Recess, Reassessed: Come Out and Play by Twisted Sister

Twisted Sister Come Out and Play cover

Twisted Sister 05-76_pubAfter ceaseless rock ‘n’ roll hurdles overcome, and a legacy of thousands of sweaty shows, Twisted Sister’s third LP, 1984’s Stay Hungry, had brought the rewards the band so clearly sought. Stay Hungry sold over three millions copies in the US, millions more overseas, and all that success was a well-deserved triumph for Twisted Sister, the band having never given up on doggedly pursuing their moment in the spotlight.

However, as much as Stay Hungry brought long-overdue chart and arena-headlining acclaim for Twisted Sister, it also sounded the death knell for the band, with a sharp fall from grace soon to follow.

 Ascending to heavy metal stardom

Twisted Sister had played to packed out clubs and gone on to sell out venues in the US in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, but the band had never been able to capitalise on that success with a record deal at home. In 1982, following a groundswell of interest in the UK press, Twisted Sister headed to Blighty to get its recording career off the ground, signing to Secret Records — then home to punk bands such as The Exploited. Secret released Twisted Sister’s Ruff Cuts EP, quickly followed by the band’s debut LP, Under The Blade, which was produced by UFO bassist Pete Way, and holds the distinction of being the first metal LP I ever purchased.

Under The Blade was a raw and brutish release, filled with captivating blue-collar metal that came with an almost punk rock kick. However, the version of the album most fans have heard was the more polished remix, re-released by Atlantic Records to capitalise on Twisted Sister’s post-Stay Hungry success.

At the time of Under The Blade’s initial release, the album was met with appreciative howls, particularly from UK and European audiences, and rightly so. Under The Blade is, unquestionably, a classic debut. It’s crammed with catchy songs honed to a razors edge through years of being played in clubs. Under The Blade mixed Twisted Sister’s street-wise stomp, grease-paint garishness, gritty NWOBHM-worship and brash swagger to perfection, and tours of the US and UK festival performances sealed Twisted Sister’s reputation as a Herculean live act.

The band’s costumes and made-up mugs underscored Twisted Sister’s blurring of the line between macho metal and shock and glam rock’s tastelessness, and in 1983 You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll arrived — with Twisted Sister benefiting from the goodwill raised from their first independent album by signing a deal with Atlantic Records. You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll was a storming LP. It was rowdy, confident, and a little less ragged round the edges than Twisted Sister’s first album (no surprise, given You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll’s major label backing), and it too was stacked with ravenous, belligerent, and anthemic songs.

Schwarzenegger as heavy metal inspiration

Schwarzenegger as heavy metal inspiration

Which brings us back to 1984 and Stay Hungry, the album that brought Twisted Sister their long-awaited fame and fortune, and put the band’s grotesque glam and roughneck metal right onto the arena stage. As ridiculous as it might sound today, Stay Hungry was inspired by the never-give-up attitude of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1977 book, Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder, and the album found Tom Werman sitting behind the production desk. Twisted Sister and Werman clashed over his studio methods, with Snider being chiefly concerned that Werman’s production would mute the band’s aggression. That sparked inter-band tensions too and, in the end, Werman did shave the burrs off Twisted Sister.

Stay Hungry mixed slicker, more commercially friendly singles like “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” with heavier tracks such as “Burn in Hell,” the multipart “Horror-Teria” suite, and “S.M.F.” The album endeavoured to balance songs that appealed to Twisted Sister’s established audience and to grab ahold of metal’s new generation of fans — those enjoying the genre’s burst of ’80s success, thanks to Quiet Riot’s Metal Health being the first metal album to hit number one on the Billboard charts a year earlier.

Twisted Sister’s videos soon became a staple on MTV, amplifying the band’s (then) outrageous image and rebellious rock, and the band became a radio fixture. Howls of protest from the Parents’ Music Resource Center (PMRC) soon followed, seeing Snider make his famous appearance at US Senate hearings to discuss metal’s supposedly wayward influence, and controversy aside, it looked like Twisted Sister had finally made it.

Unfortunately, as we all know, mainstream success also presents somewhat of a double-edged sword. Twisted Sister’s radio-friendly direction, MTV overexposure, and the band’s clear enjoyment of strutting about in the limelight left some long-term fans feeling estranged from the relentless underdog band that Twisted Sister once were. According to Snider’s highly entertaining autobiography, Shut up and Give Me the Mic, that PMRC attention, and a wariness of the band’s chart success from diehard fans, eventually drew a cloud over the band’s next album, 1985’s Come Out and Play.

Falling from grace

Even though Twisted Sister were always a formidable live band, and more “Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters” than handsome hit-makers, the band’s reliance on chart baiting tactics with a track like Stay Hungry’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” meant the one-hit-wonder chasm (two-hit, if you count the album’s “I Wanna Rock”) loomed large.

Snider had actually sketched out “We’re Not Gonna Take It” as far back as 1979, and the songs owes a debt to UK glam bands like Slade, which gives it more musical depth than might first appear. However, none of that mattered to previously staunch fans, who only saw their beloved band going pop, and a Top 20 audience is fickle too.

Twister Sister were already victims of their own success by the time of Come Out and Play’s release. However, the band was seemingly unaware of that, making plans for world domination with Come Out and Play’s tracks, artwork, videos, and Twisted Sister’s costumes and extravagant arena tour meticulously planned to unlock the door to even greater success.

Snider was convinced that Come Out and Play would unify, what he saw, as a fragmenting heavy metal audience. However, ultimately, all the momentum the band had built up over the preceding years was quickly derailed. It really didn’t matter that Twisted Sister had released three excellent albums before Come Out and Play, the band simply faced a very difficult decision in finding some way to appease both old and new fans. In the end, Come Out and Play’s legacy wasn’t to be the great unifying record Snider envisioned but is widely regarded as the first step in the band’s impending demise.

Internationally published writer, columnist, and radio producer.