Tesla have produced top quality music for three decades, but for me the experience of hearing that debut album will never be bettered.
Tesla's 'Mechanical Resonance' has just celebrated its thirtieth birthday, the Sacramento band's debut album being unleashed on the world in December 1986. Formed in 1981 by bassist Brian Wheat and guitarist Frank Hannon, originally known as City Kidd, by 1984 the band had recruited drummer Troy Lucketta, guitarist Tommy Skeoch and the unique sounding vocalist Jeff Keith. The band switched names during the recording of the album on the advice of their manager; they were named after Nikola Tesla, the inventor and electrical engineer and the adversary of Thomas Edison, a theme that would develop through the album and heavily influence latter releases. The album was recorded at the Bearsville Studios in New York over the summer of 1986 and produced by acclaimed duo Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero.
The album was released and Tesla were instantly put in the Hair Metal movement, despite the sound being Hard-edged Rock and the band dressing in "normal" clothes. Tesla had no gimmick just hard hitting, well written Rock songs. Album opener 'EZ Come, EZ Go' makes the hairs on your neck stand to attention with the onslaught of the twin guitar attack and the dynamite riffs, then you pick up on the unusual sound of Keith's vocals; a definite marmite vocalist, but to me so suited to the music. 'Cumin' Atcha Live' starts the next aural battering and you get a full sense of what Tesla stand for; good no nonsense in your face Hard Rock – not a hairspray in sight. The twin guitar sound blows you off your feet as the solid backline pounds away. You start to realise you are listening to something special.
'Getting Better' slows the pace down a little and you get to appreciate the tone of Keith's vocals. The structure of the songs allow the talents of the individuals to shine through and allow the parts to gel to the highest quality. '2 Late 4 Love' begins to pick up the pace before the blinding 'Rock Me To The Top' grabs you from all angles and doesn't release you till the dying strains of Skeoch's guitar fade. The beauty of the album is the subtle pace changes without going into full eighties ballad mode; at this point it is time for a little breather with 'We're No Good Together' before we head straight into the albums peak for me. 'Modern Day Cowboy' is a sonic barrage and, as far as I am concerned, the perfect Tesla song which in a nutshell sums up the power and attitude of the band. The song was a staple of my mix tapes for years. Another highlight is 'Changes' and it's another change of pace, this is a great showcase for Keith's vocal range. The song is a slow burner that gradually builds up and finishes again with the twin guitar attack of Hannon and Skeoch.
'Little Suzi' is the only non Tesla song on the album, being that it is a cover of the British band Ph.D (Jim Diamond, Simon Phillips and Tony Hymas – in case you were wondering). The song was actually a minor hit for the band, breaking in to the Billboard Top 100. The bombastic up-tempo 'Love Me' and 'Cover Queen' start to bring the album to its climax with no let-up in pace, before another Tesla classic, the sultry and haunting 'Before My Eyes'. It's a beautiful song that shouldn't work with Keith's voice but boy does it. This drifts off and leaves you with the only option possible, play it again. A fantastic collection of songs written by the band and played to the highest degree. An all-time favourite "go to" album that never fails to inspire and lift spirits. Debut albums should not be this good. Is it Tesla's masterpiece? To some maybe, to me the perfect stepping stone to allow the band to continue and flourish with their own unique sound – phenomenal.
On the back of 'Mechanical Resonance', the band picked up some major support slots opening for the likes of Def Leppard on the 'Hysteria' tour; this gave the band worldwide exposure including a successful slot on the European tour. This was my first exposure to the band and I was fortunate enough to meet them at the Manchester Apollo show. Other tours with Alice Cooper and Poison were successful leading to the album being certified platinum. This release paved the way for the stellar 'The Great Radio Controversy', a record that cracked the Billboard Top 20 and produced the hit single 'Love Song'. The band performed a sensational version of 'Love Song' acoustically at the Bay Area Music Awards (BAMIES) which formed the basis of the club tour that resulted in 'Five Man Acoustical Jam' release, which became the forerunner for the popular MTV Unplugged series; I was fortunate to catch the show at the Astoria, London in 1991 and it is one that has lived long in the memory.
Despite a few ups and downs, the band are still largely together with just Skeoch missing from the original line-up, and regularly releasing albums of high quality Hard Rock as well as a couple of cover records and a full acoustic album. Last year the band celebrated the thirtieth anniversary with a live recording of the whole album. Tesla have produced top quality music for three decades, but for me the experience of hearing that debut album will never be bettered; musically they have surpassed the album but for me that moment in time has never stopped sounding fresh. Now if only Mr Tesla would invent a time machine...