Oriental Spas – “Street Lines”

That clipped corner of an album, or the hole punched in the cover, often serves as a warning sign. Obviously this was returned by the store that originally carried it and deleted from the record company’s catalog – hence the cutout. Mind you, I’ve found cutouts for some decent bands, most recently the U.K. Subs. But there’s also a lot of long-forgotten wax out there that never caught on, or at least not enough to avoid the loss of dignity that comes from having your own company deface the cover of your art and sell it super cheap out of the back of a van.

That being said, cutouts can be fun. They’re usually pretty cheap, and hey – these bands were decent enough that someone invested in putting out their record, so they might not be half bad. So when I came across Oriental Spas in the Miscellaneous O section (an awfully small section… not a lot of “O” bands) at Hi-Voltage Records and took a look at the fashions this trio was sporting, I was intrigued. The chicks nail that sort of quasi-punk-80s-rocker-chick look – lots of big hair, black clothes with metal accessories, and tights. And the dude looks like one of the guys from Great White dressed up like a stylish revolutionary. Discogs lists the band’s genre as darkwave/industrial, so what the hell right? Let’s see what this is all about.

Well, it took about 10 seconds into the first track on Street Lines (“Tattoo”) to figure out that this was not darkwave, nor was it industrial. It’s straight up 80s hair rock. It’s what Ratt would sound like if Pat Benatar was their lead singer; it’s an ever so slightly more rock version of Scandal; it’s hairspray, ankle boots, and big ostentatious crucifix necklaces. It has keyboards, and someone stole the sound effect pedal Peter Frampton used on “Do You Feel Like We Do”. It’s not trying to be dated, but if you can’t place this smack-dab into the middle of the 1980s (released in 1988), you simply weren’t a teenager then and never had a crush on a girl wearing a sweater that went down to her knees, stirrup pants, and neon colors. Or Lita Ford.

If there was any doubt where Oriental Spas belong in the pantheon of 80s big-hair rock, I offer the following poetic musings for your consideration.

I’ve got a motor bike,
I’ve got chains of steel,
I’ve got a banana seat,
That’ll make you squeal.
I’ve got everything
That you heart desires,
I’m your daddy’s torment
And your momma’s fire.
— “Rattlesnake Charm”

And that’s only one of two songs that include the word “daddy”… and the other is actually called “Daddy”.

Massage massage boy pound on me,
Massage massage I’ll rub you down,
Massage massage boy oil me up,
Massage massage… massage!
— “Massage”

No, seriously. That just happened.

Look man, I may be having some fun at the expense of the Oriental Spas, but bottom line is this is truly representative of what was a popular genre at the time. It’s easy to act like hair metal is funny… but let’s not forget that if you were in high school circa 1983-88 you probably thought it was totally hard, drew Motley Crue and Def Leppard logos in your notebooks, and debated with your friends about whether or not Ozzy really did bite the head off that bat (or dove, or a chocolate bunny, or whatever). And what the Oriental Spas put out on Street Lines is the more radio-friendly poppy version of this same guitar and keyboard sound that sold millions of records for Scandal and Winger… what a lots of us started with when we were 10 or 11 and not quite ready for the “really” hard bands like the Scorpions and Judas Priest. It’s got the obligatory guitar riffs and ballads and bad harmonizing, but despite all that it’s actually not half bad… if you don’t pay attention to the words, which are generally laugh-out-loud absurd and cliched.

Our top five guesses for what Pandora would “suggest” if you like Oriental Spas: REO Speedwagon, Scandal, Whitesnake, Heart, and Survivor. Of course, we checked – Oriental Spas are not recognized by Pandora, which is a loss to music fans everywhere.

Look, don’t go out and buy this unless you can find it cheap. But if you stumble across a cutout copy in the Miscellaneous O section and have an extra $3 burning a hole in your pocket, take it home, get out the Aquanet, and and make it happen.

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