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Articles Home » 1984 Articles » Blackfoot - 1984 Vertical Smiles
Blackfoot - 1984 Vertical Smiles

ARTIST: Blackfoot
ALBUM: Vertical Smiles
SERIAL: 790 218-1
YEAR: 1984
CD REISSUE: 2002, Wounded Bird (USA), WOU-218


LINEUP: Rickey Medlocke - guitars, lead vocals * Jakson Spires - drums, vocals * Greg T. Walker - bass, vocals * Ken Hensley - keyboards, slide guitar, vocals

TRACK LISTING: 01 Morning Dew * 02 Living In The Limelight * 03 Ride With You * 04 Get It On * 05 Young Girl * 06 Summer Days * 07 A Legend Never Dies * 08 Heartbeat And Heels * 09 In For The Kill


Blackfoot were facing a make or break situation during the 'Siogo' tour, the album was not selling to expectations and heads were scratched as to why. 'Siogo' represented their full transformation into AOR after 1981's classic 'Marauder' had shown a couple of hints. 'Siogo' was a towering record full of classic AOR hallmarks, so why the commercial failure? The deviation from wildlife record covers? The bad press from the vulgar real meaning of 'Siogo'? Long time fans unhappy with the AOR sound? Hard to say, but the band was in turmoil. Charlie Hargrett was fingered as the reason Blackfoot were not cutting it. Apparently he looked and played too 'old fashioned', so when the writing sessions for 'Vertical Smiles' were hastily arranged, Hargrett was asked to sit them out. His becoming disenchanted was perhaps inevitable and he departed the fold soon after. Tough circumstances in which to write and record, so how did they fare?

The Songs
Well they start by polishing up the Nazareth chestnut 'Morning Dew', synths providing warm surroundings for the pulsing rhythm. This is certainly not 'Good Morning', but momentum and increasing intensity gradually builds this into an AOR winner. Next they turn to the writing skills of Peter Cetera of all people, 'Living In The Limelight' delivering AOR with all the 80's production trappings, the rhythm a little wooden for me though. 'Ride With You' ushers in the first band written tune and it shows - an urgent tempo paired with a simple yet effective melody just across the street from period 38 Special. 'Get It On' maintains the urgent AOR feel, fusing a 'Judas Priest gone AOR' approach with some 'Eliminator' style ZZ Top. Unlikely combination perhaps, but they pull it off. 'Young Girl' is sensational AOR, classy and well constructed plus a chorus that could flatten the Bulls forward pack. 'Summer Days' could put you off your coffee though, a synthesized blues debacle that falls flat despite hints of David Lee Roth in the vocal delivery. Recovery is swift though, in the form of RPM's stunner 'A Legend Never Dies'. Smooth and powerful AOR not unlike the original, and maybe a hint of tribute to the recently deceased Shorty Medlocke? I'd like to think so. 'Heartbeat And Heels' arrives in a salvo of 80's digi-drum effects but quickly turns into more tuneful AOR. Sequencers are working overtime and a recurring lick from Medlocke adds fluidity to Spires terrific fills. 'In For The Kill' closes the album in anthemic fashion, bits of Ken Hensley's Uriah Heep legacy can be heard in the vocal arrangements but the context remains 80's AOR.

In Summary
'Vertical Smiles' bombed sensationally upon release in '84, charting at 182 on Billboard. Especially sad considering the album provides the kind of crystal clear AOR that was succeeding all over the place. One look at the album cover explains a lot - taking tacky to new depths, match the bikini photos with the title and I shouldn't need to explain any further. Negative press was inevitable and followed them on tour, where they disintegrated in Cincinatti. Heartbreaking stuff, but Medlocke kept the name and assembled a new look Blackfoot lineup for 1987's Rick Medlocke And Blackfoot, an essential dose of AOR in itself.

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#1 | rkbluez on February 26 2012 17:20:12
One of my favorite bands but one of my least favorite releases from all of the albums before this as they are all great.
#2 | Eric on February 26 2012 18:22:44
Like the cover though..hehe..
#3 | dude24 on March 02 2016 17:27:36
Total letdown considering the quality of the four prior albums.
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