40 Years Ago: Scorpions Break Through With Their Best Album, ‘Lovedrive’
Prior to recording their sixth studio LP, 1979's Lovedrive, Scorpions had two main problems: finding major success outside their native Germany and hanging onto a lead guitarist. Fortunately for the band, both issues would soon be solved.
With previous lead guitarist Uli Jon Roth out of the picture following 1977's Taken by Force, the remaining Scorpions needed a new axe man, and they found him in Matthias Jabs, whose 1978 arrival came early enough to get him in the studio for the Lovedrive sessions. But he wasn't alone; partway through recording, founding guitarist Michael Schenker – who'd quit years earlier to join UFO – rejoined following his firing from that band.
This left Scorpions with three guitarists: Jabs, Michael Schenker and his brother Rudolf, who'd co-founded the group with his brother in 1965. Although Michael was only part of a small portion of what became Lovedrive, contributing leads to "Another Piece of Meat," "Coast to Coast," "Loving You Sunday Morning" and the title track, his inclusion hinted at a bigger, beefier sound for the band. Unfortunately, this lineup proved short-lived; when it came time to hit the road in support of the album, the Schenkers closed ranks, leaving Jabs an ex-Scorpion – for the time being, anyway.
"I was tired then," Michael said regarding the end of his tenure with UFO. "I feel more refreshed now, but I'll never play again the way UFO played, all the little clubs up and down America. Scorpions are well-known already, so we should get a guest spot on a major tour. I'd lost my enthusiasm with UFO; with Scorpions I'm excited again."
His excitement came at a pivotal time for the band, with worldwide fortunes on the rise following the release of Lovedrive. As singer Klaus Meine recalled during a 1979 interview with Melody Maker, growing the Scorpions' global profile had been a long battle. "In England and America, when you say you are a German, they sigh and you have to convince them and prove yourself to them, not like English or American bands," he explained. "It's like a road in a jungle. We have the ridiculous thing of showing people that we are not like Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream."
They had nothing in common with either of those bands. "We always knew what we wanted," stressed Meine. "We wanted to play very hard and with some balls and some kick. Not many German bands play with kick. So, at the beginning people were saying: 'You gotta change the music now. This time is over with hard rock. You're not gonna get anywhere with this.' Everybody was telling us this. So we thought 'We're gonna show you' – and we proved that we were right."
It didn't hurt that Lovedrive boasted an attention-getting cover, designed by the brilliant Storm Thorgerson, depicting a rather unorthodox limousine ride during which a man ends up pulling an alarming length of chewing gum off of his date's exposed breast. Banned in the United States, it proved so provocative that Thorgerson was still answering questions about it decades later, as when he told one interviewer, "I always imagined that the drive – they were on their way to the opera, and he has this fetish about bubblegum and she lets him do it because she doesn't give a shit. But I think it's also a bit silly. I quite like it, yeah."
According to Meine, any controversy was unintentional. "We never did it on purpose, we just did not know it would be a problem in America, it was just sex and rock 'n' roll," he insisted later. "It is odd that in America that some of these covers were a problem because in the '80s when we would tour here we always had boobs flashed to us at the front of the stage. Nowhere else in the world, just here. We just did not think it would be a problem to put out a record like Lovedrive in America."
While American retailers rushed to protect their customers from gummy mammaries, the Scorpions' lineup was once again in turmoil. Michael Schenker's alcoholism, reportedly a factor in his dismissal from UFO, made it difficult for him to stay dependable enough to join Scorpions on tour for sustained stretches of time. When he couldn't make it, Jabs stepped in – and in time, he'd be back in the band permanently, anchoring a position he still holds today. Meanwhile, Lovedrive, released on Feb. 25, 1979, peaked at No. 55 in the U.S. and broke the U.K. Top 40, setting the stage for the worldwide success that started to take off for the band during the '80s.
As far as Meine was concerned, Scorpions' crossover was the result of other parts of the world catching up to their sound, not the other way around. "We have two very strong directions in our music," he told Creem in 1984. "The one direction, the very strong, powerful, hot and heavy side, and the other one is very gentle, melodic ballads side. They were always two very important directions of Scorpions."
As for how this set Scorpions apart from the rest of the hard rock crowd, Meine scoffed, "We do not sit down and try to write in a commercial way. We just try to write good songs, we try that the entire album is a hit, a good album. There are too many albums around, especially on the heavy metal side, where there are maybe one or two songs on the album which are good and the rest is just bullshit. For me it's boring; I can't listen to most of this stuff, because I'm into melodies and good songs, and there's too many heavy metal bands that are just boring with all their monsters and all this shit. I think when the music is good, who needs the monsters onstage and all this blood and devils and We Are Satan's People bullshit?"