Scorpions say goodbye with one last power ballad

Whether you give them credit or hold them accountable, Teutonic hard-rock titans the Scorpions crafted a canny mix of ear-pleasing hooks and heavy guitar crunch that inspired countless platinum-selling glam-metal bands in the 1980s. Alongside American contemporaries Kiss and Van Halen, and U.K. counterparts Judas Priest, Queen, and Sweet, the Scorps — with their knack for packing hefty riffs into catchy tunes — helped lay the groundwork for the MTV-fueled rise of metal. While the band had already built a strong following in the '70s, the Scorpions thrived during the Spandex-clad era to become the biggest German musical export in history. Expressing a desire to finish their careers at the top of their game, members of the band announced plans in January to retire after 40 years of making music. With a new album that consciously harks back to their '80s apex, the Scorpions celebrate their arena-rock legacy on the current "Get Your Sting and Blackout" tour.

Though the Scorpions' 1972 debut, Lonesome Crow, was in line with the experimental sounds emerging from Germany at the time (the album, produced by Krautrock icon Conny Plank, remains an overlooked psych/prog gem), founding guitarist and principal songwriter Rudolph Schenker's taste for British acts soon pulled the band in a different direction. "I was interested in all kinds of music," Schenker enthuses from a Nashville hotel suite during a recent phone interview. "Pink Floyd. Genesis. The classic rock stuff like Jeff Beck, the Pretty Things, the Stones, and later on Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin."

Frontman Klaus Meine sang in English from the start, as the band set its sights squarely on a global audience. "Klaus was more influenced by the Beatles and the Bee Gees," Schenker explains. "We made the connection where I put my part in there and Klaus put in the more commercial part." By the end of the 1970s, the prolific Schenker/Meine songwriting partnership had the Scorpions poised for world domination. New addition Matthias Jabs (on guitar) gave Schenker another melodic foil, helping the band produce a stellar string of records, starting with 1979's Lovedrive. The Scorpions hit a creative zenith at the height of the '80s metal explosion with the back-to-back blockbusters Blackout and Love at First Sting. Crammed full of Schenker's energetic, head-nodding riffs and massive sing-along choruses, the two albums produced a slew of infectious rock-radio staples ("Can't Live Without You," "No One Like You," "Big City Lights," "Rock You Like a Hurricane") and set the bar high for the Scorpions' competition.

A large part of the band's growing worldwide popularity stemmed from the refinement of the Scorpions' ballads. While Schenker and Meine had already shown solid songcraft on quieter material like "Always Somewhere" and "Holiday," later efforts "When the Smoke Is Going Down" and "Still Loving You" codified — for good or ill — the power ballad as a de rigueur element for every glam-metal album. Most bands churned out saccharine, cliché-ridden tunes that were bald-faced appeals to female fans, but the Scorpions always managed to inject heartfelt emotion into the song form. Strangely, even though "Still Loving You" would become one of the group's biggest songs, it took over six years to see the light of day. "Every time we recorded an album, I came up with the intro and Klaus started singing, but it never came together," Schenker recalls. "But then in 1983 in the rehearsal studio — pow! Like a puzzle."

For the band's last hurrah, the Scorpions made a conscious effort to record a final album that captured the fire and intensity of their best work. The guitarist credits their Swedish production team for extracting the results heard on their latest, Sting in the Tail. "They kicked my ass to come up with great riffs and make, in essence, a best of the '80s of the Scorpions, only with new songs," says Schenker. Though one aspect of the collection shows the Scorpions' formula wearing a little thin — four ballads out of 10 songs seems a bit much — the heavier tunes from Sting in the Tail will stand solidly alongside selections from Blackout and other favorites when the Scorpions bid their Bay Area fans a fond farewell.

 
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