In late 1981, Tesla was formed by bassist Brian Wheat and guitarist Frank Hannon By 1984, vocalist Jeff Keith and drummer Troy Luccketta had jumped on board. Over the next decade, they established themselves as the “thinking man’s hair metal band,” a welcome (if underappreciated) antidote to overblown posturing of the genre’s biggest bands In 1996, they broke up, only to reunite in 2000. Although they never achieved the same level of fame as some of their contemporaries, they’ve still managed to sell over 14 million records in the US and gain recognition as one of the greatest acts in hair metal. Here’s our pick of the 10 best Tesla songs of all time.
10. Love Song
Tesla always knew their way around a power ballad, and in 1989, they pulled a classic out of the bag with Love Song. Written by Frank Hannon and Jeff Keith and released on the band’s second album, The Radio Controversy, it’s got big vocals, a hooky chorus, and a generous slice of cheese on the side… everything, in fact, that you’d want from an 80’s power ballad. A big hit on its release, it charted at No. 10 on the Billboard 100, No. 7 on the US Album Rock Tracks Chart, and eventually certified Gold.
9. Modern Day Cowboy
In 1987, Tesla introduced themselves to the world with their debut single, Modern Day Cowboy. A jacked-up, juicy piece of rock and roll, it was the perfect introduction to the band. From Jeff Keith’s scratchy vocals to the Aerosmith-inspired riffs, everything is on point. Throw in lyrics that reference everything from Al Capone and Billy the Kid to the Cold War, and it’s easy to see how they earned the title of the “thinking man’s hair metal band”.
8. Edison’s Medicine
Tesla’s third studio album, Psychotic Supper, was a more stripped-back affair than The Great Radio Controversy. There are fewer studio enchantments and a greater focus on Tesla’s bluesy rock. Tesla never fit the mold of a traditional hair metal band, and the understated approach suited them much better than the blowsy, overblown arrangements adopted by many of their peers. One of the album’s key highlights is Edison’s Medicine. As All Music points out, while it’s typical of the pop-metal anthem sound, the subject matter – the attention paid to Thomas Edison compared to the lesser-known but no less gifted Nikola Tesla – sets it apart.
7. Little Suzi
Little Suzi’s on the Up was first recorded by new wave group Ph.D., who released it as the first single from their self-titled debut in 1981. In 1987, Tesla revisited the song under a slightly abridged title for their debut album, Mechanical Resonance. Released as the second (and most successful) single from the album, it helped propel them into the mainstream, charting at No. 91 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 22 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks.
6. Hang Tough
As mikeladano.com notes, Tesla were great at writing hooks, and the opener to their second album, The Great Radio Controversy, features one of the biggest in their canon. Brian Wheat kills on the bass intro, while the beefy dual guitars and Jeff Keith’s elastic vocals meld to create a boot-stomping, chest-pumping anthem of epic proportions. Released as the second single from the album, Hang Tough climbed to No. 34 on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
5. What You Give
What You Give was released as a double single with Cotton Fields in 1992. A no-frills, straight-shooting banger, its back-to-basics approach is emblematic of everything there is to love about the band, highlighting exactly what set them apart from so many of their contemporaries on the hair metal scene.
Signs was first recorded by the Canadian group Five Man Electrical Band for their album, Good-Byes and Butterflies in 1970. Released as a single in 1971, it charted at No. 4 in the band’s native Canada and No. 3 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Two decades later, Tesla covered it and released a live version for their album, Five Man Acoustical Jam album. They changed up the lyrics, added a peppering of four-letter words, and scored a No. 8 hit with it in 1990. In 2007, they revisited it again for their EP, A Peace of Time, this time dropping the curses and reverting to the original lyrics.
3. The Way It Is
Described by All Music as “among their best (songs), with melodies and riffs that aren’t predictable, cookie-cutter product,” The Way It Is is one of the highlights of the band’s second album, The Great Radio Controversy. Released as a single in March 1990, it was a moderate success, peaking at No. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 13 on the Album Rock Tracks chart.
2. Song and Emotion
As Song Facts explains, Song and Emotion was written as a tribute to Steve Clark, the guitarist from Def Leppard who died on January 8, 1991, from alcohol poisoning. Tesla had opened for Def Leppard on their Hysteria tour and had maintained their friendship with Clark until his death. A haunting, beautifully written song, it was initially recorded for the band’s 1991 album, Psychotic Supper, and has since become a mainstay of their live shows.
1. Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)
As Loudwire writes, from their very first album Mechanical Resonance, Tesla distinguished themselves as the “thinking man’s hair metal band,” a position they consolidated with the release of the excellent The Great Radio Controversy. The craftsmanship and substance of songs like Yesterdaze is Gone and Party’s Over may have been lost on the waves of hair metal fans packing out the arenas, but for serious metal fans left nauseated by hair metal’s superficiality, they were a breath of fresh air. Of the album’s many highlights, the spectacular Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out) stands out in particular. Released as the lead single from the album in March 1989, it peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart. Today, it’s considered one of the band’s signatures songs, and unquestionably one of their very greatest.