Monday, June 13, 2022

Tape Case Study: Cinderella, "Night Songs" and "Long Cold Winter"

Cinderella, Night Songs (Mercury, 1986)
Cinderella, Long Cold Winter (Mercury, 1988)

Backing up just a handful of years, the discerning listener is able to revisit—and recognize—what was so appealing about Cinderella during the glam and hair metal boom of the '80s. Night Songs was the most glam of the Philadelphia band's recordings; proponent Jon Bon Jovi sang background vocals on "Nothin' for Nothin'" and "In from the Outside." The songs were recorded at Bearsville Studios near Woodstock—and at several Philadelphia-area studios.

Philadelphia studios included Warehouse Studios, which was founded by Bon Jovi sound engineer Obie O'Brien—and which provided many a recording for adjacent acts such as April Wine, Bon Jovi, Britny Fox, Lita Ford, and other musical groups. Tracks were also recorded at Sigma Studios, birthplace of the Philly Sound, the subject of conservation activism, and now a protected historic location. Local Kajem Studios also provided additional services.

While a solid album, Night Songs's songs sometimes tend to run together, offering little standout songwriting. So the followup, Long Cold Winter, is notable for a couple of reasons. The sophomore release resulted in at least two hit singles—"Gypsy Road" and "Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)"—and it didn't take Cinderella too long at all to stray from the straight-ahead glam trappings back home to a bluesier, rock 'n' roll-oriented vibe.

For Long Cold Winter, the band returned to Bearsville and Kajem, still maintaining a Philadelphia connection, and the progression from this record to the subsequent Heartbreak Station requires no leap of faith or imagination. The title track is about as bluesy as a glam band can be (opening a very solid, impressive second side), and Rick Criniti's B3 offers a sumptuous counterpoint to Tom Keifer's strong blues guitar solos and Robert Plant-like vocals.

Was this a case of hair metal bait and switch? Compare the two records' album covers. Night Songs features the band in high glam fashion, posing in front of illuminated smoke. Long Cold Winter doesn't even feature the band on its cover at all. It's just plain, blank white—winter, get it? The band photos, while clearly those of a hair metal band, are definitely more blues- or country-oriented than glam. And the music is there to back it up. Cinderella might have been made to order—even dropping two original band members to sign with a major—but the band had chops to spare. (Do check out side two of Long Cold Winter; every single song in the sequence is solid. "Fire and Ice" might as well be a latter-day Dokken song.)

Sometimes, bands can't survive the step from record to record with such a strong sound or image change. It's a credit to Keifer, Eric Brittingham, and others that they put out several more records before the advent of grunge. Cinderella hit the big leagues because of the glam metal boom, but the band had more going on from song one, leaving behind several excellent blues metal records.

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