Monday, June 13, 2022

Tape Case Study: Cinderella, "Heartbreak Station" and "Still Climbing"

Cinderella, Heartbreak Station (Mercury, 1990)
Cinderella, Still Climbing (Mercury, 1994)

I've never given Cinderella much time, attention, or thought, primarily considering them an also-ran among the hair metal bands of the 1980s. Until this morning, I'd have been hard pressed to name more than one of their songs—"Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)"—and if you consider their top 10 songs, I could have named one, maybe two with a stretch. But listening to these two records—on cassette, taken from a box underneath my desk—last night and this morning, there's slightly more going on than I expected.

First of all, the band's place of origin is exceptional: suburban Philadelphia. Even Still Climbing, the band's fourth and final record, was recorded between Kajem West in Gladwyne, Pa., and Devonshire Studios in Los Angeles. Kajem West was once located on the site of a munitions factory and mill, and Devonshire's former location at 10733 Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood, California, is now home to Salami Studios, which offers audio/video post-production. The band also reportedly practiced in the attic of an American Legion building in Wayne, Pa. (Perhaps Post 668?)

The one-time cover band, which started in the early '80s, quickly graduated from local and regional shows—Cinderella performed at the Empire Rock Club in Philadelphia and was the house band at the Galaxy in New Jersey—to going on tour with Ratt, Bon Jovi, and David Lee Roth. (Two of the original members went on to form Britny Fox.) Cinderella was inducted into the Philadelphia Music Alliance's Walk of Fame in 2015.

I was also struck by the band's music—and the power of presumption. These two records, at least, did not at all meet my expectations of ballad-heavy hair metal, which is how I've always associated the band. Instead, Heartbreak Station is periodically country-tinged, and Still Climbing is even more straight-forward in its blues-rock stylings. And there are horns! They're more subtle on Still Climbing and more forward on Heartbreak Station, which also included some strings work. (There's also some rollicking piano on the latter album, as well.) Based on these two albums alone, I'd compare Cinderella more to AC/DC, Guns n' Roses, and the Rolling Stones than the bands I'd previously considered their peers: Great White, Tesla, and who knows what else. A Bon Jovi comparison is also valid, especially given Jon Bon Jovi's hand in the band's initial discovery and emergence. 

Definitely worth a listen. Experiencing a rapid rise and fall over the course of about a decade, the band was in the right place and time to benefit from the opportunity offered by the glam and hair metal boom—and fell prey to the emergence of a subsequent sound or genre: grunge. It also participated in an East Coast musical ecosystem, benefiting from the proximity of Bon Jovi—and contributing to the evolution of Britny Fox and other local bands. A real Cinderella story, for sure.

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