About a year after releasing their debut record Dawn Patrol, Night Ranger released their iconic album Midnight Madness on MCA records in 1983. This is the album most people think of when they hear the words “Night Ranger”. Personally, the first song I ever heard and loved by them is “When You Close Your Eyes”, and their biggest hit with drummer Kelly Keagy’s mad vocals, “Sister Christian” is also featured on right Side A. The cover shows the whole band oozing in prime 80’s fashion. Both lead singers are dressed in white, the keyboardist Fitz is in his iconic scrubs and shades, and both guitarists featured with long blonde hair! The background also shows a masquerade of people having fun in the middle of the street. Midnight Madness officially placed Night Ranger on the map for those who didn’t first get hooked on “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.” Even today, when I’m craving the 80s nostalgia, the first song I tend to put on is anything on Midnight Madness.
“(You Can Still) Rock in America” introduces Midnight Madness with the guitar wailing like a siren, and the other is playing a really awesome riff as the drums come marching in with the rest of the band. The keyboard sounds give Night Ranger songs an extra 80’s edge, and one of the most fun keyboard parts to listen to is throughout this entire song. The verses are so choppy, except for Jack Blades’ smooth vocals and that haunting keyboard cascading through his words. The chorus has such a chanty anthem vibe, of being determined to keep rock n roll going in America. Not going to lie, this song does give me hope and I can look forward to shows again, remembering that we will all be able to have fun at concerts again! “Rumours in the Air” begins with the eerie Fitz keys again, with little chimes before the drums lead a steady pace following the same melody up until Jack starts to sing. The popular John Hughes movie Sixteen Candles actually has “Rumours in the Air” on the soundtrack, making this a staple Night Ranger song. I love the haunting piece after the first chorus when the keys explode into a magnetic melody before mellowing out again for the second verse. The guitar solo is so fitting for this song, and when the keys play that magnetic melody again, the guitar emphasizes it to close the guitar solo out perfectly! The guitars of Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson play in circles together before Keagy’s drums lead the band in for “Why Does Love Have to Change”. Kelly sings with such conviction and control, belting with emotion. Between breaths, the keys highlight the tone of the song in extension with the guitars. Just before the guitar solo, the guitars seem to swim around with the keys when Kelly’s letting loose. Then the guitars have a notable banter back and forth of different melodies for the solo, with the chorus thrown in between again.
The iconic track “Sister Christian” begins with a clean piano playing a really pretty, sad melody. Kelly Keagy has a great voice for this because he can be vulnerable with power behind his voice, and it’s amazing to hear his voice almost isolated. The drums slowly build up the tempo until the whole band comes together to add electricity and suspense to the chorus. The second verse has a good medium of tenderness with more of an edge than the first verse. I always love the parts in the song when the band stops except the vocals and then the instruments thunder in dramatically. At the end, Kelly showcases his vocal chops again, one on one with the piano. Releasing fiery passion vocally with almost no instruments is such a different tone for the song, but it really works and truly sounds great.
Flipping over to the B side, music from a children’s toy starts to play, and gradually decays like a needle sliding off the record. The guitar cuts through the air with a shredding melody before actually starting the metal riff to “Touch of Madness”, and the drums hammer in your chest. Fitz’ keys are ominous and very present in that jam just before Jack sings, and it really sounds Scooby Doo-ish in the verses. The choppy timing in the verses feels like a fun jam of everyone playing something pretty different, but so tight they can stay on time through the breaks. The build-up to the chorus is in the same fashion, and the chorus is so cohesive and melodic. My ear is always drawn to the guitar playing that circling melody since it sticks out amongst the rest of the band to me. This is easily one of the most fun songs you can really dance to by them, and it has one of my favorite Night Ranger guitar solos too. “Touch of Madness” is one of the main opening songs they use, and it doesn’t get old! This song has so much in it, it’s partially why I’d choose this album to show someone what Night Ranger is really about. No part of the song is just like the rest of it, even the bridge vocally changes all three times it is sung.
“Passion Play” is one of my all-time favorite songs; it has atmosphere, drama, and an assortment of harmonies scattered all over the place. The wind blows, the guitar softly penetrates the air, Fitz’ keys are playing between the guitar and the drums as they gradually march into the first verse. It’s a quiet start up, but it slowly builds, and it’s always worth it, like a long Stephen King novel. The song shows a city and some of its people coming alive at night. The verses are so lively and the chorus is beyond catchy, especially that sneaky keyboard riff in the middle of it. I love how the song feels fast yet slow at the same time, between the soft guitars and the drums steadily hammering on. The song takes a change when the band stops for a moment when Jacks rips “It’s just a passion play…” because then a whole music piece comes at you before the guitar solo. The guitars are escalating, and the whole band is getting more intense; especially the vocals, Jack gets to belt out his vocal chops. The band is almost silent with one droning guitar and the solid drums. I can’t help but think of how the ending of the solo is SO unapologetically 80’s.
One of the reasons “When You Close Your Eyes” is such a special Night Ranger song, is that Jack Blades and Kelly Keagy take turns to sing it. Jack sings the gentler, sweeter parts, where Kelly has the grit and energy to show intense, passionate emotion. I used to throw this on repeat so much because it’s a song that bleeds the 80’s vibe. Always re-fixing the needle to the beginning again. From the first note, the guitar serenades you and the keys are mystical in the background. The instruments gradually build up all throughout the song. Even the second verse and second pre-chorus grow in strength leading right up to the guitar solo. It first repeats the intro before gliding over the fret board, over and over, and pumping along with the drums. Keagy breaks out in an epic belt coming out of the solo, and not missing a single beat on the drums. I love the fade out in this song; having brown eyes, I always gravitated to the lyrics “When you close your big brown eyes do you dream about me?” because it’s not anywhere else in the song but faintly at the end. “Chippin’ Away” is one of those songs that make you wonder, “How did this not become a hit too?” It has a unique and epic intro where truly every instrument is doing something completely different while each melody flows together. When the guitars come together, I love how they’re finishing their intricate harmony when Jack is starting to sing the lyrics. As the band chugs along in the verses, the keyboards exemplify the pain in the song. The chorus is extremely catchy, with little guitar bits thrown in there every so often. The breakdown before the guitar solo is so intense and really metalizes the song. The guitar solo is straight fire, and ends with the same harmony the guitars lead the song with. These last few chorus’, the guitars let it rip between each line until “Chippin’ Away” fades out. “Let Him Run” is a vulnerable song with lot of keys and acoustic guitars. Kelly Keagy nails the powerful emotions in this song. The keys are frantically at the same pace as the soft guitar quickly playing the notes without being overwhelming. I love the softness of this song so you can distinctly hear Keagy singing with fewer distractions. His tone and inflections are noticeable in this track as he is encouraging the listener to continue living your life, regardless if someone continues to be self-destructive. It’s a simple, nice song with a really pleasant melody, to break up all the rock Midnight Madness has, and officially closing out this epic album.
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