The Deadscape

W.A.S.P – The Last Command

Album: The Last Command
Release Date: November 9, 1985
Label: Capitol Records

As the title says on the logo, the point to this column is to dig up old albums that won’t stay dead. Now with that in mind, I want you all to take a stroll with me though the Deadscape – sifting through the vinyl carcasses and worn out cassettes of yesteryear. I’ve decided that our inaugural review will take us all the way back to 1985 and focus on the outrageous frontman who waged a war with the P.M.R.C. in North America, while pushing forward with a barrier-breaking hit record.

Of course I am talking about Blackie Lawless – the anointed wild-child of the so-called moral majority and religious rights groups for corrupting America’s youth. His band W.A.S.P. were running wild in the streets, hell-bent on drinking and fucking their brains out all in the good name of rock ‘n roll. Blackie Lawless might have been young, wild and dangerous, but there was more to him than meets the eye.

In fact the group were tearing it up on a world tour supporting their debut record, when Blackie began thinking about a follow-up. He wanted to take what was already established (catchy verses and big, anthemic chorus chants) to a higher level. Obviously there was more to this hellion than given credit for – just based on his desires to make the vocals more elaborate, in particular the trademark harmonies – plus to further experiment with recording/mixing ideas that he had in mind.

Most of the writing for this new record was done on the first tour, so the vibe with the new music was reflected with what was going on at the time. Rampant excess, dripping with anger and attitude pretty much sums up the music of W.A.S.P., but Blackie would certainly argue that he was developing more as a songwriter and who could blame him for saying that.

“The Last Command” was released November 9th, 1985 on Capitol Records with producer Spencer Proffer (who produced Quiet Riot’s Mental Health album). Both Blackie and Spencer had the same goal in mind to bring W.A.S.P. to the next level with a barrier-breaking record. It started with recording the drum and bass parts first – then adding the vocals, guitars, over-dubs and mixing it into each song. Blackie also played 14 different instruments of which included: Hammond organ and Sitar. He also pushed himself hard with the vocals, coming across as a man possessed by some kind of demonic force.

It was rumored that Blackie was left breathless after completing the vocals for “Wild Child” proving how six straight hours of singing could leave the musician so spent. This was how he wanted to push things and bring W.A.S.P. to a higher level, setting new standards for the band to follow through on.

Blackie would also claim that some of the newly developed song-writing established on this record would also inspire later albums like “The Headless Children” and “The Crimson Idol”. He was quite proud of the music recorded for The Last Command, despite an earlier faux-pas of attempting to pawn off the song “Wild Child” to Motley Crue. Nikki Sixx felt the song was out of Vince Neil’s range as a vocalist, so the song was ultimately rejected. In hindsight, Blackie felt this was the right move given how the song is amongst the most popular in their live set. After all, who could imagine The Last Command without the opening track Wild Child to kick things off? Lyrically and even sonically, this track was the perfect salvo to set things in motion.

"...their first album to sell over a million copies."

Blackie also wanted this new direction to include imagination and he had a real problem with heavy rock lacking in that aspect, so he felt that The Last Command could still have both and get the music over with fans and critics alike. His musical ambition for W.A.S.P. was to become a tight recording unit and this is truly reflected in several straightahead cuts like “Ballcrusher”, “Sex Dirve” and “Widowmaker”.

The first single on the album – “Blind in Texas” encapsulated that true spirit of rock ‘n roll, referring to an incident that Blackie experienced in Waco, Texas. This track has arguably become their best known song over the last twenty years and it also helped to forge The Last Command as their highest charting album – peaking at number forty-seven on the billboard 200 charts that year and also becoming their first album to sell over a million copies.

Aside from the all-out excesses sung on Blind in Texas, other tracks like “Cries in the Night” was a song that Blackie wrote when he was eighteen, and “Running Wild in the Streets” continued to illustrate the band’s penchant for being young, wild and dangerous. Then you get hit hard with “Jack Action” – a song about revenge and another muscular-riff laden affair that fit in nicely.

On a whole though, Blackie managed to create a slightly more accessible sound than what was found on their raw-meat sounding debut. The Last Command was their second gold-certified release and it helped them to become one of the more popular mid 80’s metal bands; touring with Kiss, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. Both singles – Blind in Texas and Wild Child spawned cleverly produced videos that proved mightily popular through regular rotation on MTV, helping them to successfully breakthrough commercially.

The Last Command contains a lot of heavy riffs, fueled by the sounds of early 80’s metal and exhibiting more focused song-writing. Some feel this album pales in comparison to the more visceral-sounding debut, but Blackie had a clear adjective in mind. He wanted to raise the level of the band musically and in addition he had something to prove as a songwriter. He even went so far as to bring in a more serviceable drummer with the likes of Steve Riley (Roadmaster and Keel) into the fold – proving his sincerity in fine-tuning W.A.S.P. as a premiere metal band.

Looking back on things, the songs might come across as a bit juvenile – given how some of the lyrics still relied on sexual fantasies, but that was the time period. There’s no mistaking the energy and Alice Cooper inspired stage-antics that coursed through the veins of Blackie Lawless and company and for this reason The Last Command is considered one of W.A.S.P.’s best loved albums.

We certainly feel it deserves its place among the myriad of albums found here in the Deadscape and for that we are grateful. Join us next time for another installment of albums that won’t stay dead.

Kenneth Gallant, Editor HMS