Rikki Rockett Remembers Poison’s ‘Open Up And Say … Ahh!’
When Poison finished recording Open Up And Say ... Ahh! – the group's second album – drummer Rikki Rockett breathed his own sigh of relief. The pop-metal quartet had broken through the previous year thanks to a string of songs and videos that encapsulated the sound and look of the Sunset Strip: anthemic riffs, memorable choruses, hormone-fueled lyrics and sky-high hair.
Under pressure to replicate the success of their multi-platinum debut, Look What the Cat Dragged In, Rockett, bassist Bobby Dall, guitarist C.C. DeVille and sing Bret Michaels entered Los Angeles' Conway Recording Studios in late 1987 to begin tracking its follow-up.
Originally, Kiss' Paul Stanley was tapped to produce, but “scheduling conflicts” forced the Starchild to bow out. To make matters worse, the band was also experiencing growing pains behind-the-scenes.
“It was a little bit turbulent at the time because we'd had some problems with management, so we were interviewing managers as we were making the record,” Rockett tells UCR. “That was stressful in itself.”
Rockett says the band's spirits lifted once veteran producer Tom Werman, who had helmed a string of hit albums by the likes of Motley Crue and Twisted Sister, signed on. He also remembers that, unlike the raw debut, which was recorded in just 12 days on a comparatively shoestring amount of $23,000, the increased budget for Open Up allowed the group to take its time in the studio.
“It was a real budget, and we had real pre-production days,” Rockett says. “We were like, 'Wow, this is how it really does work. It's not an independent record; everything is the real deal.'”
The band recorded a total of 12 songs, 10 of which made the final cut. Thematically, they echoed many of the same party-hard sentiments captured on the group's debut, but the new material also displayed modest signs of maturity: “Fallen Angel” warned of the pitfalls of pursuing fame in the big city; “Good Love,” which showed off Michaels' harmonica skills, demonstrated a previously unheard affinity for the blues; and an amped-up cover of the 1972 Loggins and Messina hit “Your Mama Don't Dance” proved that Poison were students of the game.
Then there was “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” the most uncharacteristic Poison song to date. While the group's debut album featured a hit ballad in “I Won't Forget You,” it featured walls of guitars and a screaming solo by DeVille. “Every Rose,” meanwhile, began with Michaels playing a 12-string acoustic and moved along at a deliberate pace that Rockett describes as “in the saddle.”
“We got some push-back for that,” he says. “Even the label's like, 'I'm just not sure if this makes sense for Poison. I don't know that image-wise, it's going to work for you guys.'” The band fought for its inclusion, though, and pushed for it to be considered as a potential single.
Upon completing tracking in early 1988, Rockett says he and his bandmates felt positive about the album's prospects for success. “We went in very trepidatious, but we walked out very confident,” he says. “We had people come down to the studio – people from the label, management, other artists – and they were rocking out and going, 'Wow, this is really great. You're going to do great with this record.' I felt like it was part two of Look What the Cat Dragged In – all the things we didn't get to do and more. We had so much more to say.”
Not everyone agreed. In a one-star review, Rolling Stone denigrated Open Up as “an annoying parade of limp three-chord clichs” and “a nasty reminder of what can happen when swagger takes precedence over substance.”
The album's lead single was the blue-collar fantasy “Nothin' but a Good Time,” a spiritual successor to Kiss' “Rock and Roll All Nite.” The music video, which captured Poison's high-energy live performance, dominated MTV's airwaves for weeks. In doing so, it set the table perfectly for the release of Open Up, which eventually reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200.
Watch the Video for Poison's 'Nothin' but a Good Time'
A few months later, Poison rolled the dice with “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” While many of their peers had struck gold with hit power ballads, “Every Rose,” written by Michaels about an unfaithful flame, was heavy on the ballad and light on the power. “It's got a little bit of a country feel to it,” Rockett admits. “But we really believed in it. We'd been playing it live and seeing tears in the eyes of the girls in the first row. We're like, 'Of course this can work.'”
Rockett and company were right, as the song became Poison's first and only No. 1 single, spending three weeks at the top of the Hot 100 in late 1988 and early 1989. He clearly recalls the day he got the news. “I was in a Harley-Davidson dealership, and there was this one motorcycle I fell in love with,” he remembers. “The guy goes, 'Hey, take it for a ride. Take it home, bring it back, let me know if you want it.' I go, 'I'm telling you right off the bat, I cannot afford this bike, but if you're going to let me ride it, I'll ride it.'
“I took it and went home to change, get lunch and listen to my answering machine,” Rockett continues, “and it was message after message that 'Every Rose' had gone to No. 1. I called [the Harley dealer] back and said, 'Get the paperwork out. I'm coming down.' I bought that bike that day.”
Watch Poison's Video for 'Every Rose Has Its Thorn'
In retrospect, Rockett feels Open Up, which was certified five-times platinum in late 1991, accurately captured Poison's innocence. “We were less mature in every way – as people, as writers, emotionally – than we are now,” he says. "But you have to understand, we came from a small town back east where it was such a pipe dream to play rock n' roll for a living, let alone actually make it.
"When we came [to Hollywood], we were living at poverty level," he concludes. "So many of those lyrics, it's not what our life was at that time; it's what we wanted it to be. We wanted to go out on the Strip in a car with the roof down and grab a chick and all that fun stuff. We couldn't do that. We were outside of the Rainbow [Bar and Grill] with no money to get inside, handing out fliers, and going home and eating Top Ramen. So many of those songs, they were wishes – they were dreams.”