera, Neighbours, to play it during a romantic scene. From there, the song became a sudden hit that peaked as high as number two on the Kent Music Report Singles Chart. Ironically enough, Kylie Minogue’s “Locomotion” held its ground as the nation’s number one hit.
As a songwriter, Angry Anderson commanded a new wave of respect for the man’s talent. Fans got to see a softer side to the man, which catapulted his popularity even further. However, there was still the longing to bring Rose Tattoo together as a band, especially after he learned while in Los Angeles, California how popular they still were. In 1990, he called up his former bandmates with the hope they agreed to pick up where they left off. This was fine and dandy until Dallas Royall’s drug addiction resulted in his forced departure from the band.
Realizing he needed help, Royall sought treatment for his drug and alcohol addictions. In the process, he learned he had cancer. At approximately forty-one years old, he passed away in 1991. His death both shocked and scarred Rose Tattoo as the enthusiasm for a reunion was diminished as the band members struggled to deal with the loss.
In 1993, the surviving members of Rose Tattoo did briefly reunite while Guns N’ Roses toured Australia. The lineup at that time featured Anderson, Cocks, Leach, and Wells. It also had a new drummer at that time, Paul DeMarco. Once the tour was over, each band member went back to their own musical projects. It wouldn’t be until 1998 they would officially unite again.
The lineup witnessed Gordon Leach and Ian Rilan swap spots as bassists until the role was taken over by Steve King in 2000. Since 1998, the band has recorded and released three more studio albums, starting with 2002’s Pain, then 2007’s Blood Brothers, and 2020’s Outlaws. 2005 marked the year Cocks returned to Rose Tattoo, just in time to contribute to Blood Brothers. Unfortunately, it was at this time Rose Tattoo’s founder, Peter Wells, was losing his battle against prostate cancer. On March 27, 2006, at fifty-nine years old, he passed away.
2006 also marked the year Rose Tattoo was inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association’s Hall of Fame. This came about a few months after Wells died but was already made aware of this honor when Anderson gave him the news about it. Unfortunately, the rollercoaster ride in 2006 wasn’t finished yet as Ian Rilan became the next founding member of Rose Tattoo to pass away on October 30th. He died at the same age as Wells and also from cancer.
The next Rose Tattoo band member to pass away was Lobby Loyde. For a brief period of time from October 1979 until March 1980, he performed with Rose Tattoo as a guitarist as they recorded “Legalise Realise,” one of the songs used to push for the legalization of marijuana in Australia. Loyde’s legacy as a musician included Purple Hearts and Wild Cherries with hit music stemming as far back as the 1960s.
After Loyde’s death was another major blow to Rose Tattoo and its fans. On December 22, 2009, Mick Cocks passed away at fifty-four years old after his own battle against cancer came to its tragic end. His passing resulted in no further studio recordings of a deeply scarred Rose Tattoo until 2020’s Outlaws. By then, the band also lost former bass guitarist Neil Smith in 2013. He briefly performed with the group in 1979 as a substitute for Gordon Leach.
Slide guitarist John Meyer became the next Rose Tattoo member to pass away, perishing on September 1, 2020. This came about just after the group’s final album, Outlaws was released. From 1983 until 1985, Meyer was part of the lineup that recorded and released Southern Stars.
Today, the current roster of Rose Tattoo continues to feature Angry Anderson as lead vocalist as he carries on the band’s legacy. Drummer Paul DeMarco, who was part of the lineup from 1992 until 2016, returned in 2021. The newest editions to the band include bass guitarist Mark Evans and slide guitarist Mick Arnold.
To Rose Tattoo’s credit, there are a total of eight studio albums, two live albums, and seven compilation albums. There were also nineteen singles released between 1978 and 2006 witnessed eleven of them make appearances on the Kent Music Report Singles Chart. Now referred to as the ARIA Singles Chart, Rose Tattoo left its mark as rock gods that extend beyond their homeland to a worldwide fan base.
Top 10 Rose Tattoo Songs
#10 – Release Legalise (featuring Cole Paterson)
In 1980, “Release Legalise” was a single Rose Tattoo performed with Cole Paterson as they combined forces to speak out in favor of legalizing marijuana in Australia. This push for the nation’s government to recognize the substance for its medical benefits became part of a campaign to better understand what marijuana really is. When comparing it to prescribed narcotics, it was already proven to be a better alternative. Instead of contending with side effects that usually come from prescriptions, the relaxation that came from marijuana was brought forth in an argument that suggested it was the superior product.
#9 – I Wish
“I Wish” was a single released from the album, Southern Stars. In 1984, it peaked as high as number thirty-two on the ARIA Singles Chart. This song was Rose Tattoo’s hard-hitting response to mankind’s constant struggle to keep humanity alive in a world that’s always bent on war. Inspired by a meeting with an Irishman as someone who grew up in a violent environment that constantly threatened mankind’s right to freedom, Angry Anderson’s plea to make the pain go away was heard loud in clear here.
#8 – Nice Boys
“Nice Boys” was a frenzy-paced song from Rose Tattoo’s debut studio album that was released in 1978. Although not released as a single, this became a major fan favorite, especially for the band members belonging to Guns N’ Roses. They covered this classic on their Live ?! @ Like a Suicide EP in 1986. Some of the fans of Guns N’ Roses that weren’t already familiar with Rose Tattoo at that time quickly learned more about them as soon as they heard this tune. According to Rose Tattoo, “Nice Boys” suggested they don’t play rock and roll. Also titled “Nice Boys Don’t Play Rock and Roll,” the song was actually about a young woman whose life changed from a sweet sixteen-year-old to a woman having to make ends meet as a prostitute.
#7 – Scarred for Life
Scarred for Life was released in 1982 that quickly became a favorite in Australia, as well as a global fan base that recognized Rose Tattoo as hard rock’s favorite group of outlaws. Its title track, “Scarred for Life” may not have been released as a single but it became a major hit among fans who thoroughly enjoyed the crude brutality of an Angry Anderson delivering his powerful vocals to hammer the message home. This hard-hitting number shared the tale of a first tattoo, along with childhood memories that left scars for life that would never go away.
#6 – Born To Be Wild
Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” was covered by Rose Tattoo in 1985 as a hard-hitting number that became an Aussie favorite. This was the first single released by the group since switching labels from Albert Productions to Mushroom Records. On the ARIA Singles Chart, it peaked as high as number twenty-five. Steppenwolf’s anthemic all-American classic experienced the exact same fate in Australia when Rose Tattoo glorified the feeling of freedom every human being has a right to. As performers, Rose Tattoo often hammered home musical messages that defended the people’s right to freedoms and liberties against political systems that constantly threatened to take it all away.
This revved-up version of “Born To Be Wild” behaved like a turbo-charged number with hints of punk influence that could easily bring out the rebellious nature in all of us.
#5 – We Can’t Be Beaten
In 1982, “We Can’t Be Beaten” became a number twenty-eight hit on the ARIA Singles Chart after it was released as a single from the album Scarred for Life. If you’re looking for an anthemic-like song as part of a team about to take on the world, this track from Rose Tattoo’s album Scarred for Life would be it. It’s tenacious enough to hammer out a song only Angry Anderson could pull off with such precision.
Often, fans of AC/DC looking for music similar to their style didn’t have to go far when it came to Rose Tattoo. The similarities were often noted by music critics that either approved or disapproved. One thing was for certain, though, “We Can’t Be Beaten” demonstrated the group’s ability to perform at a world-class level with enough oomph to captivate and inspire an appreciative audience.
#4 – Calling
On the ARIA Singles Chart, “Calling” was a single that peaked at number twenty-four after it was released in 1986. Beats from a Single Drum was the final album Rose Tattoo recorded before its lead singer, Angry Anderson, moved on to pursue a solo career. The opening riff of this song sounded like a distorted alarm as it drifted into what felt like a psychedelic experience. Before you know it, “Calling” burst into a song lyrically performed by Anderson in what almost felt like a biblical experience.
“Calling” was actually a song that focused on the protection of marine life. As a recording artist, Rose Tattoo did more than simply perform to entertain an audience. It also spoke up about issues that struck a chord with them. This was part of the group’s appeal. Although “Calling” didn’t share the same heavy-hitting metal grind as most of the group’s singles, it actually demonstrated how wonderful Angry Anderson’s vocal talent really is.
#3 – Bad Boy for Love
“Bad Boy for Love” was Rose Tattoo’s debut single, which was released in 1976. It became a number nineteen hit on the ARIA Singles Chart, which was the highest rank the group earned for a single in their career. This song somewhat served as a biographical piece about each band member as a representative of what became one of Australia’s most popular rock groups. It also came as one of their signature tunes as it often played alongside “Rock N’ Roll Outlaw,” usually as part of a two-song anthem whenever Rose Tattoo performed in concert. The unmistakable slide guitar performance in this song is what continues to make “Bad Boy for Love” a major fan favorite.
The fun behind “Bad Boy for Love” was hearing the woes of a recently released convict looking for some action. As soon as he’d find it, sometimes it met with situations that would put him back in jail. Speaking as a fan, Rose Tattoo’s performance an image of George Thoroughgood’s “Bad to the Bone” mixing it up with Bad Company’s “Can’t Get Enough” and “Bad Boy for Love” became the end result.
#2 – Rock N’ Roll Outlaw
“Rock N’ Roll Outlaw” was a single that was released in 1978 and peaked at number sixty-eight on the ARIA Singles Chart. From Rose Tattoo, this was the band’s second single that would become a hit in their home nation. It was also the first single to make a global impression among European and North American fans. In 1981, it became a number two hit in France, a number five hit in Germany, and a number sixty hit in the U.K.
This was more than just a hit single for Rose Tattoo. “Rock N’ Roll Outlaw” became the band’s trademark that would carry on even today. This is the group’s signature song and Angry Anderson’s official stamp as a remarkable vocalist who did so much more than belt out a good tune.
#1 – Suddenly
Originally, “Suddenly” was a song featured on Rose Tattoo’s fourth studio album, 1986’s Beats from a Single Drum, before it disbanded as a group. In 1987, Beats from a Single Drum was released as Angry Anderson’s debut recording as a solo artist. On both occasions, the ballad started off with a piano intro before Anderson broke into one of the best lyrical performances to the man’s credit. Written by Anderson, if there was a song that would be regarded as his signature hit, “Suddenly” is it.
Not only did ‘Suddenly” become an all-time Australian favorite but it also peaked as high as number three on the Irish Singles Chart and the UK Singles Chart. In New Zealand, it peaked as high as number eleven and was a number thirty-one hit in Belgium. It also made a chart impression in the Netherlands at number sixty-nine. This song was a stark contrast to Anderson’s image as a tough guy rockin’ out heavy metal music with his bandmates since 1976. It was also a fantastic performance by a man whose vocal talent was highlighted in a song that deservedly became a major favorite among the fans.
Although “Suddenly” is better recognized as Angry Anderson’s hit as a solo artist, it’s also part of the signature song lineup belonging to Rose Tattoo. Anderson and “Suddenly” has defined Red Tattoo’s identity every bit as much as the “Outlaws” brand they started out with in the 70s.
Top 10 Rose Tattoo Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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