Guilty pleasures: Poison – Open Up and Say … Aah! (1988)

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by Fred Phillips

In the circle of music fans that I normally find myself in, mentioning Poison is usually not a good idea. Bands with poof hair and makeup — unless, of course, it’s corpse paint — will usually get you laughed out of the conversation. If you manage to get past the ridicule, those folks will tell you that Poison is the poster band for everything that was wrong with hard rock in the late 1980s.

They’re right, of course.

Poison was, almost entirely, about image. Here’s a group of guys who did their dead-level best to look like women, and blew up more stuff on stage than Kiss in their prime. They did show some flashes of actual musical ability on the Southern rock-tinged Native Tongue, released in 1993 and featuring guitarist Richie Kotzen; but in their original incarnation, music was way down the list of priorities. By their own admission, they were horrible musicians and were never in it for the respect of their peers or critics. It was all about the girls, the glamour and the constant party. They certainly got what they were after.

So, why, then, on a generally respectable music site, am I talking about Poison? Though I may be drummed out of the metal corps for it, I have to admit I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the band, particularly their sophomore effort Open Up and Say … Aah!

There’s no world in which this record would be considered important in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, but it holds a lot of memories for me. Every time I hear something from it, I’m taken back to the first time I heard it, cruising a back road in Morehouse Parish, La., in my aunt’s Mustang. The radio was loud, and the windows were probably down, and after a couple of listens we were singing along. It was a good time. Those are the kind of moments that are, for the most part, gone in my life — and while this record may not be important to most of the music world, it’s important to me for that reason.

Putting aside the band’s biggest hit, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” which was mostly responsible for the glut of awful G-C-D-chord ballads in the era, Open Up and Say … Aah! can be fun if you turn off your brain and just bob your head along. It opens with three-chord rocker (couldn’t that describe most of the record?) “Love on the Rocks,” which has aspirations to blues rock but never quite makes it. It is loaded with hooks, though. Then comes the song that sums up their philosophy on life and music, “Nothin’ but a Good Time.” Most rock fans won’t admit it, but at some point or another, they’ve probably sang along to this one.

Listening to the record at age 38 with a lot of musical experience under my belt offers, obviously, a much different perspective than hearing it flying down a country road straightaway at 15, and there are some songs here that, looking back, I’m not sure why I ever liked. But even in my current state of jaded crankiness, I can still have fun cranking up party tunes like “Look But You Can’t Touch” and their over-the-top cover of Loggins and Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance.” And since I’ve already opened myself to ridicule, I’ll go ahead and admit that, even today, I think “Fallen Angel” is a pretty good little rock tune. It’s ever-so-slightly more subtle and subdued than their usual fare, but still catchy.

On a funny side note, there was a bit of a controversy about the cover of this record, which featured a woman in some kind of demon/tiger makeup with a Gene Simmons-style tongue sticking out. Shortly after its release, the record company blacked out the top and bottom of the cover, leaving only her eyes visible. It was finally restored on a 2006 reissue, but as a teenager, I was quite proud to own the original version when most people I knew had the censored one. Ah … the things that make you happy at 15.

Open Up and Say … Aah! is not, and will never be, considered a timeless classic of rock ‘n’ roll. Most people hearing the record for the first time in 2011 likely wouldn’t get it. But for me, and plenty of other children of the 1980s, it’s a window back to a better time. Listening to it, I can almost feel the wind in my hair (also gone now) and smell the mixture of earthiness and chemicals from the cotton fields along that road. I can, for a few minutes at least, recapture the spirit of that 15-year-old who thought the world would be his one day, fully believed he’d grow up to be a rock star and didn’t have a single care about bills, layoffs or the price of gas. That feeling of hope and a world full of possibilities is something that I don’t have nearly enough of these days.

For that reason, at least for the few minutes it’s playing, this record is a classic for me.

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Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips is a veteran entertainment writer with a love of hard rock and heavy metal. He has written music reviews, columns and feature stories for several newspapers, Web sites and a national wire service, while running a stand-alone site called Hall of the Mountain King in various places and incarnations since 1997. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelse
Fred Phillips
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