Jeff Schroeder has spent the last 15 years playing guitar alongside Billy Corgan (and, more recently, the returned James Iha) in alt-rock icons the Smashing Pumpkins.
Which, one would imagine, would not be the first place you’d look to find someone with a serious ‘80s glam metal fixation. But truth be told, the Pumpkins have always evidenced a serious affinity for electrifying, gloriously overblown guitar riffs and solos – and, by extension, for many of the artists of the era, from Eddie Van Halen to George Lynch, that blazed a similar musical path.
“We like the heaviness, but also the aggressiveness – even down to things like the pick attack of some of these guys,” Schroeder explains. “There's an energy you get from that type of playing that can't be replicated by anything other than a ripping guitar solo. So we like to have that in the Pumpkins.”
A true child of the ‘80s, Schroeder makes no bones about the fact that he cut his guitar teeth on the big-haired shredders of the era. So he was more than happy to sit down with Metal Edge on the eve of Smashing Pumpkins' upcoming tour to reveal his five favorite hair-metal albums, going so far as to rank them in order, and also set a few ground rules.
For starters, no Van Halen.
“I just felt like Van Halen was not quite ‘the ‘80s’ – it’s not hair metal,” Schroeder explains. “So while there are some Van Halen-associated people and records on the list, I decided they would be my one exclusion.”
As for what he loves most about this era of music?
“What is so intriguing to me about it, to this day, is that I don't know if there will ever again be a time where you can have albums with the most avant-garde guitar techniques, and those albums can hit Number One on the Billboard charts. Where you could be pushing the envelope as far as what the instrument can do, and still have massive, massive commercial success. I mean, what an amazing time.”
We couldn’t agree more, Jeff. And with that, let’s get to #5…
#5. Mr. Big – Mr. Big (1989); Lean Into It (1991)
So at number five is a tie for two albums by the same artist. I was, and still am, a huge Paul Gilbert fan, and I'd already been listening to Racer X by the time he came out with Mr. Big. And so I already knew about all those record, and of course I knew Billy Sheehan, too, from David Lee Roth and all his other stuff. And being a big reader of all the guitar magazines, I mean, there was a lot of lead up to collaboration. So it was an exciting thing.
I probably liked the first record a little bit more, just the vibe and the sound and the tones. And “Addicted to That Rush,” it's just such a cool thing, and obviously kind of a play on “Shyboy” [from David Lee Roth’s Eat ‘Em and Smile], with Billy’s bass playing. There's just so many great solos on that record, and it was a cool evolution to see Paul go from the Shrapnel [Records] thing into that. By Lean Into It, the chorus [effect] on the guitar already went away a little bit, which I kind of missed. And the playing got slightly bluesier, too. But “Green-Tinted Sixties Mind,” I mean, that’s one of my favorite songs of the era. And that intro lick is incredible, too. Just a great, great tune.
#4. White Lion – Pride (1987)
You know, if I was making this list on another day this one could be as high as number one. But today? It's number four. Pride by White Lion. The guitar playing on this record is just stellar. Vito Bratta was just an amazing talent. And as we all know there's this kind of mystery of what happened to him. When alternative music hit he really just disappeared. And that’s too bad, because he was really was one of the best guitar players from that era. I mean, every solo on Pride is just totally insane. I think Vito, probably to his chagrin, got a bit pigeonholed as an Eddie [Van Halen] clone. And certainly that’s kind of where he started. But if you really listen closely to his playing on Pride, there's a lot of other things in there, too. So I can't say enough good things about Vito Bratta and White Lion. And even though I like the albums that came after, Big Game and Mane Attraction, from beginning to end Pride is just so solid. It’s the one.
#3. David Lee Roth – Eat ‘Em and Smile (1986)
At one point I was like, “Well, this shouldn't be on the list…” But I feel like it really has to be because it’s a record that would have been covered quite a bit in Metal Edge back in the day, you know? Maybe even more so than Van Halen at the time. Because I think Van Halen went a little more kind of AOR mainstream rock. And even though Eat 'Em and Smile is actually an extremely musically diverse album, I think that looks-wise and vibe-wise it was very much part of this genre. Plus, you have Steve Vai on there, and Steve is one of my favorite players. I'm trying to remember if I knew about him before this record, but I’m not sure that I did. And there was so much hype around this album. I mean, the competition between Van Halen and David Lee Roth, and then he comes out of the gate with this. To this day, the playing on it is just remarkable. The solo on “Big Trouble”? I mean, wow. I continually go back to this record quite a bit, even today.
#2. Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force – Marching Out (1985)
It’s hard for me to pick a specific album from Yngwie, but if I had to it would be Marching Out. I was born in 1974, so by the time I was nine or ten years old and started playing guitar, it was 1984 and we were just hitting this high point of amazing guitar playing. And everybody knew who Yngwie was. I remember buying Rising Force, his first solo album, in the mall, and I keep such good care of my records that I still have it with the original plastic on it, with the price tag. [laughs] Brand new it was $5.98 or something like that.
Why do I love Marching Out? First off, it’s just absolutely monstrous guitar playing from beginning to end. And songs like “I'll See the Light Tonight” and “Don't Let It End” are fantastic. But I even like “I Am a Viking”! I know it's the song that's kind of made fun of, and it is kind of funny, but the solo on that song is just ferocious. I mean, Yngwie just had no fear at the time.
Here’s an interesting story: I grew up in the L.A. area and when I was 16, Yngwie did a signing at a Tower Records in the suburbs by my house. And so I drove there by myself and waited, like, three hours in line at this Tower Records with my Yngwie poster. And then you get up to the front of the line and there he is, with the leopard jacket, the sunglasses, the full Yngwie. I realize now he was probably wearing the sunglasses because he totally hungover [laughs], but it just seemed so awesome. I didn’t even talk to him. I mean, I probably said “thank you,” or something like that, but you only get like three seonds, and then it’s “Next!" They just wanted to get everyone in and out. And there were so many people in line with their guitars. Just all these dudes standing out there with their guitars, going into Tower Records. I don't think you'll ever see anything like that again.
#1. Dokken – Under Lock and Key (1985)
So number one was pretty easy for me. I mean, this is clearly number one! I loved everything about this record, from the playing to the tones to, of course, the songs. I always loved the songs. I love Don [Dokken]. In the Pumpkins, Billy [Corgan] and I will kind of argue about it, he'll be like, “Don's voice is too smooth...” But I loved that Don's voice was smooth and kind of soft. He wasn't a screamer like a lot of other guys. So on Under Lock and Key I thought the songwriting was great, and then every solo on that record, it's just like so memorable and so melodic. George Lynch's pick attack is right where it should be, but then the fluidity of it all, and the note choices… it’s just insane. If you’re a guitarist and study just the solos on this record, it'll take you a long way. So to this day it’s still one of my favorites, and it’s definitely my number one record if I had to choose.
And you know, I've been lucky enough to play with George. In 2008 we invited him to play with the Pumpkins. We were on tour and a friend of mine that knew his manager said, “Do you want to have George come down and jam with you guys?” So I went to Billy and he was like, “Dude, let's absolutely have him come down!”
So George came to the show at the Gibson Amphitheatre in L.A., and the two guitars he brought were the Tiger Stripe and the Skull. And then he had his Marshall plexi. It was basically "the" sound. We put him in kind of a rush situation in that we wanted to do this really proggy, like, 20-minutes-long song that had all these changes in it. I think he didn't appreciate that too much, but when it was time for him to solo, we wrote this really long section for him to just go off on. And he lit it up. I mean, he lit it up only like someone that's an elite level player can. He elevated it to this other level that only someone with his skillset can do. It was an amazing thing to witness.