Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Look Back at Hear 'n Aid's Stars

Everyone knows about Ronnie James Dio's stints in Rainbow and Sabbath as well as his solo band, but his charity work also runs deep in the core of his character. Formed in the mid-80s to serve as a heavy metal answer to "We Are The World" and bring the finest icons of the era together in the name of African famine relief, Hear 'n Aid is one of his more interesting examples of his generous spirit. As you would expect, "Stars" is an incredibly dated song but one that demands to be enjoyed for that very reason.

If I'm being perfectly honest, I must admit that "Stars" isn't that special in terms of its actual songwriting. It's pretty much a "Rainbow In The Dark" rewrite right down to using a similar song structure but trades the iconic keyboard line for a one line chorus enthusiastically shouted by every musician involved. It's still a pretty fun song and wouldn't have been out of place on The Last In Line or Sacred Heart, but it likely would've been seen as a solid filler track if Dio had been the only singer on it.

But like all the other mid-80s charity singles, the guest singers are what make this worthwhile. Whether they were all passionate about the project or Dio was just that good at writing vocal lines, each vocalist gives it his all even if it's just for a single line. Hearing Geoff Tate and Rob Halford belting this out in their prime is life affirming but even the guys like Don Dokken and Kevin Dubrow manage to sound pretty damn epic. Of course, this being an 80s metal venture does mean that the well known shredders of the time get to shine in an extended solo section. This idea's execution is a bit misguided as the seemingly endless soloing threatens to kill the momentum established by the stirring verses and and each one is rather hard to tell apart unless you're that familiar with each guitarist's technique. Yngwie Malmsteen and George Lynch's solos are predictably flashier than the rest and I'm enough of an Iron Maiden fanboy to recognize their duo's harmonizing (and enough of one to wonder what the hell Bruce Dickinson was doing at the time), but it's hard to sit through it all without the video telling which guitarist you're supposed to be amazed by at a given time. Thankfully the drum solos are just a topper before the last chorus and not another section...

A friend and I once debated what singers would be on a modern version of Hear 'n Aid but this project could've only happened when it did and is best appreciated as a relic of its time. The driving rhythm, guest singers, and even the guitarists' contributions make it mandatory for 80s metal nuts but the typical structure and dated feel make it hard to recommend to anyone else. It's a fun listen and I'd probably get a copy if it were ever re-released. Rest in peace, Ronnie, no modern tribute could ever be as fulfilling as jamming this cornball.