In 1970 the working-class town of Hannover, Germany, was decidedly not a bastion of rock and roll music. But Klaus Meine and brothers Rudolf and Michael Schenker changed the way the world perceived Hannover—and even the rest of Germany. As originators of the hard rock band the Scorpions, the trio created Top Ten hits and generated worldwide attention through both their musical talent and controversial album covers. By 1994, with 15 albums to their credit, the band was deemed “the greatest German rock export” by a writer for RIP magazine.
Singer Meine first performed in a band called the Mushrooms. His budding musical career was interrupted, however, by a stint in the German Army. Upon his return to civilian life at age 23, he met a 16-year-old guitarist named Michael Schenker who, four years earlier, had started playing guitar for a young German band (nearly becoming an alcoholic in the process). Meine approached Schenker’s father, a violin teacher and retired construction engineer, about starting a rock band. Meine was forced to prove his responsibility and seriousness before the elder Schenker relented and allowed Michael to join the band.
Shortly after Meine and Schenker formed the band, named Copernicus, Michael got an offer from his brother Rudolf to join a band called the Scorpions. Although Rudolf was the Scorpions original singer, he extended the invitation to Meine after seeing his work with Copernicus. On December 31, 1970, rhythm guitarist Rudolf Schenker, lead guitarist Michael Schenker, and singer Meine kicked off what would become an international rock and roll force for decades.
“It was really difficult for us in the early 1970s,” Rudolf Schenker told Billboard magazine. “We were outsiders, and we got no support from the media. Nobody really believed that a German band could begin to compete in the rock n’ roll idiom with American and British groups. ‘Who needs a German band singing in English?’ they asked.” But the group’s determination never wavered. They struggled playing the clubs, driving their own truck and moving their own equipment (Meine made his living as a window dresser). After more than a year of hard work, they released their first album, Lonesome Crow, on the German label Metronome Records. The Scorpions recorded the LP in producer Conny Plank’s studio in Hamburg. The Chicago label Billingsgate later released Lonesome Crow, selling 25,000 copies before the band ever made it to the United States.
For the Record…
Original members include Klaus Meine (born in Hannover, Germany), vocals; Rudolf Schenker (born in Hannover, Germany), rhythm guitar; Michael Schenker (born in Hannover, Germany) lead guitar; Francis Buchholz, bass guitar; Jurgen Rosenthal, drums.
Later members include Ulrich Roth (band member 1973-1978), lead guitar; Rudy Lenners (band member 1974-1977), drums; Herman Rarebell (joined band, 1977), drums; Matthias Jabs (joined band, 1979), lead guitar; Ralph Rieckermann (born Lubeck, Germany; joined band, 1993), bass guitar.
Band formed in Hannover, Germany, in 1970. Released first album, Lonesome Crow, on Metronome Records in 1972; signed with RCA Records and released five albums through various member changes from 1974 to 1978; signed with Mercury/PolyGram Records for first internationally recognized album, Lovedrive, 1979; released eight more LPs and one live concert video from 1980 to 1993 with Mercury/PolyGram.
Addresses: Record company —Mercury/PolyGram Records, 825 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10019.
In 1972 the band went on to a 136-date tour of Europe, opening for various major acts. In April of 1973, Michael Schenker left the band to join the English hard rock group UFO, whom the Scorpions had supported on the tour. After Michael’s departure, the Scorpions broke up, but the separation was not permanent. Rudolf Schenker and Meine re-formed the band later that year with guitarist Ulrich Roth, bassist Francis Buchholz, and drummer Jurgen Rosenthal. The reconfigured group signed with RCA Records and released Fly to the Rainbow in 1974. Once they had released this second effort, Rosenthal left the Scorpions, and Rudy Lenners stepped in on the drums.
Despite their steady growth, the Scorpions continued to manage themselves—from booking concerts to dealing with the record company—because personal management of artists in Germany was illegal. In 1975 the band released In Trance on RCA Records. This marked the first LP produced by fellow German Dieter Dierks and the beginning of a 15-year association. Realizing that it was time to try their luck outside of their homeland, the Scorpions made their concert debut in England by opening at the Cavern in Liverpool. The group subsequently toured Britain, France, and Belgium. In Trance became a best-selling album in Japan, so the band headed for the Far East. By the time Virgin Killer was released the following year, the Scorpions had reached headline status in Europe and Japan. Within a week of its debut, the album had already gone gold in Japan. Virgin Killer also started the Scorpions’ trend of controversial album covers; RCA Records rejected their first cover design.
When the Scorpions hit the road in 1977, critics lauded them as Germany’s top rock band. At the conclusion of their extensive tour of Britain, drummer Rudy Lenners left the band because of heart trouble. Yet during the band’s tour of England, they had met fellow countryman and drummer Herman Rarebell in a London speakeasy. So when Lenners left the band, Rarebell stepped in as his replacement.
Once Rarebell took over the drums, the Scorpions recorded and released Taken By Force. Although they were winning more and more fans with their Germanbased brand rock and roll, the group still had to disprove the misconception that the only successful German bands were practitioners of electronic pop-rock. “When I was living in England, when everybody saw that the Scorpions were German, they would say, ‘Oh, it’s Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream or Can, again.’ And, we don’t do that type of stuff,” Rarebell told Melody Maker.”We do something completely else. What we do is very English, because we are oriented more towards English and American bands. Most German bands orient themselves on classical music and space music. We don’t do that because we feel in our hearts we are rockers.”
In 1978 the Scorpions played a sold-out, five-day tour of Japan. Deciding that the time had come for a live recording, the band released excerpts from their two performances at Tokyo’s Sun Plaza on The Tokyo Tapes. Later that year, lead guitarist Ulrich Roth quit the band to pursue a solo career in progressive rock. The remaining members of the Scorpions auditioned 170 guitarists in London to find a replacement for Roth. Eventually they decided on Matthias Jabs, a guitarist from Hannover who was playing in a band called Fargo.
With their new guitarist in place and a new record contract with Mercury/PolyGram Records in the United States, the Scorpions started work on their 1979 Lovedrive LP. The band continued to have trouble keeping a steady guitarist. Michael Schenker contributed half of the guitar solos on the record after he left
UFO to rejoin the Scorpions. Jabs left the band, but stayed on permanent stand-by during the Scorpions’ tour. Because of personal reasons, Schenker again quit the group. Finally, Jabs returned as the group’s lead guitarist.
The Scorpions made their concert debut in the United States opening for hard rocker Ted Nugent at the World Series of Rock in the Cleveland Municipal Stadium in Ohio. Following that performance, Lovedrive entered the U.S. charts and stayed for 30 weeks.
Hoping to build on their worldwide following, the Scorpions didn’t waste any time returning to the studio; they released Animal Magnetism in March of 1980. Featuring the hit single “Make It Real,” Animal Magnetism became the Scorpions’ first U.S. gold album. Once again their album’s cover design—this one depicting a woman kneeling in front of a man’s clothed legs and a Doberman thrusting out its tongue—incited controversy. Deliberations concerning the cover aside, the Scorpions launched an extensive tour of the United States, Britain, and continental Europe the following year.
Misfortune struck the German group when Meine developed nodes and a polyp on his vocal cords, making it impossible for him to sing. The Scorpions were forced to cancel tour dates and put their ninth album on hold. “I wanted to quit so that the band could carry on with another singer,” Meine told Billboard.”But all the guys said, ‘No way. You do everything you can to get your voice back, and we’ll wait until you are ready.’”
Two operations and six months of vocal training later, Meine had restored his singing voice. In 1982 the Scorpions released Blackout. The discussion-generating cover featured a Gottfried Helnwein painting of a lobotomy patient with bent forks clawing out his eyes. The album became the group’s first Top Ten and platinum album in the United States and reached gold status in many other countries throughout the world. The band embarked on a seven-month world tour, played 150 concerts, and entertained a total of 1.5 million people. They wrapped up their tour in 1983 as co-headliners for the world’s biggest rock festival, the US Festival, where they played to 300,000 fans in southern California.
The group’s tenth album, Love at First Sting, hit the stores the following year with yet another battle concerning its cover. The original design featured fashion photographer Helmut Newton’s photograph of a leather-clad man embracing a mostly nude woman with a scorpion tattoo on her thigh. When some retail stores refused to carry the album with its existent packaging, PolyGram Records marketed an optional cover. The second design—also photographed by Newton—was a black-and-white shot of the band that was meant as the record’s inner sleeve. The Scorpions, however, defended the original cover: “We think it’s a little piece of art,” Meine told Musician.”The leather, the guy, he can stand for ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’; the girl, she’s sophisticated looking, she could stand for the ballad ‘Still Loving You.’”
“Rock You Like A Hurricane,” the first single from the album, hit the Billboard Top 40 and lasted on the chart for seven weeks with a peak at the 15th spot. The second single, “Still Loving You,” broke first in France and then continued to spread throughout Europe and the United States. “I’m Leaving You” made the third single and video. Love at First Sting thus became the runaway success that elevated the Scorpions to international superstar status.
The band’s success inspired the release of a live album and a one-hour video movie about the tour titled Worldwide Live. They took part in a record-breaking rock festival in Brazil called Rock in Rio, where they played for 350,000 people. Jabs had a Gibson guitar custom made for the event in the shape of Brazil. After their performance, Jabs presented the guitar to the concert promoter to express the band’s collective gratitude for the opportunity to play the show. The German rockers went on to play behind the Iron Curtain in Budapest in 1987, thus becoming one of the first Western bands to venture into the Eastern Bloc. They also performed in the Monsters of Rock open-air concert in Europe.
Savage Amusement, the Scorpions’ final album produced by Dieter Dierks, entered the BillboardTop Ten in the third week of its release in 1988. The band’s tour included a performance in Leningrad, Russia, making them the first major hard rock band to play in the former Soviet Union. Supported by the Russian hard rock band Gorky Park, the Scorpions played ten concerts to 15,000 people each night. They returned to the United States to play the Monsters of Rock festival with fellow rockers Van Halen. Eighteen years after their inception, the Scorpions agreed that they should release a greatest hits album. The Best Of Rockers N’Ballads included both popular hits and personal favorites of each band member. (In fact, the album’s tentative name was The Best of Scorpions’ Favorites.)
The Scorpions continued to break international, geographical, and political boundaries. They band returned to the Soviet Union in 1989 to play in the Moscow Music Peace Festival at Lenin Stadium. They performed in front of 100,000 people, and the experience provided the inspiration for their megahit single on the Crazy World album—”Winds of Change.”
Recorded in Los Angeles with producer Keith Olsen, Crazy World sold nearly seven million copies worldwide. The Scorpions launched the album with the single “Tease Me, Please Me,” but it was “Winds of Change” that took Crazy World to megaplatinum status. During the Persian Gulf War, troops adopted “Winds of Change” as an anthem; the song also served as an inspiring soundtrack to the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the repressive Communist policies it embodied.
The single reached Number One in 13 countries, including Israel and Chile, and won the ASCAP Award as one of the most performed songs of 1992. Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev was honored with an acoustic performance of the song at the Kremlin. Soon after the Berlin Wall fell, the Scorpions played to more than 350,000 fans in the Roger Waters’s production of Pink Floyd’s The Wall—Live in Berlin ’90. And at the Artists for Freedom, Equality and Humanity peace rally in 1992, the band once again performed an acoustic version of “Winds of Change.” By 1994, Crazy World stood as the best-selling rock album ever in Germany.
This level of success led the Scorpions full force into their second decade, but personnel changes struck again in 1992. Bassist Francis Buchholz parted ways with the band after an 18-year association. With Buchholz’s departure, “our whole world was turned upside down,” Rarebell recalled in the band’s biography. “Instead of having a never-ending party on [the] heels of Crazy World’s success, we had to deal with the anger, aggression and uncertainty of the changes in OUR world. It was a real emotional and creative challenge.”
Although the members of the Scorpions tried to convince Buchholz to stay with the band, they realized that his goals for the groups’s musical direction differed from their own. Another German band, Bonfire, recommended Ralph Rieckermann to fill the void on bass guitar. Without any further auditions, the Scorpions had a new member and, by 1993, their next album, Face the Heat. Produced by Bruce Fairbairn, Face the Heat launched the band into another stage of musical variety. Beginning with the first single, “Alien Nation,” the band took a sonic trip through various influences ranging from punk metal to jazz and blues. The ballad side of the band still existed, as evidenced by “Under the Same Sun.”
Despite their longevity in the rock world, the Scorpions have vowed not to be satisfied with their past accomplishments. “There’s so much competition out there—so much good music—that you have to continually prove to the world that you still belong there,” Meine told Billboard.”This is still a band of today, not a nostalgic trip. We still have a lot to achieve.”
Lonesome Crow, Metronome, 1972.
Fly to the Rainbow, RCA, 1974.
In Trance, RCA, 1975.
Virgin Killer, RCA, 1976.
Taken by Force, RCA, 1977.
Tokyo Tapes, RCA, 1978.
Lovedrive, Mercury/PolyGram, 1979.
Animal Magnetism (includes “Make It Real”), Mercury/PolyGram, 1980.
Blackout, Mercury/PolyGram, 1982.
Love at First Sting (includes “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” “Still Loving You,” and “I’m Leaving You”), Mercury/PolyGram, 1984.
Worldwide Live, Mercury/PolyGram, 1985.
Savage Amusement, Mercury/PolyGram, 1988.
Best of Rockers N’ Ballads, Mercury/PolyGram, 1989.
Crazy World (includes “Tease Me, Please Me” and “Winds of Change”), Mercury/PolyGram, 1990.
Face the Heat (includes “Alien Nation” and “Under the Same Sun”), Mercury/PolyGram, 1993.
Album Network, September 10,1993; September 17,1993.
Billboard, May 5, 1984; December 1, 1990; November 16, 1991; February 29, 1992; October 9, 1993.
Circus, August 31, 1985; October 31, 1985; November 30, 1985; January 31, 1986; August 31, 1988.
Foundations, September 13, 1993.
Hit Parader, February 1985; March 1985; September 1985; December 1985; January 1986; September 1986; November 1986; December 1986.
Hit Parader Annual, fall 1986.
Hit Parader’s Heavy Metal Awards, spring 1986.
Los Angeles Times, July 11, 1982; April 26, 1984.
Melody Maker, April 14, 1979; May 19, 1979; April 12,1980; November 8, 1980; May 8, 1982.
Metal Edge, November 1985.
Music Connection, May 30, 1988.
Musician, September 1984.
RIP, June 1994.
Screamer, December 1989; March 1990; January 1991; April 1991.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Mercury/PolyGram Records press material, 1993.
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