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Articles Home » 1981 Articles » Iris, Donnie (And The Cruisers) - 1981 King Cool
Iris, Donnie (And The Cruisers) - 1981 King Cool

ARTIST: Iris, Donnie (And The Cruisers)
ALBUM: King Cool
YEAR: 1981
CD REISSUE: 1993, Razor & Tie, RE 2016 * 2008, American Beat, 24672 (2 on 1 with 'Back On The Streets')


LINEUP: Mark Avsec - piano, organ, synthesizers, glockenspiel, backing vocals * Marty Lee - guitars, background vocals * Albritton McClain - bass, background vocals * Kevin Valentine - drums, percussion * Donnie Iris - lead and background vocals

TRACK LISTING: 01 Sweet Merilee * 02 The Promise * 03 Pretender * 04 Love Is Like A Rock * 05 That's The Way Love Ought To Be * 06 My Girl * 07 Broken Promises * 08 King Cool * 09 Colour Me Blue * 10 The Last To Know


What possessed you to follow the particular genre of AOR to achieve musical utopia? Was it a one off tune or maybe your ears being prised open by a magazine article or an album? I know from experience that a couple of the following have been the shining light to this end, take for instance that ground breaking Music For Nations compilation 'Striktly for Konnoisseurs', or be it the Kerrang series of 'The Bands That Time Forget', or even the 'Encyclopaedia of Hard Rock'. Well my 'God' moment was an issue of Kerrang's Mega Metal magazine that in one issue concentrated on all that was pink and fluffy. Strange I mention this at a time that a special issue of Classic Rock covering AOR is pending, I wonder if they will charge the exuberant price like they have with the Prog specials and will I discover anything new? Back to the point, this Kerrang special included a top 10 of all time AOR albums, which included the likes of Charlie -'Good Morning America', Michael Stanley Band - 'You Can't Fight Fashion', but also 'Fortune 410' by Donnie Iris. So while I searched frantically for a copy of this album, I did managed during my travels to find this 'King Cool' release, Ok, I'll settle for second best, well that's what I thought, but over the years, I firmly believe that this 1981 release totally outplays the supposedly star player that was released in 1983. What a cast of characters.. Lee, McClain, Valentine and the songwriter genius of Mark Avsec. While Donnie Iris looked like the geeky student, this album is handsome and rather an Adonis in terms of melodies and songs. By my reckoning during the 80's, The Cruisers released 5 albums in a period of 6 years, pretty good going, I'm sure you would agree. Well with Iris buoyed by the single success of' Ah Leah', the search was on to build on this chart invasion and quick..

The Songs
There are just so many sweet harmonies to be found on this album and the first one can be heard on 'Sweet Merilee', a particular slow burner, with a touch latter-day Pablo Cruise, a song to be played late in the evening, it provides a moonlight ripple looking out onto a lake. Comfortable, relaxed AOR, a clear indication of the other delights to be found on this album.

'The Promise', being the sole contribution from guitarist Marty Lee, begins with a Michael Stanley Band (a second mention of these masters) influence and matures into another AOR heavyweight being the classic band, Breathless, of course a previous home for Avsec and Valentine.

Although the first real highlight is 'Pretender', providing a perfect AOR sermon, preached from unearthly heights to deliver plentiful sweet delights. Take a moment to listen to the fade out, that guitar seems similar to Don Henley's' Boys Of Summer' from 1984.

Great songs soon become the protocol with this album, while the title of the next song may contain a number of grammatical errors, the 'That's The Way Love Ought To Be' is the perfect education on how to write great works. Lots of fiddly keyboards, rhythms and 'hey heys', built into a stunning chorus. I would vouch that this could well be the best chorus ever written by Iris and Avsec, the vocal interplay is just sublime, making far less talented somewhat green with envy. The ending just gets better, while Iris screams, it's like they have got the whole of Earth Wind and Fire and even The Emotions piling into the studio to help out.

The single choice would also grace many a concert being 'Love Is Like A Rock', this became a signature tune, while a success, to me song wise it was never that high on my chart, although it again managed to puncture the Top 40. Maybe it's just too obvious, too standard, sure catchy as hell, but so too is chlamydia! It didn't get unnoticed this side of the Atlantic, because a version was to be found on the 1987 release by Slade of 'You Boyz Make Big Noize' a fitting tribute by a band who never had any problems writing a hit song themselves.

Let it be known I don't always view this album with rose tinted glasses, and it does have moments which I find difficult to enjoy. Take these 2 songs, 'My Girl' and 'Color Me Blue', both have a 50's feel and probably could had appeared on any of the 'Back To The Future' films, especially with its Huey Lewis feel. Maybe Donnie took his Buddy Holly fixation a bit too far.

Mention the skill of Avsec (other than being the writer of 'She Don't Know Me', he became a successful lawyer, out of the need to defend his royalties from 'Ah Leah!'), he fills a Bon Jovi keyboard opening to 'Broken Promises'. Here, we find the track that dispenses with the most energy and it cantles through quite delightfully. Again stunning backing vocals, intelligent, the amount of thought that has gone into the sub chorus right down to the drum solo is amazing. We even find the Cruisers staggering into the backyard of Cheap Trick and 4 Out Of 5 Doctors.

Merilee reappears in the chorus to the outstanding title track. I don't recall that Marty Lee was ever described as a guitar hero, but listen to that guitar solo, take note Malmsteen and Vai this is how you get a guitar solo to complement a song, not destroy it! It's quite a hard hitting number, Iris is playing his part perfectly, razor sharp riffing, the chorus vocals are just exquisite. 'He plays his guitar with a broken heart' ouch, it's up there with Schon blending with Perry in terms of greatness.

'The Last To Know' has a real AOR keyboard twinkling opening and benefits from a Jim Steinman vocal slant to it, before bedding down with a smooth melodic chorus, very much like The Babys. It is a fitting finale to a near perfect album.

In Summary
My memory is failing but glimpses of my past come back to me every now and then, like the time when I made this purchase from that Record Shop in Northampton opposite the Derngate Theatre, alas long gone just like the name of the shop from my mind, dreadful to be suffering from old age! Nevertheless the sun certainly shone brightly on me that day. Donnie Iris And The Cruisers certainly had the knack of being able to write songs and give them with enough polish to provide glistening melodic tunes. At this moment in AOR history they were classed as supreme songwriters as could be said for many other artists at the time but while most of us struggle with the fundamental things like reading, writing and arithmetic, Donnie and the boys would be able to clear heights that Sergi Bubka would attain, without even the need of a pole vault, they had that much ability.

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#1 | mark_g on October 30 2010 19:41:34
I agree, much better album than Fortune 410. I play this one regularly. Love the title track.
#2 | Eric on October 30 2010 20:28:56
I still kick myself for turning down a ticket to see Iris opening for Nazareth in 1981. WTF was I thinking?Shock
#3 | swazi on April 06 2012 10:14:09
A really 'cool' release! Good to know it's available on CD.
#4 | reyno-roxx on March 10 2013 16:30:07
A great album. Eric's comment reminds me of the announcement of an Iris gig at the Marquee Club that Donnie and the boys unfortunately never played for one reason or another.

The MCA live promo album from the 'King Cool' period is certainly well worth tracking down.
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