Engage anyone with even the least amount of knowledge of the '80s rock music scene about who the greatest bands of that particular decade were and you'll undoubtedly get a list of the usual suspects like Van Halen, the Police, Bon Jovi, U2, Ozzy Osbourne, Rush, and Guns N' Roses. While you may not get an argument by the inclusion of the aforementioned artists, there should be at least one '80s act that should never be omitted from said list. The Scorpions. With the powerful vocals of Klaus Meine, the scorching twin guitar attack of Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs, and the formidable rhythm section of drummer Herman Rarebell and bassist Francis Buchholz, this German quintet sold tens of millions of albums including Blackout (1982), Love at First Sting (1984), and World Wide Live (1985), performed before sold out audiences around the world, and helped launch the careers of up and coming acts like Bon Jovi, Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Def Leppard by giving them supporting slots on their worldwide ventures. But before they would enjoy international success, before they would have mega-hits like "No One Like You", "Still Loving You", "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and "Big City Nights", before they would secure the flashy guitar heroics of Jabs, before anyone in America knew who in the world they were, the Scorpions were slowly, but surely making a name for themselves in the European and Japanese markets throughout the '70s.
The Scorpions 1972 debut Lonesome Crow featured, in addition to Rudy Schenker and Meine, guitarist Michael Schenker, drummer Wolfgang Dziony and bassist Lothar Heimberg (Buchholz and Rarebell would join the fold in 1973 and 1977 respectively). Though the record would garner the band promising European success and land them supporting slots for Uriah Heep, Rory Gallagher, and UFO, it wouldn't be enough to keep Michael Schenker around as he would jump ship in 1973 to join UFO. The Scorpions would replace the younger Schenker with Jimi Hendrix-inspired guitarist Ulrich Jon Roth. With Roth, the band would carve out an unmistakable heavy-rock sound over the next five years on albums like Fly to the Rainbow (1974), In Trance (1975), Virgin Killer (1976) and Taken by Force (1977). After the Japanese leg of the Taken by Force tour was completed in 1978, Roth left the Scorpions to carve out his own niche in the music world and was replaced the following year by Jabs. It was out of that tour that the Tokyo Tapes were culled.
For most, the Tokyo Tapes (1978) serve as a bridge between the Scorpions' past and future, what was and what would be . . . a bridge between scattered successes and global infiltration. What is particularly classic about this record and of the music from that period is it takes the listener back to the halcyon days of rock when riffs were king. It also harkens back to a time when bands cared nothing about sounding like each other, and could have cared less about jumping on the bandwagon of someone else's sound and success.
Recorded live at Sun-Plaza Hall in Tokyo, Japan and originally released as double album set, the Tokyo Tapes have been digitally remastered and feature 17 early classics that span the bands first five albums. Signature moments include energetic rockers like "Backstage Queen", "All Night Long", "He's a Woman, She's a Man", "Dark Lady", and the classic "Speedy's Coming". Also added to the mix are moments pastoral beauty like the elegant "In Search of the Peace of Mind", which may just be the most tear-jerking composition in the Scorpions catalog. It's numbers like this and later songs like "Wind of Change" and "Still Loving You", that evidence the soulful emotion that Klaus Meine is able to conjure out of himself. For Uli Roth, his guitar playing on this set is phenomenal. Of particular interest are his chops on "We'll Burn the Sky" and his wicked guitar solo on the epic "Fly to the Rainbow". Unfortunately Roth's lead vocal portion of "Dark Lady" is atrocious and the fact that the band covered and included covers of "Hound Dog" and "Long Tall Sally" is most disappointing as well.
But the beauty of the Tokyo Tapes and the entire Scorpions pre-'80s catalog is that, for most of us that were introduced to the Scorpions via Blackout, we were afforded the opportunity to delve into the band's prolific past and unearth musical gems that we couldn't have ever imagined. As an album, the Tokyo Tapes is as brilliant and entertaining a live record as you'll ever hear. Whether you're a Scorpions fan or not, do yourself a favor and give this record your full and undivided attention.