Recess, Reassessed: Come Out and Play by Twisted Sister

There’s no denying that Come Out and Play was poorly received both critically and commercially, especially in comparison to Stay Hungry. The album eventually went gold in the US, which is obviously nothing to complain about these days, but Stay Hungry had sold six times that number in the US alone, so both the band and their label had good reason to be concerned.

Twisted Sister 1986

Courtesy of Twisted History: The Photos (www.twistedsister.com/publicity.php).

However, as much as Come Out and Play is presumed to be a disaster, it’s entirely unfair to dismiss it as anywhere near a complete catastrophe. Sure, Come Out and Play doesn’t measure up to Under the Blade or You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n’ Roll, but by 1985 Twisted Sister were in an entirely different and somewhat unenviable position, busily trying to find some balance between being a household name and retaining a sense of their earlier metal murderousness.

The band had helped usher in glam metal, but Twisted Sister wanted to be a tawdry metal act, not a glittering example of rock ’n’ roll androgyny. Unfortunately, Come Out and Play ended up being a somewhat confused mix of both, melding metal-and-pop-friendly tracks together, which proved a step too far for many of the band’s previous fans.

Recess, reassessed

Come Out and Play certainly starts well, with clanging bottles paying homage to the cult classic film Warriors on the title track. “Come Out and Play” made for an appropriately gutter-metal onslaught too, highlighting Twisted Sister’s New York roots. Follow-up track “Leader of the Pack ” had an old-school history too. Twisted Sister had originally covered the Shangri-Las’ classic on the band’s Ruff Cuts EP. But “Leader of the Pack”’s presence on Come Out and Play (a clear attempt to mesh former glories with the band’s current status) was also seen as a gimmick, blatantly set on establishing continued chart success.

The reception for Come Out and Play wasn’t helped by having noted Scorpions producer Dieter Dierks essentially erase the last (and crucial) vestiges of abrasiveness Twisted Sister retained from their club days. MTV fare, like “Be Chrool To Your Scuel,” was fun enough — and featured the additional talents of Alice Cooper, Clarence Clemons, Brian Setzer, Billy Joel and many other guests. However, the song’s jaunty tone took such a blatant stab at attracting a pop audience (although MTV subsequently banned the video for “Be Chrool To Your Scuel”) that formerly steadfast fans were left scratching, not banging, their heads.

Elsewhere, the turgid ballad “I Believe in You” didn’t come close to evoking the poignancy of a track like Stay Hungry’s “The Price” either. But, that said, Come Out to Play wasn’t a calamity by any means. The album also featured plenty of neck-cracking, albeit shinier metallic tracks, like “The Fire Still Burns,” “Kill or be Killed” and “Lookin’ Out for #1.” And, while “I Believe in Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “You Want What We Got” might not have featured the out-and-out contagious choruses of tracks like “Bad Boys (Of Rock ‘N Roll)” or “The Kids are Back,” they still made an admirable charge at catchy and captivating territory.

Glossy production aside, if Come Out and Play has one clear fault, it’s in Snider’s hurried sense of songwriting — but even that’s understandable.

Buckling under the pressure

Twisted Sister was rearing to maximize every available avenue to continue their success, and while the band’s grand plans for Come Out and Play never came close to fruition, you certainly can’t fault Twisted Sister’s ambition. Although the band might well point to a raft of different issues effecting Come Out and Play’s poor reception, including that aforementioned PMRC attention and tensions in the band, the truth is, the songs just weren’t good enough.

For all of Snider’s claims that Come Out and Play featured some of his best songwriting, he’d also been writing all of Twisted Sister’s material for years, and every songwriter hits the wall on occasion. Snider had always been more of melody maker than technical maestro, and with the rest of Twisted Sister not contributing any major creative ideas, Come Out and Play simply sounded like he buckled under the pressure of trying to follow-up a smash hit.

Of course, that’s somewhat forgivable too. Because the lacklustre material lying within Come Out and Play is the inevitable result of Snider having already stacked three previous albums with plenty of ripping tracks — and we’ve nothing to complain about there.

Come Out and Play is nowhere near a classic Twisted Sister album, even if the band had set out to produce their defining work. However, Come Out and Play isn’t the catastrophe it’s often accused of being either. Twisted Sister were always fans of NWOBHM heroes such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, and you can still hear that in Eddie “Fingers” Ojeda and Jay Jay French’s intertwining leads and riffing on a track like “The Fire Still Burns” — no matter how much the production polishes the snags and snarls.

Ultimately, Twisted Sister’s image and profile saw the band unfairly lumped in with the poppy hair metal crowd, and the band never had enough time to get comfortable in the upper reaches of the charts or mark out its own distinct, chest-beating domain. The confusion about who the band were — metal, hard rock, or fluffy, flamboyant metal — was born out on the subsequent tour for Come Out and Play, with Twisted Sister’s core fanbase (those devoted S.M.F.’s of the past) deserting in droves.

Half-filled houses greeted Twisted Sister in the US, and the band were losing money hand over fist with Come Out and Play’s elaborate stage show, leading to a string of rearranged and cancelled shows before Snider eventually faked a throat ailment to halt the tour completely. The band played to larger audiences in Europe, where Come Out and Play was more warmly received, but more inter-band turmoil saw drummer A. J. Pero exit Twisted Sister in 1986.

By the time Twisted Sister returned in August 1987, with the abysmal Love is for Suckers, the band was deeply in debt, and basically dead in the water. Although released as a Twisted Sister album, the Beau Hill (grossly over-) produced Love is for Suckers was, for all intents and purposes, a Snider solo release. However, Atlantic Records were only willing to release the album under the Twisted Sister banner, and aside from strong opener “Wake up (The Sleeping Giant),” the rest of the album desperately clutched for chart success.

twisted sister 1987

Twisted Sister’s final 1987 line-up. Courtesy of Twisted History: The Photos (www.twistedsister.com/publicity.php).

A brief tour followed, but the band was doomed, and with Love is for Suckers selling a handful of copies, Snider announced his departure from Twisted Sister two months after the album’s release. Atlantic records promptly dropped Twisted Sister, and the band went into hibernation.

Now, Come Out and Play might well be seen as the penultimate chapter in the Twisted Sister tale, the album where the band took their first step towards the rock ‘n’ roll abyss. Certainly, Come Out and Play does go down in the record books as the very first CD to ever go out of print, but Come Out and Play was also Twisted Sister’s second biggest selling album worldwide, and the band did manage to play some well-regarded shows around the time of its release.

Like many an album struck down by mainstream indifference and inter-band squabbling, it’s not that Come Out and Play is a disaster or even a fiasco, it’s simply that the surrounding circumstances have coloured it as such. Sure, Under the Blade, You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Stay Hungry are far better albums, but Come Out and Play still adds an appendix to that trilogy that’s well worth visiting. Come Out and Play is great example of what happens when a band struggles for years, suddenly rises to dizzying heights, and then gets incinerated by endeavouring to remain under the mainstream spotlight.

Admittedly, Come Out and Play is maligned by many. But, while it undeniably represents a band headed for destruction, that shouldn’t be confused with it being a complete artistic failure.

Obviously, these days, Twisted Sister is back, touring on and off since reforming in late 2001. This year, the band celebrates the 30th anniversary of Stay Hungry with another round of dates in Europe and the US, and while it would be a lie to say the band are all best of buddies, they’re certainly aware and appreciative of the importance of Twisted Sister’s legacy for many fans — and, you know, the bankable value of that.

Dee Snider Shut Up and Give Me the Mic

Dee Snider’s hilariously snarky autobiography

A steady stream of releases from Twisted Sister over the years has seen the usual compilations appear, and Club Daze Volume 1: The Studio Sessions and Volume 2: Live in the Bars are worth investigating for a glimpse into Twisted Sister’s pre-Under the Blade ventures. In 2004, the band released Still Hungry, a complete re-recording of Stay Hungry that brings the rawness and heaviness the band first imagined their biggest hit to have to the fore.

The band’s visceral Live At Hammersmith is also well worth seeking out too. It’s easily the band’s best live recording, capturing Twisted Sister on the London stage, right on the cusp of Stay Hungry’s success. Twisted Sister’s catalogue has, of course, also been remastered and reissued as well, and tracking down a fresh copy of Under the Blade, with its original mix and the bonus DVD of Twisted Sister’s legendary performance at 1982’s Reading Festival, is heartily advised.

Finally, if you want a glimpse into Twisted Sister’s history, then Snider’s aforementioned autobiography is a must read. Shut up and Give Me the Mic is hilariously snarky, taking shots at everyone, but for even more caustic tales from the Twisted Sister trenches, issue #3 of Chips and Beer magazine has a superb overview of the band’s career, and a raft of features on New York’s ’70s and ’80s metal hooligans. (Actually, while you’re there, you might as well pick up every single copy of Chips and Beer, because it’s the most entertaining metal magazine by a mile.)

Craig Hayes

Internationally published writer, columnist, and radio producer.