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Hats Off to Dokken

Let me take you back to a bygone era. . . . 

True story from my long-haired teenage mallrat days, circa 1991: I tried on a fedora-type hat and looked great (if I do say so myself), but let friends talk me out of the purchase. Their fatal shot for my fashion venture was: “Don’t wear stuff like that, man. It’s way too ‘Don Dokken.’” At the time, this seemed like sage advice to a kid from the “Death to False Metal” mindset. In retrospect, however, it was an unfair dig at a guy with genuine Heavy credibility – – and great hair (talking about Don Dokken, not me). 

See, Dokken were part of the Pop Metal vanguard that had conquered late 80s music video and rock radio – – sometimes called “Glam Metal” or the more derogatory, “Hair Metal.” But even in their most MTV-focused days, they maintained some modicum of street respect (my mall friends notwithstanding). They were never False Metal.* You’d find Dokken tapes in peoples’ cassette racks next to Duran Duran as often as you’d find them next to Death Angel. Their image fit the trends, but never to exaggeration, and they never compromised their core sound and edge. When Anthrax sang, “Bands dress like women, with hairspray and lace,” no one felt like this was aimed at Dokken.** George Lynch’s powerhouse lead guitar had always been katana-sharp. Don’s vocal delivery often had a soft side, but he could also bring the fire. Their classic lineup was unimpeachable:  Don Dokken: vocals, George Lynch: lead guitar, Wild Mick Brown: drums, and Jeff Pilson: bass. Dokken the band boasted a deep catalog of legitimately great AOR, Hard Rock, and Metal – – with a few tracks that were probably uncomfortably raucous for their mainstream fans.***

The first singles from their sophomore “Tooth and Nail” album were “Into the Fire” and “Just Got Lucky,” both solid as steel. But it was the third single that first reached young me: a textbook minor key, clean-chords-to-distorted-power-chords lighter-burner. Emotional, but not sappy. Heartfelt, but without a drop of saccharine. Sensitive – – and strong. In an era over-saturated with bullshit romantic sentiment, “Alone Again” was actually an effective tale of post-breakup heartache. And most importantly: it rocked. It rocked then, and it still rocks now. All due respect to the rest of the band, this song showcases Don and George at their best. The first Dokken song I’d ever heard remains my favorite. It’s power ballad perfection. 

The song exists as we know it only because the record company told Dokken they needed a ballad for “Tooth and Nail.” Don found this hidden, forgotten gem on some old 4-track demo tapes; bassist Jeff Pilson heard something in the chorus, so the band reworked it and recorded it for the album. The rest, as they say, is history.  

It’s not Dokken’s only great song – – not by a long shot**** – – but “Alone Again” is their best. Give it a listen. Don’t let your friends talk you out of it. Nobody else can bind you. 

I never did buy that hat, by the way.

Don Dokken having the last laugh.

Don Dokken was inducted into the Metal Hall of Fame in 2020.  


Jack Mangan is best known in the Metal world as lead author/project runner for the “Am I Evil?” graphic novel (set to release in early 2023) as a journalist with and the official Metal Hall of Fame. and also as co-host of the popular (sporadic these days) Metal Hall of Fame and livestreams with Rich Catino. He’s made a few guest appearances as a panelist on The Metal Voice. In an adjacent life, he was a podcast pioneer, with numerous appearances on Technorama, Dragon Page, Escape Pod/Pseudopod, and many others, including his own productions: Jack Mangan’s Deadpan, and the Podcast novel, “Spherical Tomi.” Friend him on Facebook if you can find him, but be warned: he’s not great about checking Facebook Messenger.

*Manowar unavailable for comment. 

**“Imitation of Life” from Anthrax’s “Among the Living” album. These lyrics haven’t aged well, but come on, we know who and what Scott Ian meant. 

***The counterpoint to this would be “In My Dreams” from the “Under Lock and Key” album. The song was slick, bland, and cheesy enough for a Technopop band to take a faithful cover to number 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 (The Party, 1991 The Dokken original stalled out at number 77. “Under Lock and Key” is a true Metal classic; this is just a terrible song on a brilliant album. It doesn’t tarnish the Dokken legacy. 

****Paris is Burning, Breaking the Chains, Into the Fire, It’s Not Love, Just Got Lucky, Mr. Scary, The Hunter, Lightning Strikes Again, Tooth and Nail, Dream Warriors, and so on, and so on. . .  

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