When Danish musician, Mike Tramp moved to New York in 1983, he met this guitar whiz by the name of Vito Bratta and a little band was formed by the name of White Lion (I am sure I over simplified things). A bass player and drummer were added, a record label was signed and the debut album was ready. The debut, ‘Fight to Survive’, was finished and the record company hated it and refused to release it. Oh yeah, they dropped the band as well. The album eventually was released and then the bass player and drummer were added, labels went bankrupt and it all started all over again. Not the most auspicious start.
The band’s classic line-up was set with Mike, Vito, James LoMenzo (bass) and Greg D’Angelo (drums). A record deal was in place with Atlantic and in 1987, the band released ‘Pride’ and success was finally had…at least for a few years. One thing the makes the band a little different than other bands of the era is that every album has at least one (usually more) song that is political in nature or at least some social commentary to it. Where this worked on some albums, it totally didn’t work on others. As a kid, I could care less about political or socially conscious songs, give me Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll.
I was a fan of White LIon’s in the late 80’s and early 90’s so I thought I would rank their albums as I have some familiarity with all their stuff and felt I could judge them properly. With only 5 studio releases, this one isn’t as long as some of the others I have done which is a nice change of pace for me.
Sit back and see how the albums are ranked and maybe it will spark an interest to go listen to some White Lion.
WORST – RETURN OF THE PRIDE (2008):
This is the band’s first studio album since 1991’s ‘Mane Attraction’ and the first with an entirely new line-up except for lead singer, Mike Tramp. At the time, I didn’t care that Mike was the only returning member. I liked Mike Tramp. But when I played it, this wasn’t White Lion. Yes, it sounded like them, but it wasn’t. There were many things wrong, the biggest being no Vito. The second, Mike’s vocals weren’t really that great (not that they were ever the best, but I enjoyed him before, not now). And lastly, the songs weren’t there.
Lyrically, the songs were rather pedestrian. Plain, simple and not much better than what I could do I thought. Take “Battle of Little Big Horn” as an example. It sounded like a high school kid trying to tell the story for their history class. I felt it was awful and might get a C or D on the paper for lack of creativity. I know, I am being harsh, but the album was pretty bad. There is not one song I still listen to today…not one.
#4 – FIGHT TO SURVIVE (1985):
This is the album their first record company, Elektra, would not release and I can see why. It isn’t that great. However, it isn’t as bad as ‘Return of the Pride’. There is some promise on this one. The opening track and single, “Broken Heart” is really good and the band actually redid the song for the ‘Mane Attraction’ album six years later.
Like I said, the album has promise. I like songs like “All Burn in Hell” and “Kid of 1000 Faces” as well as several others. But they had their misses like the political song “El Salvador” and “The Road to Valhalla”. There were some great guitar parts, but lyrically and vocally missed the mark for me. This is one for the true fan (same with Return of the Pride). This is not something for the casual fan. Stick to the classic 3 albums that are about to follow.
#3 – BIG GAME (1989):
After the success of ‘Pride’, the band came back and hopes to capture some of that magic. Although they were successful on some levels, they missed on so many more. The band scored big with the song “When the Children Cry” a commentary on children’s suffering around the world so they tried to continue that on this album with songs such as “Little Fighter” (Greenpeace boat) and “Cry For Freedom” (about freedom I guess???). I think “Cry for Freedom” was better and “Little Fighter” just annoyed the shit out of me.
The album wasn’t all bad. It had some really great rock & roll songs such as “Let’s Get Crazy”, “If My Mind Is Evil” and Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” cover. These three songs saved the album for me as well as “Don’t Say It’s Over” and “Goin’ Home Tonight”. When the band just rocked out, they were on fire. When they got political, they lost me. And I think the cover was getting a little political as well, what do you think.
#2 – MANE ATTRACTION (1991):
By 1991, The Hair Band scene was dying down thanks to Nirvana and Grunge. This album was basically ignored by most and that is a crying shame. This album was stellar and the band sounded fresh and had a darker edge to it. The opening track “Lights and Thunder” set the tone for the rest of the album. I couldn’t get enough of “Leave Me Alone” and “Out With the Boys”. The band also had their first instrumental “Blue Monday” which pays tribute to the passing of the great Stevie Ray Vaughn. It is bluesy and Vito kills it.
The album was ballad heavy as well, but actually in a good way. I really liked “Love Don’t Come Easy” and “It’s Over”. This album also had the remake of “Broken Heart” which was actually better than the original and had some meat to it. Now, the album also has some faults including the political song “Warsong”. Didn’t like it. If I want political, I will listen to Rage Against the Machine.
This album was the last one with the classic line up and I don’t think we will ever see the band get back together and I am okay with that. It was a great album to go out on and it should have stayed that way.
#1 – PRIDE (1987):
Is there any surprise this is the #1. Probably not. When this album came out, I thought it was their debut as I had never heard of them or “Fight to Survive”. The song “Wait” was so awesome. Mike Tramp and Vito Bratta did all the song writing and their connection together was at their strongest on this album. They put together a stand-out album in a year full of stand out albums from Def Leppard, Guns ‘N Roses and Whitesnake. The album produced four singles which strangely enough all come from Side Two. How many albums do you know where none of the hits were not on Side One?
I talked about how much I hated all the band’s songs that were political or some social commentary, well that is not the case with “When The Children Cry”. It was such a heartfelt, fantastic song that really connected with me and a few million other people as well. If they did them like this, all would be right with the world. However, “All Join OUr Hands” is where they get it wrong on these feel good, peace is good songs. All the songs weren’t perfect, but this is as close as they ever got to perfect on an album and definitely worth having in the collection if you like 80’s rock at all. Give it a spin.
And there you have it, the White Lion albums in order of how I rank them from the worst to the best. Let me know what you think. Where did we differ and where did we agree. What is fun about these list is how differently each album impacts people. What I like, you might not, but we like the same band and that is all that matters really.