In these days of streaming music services, YouTube, downloads and smart phones we probably have a billion songs we could listen to at any given moment. Add to that the fact that practically anyone can cheaply record and release their own music and we’re guaranteed that there is no shortage of music around!
Back in 1989, I was 8 years old and obviously none of that stuff existed yet. There was just radio and record stores – and being 8 I had no money so couldn’t really buy anything anyway. So there was a time when my music collection basically consisted of a couple of cassette tapes.
This meant that you would spend a lot of time with one album. I’d get to the end of the tape, and since there wasn't another billion songs to choose from, I’d play it again, then again…and again. I’d also read the liner notes from front to back and then from back to front. I think I could not listen to this album for 20 years and then still be able to air-drum every fill and sing every word. I’ve listened to a LOT of music in the years since, but I doubt I’ve come close to listening to any other album as much as this one. For a time, these 13 songs were probably half my entire music universe.
Bad English 101
For those thinking, "Who the heck are Bad English?", here's the short version. Three of these guys played together in a band called The Babys in the 70s. After they broke up in the early 80s keyboardist Jonathan Cain joined Journey and almost immediately co-wrote Don’t Stop Believin’, Stone In Love, Open Arms and other hits. Singer John Waite started a solo career and had big hit of his own in 1984 with Missing You.
Fast-forward to 1988 and Journey is on indefinite hiatus and John Waite feels like he wants to be in a band again. The three ex-Babys reunite, Jonathan Cain brings Neal Schon along from Journey, they added drummer Deen Castronovo and Bad English is born. A kind of 80s 'supergroup'.
These guys are best known for their No. 1, Diane Warren penned hit, “When I See You Smile” – otherwise known as the first single I ever bought. Anyone else remember “cassingles”? (Note: I just had to tell my computer that yes; ‘cassingles’ is indeed a legitimate word).
Their second album (although one I rate highly) disappeared with little fanfare. Musical differences and a changing musical landscape led to them going their separate ways. At the end of the day these guys lasted 2 albums and about 3 years.. John Waite went back to his solo career and put out a couple of amazing albums in the 90s, Temple Bar and When You Were Mine. Jonathan, and Neal went back to Journey and Deen eventually joined them. They are 3/5 of the current Journey lineup, while Ricky Philips is currently playing bass with Styx.
Bad English are probably not remembered as being very ‘cool’ and perhaps as a one hit wonder, but I love this album I have great memories entwined with every moment of music here. I remember the cassette player I had. I remember getting a VHS of the music videos for my birthday and trying to learn a couple of the songs. I remember watching music videos every Saturday morning and recording interviews and countdowns off the radio. My first ever “favourite band”.
Track By Track
I’m going to celebrate this anniversary by going through and looking at each track. I’ll just start writing and see what happens!
Best Of What I Got
What a great way to open an album. It’s got a great big, bombastic bluesy intro and lots of great Neal Schon moments. There’s no shortage of 80s synth on display here and it has a great vocal. The rhythm section starts off with a bang and remains bulletproof for the remainder of the record. When asked about what the finest album of his career was, Ricky Philips told Rock United “I would have to say the first Bad English record as an overall collective band performance. Deen and I are locked track for track and everybody else is super”.
Also, any song that plays during the closing credits of Tango & Cash has got to be good, right?
Heaven Is A 4 Letter Word
So, what exactly is the 4-letter word? Beats me. If When I See You Smile was the first single I ever bought, this was my second. It was also the first time I’d bought something that I’d never heard before. I got it simply based on how much I loved the other single. Going to a record store was like going to Disneyland for me, I can still picture the layout of the old local record stores and exactly which shelf I picked this one up from.
I like the riff and guitar solo and it’s got a pretty good sing-along chorus – the highlight for me is the solo into the breakdown. It's a pretty good song. This would have been a good live track.
The first of the ballads and what a killer song. These guys certainly knew their way around a ballad. Great song, melodies, chorus, arrangement, guitar solo and vocal. They put it all together here. Love the drum fill coming out of the breakdown into the chorus. Just great stuff. I can clearly remember a few comments from John Waite appearing before they played this track on American Top 40 with Shadoe Stevens that I taped on cassette.
Forget Me Not
When I was 8 or 9, the intro to this song was the coolest thing I’d ever heard on a bass. It’s not that complex really, but I still think it sounds pretty badass.
Since I’m being honest here, I can reveal that there was a time I really wanted a suit just like the one Ricky Philips was wearing in this video. Yep…that happened. Don’t think it would have suited my 9-year-old self, but whatever!
It’s a very cool song, a little darker and heavier and rocking here. I’d say it’s an album highlight for sure. In a liketotally80s interview John Waite revealed this about the track, “Forget Me Not was based on the Anne Rice books, the vampire trilogies, and it was written about that, but a lot of people weren’t hip to that at that point.” He’s got me there. I certainly wasn’t hip to that point I have to say.
This song was co-written with Mark Spiro, I can remember being about 16 and skipping class with a buddy of mine at one point and going to a record store where I stumbled across a Mark Spiro CD for 99 cents. Recognizing his name from the Bad English records I promptly picked it up and have been happily enjoying that album ever since. 99c well spent! Ah…memory lane.
When I See You Smile
Five songs in and we hit the big, hit single and the song you’re most likely to remember. It’s just a good song. These guys can play…and they play what the song calls for. Everyone lays down the perfect part to support the star of the show here, which is John Waite’s vocal. In case you haven’t realized yet, I love his voice! I think he has suchgreat phrasing and a sincerity that elevates a song like this above some other 80s power ballads. I could happily listen to him sing a pizza menu.To add another layer of personal engagement and memories here -my wife and I danced to this song the day we were married!
This is one of two songs here the band didn’t write. When I was a kid seemingly every third song in existence had Diane Warren’s name in the credits. She might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but she does what she does very well. I’m struggling to think of too many more commercially successful songwriters over the past three decades. Good job Diane!
Tough Times Don’t Last
Getting back into rock mode here. Love the intro, it actually reminds me a little of Van Halen’s Right Now, even though it pre-dates it by a couple of years. The band is rocking; the chorus and melodies are great and it has a nice, big guitar solo. This is a quality track. Highlights include the aforementioned intro, the awesome little bass slide going into the first verse and all of John Waite’s ad-libs at the end.
Ghost In Your Heart
After Tough Times Don’t Last, I’d turn over the cassette and this song would be halfway through. I had to rewind to get to the beginning of this song. Who else remembers these kinds of life problems?
It has an eerie sounding intro and I always liked those reverb-filled drum overdubs throughout the track. Good song.
Price Of Love
Well, if you’re thinking that Bad English were a one hit wonder, then you’d technically be wrong because this track managed to reach No. 5. Another ballad – as most hit songs seemed to be back then, this time one they wrote themselves.
I love this song too, but there’s something about it that just doesn’t seem as shiny or polished as When I See You Smile is. I remember the video very clearly, and I’m sure if my life depended on it I could probably still re-enact most of it…that’s how much time I spent glued to this stuff!
Ready When You Are
Okay, this was the one song I was never crazy about, and if pressed, I’d probably still rank it last. It’s not necessarily a bad song, but doesn’t have any overly special that compels me to come back to it. It’s some 80s party rock.
I should mention that I always listened to the drum intro though. At the time I thought that was about the most awesome drumming ever.
This was the Heaven Is a 4 Letter Word B-side and has yet another cool intro. This, and Ready When You Are were always my least favourites, but I preferred this of the two. It’s got a great solo and is another one that I would imagine would have been even better live.
The Restless Ones
If you were starting to think this record had all all my favourite songs loaded at the front and was now fading away, fear not; they pull it back together for these last three tracks.
This is a GREAT track. The 'hidden gem' if you will. One of my favourites here for sure. Another example of everyone doing what they do best and playing exactly what fits the song. JW’s vocals in the last minute or so are simply killer. I love the last line: “You’re the restless one/And that’s all we’ll ever be” which is sung along with yet another perfect drum fill. It just caps of an awesome track from start to finish.
In case anyone needed any more proof that these guys can PLAY, here it is. Probably the best riff on the album. It’s another track that would have been awesome live – and indeed sounds great on the bootlegs I’ve heard. Great riff, bass line and vocal – they’re firing on all cylinders here.
My favourite drum fill of the album is the one at the beginning of this song. It’s nothing really technical or ellaborate…just pure awesomeness.
Don’t Walk Away
This is the other song that was written by outside writers and it’s just a beautiful song. Deen sets it up with a great groove, the keys lay down a lovely landscape that just fits perfectly and it’s good to hear Neal play some non-overdriven electric guitar for a change here. It all sounds great, but it’s the vocal that really makes this song. JW nails this vocal. I do wish it went a little longer before the fadeout. I feel like I don’t get enough of that cool background vocal part that comes in at the end, not to mention it sounds like Neal was playing some really great stuff here. Wouldn’t it be a great, nerdy experience to get your hands on the multitrack tapes of something like this and listen to things like that?
On the other hand, perhaps the mystery is what helps make it so interesting.
Rob Smith wrote a wonderful column in PopDose a few years ago where he quite lovingly breaks down the seemingly nonsensical lyrics to this song. It’s well worth a read if you have time.
I’m not the biggest lyric guy in the world, but I’ll admit that even I had pondered how “There’s nothing in tomorrow that wasn’t there in yesterday” could actually make any sense. But I also realized very early on in my life that a lyric and vocal could be completely and wholly beautiful and captivating without making an ounce of literal sense to me.
There you have it. I honestly can’t think of a musical fantasy of greater interest to me than if the recording of a new Bad English album were announced. It would like discovering a ‘lost’ Beatle recording for some people. It will never actually happen though. John Waite has made it clear again and again that he has no interest in it. Most recently having this to say on the subject he told Metal Sludge, “I think it’s garbage. I mean, I hate to say it, but I listen to Journey and think, ‘Jesus Christ, that is just wrong.’ That’s why there will never be a Bad English reunion, It’s for super white people listening to super white music. Fuck that. I’d rather shoot myself." So, how about Jonathan Cain? Surely he'd be more open to the idea. "No way. That is not going to happen ever." Well there you have it, between "That is not going to happen ever." and "I'd rather shoot myself", there's very little reason for hope.
Not to mention there’s hardly any great groundswell of interest in getting these guys back together. I once thought that if I ever became obscenely rich and could afford completely ridiculous, eccentric purchases that I would pay these guys whatever they want and fund a new album, tour and live DVD.
There’s been a bootleg going around for years labeled as Bad English: The Lost Tapes. I don’t know if it’s ever been confirmed as to how much, if any, of this is actually Bad English and how much of it is John Waite solo demos. It sure sounds like Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain on a few of them at least.
Regardless of who the band is, there’s one song on that bootleg called “Pretty Lies” that has to be one of the best never-properly-recorded/non-released songs ever. Look it up – it’s killer.
John Waite, if you ever read this…PLEASE re-record this song. Put it on a solo album, release it as a single…or you could even just sing it to me over the phone. Any of these will do.
When you stop and think about it like this you realize there’s so much more to music than just the notes and songs. I want to share this album with you, yet I know if you listen to it you will hear the music but will never really feel what I feel when I hear it. That doesn’t stop us music fans trying though, does it?
I love this album. It marks the beginning of building knowledge of music , the beginning of my music collection and even the beginning of my marriage! This record is like a little time machine back to a time when I knew nothing whatsoever about music except that I loved it. Somewhere in amongst these tunes I hear the sound of a kid knows exactly what he wants to do with the rest of his life.
Happy 25th anniversary Bad English.
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