Welcome to Sound Influence. This is a series of columns looking back on the albums that were instrumental in first making me a fan of music and second helped shape my listening tastes over the years. Many of the albums covered will be popular for one reason or another, but more than that they mean something to me. These are albums that have stories attached to them and are albums that are a big part of why I love music and will continue to love music. These are not so much reviews as they are my memories of my first exposure to them.
Yes, I can hear you laughing. Please stop. I get it. Winger is considered to be a joke by many. My thoughts go in a different direction and wish they would get a little credit. Whatever, it's all right. Everyone is bound to have their fans and their haters. I don't mind being the minority once in a while. I also suspect you are wondering why the second album and not their debut? We'll get to that. First we need to dis-spell the rumors that Winger fans are the losers like the kid depicted on Beavis & Butt-head. You remember him, right? Poor guy, I always felt bad for him.
The second Winger album was a big on for me because it felt like a better album than the first. Still being early in my recognition of good music, In the Heart of the Young felt like a more focused, mature, and fun album than the first. This all in spite of the fact the front man Kip Winger raps on "Baptizm by Fire," although I do understand that they originally wanted an actually rapper to perform the bridge segment. Not sure what happened there.
My entry drug into the bigger world of music was easily the hair/glam bands of which Winger definitely fits in. The music is fun, catchy, and just entertaining. I will not necessarily defend these songs as being good music, but they are far from bad. If nothing else, Kip and crew knew how to write infectious pop-rock tunes. If you can get past the image of Kip Winger performing pirouettes in the "Seventeen" video you might be able to see that.
While the overall music and song structure is nothing revolutionary and the lyrical content generally falls to simplistic topics of radio music of the day, they worked for me. I was always a sap for rock ballads and Winger was always good for a couple of those, just look at "Miles Away" on this album for an example of that. Besides that the musicianship is generally quite good.
The guy that always stood out to me in Winger was Reb Beach. The guy really is an amazing guitarist. He may have been somewhere that did not allow him to completely cut loose, he does not seem shy about his shredding solos. I remember reading about how Steve Vai (yes, that Steve Vai) gave him a seven string guitar and how he used it for the tapping opening on "Baptizm of Fire."
In the Heart of the Young may not be one of the most influential albums I have listened to, but it made a lasting impression on me. These are songs I can almost always listen to and have my spirit lifted. Not everything has to be earth-shattering revolutionary. This is an album of top notch execution of a proven model.
Another big thing about this album is that it was while they were on the road supporting it that I saw my very first concert. It was a little before my 16th birthday and my father took me. It was at the Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie, NY, and I had an amazing time. I want to say that they played nearly every song from their two albums. The crowd was full and loud, and we were all singing along. Reb Beach was as good live, if not better, than he was on the album. I also remember almost catching one of Rod Morgenstein's drum sticks, it ticked off the tip of my fingers, it was not wood but some sort of plastic or acrylic and translucent blue. The concert is a memory I will always have.
As for Winger, they have pretty much faded from the public eye, but they have popped up a few times in recent years for things like Rocklahoma. I believe they did an album not long ago too, may have to look it up. Not to mention Kip Winger has done some very good solo work. I got to see him on a solo acoustic tour some years back and he is very good guitar player and was more than willing to meet with fans, good guy.
While many will never give them a second look, I will always have a special place for them in my heart.