Hanoi Rocks – The Days We Spent Underground

Hanoi Rocks – The Days We Spent Underground
Cherry Red Records
Release Date: 26/05/23
Running Time: 04:04:06
Review by Simon Black

Well, this is a bit awkward…. Having spent years bemoaning how difficult it is to get hold of decent quality copies of Hanoi Rocks all too brief discography, two reissues come along at once. A couple of months back, a completely revamped new version of second studio LP “Oriental Beat” landed on my desk and rather made my month. This saw the band completely remastering and mixing this classic opus, to the point where they’ve been quite public that this new version is now their official finished version. So how come a parallel re-release of the original versions has come along mere weeks later? 

Well, this sort of thing happens a lot with older recordings and is all down to the complex contractual rights issues about who owns what and in what format. The reality is that decades ago bands really didn’t expect anyone to still be interested in this stuff 40 years later, and neither did the labels. All of which adds the dimension of copyright rights expiration to the story. Then you have the added complexity of what happens when the labels themselves go out of business and their back catalogues go up for sale… then sit on a shelf for a couple of decades in this instance. It’s all very messy, very confusing for the record buyer (who just wants to get their hands on the recordings) and financially frustrating for the bands, as the reality is since they don’t own the actual recordings, they have bugger all say in what happens to them (although they do get the music publishing royalties at least).

The label history of the band is a real mess too, with these recordings originally emanating from Finnish label Johanna (with distribution all over the shop in the rest of the world), which meant they were never the easiest records to get hold of even in the early 1980’s. Johanna went bust in 1984 not long after the last record in the set was released, but by then Hanoi Rocks had already signed to CBS in the USA and were working on a new album when the fateful car crash that Drummer Razzle didn’t walk away from (and Vince Neil did scott free) effectively ended the band. These recordings have been in limbo ever since, apart from briefly becoming available on Axl Rose’s Uzi Suicide label back in the day, who felt that given Guns ‘N’ Roses was basically a love letter to Hanoi Rocks and Aerosmith, that he probably owed them the chance for their material to be heard. For the purpose of this release, Cherry Red have instead got their hands on these original Johanna versions in their entirety, so this is very much an historical retrospective independent of any reworkings the band may also have in the pipeline as they ramp up to a reformation tour next year. 

The fact that this set has not benefitted from the overhaul that “Oriental Beat” recently had does show, as big budget they were not and had to rely on the strength of songs and the formidable live delivery of their shows to sell records. That said, first album “Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks” is actually not a bad effort when it comes to production, and I was surprised to find that frontman Michael Monroe and guitarist Andy McCoy actually did this themselves (if you ever wondered who ‘The Muddy Twins’ credited on the album actually were). 

The songs themselves have a certain naïve charm and there’s a huge amount of stylistic nodding to the British Punk scene, even though by this time it was long gone (although they probably weren’t aware of that in Helsinki and Stockholm in 1979 and onwards when these were probably first starting to be penned). There’s also a significant chunk of belting tracks on here that will ultimately find themselves on each and every one of the many Best of… Compilation albums that the last four decades have produced, with ‘Tragedy’, ‘Don’t Never Leave Me’ and ‘11th Street Kids’ all originating here (the first being a McCoy track penned when he was a teenager before the band existed, which tells you everything you need to know about where their more most memorable songs came from). It’s a perfectly sound album, a damn fine start to the band’s upward trajectory and successful enough to persuade the band to relocate completely to London in time for their next release.

“Oriental Beat” (even on this rougher original mix), is still a contender for their best studio album. It retains the energy and distinctiveness of the highlights from the album before, but delivers it with way more confidence, swagger and energy than its predecessor. Having by this point realised that Punk had gone away in London, Hanoi Rocks then started to meld a whole bunch of other musical elements that were predominant in the area at the time, which is why bits of Ska and Reggae elements get thrown in alongside the Punk and Hard Rock tropes, and is also the first time that Monroe reaches for his saxaphone. This kind of experimentation is one of the reasons this album works so well, even though it’s a symptom of the frenetic pace of delivery the band went at in this period, with a studio album a year not yet taking its toll. The tracks that stand out though again are the staples they are idolised for with ‘Motorvatin’ and the title track for me being the absolute nadir of their songwriting.

“Self Destruction Blues” however is the difficult third child in the deck. The problem is that it’s not a proper full studio album, but in fact a compilation of previously released singles and B-Sides, which is why it comes across as such a mess. The first half of the record in particular is a damn hard listen, with only opener ‘Love’s An Injection’ (the only original song here) really feeling like it’s the band of yore. OK, ‘Taxi Driver’ is pretty seminal too, but the rest of the disk is an unfocussed mess and probably best forgotten.

Now the last studio release “Back To Mystery City” jumps right back where “Oriental Beat” left off, and then some. After the intro, we blast straight into “Malibu Beach Nightmare”, which remains both their anthem and a rather sombre epitaph considering where Razzle died in Redondo Beach a mere thirty miles away. Classic belters like ‘Mental Beat’, ‘Back To Mystery City’ and the moody, yet creepy ballad ‘Until I Get You’ are born here, but as ever there’s a couple of more experimental tracks thrown in for every Rock ‘N’ Roll belter. 

Hanoi Rocks were a huge influence on so many bands, and gone far too soon. I missed out on them first time round, as they’d already gone very shortly before I started listening to this sort of music, but a dear friend introduced me to the live video of “All Those Wasted Years” and from then on, I was hooked. By this time in the late 80’s the band were no more but that live performance was something else, the audio recording of which is the disk that closes the set. The difference in quality between the sporadic hit and miss eclectic style jumps from the four studio pieces does not happen here, with a full-length performance loaded to the brim with all the bangers I’ve drawn to your attention earlier on, and a few more besides. It was live that they gained their reputation (as the albums were actually fairly scarce in the UK at the time) and from this you can hear (and see, since bits of it have found their way inevitably to YouTube) just how electric and fluid their shows actually were, and what a void they left behind them.

Michael Monroe carried on of course, and his solo work is very much of the same tone and timbre, and he remains insanely energetic live and apparently untouched by the years judging from his recent support shows with Black Star Riders a few months ago but crucially they’ve never written together again, preferring to remain their own sporadic tribute act having reformed once before this side of the millennium, albeit briefly. Although I managed to get a couple of the Uzi Suicide (Axl Rose’s vanity label) re-releases in 1989, they were hard to find even then – so finally getting my hands on the full original set has been a fascinating journey and this is a vital time capsule for a hey-day long gone. 

‘Motorvatin’ Live Video

1 – Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks
01. 1 Tragedy
02. Village Girl
03. Stop Cryin’
04. Don’t Never Leave Me
05. Lost In The City
06. First Timer
07. Cheyenne
08. 11th Street Kids
09. Walking With My Angel
10. Pretender

2 – Oriental Beat
01. Motorvatin’
02. Don’t Follow Me
03. Visitor
04. Teenangels Outsiders
05. Sweet Home Suburbia
06. M.C. Baby
07. No Law Or Order
08. Oriental Beat
09. Devil Woman
10. Lightnin’ Bar Blues
11. Fallen Star

3 – Self Destruction Blues
01. Love’s An Injection
02. I Want You
03. Cafe Avenue
04. Nothing New
05. Kill City
06. Self Destruction Blues
07. Beer And A Cigarette
08. Whispers In The Dark
09. Taxi Driver
10. Desperados
11. Problem Child
12. Dead By X-Mas

4 – Back To Mystery City
01. Strange Boys Play Weird Openings
02. Malibu Beach Nightmare
03. Mental Beat
04. Tooting Bec Wreck
05. Until I Get You
06. Sailing Down The Tears
07. Lick Summer Love
08. Beating Gets Faster
09. Ice Cream Summer
10. Back To Mystery City

5 – All Those Wasted Years
01. Pipeline
02. Oriental Beat
03. Back To Mystery City
04. Motorvatin’
05. Until I Get You
06. Mental Beat
07. Don’t Never Leave Me
08. Tragedy
09. Malibu Beach Nightmare
10. Visitor
11. 11th Street Kids
12. Taxi-Driver
13. Lost In The City
14. Lightning Bar Blues
15. Beer And A Cigarette
16. Under My Wheels
17. I Feel Alright
18. Train Kept A Rolling

Michael Monroe – Vocals, Piano, Saxophone, Harmonica
Andy Mccoy – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Nasty Suicide – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Sam Yaffa – Bass
Gyp Casino – Drums (Disks 1-3)
Razzle – Drums (Disks 4-5)


Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.