Death by Power Ballad: Survivor, “You Know Who You Are”

We continue our DbPB salute to Jim Peterik with the most un-Survivor-like of Survivor songs.  Gather ’round the campfire, kiddies, as Creepy Camp Counselor Rob tells the tale of “You Know Who You Are.”

Once upon a time, back in 1988, Survivor put out one of their best records—an album called Too Hot to Sleep.  It was a cornucopia—nay, a veritable harvest—of melodic hard rock goodness, at a time when melodic hard rock was, as you kids say, tha shizznitFrankie Sullivan, the band’s resident hotshot guitar player, grew his blond locks out to lengths only the bassist in Cinderella could match, donned his finest leather outerwear, plugged into a couple Marshall stacks, and showed the hairspray-and-spandex crowd he could fingertap and whammy bar and WEE-diddle-diddle with the best of ‘em.  Half the songs on the record are among the best singer Jimi Jamison ever lent his voice to, and he grew out his hair and donned the leather for the occasion also.  Jim Peterik was there, too, co-writing everything on the record, but looking rather uncomfortable on the album sleeve; he’s the only one not wearing leather.

Sounds great, huh, kiddies?  A sure-fire hit—the guys who brought you “I Can’t Hold Back” and “Is This Love,” not to mention “Eye of the Freakin’ Tiger” turn up their amps and take on the Bon Jovi wannabes, by going undercover as, well, Bon Jovi wannabes.  But it didn’t work.  For during this period, bands like Motley Crue and Poison stalked the earth, raping arenas and pillaging groupies, and they brought along a ton of lesser bands like Pretty Boy Floyd, Britny Fox, and Bang Tango to mop up what they left behind.  Listeners ignored Too Hot to Sleep in droves.

That’s sad, huh?  Well, it gets sadder.  Peterik and Sullivan decided to shut down the band indefinitely, ostensibly so Sullivan could decide whether to grow his hair further down toward his ass, or to just invest in extensions.  Big decision.  Jamison said, “Screw you guys—I’m going solo.”  Made a record and everything.  Then he realized that no one knew who Jimi Jamison was, but they kinda knew who Survivor were, so Jamison took off on tour, calling himself “Survivor,” or “Jimi Jamison’s Survivor,” or “Jimi Jukebox and the Survivorettes,” or, for one drunken evening, “The Jimi Survivorson Experience.”  He got gigs at state fairs, hotel convention rooms, rib bakes, nightclubs, and the occasional funeral.  Peterik and Sullivan heard about this and decided they didn’t like it—they didn’t want Jamison dragging their band’s good name down by playing low-paying, sparsely attended concerts.  They themselves wanted to go out and play low-paying, sparsely attended concerts, with their old singer, Dave Bickler. Lawyers were contacted.  Litigation ensued.

Pass me a S’more, will ya?  Thanks.

So everything progressed into the ’90s and things were looking not-so-great for these guys.  They split into two factions, each paying for a bunch of lawyers’ kids’ college tuition, fighting over the name.  Sullivan’s hair was, by this point, down to his leather boots—he looked like Cousin Itt, wearing a Stratocaster.  He and Peterik and Bickler put together a set of really cool demo recordings—old-school melodic rock, really choice stuff—that completely fell on deaf ears.  It was grunge time, kids—Nirvana and Soundgarden and their ilk had wiped out hair metal like a damn plague.  Motley Crue had a different singer; Poison had a different guitar player; neither were selling that many records.  The guys in Pretty Boy Floyd, Britny Fox, and Bang Tango?  All of ‘em went back to their Wal-Mart jobs.

Then, in ’93, the boys got an interesting offer—to make another greatest hits record.  Their first one, which came out in 1989, sucked.  Royally sucked.  Ten tracks, crap packaging, lousy graphics—it wasn’t just bad; it was hideous.  So they got the opportunity to replace it with a new greatest hits record, plus they got to add two new songs.  One of them, “Hungry Years,” is prototypical early Survivor; it sounds like a Premonition outtake.  The other one, though, is something else entirely.

“You Know Who You Are” sounds like something you’d hear around a campfire.  Lyrically, it’s decent—a song about a fleeting glance that turns into a long-distance love affair.  Probably some code words for masturbation in there somewhere, I don’t know.  But the music is what is so jarring—just acoustic guitars and a drum machine (real drummers, even bad ones, don’t sound as artificial as the percussion on this track).  And three voices—in three-part harmony—chime together for nearly the entire song.  The voices mesh and tangle around each other, like a Crosby, Stills, and Nash arrangement.  It comes at you from nowhere—nowhere in the grand Survivor corpus is there another track like this—you wouldn’t know it was them, were it not for the name on the label.

I’m telling you, though, kids, what really throws you off is the middle eight—that bridge portion of the song that is neither verse nor chorus.  The lead voice in the section is this high, keening warble—it’s not Bickler (you know, the lead vocalist), but none other than Frankie Sullivan!  Rumor has it the record’s producer had to cut a hole in his hairdo, around the mouth area, so that the studio microphone would pick up his voice.

Survivor would descend further into soap opera territory after this—Peterik would leave shortly thereafter, then Sullivan fired Bickler a few years later and brought back Jamison.  They’d make a hilarious Starbucks commercial and a disappointing album together before Jamison would once again be out, in favor of former McAuley Schenker Group singer Robin McAuley (faithful DbPB readers know all about him).  Rumor has it if McAuley doesn’t work out, Ian Astbury of the Cul — I mean, Riders on the Storm, will come aboard, donning a beret and Members Only jacket to channel Dave Bickler (who is still very much alive, which will make it even weirder).

Oh, yeah—Frankie Sullivan eventually cut his hair back to a more manageable length.  He’s still known to rock the leather jacket, though.

Now—who wants to hear a ghost story?




  • Harvey

    I just have to say this was absolutely brilliant. Hilarious yet informative. Bravo.