“(You Can Still) Rock in America”: Night Ranger were one of “Hit Parader’s Heavy Metal Heroes”

By on January 19, 2018

“Night Ranger has always straddled the line between pop commercialism and metal mania,” Night Flight’s Pat Prescott says in her introduction to the band’s sublimely ridiculous “(You Can Still) Rock in America” music video, one of the highlights of this edition of “Hit Parader’s Heavy Metal Heroes,” which originally aired on “Night Flight” on April 6, 1985.

Watch it now over on Night Flight Plus.

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Released in 1982 at the very zenith of Reaganism and Cold War-era fuck yeah America bluster and braggadocio, this video — directed by Mark Rezyka & Mary Guido — shows Night Ranger acrobatically leaping about and miming along to the band’s fist-pumping arena rock anthem.

If the idea of seeing “Night Ranger” and “heavy metal” used together just made you throw up a little in your mouth, well, we’re right there with you.

In truth, a lot of rock fans had their gag-reflex tested repeatedly during the 1980s because of bands like Night Ranger, Def Leppard, Triumph and other lightweight Heavy Metal Heroes constantly being referred to as “heavy metal,” despite obvious musical evidence to the contrary.

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Most music critics back then thought Bay Area-based Night Ranger — Jack Blades (bass/lead vocals), Jeff Watson (guitars/keyboards), Brad Gillis (guitars), Alan Fitzgerald (keyboards) and Kelly Keagy (drums/lead vocals) — were “pomp-rockers” or “poseurs,” even referring to them as “the Air Supply of heavy metal.”

Hit Parader, however, were always supportive of the band, often citing poodle-curled Jack Blades’ puppy-dog appeal with his female fans as one of the main reasons for their platinum-selling success.

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We especially liked watching guitarist Jeff Watson displaying bombastic eight-finger tapping technique with outrageous rockitude, pulling faces and hammering on his fretboard like some kind of maniac dentist high on his own nitrous supply.

Fellow guitarist Brad Gillis — who had also filled in for the late Randy Rhoads in Ozzy Osbourne‘s band for about nine months, appearing on Ozzy’s Speak of the Devil album — can be seen with his foot propped up on Blade’s back while he shreds away.

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And can we just point out that bearded keyboardist Alan Fitzgerald — trading the hospital scrubs he wore on the cover of Midnight Madness for a tasteful denim vest, beenie hat and dark shades — looks like he’s some kind of prog-rock jazzbo hooligan playing in a totally different band?

Actually, he’d been a longtime veteran of the ’70s rockers Montrose and probably just hadn’t updated his ’80s stage attire yet.

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Inter-cut with the band’s frenetic staged performance is a weird little dramatic scenario which presents a literal version of the song’s lyrics (you can use your Google finger to find them easily online if you’d like to follow along).

We see a 16-year old girl (“Little sister by the record machine”) and her younger brother (“A fast driver, such a clean machine”) who — when he isn’t polishing the chrome on his motorbike — can be seen relaxing in the tub.

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The siblings make their escape at night to head off to see Night Ranger a-rockin’, they try carefully not to wake up Daddy but he wakes up anyway.

He’s wearing gold silk pajamas with military epaulettes, and finds he’s too late to stop them from motorin’ out for a night of rockin’ in America.

For some reason, there’s lots of patriotic American flags a-flyin’ throughout the video, and members of the band are even seen in a hallway lined with flagpoles raising up a fallen one, Iwo Jima-style .

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Like some kind of Reaganesque ’80s nightmare, they all end up in Daddy’s bed at the end of the song, and we have no actual idea why the fuck any of this happens.

Read more about Night Ranger and “(You Can Still) Rock in America” below.

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In this interview with Night Ranger’s lead singer Jack Blades, he talks about writing the lyrics to “(You Can Still) Rock in America.”

Blade says he wrote the song in a “bad little Travelodge” hotel room while Night Ranger were on tour with Sammy Hagar, another chest-thumping red-white-&-blue rocker (“U.S.A.!” “U.S.A.!”) who in just a few years would be parachuting into Ronald Reagan’s Oval Office in the 1984 video for his song “VOA.”

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Blades says he’d bought a bunch of glossy rock magazines and was disappointed to see they were all proclaiming “Rock is Dead,” and how true heavy metal bands like Deep Purple were being now overshadowed by popular new wave acts.

Blades singles out several bands the magazines were raving about — A Flock of Seagulls, Haircut 100, Boy George, the Thompson Twins, the Cure and others — which provoked him to pick up his pencil and jot down his thoughts, saying:

“Everybody’s saying rock is dead, but as far as I’m concerned, you can still rock in America. Because everywhere we’re going we’re fucking rocking in America. We’re kicking ass.”

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Al Yankovic being ripped to shreds by the members of Night Ranger, 1984

Blades also says “Rock in America” was inspired by something he was told by a teenager from Missouri who came to a Night Ranger show, somewhere in the Midwest, claiming she’d snuck out with her boyfriend to come to the concert with her dad running after them.

“I’m gonna catch hell when I get home,” the young girl told Blades, “but I don’t care, man. I don’t care, because y’all sure know how to rock!'”

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“(You Can Still) Rock in America,” peaked at #51 in early 1984 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart and also reached #15 on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

Hit Parader’s Heavy Metal Heroes” from April 1985 also features music videos from Ratt, Iron Maiden and others, plus you’ll see a revealing interview with Gene Simmons (sans makeup). Watch it now on Night Flight Plus! Fuck yeah, America!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.