Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Survivor's Burning Heart Fuels Rocky One More Time

Survivor by name, survivors by nature. The band recorded their fifth studio album, ‘Vital Signs’, during 1984, and the lead out single ‘I Can’t Hold Back’, immediately confirmed that Survivor’s own vital signs were stronger than ever. ‘I Can’t Hold Back’ was only just held back from the U.S. top 10 (#13/OZ#94), late in 1984. Songwriters Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan had tapped into a rare vein of melodic-rock form, and the addition of Jimi Jamison’s ‘Steve Perry-like’ vocals to the mix, added new fuel to the Survivor fire. In early ‘85, ‘High On You’ returned Survivor to the U.S. top 10 (#8), with its sublime blend of 80s guitar/keyboard infused ‘album oriented rock’ - on reflection there’s no mistaking which era Survivor’s music hailed from, but for anyone who feels an affection for 80s era rock, the sound manages to retain its freshness and vitality, twenty plus years on. The mandatory power ballad followed with ‘The Search Is Over’, which sits comfortably alongside the best of what Styx, Foreigner, Boston, Journey and the like were offering in terms of lighter waving material. The search was over at #4 for ‘The Search Is Over’ (#1 Adult Contemporary/ OZ#60) in mid ‘85. Its source album ‘Vital Signs’ showed a strong pulse at #16 on the U.S. charts, racked up platinum sales, and yielded one more minor hit in the form of ‘First Night’ (US#53).

The new model Survivor hit the road in earnest throughout most of 1985, yielding the set ‘Live In Tokyo’, but during the second half of the year, returned briefly to the studio to record a new single. Once more Survivor would return to the ring with Rocky Balboa, this time with the ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ companion piece, ‘Burning Heart’, featured in ‘Rocky IV’. ‘Burning Heart’ lacked the killer guitar riff of its predecessor, but did punch out a kick-ass chorus hook, and scorched its way to #2 on the U.S. Hot 100 (UK#5/OZ#55), and the top five across most of Europe.

During the second half of ‘86, Survivor began work on their next album, and in October the lead out single ‘Is This Love’ hit stores. Why change a winning formula? The more synth-edged guitar rock of ‘Is This Love’ was straight out of the same songbook as Survivor’s best fare to date, and once more tapped into the sensibilities of the mainstream rock market, delivering Survivor their fifth, but last, U.S. top ten hit (#9). The album ‘When Seconds Count’, Survivor’s second alongside producer Ron Nevison, was released in early ‘87. Its predecessor, ‘Vital Signs’, was a hard act to follow, and on most counts ‘When Seconds Count’ (US#49) came up short. Some of the tracks, such as the follow up singles ‘How Much Love’ (US#51), and ‘Man Against The World’, displayed a harder edge to the Survivor sound, but neither made a strong impact on the charts - and, generally speaking, by 1987 the classic ‘arena rock’ sound was starting to sound a bit worn.

By early ‘88, the rhythm section of Marc Droubay (drums) and Stephan Ellis (bass) had both departed the band to pursue other interests. Peterik, Sullivan and Jamison elected to carry on as the core trio, and hired session players Mickey Curry (drums), and Bill Syniar (bass) for Survivor’s last blast album of the 80s. The lead out single ‘Didn’t Know It Was Love’ (US#61), if looked at in isolation, was a decent enough pop-rock song, but there was no killer guitar riff or soaring chorus hook to lift it out of a mire of melodic-rock mediocrity. The follow up single, ‘Across The Miles’ (US#74), and source album ‘Too Hot To Sleep’ (US#187), proved ultimately disappointing in terms of quality and commercial return. Rather than flogging a dead horse, Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan elected to place Survivor on indefinite hiatus.

Jim Peterik returned to duties with his original band, The Ides Of March, who reformed during 1990 as the headline act for ‘Summerfest’, in their home town of Berwyn, Illinois. Inspired by the experience, Peterik and the other members of The Ides Of March, Larry Millas, Bob Bergland, Mike Borch, Chuck Soumar, John Larson, Dave Stahlberg, and Scott May, hit the road for some more shows. Whilst Peterik continued writing and producing for other artists (including the Doobie Brothers and .38 Special), The Ides Of March released a four track EP titled ‘Beware - The Ides Of March’, and in 1992 released the full length album ‘Ideology’, featuring re-recordings of some of their best hits, alongside new material.

Meanwhile, Survivor vocalist Jimi Jamison continued to tour, initially under the ‘Survivor’ banner, but following legal action, as ‘Jimi Jamison’s Survivor’. By 1992, Frankie Sullivan had returned to the fray, and began touring with Jamison. In 1993, Sullivan, Jamison and Peterik planned a return to the studio to record some new material, but contractual problems saw Jamison once more depart the scene. Peterik and Sullivan reunited with original vocalist Dave Bickler to record two new tracks, ‘You KnowWho You Are’ and ‘Hungry Years’, for a proposed greatest hits package for Survivor. The trio hit the road as Survivor during 1993, at the same time as Jamison was using the same name for his live shows - a law suit put an end to that conflict over naming rights. Peterik remained in demand as a songwriter and producer, and penned two tracks for the 1994 album ‘Woke Up With A Monster’ by Cheap Trick (see previous posts). Over the next few years Peterik spent time touring and recording with The Ides Of March, in addition to recording material for a proposed new Survivor album, which never saw the light of day. By July 1996, Jim Peterik had elected to leave Survivor, to focus fulltime on The Ides Of March. Long time bassist Stephan Ellis, and drummer Marc Droubay rejoined Survivor shortly after, and the band remained a popular touring act over the next couple of years.

By 2000, Dave Bickler had been shown the door, and apparently his walking through of said door constituted an exit from Survivor. It must have been a revolving door, because Jimi Jamison returned to the fray (all litigious episodes must have been forgiven), and once more plans were laid to record a new album. Over the next few years Survivor remained a touring act, and the line-up was relatively stable, comprising Frankie Sullivan (guitar), Jimi Jamison (vocals), Marc Droubay (drums), Chris Grove (keyboards/guitar), and Billy Ozzello (bass). That line-up released Survivor’s first studio album for almost twenty years, with the 2006 release ‘Reach’. The album featured some of the songs recorded during the 90s, when Bickler had rejoined. Survivor scheduled a tour in support of the ‘Reach’ album, but once again Jamison left the scene, this time replaced by an all new vocalist in Robin McAuley.

As of 2009, Survivor continued to survive as a regular touring act, whilst Peterik’s Ides Of March outfit is still racking up the frequent touring miles (though I’m not sure what kind of vehicular transport they’re using).

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