Five Records That Changed My Life, Part 79: Michael Monroe

Michael Monroe fronted Finnish glam rockers Hanoi Rocks and later embarked on a solo career and worked with bands such as Demolition 23 and Jerusalem Slim. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with Michael to learn about the five albums that made him realise that it was dead, jail or rock’n’roll.

“Obviously, there are many more than just five records that changed my life, but here, I’ve tried my best to narrow them down to five.”

Alice Cooper “Love It to Death” (1971)

“When me and my two older brothers were kids, my father would buy us rock records that were popular at the time as Christmas and birthday presents. I had seen Black Sabbath on TV in 1970, Live in Paris, when I was eight years old and wanted to hear more rock music. We had gotten ‘Led Zeppelin II’ and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Pendulum’ and Deep Purple’s ‘Fireball’ which were all great, but when Alice Cooper’s ‘Love It to Death’ came, I was totally fascinated. I loved the look of the band, the music, Alice’s cool raspy voice and the gatefold cover which had the two huge eyes with the spider make-up staring at you. There were great rock songs like ‘Caught in a Dream’, ‘Long Way to Go’, ‘Is It My Body’, ‘Hallowed Be My Name’ and of course the hit ‘I’m Eighteen’. All killer songs. There were also some very theatrical sounding works of art, like ‘Second Coming’ and ‘Ballad of Dwight Fry’. Those two songs together make a masterpiece. Also, the scary and haunting ‘Black Juju’ gave me chills. I became a fan and saved my monthly allowance to buy all the following Alice Cooper albums, which are all total classics and still sound fantastic today – ‘Killer’, ‘School’s Out’, ‘Billion Dollar Babies’, ‘Muscle of Love’, ‘Welcome to My Nightmare’, etc. Alice still puts out great records and his fantastic live show is completely unique, which everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. Nowadays I have the pleasure and privilege of knowing Alice as a friend and he has kindly invited me to perform with him on stage on several occasions, which is always a huge thrill and honour. Contrary to his image on stage, he is one of the sweetest and kind-hearted people I’ve ever met.”

Little Richard “The Best of Little Richard” (1980)

“Little Richard is, like he said himself, ‘The King and Queen of Rock’n’Roll’. To me, Little Richard and Chuck Berry together created rock’n’roll. Little Richard was wild and free and rebellious and THE original rock’n’roll star. Being in his position in the 50s he had to fight the system, which was trying to keep him down because, apart from being black, he represented true freedom, uninhibited self-expression and individuality. The system didn’t want him to be a hero for the white kids in America in their so-called ‘safe’ society. He wore make-up, had his hair-do always a bit longer and higher than everyone else’s, dressed up like a glamorous star and always put on a killer live show. He, if anyone, was the original glam rocker and punk rocker as well since he was shaking up the establishment with what he did and what he was. And that voice… the power and the attitude! With all due respect to Elvis, if you compare his ‘Tutti Frutti’ with Little Richard’s original version, Richard’s singing has so much more balls. He was also really versatile and could sing beautiful soulful ballads, gospel and so on. In my opinion, he is the best singer of all time. Plus, the greatest entertainer. Any ‘Best of’ compilation with his most significant and biggest hits is great. Also, an album called ‘The Explosive Little Richard’ has a killer song selection and is one of my personal favourites. Richard was really ‘on fire’ when recording that one. His music was an inspiration for me to start playing the saxophone and to continue playing the piano as part of the rock’n’roll sound. He also inspired and encouraged me to wear make-up, along with Alice Cooper. God bless Little Richard and rock’n’roll!”

AC/DC “High Voltage” (1976)

“After I had gotten into rock’n’roll, from Little Richard to the Rolling Stones and the Ramones, AC/DC with the singer Bon Scott really defined what being a true rocker was about. It was not about having limos and mansions and living a millionaire lifestyle, but the harsh realities of being on the road, rocking hard with your band, sticking it to the man, etc. The lyrics of ‘It’s a Long Way to the Top’, ‘Rock’n’Roll Singer’ and ‘High Voltage’ were all about that with a great sense of humour and irony. Bon Scott is one of my heroes and inspired me to have tattoos as a rocker, like Alice Cooper and Little Richard inspired me to wear make-up.”

The Undisputed Truth “Higher Than High” (1975)

“This 1970s psychedelic funk band is still one of my all-time favourite groups. I saw the front cover of this album in a second-hand record shop and I just had to get it. The cover had five black people floating in space with white Afro hairdos, their faces painted with silver, stars etc, shiny suits and platform boots and microphones in their hands with bright yellow wires. I just had to buy the album to hear what it sounded like, and it turned out to be the coolest funk music I’d ever heard! This album, plus the ‘Cosmic Truth’, ‘The Best of’ and others in the early 70s were produced by Norman Whitfield, who also produced The Temptations in their psychedelic period. The Undisputed Truth version of the song ‘Ball of Confusion’ is the best one there is. ‘Smiling Faces Sometimes’ was their biggest hit and is an all-time classic with its brilliant lyrical message. That song and a lot of their song lyrics did have a touching message and were, in fact, speaking the undisputed truth, like for example ‘Life Ain’t So Easy’ on this album. Then again, there are some great fun party songs like ‘Higher Than High’, ‘Boogie Bump Boogie’ and the hysterically funny ‘Poontang’. The song ‘I Saw You When You Met Her’ on this album has been the intro music for my band’s live shows for many years in the past and is one of my all-time favourite songs.”

Little Walter “The Best of Little Walter” (1958)

“This guy was, and still is, the best blues harmonica player of all time. He was a pioneer who experimented and invented revolutionary harp sounds and styles in his time. As a kid, at first, I heard some blues harp playing on a Led Zeppelin album, but then I found out where all that blues influence originated from, as I discovered Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson, etc, and then found this incredible harp player, Little Walter. There are at least two ‘Best of’ collections by him. I recommend any recordings you can find by Little Walter. Especially if you’re into the blues harp.”

“Like I said, there’s a long list of albums that ‘changed my life’ and influenced me strongly. So, picking only five is really not enough, but these five give you a little taste of them.”