I recently finished Sara Marcus’ great book on the 90s Riot Grrrl scene, Girls to the Front and keeping shit on a Pacific Northwestern tip, I went right into Greg Prato’s Grunge Is Dead, an oral history of the Seattle scene. I’m a little too early into this one to cast an opinion on if it’s a worthwhile read, but it’s done in the vein of Please Kill Me, which is taking anecdotal accounts and reflections on different periods/bands/etc,etc, from people who where there and ordering them in a chronological fashion. It ultimately leads to a lot of contradictory statements but it’s in those grey areas that you start getting a real picture of the time which I’ve always felt was an excellent way to write about a music scene.
Grunge Is Dead isn’t the first book to do this with the Seattle music scene. Loser: The Real Seattle Music Story by Clark Humphrey came out some 15 years ago and I burned through it one evening. It was a fantastic account of the area and its bands that amongst a smattering of incredible vintage flyers and images highlighted all sorts of great bands from the area/time that mostly went nowhere. And while both talk in detail about the local bands that would later influence those major players of the late 80s/90s; Loser focused more on Seattle’s (and its surrounding areas) burgeoning underground scene (K records, The Mentors, Melvins), Grunge Is Dead shines its attention on those bands the stories of the bands that would gain national attention (Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains).
TKO is one of those bands touched upon in both books early chapters. One of Seattle’s better known bands in the late 70s and early 80s, they received some national attention on the metal circuit but never really broke out beyond that localized fame in the U.S.
I’d call TKO more “Cock Rock” than Hair Metal, there’s equal parts Kiss, Van Halen (who they toured with at one point), Twisted Sister and some NWOBHM in their sound. Did anything really set them apart from the other hundreds similar bands at the time? No not really, but they still wrote some pretty catchy fist pumping anthems. Sometimes fat riffs and a tight melody can trump originality.
They released their first album, Let It Roll in 1979 followed by In Your Face in 1984. In Your Face was actually completed in 1981 but sat shelved for years for whatever reason until Combat Records finally released it. Let It Roll has more of a bluesier edge that leans heavily on an early Alice Copper influence, while In Your Face is just full on glammy “Cock Rock.” It’s really the better of the two albums by far a margin, and I’m sure it still pains the band to think what could have been had it only come out in 1981 instead of 1984 when bands like TKO where becoming a dime a dozen.
And while not the most original of acts that doesn’t mean TKO wasn’t influential. While you’re air-guitaring along with the songs you’d have to be deaf to not hear TKO’s influence on Mother Love Bone and the guitar playing of Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and Alice In Chains’ Layne Staley.
If you’re a fan of late 70s and early 80s glam, this album is an incredible forgotten gem. Across its ten tracks, there are some definite standouts (“I Wanna Fight,” “Give Into the Night”), but there also really no bad songs. It’s a run around the house air guitarist album…the sort of album you’ll be singing along with even on your first listen.