Hanoi Rocks | Strange Box Boys (Cleopatra)

With its punk-edged, raw sound, Hanoi Rocks was in a category all its own.

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Acts like seminal ’80s glam band Hanoi Rocks are the things legends are made of. Sometimes the hype around an artist is much more than the talent forthcoming from them. However, Hanoi Rocks were the real thing. Bordering on punk, their sound was unique, and sometimes hard to capture in the studio. Now, Cleopatra Records has offered up a five-disc box set, dubbed the Strange Boys Box. Consisting of the band’s first five albums, this set has just about everything a Hanoi fan could want.

Starting with their debut album, Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks, this release contains a rawer production of some great tunes. Classic tracks like “Tragedy,” with its angelic chorus, and “Don’t Ever Leave Me” showed an inexperienced but hungry act that would grow into its niche. Originally released in 1981, it made a small splash among the record-buying public, yet would go down as one of the best albums of that year. The production was meant not to neuter the band’s sound, but to bring their rewound-polished sound to life. This was accomplished by lead vocalist Michael Monroe and guitarist Andy McCoy, who felt they were the best choice as producers.

On their sophomore effort, Oriental Beat, the group decided to bring in an outside set of ears for production belonging to Peter “Pete” Woolliscroft. Having worked with acts like Slade, Cat Stevens, Frank Zappa, Yes, and the Buzzcocks, among others, the veteran producer tried to bring the best out of the band, even if they did not always see eye to eye. With working titles like “Greatest Tits” and “Second Attempt at Suicide,” the band settled on Oriental Beat. While the songs were great, the band was ultimately disappointed with the finished product. Woolliscroft admits to having tried to polish the band’s sound, knocking off too much of the edge that made them who they were. At this time in the 1980s, bands like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet were all the rage, and Woolliscroft was into that modern sound, which he tried unsuccessfully to incorporate into Hanoi Rocks. It was widely felt that the production of the record let the band down. Yet tracks like “Teenangels Outsiders,” “Motorvatin’,” and the title track still had that semi-punk sting to them, and an attitude that only a front man like the magnetizing Monroe can provide.

When it became time for the follow-up, the band started to work on new tunes. However, their record label, Joanna, had other plans. As Christmas was approaching, the label decided to use previously released singles and a selection of rarities to piece together the album that became Self Destruction Blues. The release featured singles like “I Want You,” “Nothing New,” and “Whispers in the Dark,” as well a rare version of the title track performed acoustically. “It was basically an album of demos,” said Andy McCoy. “These were songs we had in reserve. They might have been released or maybe done again differently.”

In 1983, the band came back with a new album, Back to Mystery City, and a new drummer: Razzle. The original producer slated to do the new LP was none other than Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople, yet scheduling conflicts made this an impossibility, and Dale Griffin and Overend Watts were brought in to take on the project. It featured classic Hanoi tracks like “Until I Get You,” “Tooting Bec Wreck,” and “Mental Beat,” with its monotonous drum beat. This track took many hours to record, as the drums had to be perfect, almost robotic. While it was a definite challenge to Razzle, he eventually mastered the part. A fierce live act, the band showed certain growth on this release. With their punk-edged, raw sound, they were in a category all their own. Part Sex Pistols, part hard rock outfit, there was no one quite like them.

Before Christmas that year, the band played three consecutive nights at the Marquee Club. Reviewers and fans alike said the band members were in their best form. The set was filmed, released in video form, and titled All Those Wasted Years. Here, we find said video in LP form, and the band’s performance shines bright. Featuring 18 tracks, it includes favorites like “Back to Mystery City,” “Motorvatin’,” “Tragedy,” and a spirited version of Aerosmith’s “Train Kept a Rollin.” This is a scathing set of rock ’n’ roll. It shows a band of musicians who, while they enjoyed their alcohol and drugs, always came together to create their iconic sound.

This is one band that should have been much more successful. However, by the time they were signed to Columbia Records and released their major-label debut, Two Steps from the Move, their star had dimmed and musical tastes had changed. The album had respectable sales, yet tragedy struck Hanoi Rocks in 1985—and things would never be the same again.

Driving to a liquor store, a heavily intoxicated Mötley Crüe singer Vince Neil hit an oncoming car head on at a high rate of speed. Killed on impact was his passenger: Hanoi Rocks Razzle. The result was devastation for the band, who never seemed to rebound from this tragedy. Hanoi dissolved and Monroe embarked on a solo career, which continues today.

The originators of punk-laced glam rock, Hanoi Rocks have their own page in rock history. This box set shows the talent and fury their music accomplished. Their fan base is dedicated, and the band has been cited as influences by many a musician. For all fans of ’80s rock, this set does not disappoint. B+ | Marc Farr

About Marc Farr 244 Articles
Marc Farr is the Live Music & Assignments Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. He's so invaluable to us, we've nicknamed him Mr. Music. Reach out if you have coverage ideas! "I know it's only rock and roll...but I like it!"
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