Rock of Ages is an ode to the '80s — but do the songs stand the test of time? 

Talk Nostalgia to Me

click to enlarge Break out the aqua net, ladies and gents

Jonathan Boncek

Break out the aqua net, ladies and gents

The story of the hit musical Rock of Ages is simple enough: It's the tail end of the 1980s in Hollywood. Hairspray, spandex, and booze are plentiful, and the rocker-in-residence at one of the Sunset Strip's biggest nightclubs is a poodle-haired, swagger-filled singer named Stacee Jaxx. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the rock 'n' roll food chain, aspiring rock-star and janitor Drew and small-town girl Sherri, fresh off the bus from Kansas, pine for stardom.

The real draw to this tale is the music: Over 30 of the most memorable rock songs the '80s had to offer. So we figured with Rock of Ages coming to the Woolfe Street Playhouse May 6, we'd break down the songs the cast will be performing. We'll be using four categories: Never Again (you'd rather puncture your eardrums), Guilty Pleasure (the kind of song you blast in the car with the windows up), Totally '80s (perfect for a theme night), or Rock Solid (stands the test of time).

"Just Like Paradise," David Lee Roth
Diamond Dave had some solo classics, to be sure, but this last-gasp hit single from 1988 is chock full of cheesy synths and too-polished production.
Rating: Totally '80s.

"Nothin' But a Good Time," "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," Poison
As much as you might like them to, Poison's string of hair-metal classics won't go away. Are they great songs? Probably not, but they're catchy as hell, even if you're probably more comfortable rocking them alone.
Rating: Guilty Pleasure.

"Sister Christian," Night Ranger
It's easy enough to dismiss "Sister Christian" as a lightweight '80s ballad, at least until that arm-waving, Bic-flicking refrain kicks in.
Rating: Rock Solid.

"Too Much Time on My Hands," "Renegade" Styx
Styx's first big hit of the MTV era, "Too Much Time On My Hands" isn't one of their better moments. The burbling synth-bass that kicks the song off reeks. Meanwhile, their rebel-without-a-cause rocker "Renegade" is about as outlaw as Roy Rogers.
Rating: Never Again.

"We Built This City," Starship
Just about the defining moment of mid-'80s corporate computerized rock, and the completion of the downfall of Jefferson Airplane, one of the most adventurous bands of the 1960s.
Rating: Never Again.

"I Wanna Rock," "We're Not Gonna Take It," Twisted Sister
These two songs are basic, elemental, not exactly Dylan-esque in the lyrics department, but perhaps that straight-ahead balls-to-the-wall approach is why they have lasted.
Rating: Rock Solid.

"More Than Words," Extreme
It's from 1990, but technicalities don't count in rock, right? This spare acoustic ballad is a pretty sturdy song, but it would be harder to think of a song that got played more often during (and long after) its era.
Rating: Never Again.

"To Be With You," Mr. Big
Ditto.
Rating: Never Again.

"Heaven," Warrant
It was a requirement of any hair metal band worth its eye-shadow that they put out a power ballad, and Warrant was all too happy to comply. It's got a little more of a rock feel than the other slow numbers on this list, but that doesn't keep it from sounding like it was frozen in 1989.
Rating: Totally '80s.

"Waiting for a Girl Like You," & "I Want to Know What Love Is," Foreigner
The quintessential Dad-rockers' first attempt at a sweeping, melancholy ballad is about as '80s as one can get, what with the descending waves of arctic keyboards, but on their second try, they brought in a gospel choir, a near-ecstatic chorus and a performance by singer Lou Gramm that's one for the, ahem, ages.
Rating: "Waiting for a Girl Like You," Totally '80s. "I Want to Know What Love Is," Rock Solid.

"Wanted Dead Or Alive," Bon Jovi
It's about as heavy as a pillow fort, but that foreboding acoustic guitar intro takes you right back to 1986 as you're headed down the highway.
Rating: Guilty Pleasure.

"Cum on Feel the Noize," Quiet Riot
It has to stick in Quiet Riot's craw a bit that their biggest hit was A) a cover and B) a song they deliberately played terribly in order not to have to include it on their album in the first place. This baby reeks of 1983.
Rating: Totally '80s.

"Harden My Heart," Quarterflash
A moody ballad that sounded great on the jam box, but doesn't really come up a lot in conversation these days.
Rating: Totally '80s.

"Shadows of the Night," & "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," Pat Benatar
With her operatic vocal range capable of a world of melodrama, Benatar was always better at wide-screen ballads like "Shadows of the Night." "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," on the other hand, suffers from overly antiseptic production.
Rating: "Shadows of the Night," Rock Solid, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," Never Again.

"Here I Go Again," Whitesnake
Layers of keyboards plus massive riffs plus David Coverdale's vaguely snobby pout equals a secret gem.
Rating: Guilty Pleasure.

"The Final Countdown," Europe
That braying, obnoxious keyboard riff was annoying as hell back when the song was a hit, but it's much less so now.
Rating: Never Again.

"High Enough," Damn Yankees
A power-ballad by a couple of pros from Styx (Tommy Shaw) and Night Ranger (Jack Blades), with a rocker ringer thrown in (Ted Nugent), it still manages to be fairly affecting, even if you can't hit the notes on the chorus.
Rating: Guilty Pleasure.

"I Hate Myself for Loving You," Joan Jett & Blackhearts
One of the few times Joan's production rocked as hard as she did, this song still sounds great today.
Rating: Rock Solid.

"Heat of the Moment," Asia
Ah, the romance of lyrics like, "And incidents arose from circumstance." This single eternally finds itself in '82.
Ranking: Totally '80s.

"Can't Fight This Feeling," & "Keep on Lovin' You," REO Speedwagon
REO was surprisingly adept at slow-building a song into serious melodrama territory, and the mid-tempo rocker "Keep on Lovin' You," has some intense moments. But the throat –lumper ballad "Can't Fight This Feeling" is sappier than Air Supply.
Rating: "Keep on Lovin' You," Rock Solid., "Can't Fight This Feeling," Guilty Pleasure.

"Oh Sherrie," Steve Perry
Whatever you think of his more sappy moments, Journey's Steve Perry had the pipes to get the job done, and it's hard to dislike a chorus with "Oh Sherrie's" anthemic lift.
Rating: Rock Solid.

"The Search is Over," Survivor
Meant to be intense, but mostly just intensely cheesy, this is middle-school slow-dance fodder to be sure, but it does have a certain go-for-broke charm.
Rating: Totally '80s.

"Any Way You Want It," & "Don't Stop Believin'" Journey
"Any Way You Want It" is a '70s butt-rock clomper that is macho sexism at its cheesiest, but how does one rate "Don't Stop Believin'"? There is no one on the fence about this song: You either shriek with joy when that piano riff starts, or you want to die, right then and there. It's a tough call.
Rating: "Any Way You Want It," Never Again. "Don't Stop Believin'," Rock Solid/Never Again.


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