The way culture advances nowadays, it’s not surprising to realize you’ve forgotten certain ways you might have thought or felt about a musician in particular. For instance, when singer Bret Michaels was rushed to the hospital last week after suffering a massive brain hemorrhage, I’m sure many people (especially younger ones with less perspective) immediately thought of Michael’s career as a reality show star – he’s currently on NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice and has spent three years on the abysmal VH1 dating show Rock of Love.
Fortunately, there were probably some who heard the unfortunate news – and the much better news that Michaels is slowly showing signs of improvement – and thought about Michaels’ ongoing tenure as frontman for Poison, one of the better pop-metal bands of the 1980s. There aren’t many people who were teens in the ’80s that can forget the band; they were at once one of the best party-starters and creators of one of the best tunes to slow-dance to at prom.
Although their back catalogue is distributed by the industry’s favorite punching bag, EMI, there have still been a few choice remasters and compilations created from the Poison discography. As we wish Michaels a speedy recovery, take a trip down memory lane with Poison’s Back Tracks.
Look What the Cat Dragged In (Enigma, 1986 – reissued Capitol, 2006)
Poison’s first LP was a surprise smash, selling over 3 million copies and spawning four singles, including the excellent “Talk Dirty to Me.” Michaels, guitarist C.C. DeVille, bassist Bobby Dall and drummer Rikki Rocket had outsized images and big hair, but they knew how to make ear-catching rock in the showy style that KISS perfected a decade before. Their debut was remastered and reissued along with the band’s second and third LPs to commemorate their two decades as a band; this reissue included the single mixes of “I Want Action” and “I Won’t Forget You” as well as an unreleased cover of the Jim Croce(!) tune “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim.”
Open Up and Say…Ahh! (Enigma, 1988 – reissued Capitol, 2006)
The sophomore slump did not hit Poison too much; by fusing their sound and wild-times image to another batch of upbeat tunes (plus that extraordinary power ballad “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”), they rode another high wave of success. The 2006 reissue featured a pair of bonus tracks (non-LP B-side “Living for the Minute” and a vintage interview track) and the restoration of the original, controversial cover art, a cat-like vixen with an impossibly long tongue.
Flesh & Blood (Capitol, 1990 – reissued 2006)
Even though the ’80s were over, Poison were still going strong, thanks to a slightly heavier lyrical bent and another ridiculously catchy hit (“Unskinny Bop”). Another pair of bonus tracks were added onto this record; a new recording of “Something to Believe In” (previously released on 2003’s Best of Ballads & Blues compilation) and a who’d-have-thought cover of The Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen.”
Swallow This Live (Capitol, 1991 – reissued 2004)
This chronicle of the Flesh & Blood Tour was originally a double album, chronicling what a basic show at the time would have sounded like (including a pair of lengthy solos by C.C. Deville and Rikki Rocket). It also included a quartet of new studio cuts intended as that inevitable stopgap between albums. The 2004 remaster, however, inexplicably reorganizes the record to fit on one disc, sacrificing the solos, the studio material and one live track (“Poor Boy Blues”), in addition to editing some onstage profanities and swapping tracks around (“Every Rose” goes from mid-set to final track). Which one is a better listening experience is kind of irrelevant when one considers how revisionist this remaster is (only one of those studio tracks, the single “So Tell Me Why,” was ever released on a Poison compilation, which predated the remaster of this record anyway.)
Poison’s Greatest Hits 1986-1996 (Capitol, 1996)
Poison had racked up a great deal of hits by the time this record came out for the 1996 Christmas season. There are 18 tracks on this disc – five from Look What the Cat Dragged In, four from Open Up and Say…Ahh!, another five from Flesh and Blood, a track each from Swallow This Live and mostly-forgotten Native Tongue (1993) (an album that saw Richie Kotzen replaced the drug-addicted C.C. DeVille on guitar) and a set of new tracks (“Sexual Thing” and “Lay Your Body Down”) that featured yet another new guitarist, Blues Saraceno. (Those two tracks were actually a bit of a teaser for what was to be the band’s next record, but more on that in a bit.)
Power to the People / Great Big Hits Live! (Cyanide, 1999 / Sony, 2006)
It turns out that the Greatest Hits set was a placeholder for what would have been the band’s fifth studio effort, Crack a Smile. It was ready to go by 1995, but was shelved by Capitol for quite some time. In the interim, the band left Capitol, dropped Blues Sacareno and added newly-sober C.C. DeVille back into the fold. The resultant release, Power to the People, was five new studio tracks and another live set of mostly the hits. Bizarrely, Sony grabbed distribution rights of the live set as Capitol began reissuing the original Poison records and released Great Big Hits Live!, a neutered version of Power to the People that lacked both the studio tracks and, once again, DeVille and Rockett’s solo turns.
Crack a Smile…and More! (Capitol, 2000)
until fan demand (and bootlegging) became voluminous enough for the label to go as far as to release a semi-deluxe version of a record that never came out in the first place. In addition to the 12 Crack a Smile tracks, the disc included three outtakes from the same sessions, an outtake from the Open Up and Say…Ahh! sessions and four tracks from the band’s MTV Unplugged set (when DeVille was still in the band).
Best of Ballads & Blues (Capitol, 2003)
Exactly what it says on the jewel case: a compilation devoted to the glam-metal gods’ more mellow and raw sides. Interestingly, this set includes a track from every Poison LP at the time (even Swallow This Live, Crack a Smile…and More! and Power to the People) and a pair of new tracks – a new version of “Something to Believe In” (later included on the reissue of Open Up and Say…Ahh!) and an acoustic cut of Kotzen-era track “Stand.”
The Best of Poison: 20 Years of Rock (EMI, 2006)
Released almost parallel to the Poison remasters, this new greatest-hits disc has all the hits you could imagine. There’s a bit of overlap from Poison’s Greatest Hits (although nothing from the Blues Saraceno era and only the same Native Tongue track, “Stand”), but there’s a new track (a cover of Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band”) and the long-awaited reappearance of the band’s cover of KISS’ “Rock and Roll All Nite,” recorded for the Less Than Zero soundtrack. (In a great tribute to recycling, Capitol included both those tracks and a few other oldies on the band’s next LP, the all-covers Poison’d! (2007).)