ZEBRA – S/T: Schlock Rock From Bizarro World

This is a strange one, even by schlock-rock standards – imagine a cross between Rush and Led Zeppelin (plus a dash of Yes), complete with a lead singer who has absorbed the stylistic tics of the singers from each band.  Then, imagine said band playing a radio-slick fusion of hard rock, prog and AOR, deftly juxtaposing FM rock moves with AM pop hooks.  Zebra’s debut album offers this kinetic bundle of moods and styles  – and then some.

Zebra started in the mid-1970’s as a club band that spent years building up followings in New Orleans and New York, dividing their stage set between covers and originals.  By the time they got their record contract in 1983, they had created a schlock-rock fusion they could truly call their own.  Some of the songs on here were as much as five years old by the time they were recorded so each tune is highly polished, with every hook neatly arranged in its proper place.  The punters liked it, resulting in album that was Atlantic’s fastest-selling debut record of that era.

The big radio hits were “Tell Me What You Want,” a swaggering tune that has singer Randy Jackson doing his best Robert Plant banshee-wail over a stomping melody that pits cock-rock guitar riffs against sleek, Rush-style synths, and “Who’s Behind The Door?,” a truly bizarre mini-epic about alien encounters that starts off like Zep’s “Over The Hills And Far Away” but ends with a synth extravaganza that recalls the end of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.  Amongst the album tracks, the goodies include “As I Said Before,” a tidy speed-rocker that could fit in on an early Rush album, and “The La La Song,” a tune that rises above its goofy title with a wild prog-rock arrangement full of head-spinning time changes.

The album further benefits from sleek yet muscular production by Jack Douglas (Aerosmith, Cheap Trick), so the whole thing sounds as confident and radio-ready as a greatest hits album.  Needless to say, this is not for those who can’t dig the influences name-checked in the first paragraph but fans of classic-rock radio will feel like they have discovered a transmission from the Classic Rock station on Bizarro World.

6 Replies to “ZEBRA – S/T: Schlock Rock From Bizarro World”

  1. Zebra I feel – didn’t quite get the kudos that they probably deserved. As a live act, they were pretty good. This album was very good too, their follow up was a little rushed, but they were back on form for 1986’s 3.V which is totally underrated, as by this stage, the band had fallen off the radar, as hair metal had kicked in. Great that they are still in existence, and as for that trademark falsetto from Randy Jackson? Umm yeah..

    1. I agree with your take on the Zebra catalog – 3.V is a lost gem (“He’s Making You The Fool” is one of my all-time fave AOR songs) and I’ll probably review it here at some point. Thanks for the thoughtful comments!

  2. They still get together and do gigs in NO, Louisiana and LI, NY periodically (and if a few in places like Dallas and St. Louis). Randy has one of the all-time greatest one-man-with-acoustic-guitar shows you’ll ever want to see. He does Zebra, Beatles (including the entire Abby Road Suite), Rush, Yes, David Bowie and just about anything else you can think of (I even saw him play Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Life by the Drop” at Poor David’s Pub in Dallas a few years back).

    He’s a great singer/guitarist (pipes of Plant/chops of vintage Page), Guy Gelso is an awesome drummer, and Felix anchors it with great bass work and cool synth stylings. It’s a shame that groups like Motley Crue and Poison get lumped in with Zebra, because they are really more like Rush and Zeppelin and can still bring it live.

  3. Ron sent me a link to this review/article. As someone who has worked with ZEBRA and Randy Jackson for over 10 years now, helping get several shows booked/promoted in Dallas, St. Louis, Puerto Rico, Rocklahoma, etc., I have to agree with Ron’s comments. Visit the band’s website for tour dates – ZEBRA, Randy solo acoustic, and Randy’s performances of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Doors, and The Eagles with symphony orchestras around the United States and Canada. Fans can also purchase a very well done DVD on the band, which includes live performances and all of the old MTV videos. Highly recommended.

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