OK,OK, MTV needed visuals. In the mid-80s, Michael Jackson was huge but everyone was sort of burned out on him. To top it off, Jackson was "starting" to act weird in public. New Wave, which had given MTV its early identity and had received a big boost in return, was now running on fumes.
MTV demanded new faces. And they got it - photogenic bands with tussled hair and torn jeans. The big hair was a huge part of it. So much so, the music was tagged "Hair Metal." There was also a swagger and sex appeal augmented by slightly (all right, blatantly) suggestive videos. The songs had a male junior high/high school perspective, which was right where their target audience lived.
To counter their pretty boy image Hair Metal bands had tough sounding names like Ratt, Poison, Skid Row, and later, Guns N' Roses. Flying in the face of this moniker trend was a Philadelphia group called Cinderella - yes, like the Disney character. Obviously, they chose the name well before Disney made it corporate policy to sue anybody who came within five miles of their entertainment properties.
Like the Cinderella of cartoon fame, the group, had a fairy godmother. Well, that's probably not the right term, but they had a benefactor in Jon Bon Jovi. He saw the band and was impressed enough to recommend them to his label, Mercury. So singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Tom Keifer, lead guitarist Jeff LaBar, bassist Eric Brittingham and drummer Jody Cortez (who was soon replaced by Fred Coury) entered the studio to record "Night Songs." Despite having the full weight of Mercury's marketing muscle behind it, the '86 album lingered on store shelves.
Seems Mercury had a rather interesting work ethic back then. Namely, a band didn't get to make another album until the first one sold. Relentless touring as an opening act, a brutal endeavor, helped the record go gold. A second single, the power ballad, "Nobody's Fool," got MTV play and "Night Songs" made double platinum in '87.
'88 effort, "Long Cold Winter," is best remembered for "Gypsy Road." Album Rock radio jumped on the track but Mercury didn't release it as a single. Rather, they went with the another power ballad, "Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)," which became the group's biggest chart success. A "Gypsy Road" single backed with a live version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (the Stones tune) was finally released in mid '89 but didn't do much. So give Mercury credit for knowing where the money was.
The common assumption is the arrival of Grunge brought an end to Hair Metal. While Grunge certainly drove a nail into pop-metal, many bands were already running on fumes before Nirvana ever released "Nevermind." Still, having produced back-to-back double platinum albums, Cinderella must have felt confident when they released their most eclectic effort "Heartbreak Station." It went platinum, about half the usual sales. But there were other developments of greater concern. First, Coury bailed and, after a series of temporary drummers, was replaced by Kevin Conway. Then, while the band was touring Japan, Keifer awoke one morning and discovered he couldn't sing ("how could he tell" some joked) due to vocal chord damage. He underwent two operations that left Cinderella idle. Their only '02 contribution was "Hot And Bothered" for the immensely popular "Wayne's World" soundtrack.
Meanwhile, Grunge arrived and the pop-metal bands with their camera-ready singers were replaced by unshaven, troubled looking men in flannel. The party was over. Angst replaced bravado. '94 release "Still Climbing" came and went without notice. A few uneventful shots at recording (including "Live At The Key Club") preceded the band's '95 dissolution. Of course, they reformed a couple years later for some gigs before deciding to make a full time go of it in '00.
Cinderella owes its career to being in the right place at the right time and to the marketing power of MTV. It's doubtful they could have done anything to survive the Grunge onslaught. The whole pop-metal concept was too limiting. Though the group tried to expand their horizons on "Heartbreak Station," incorporating Blues, Country and acoustic arrangements, it hardly mattered.
Best known for ballads, Cinderella could Rock. Unfortunately, they often sound strained and tread the same ground repeatedly. That argues for their "Once Upon A…," the first greatest hits collection or the similar '05 release "Rocked, Wired, Blused: The Greatest Hits." The next stop would be "Heartbreak Station." Major fans have always favored "Live At The Key Club." It was recorded long after the group's prime ('98) but they can still kick it.