When I first watched the “Dream Warriors” music video, I became obsessed with Dokken for a period, and very quickly, Under Lock and Key became one of my favorite albums. It has a good chunk of the hits on it, as well as underrated gems I never got enough of! I usually listened to it on my iPod out and about, but at home I always listened to it on vinyl, as annoying as it can be to flip it over at times. I’ve always admired seeing them in full Eighties gear on the photo on the album cover and the whole stage-ready look. I can honestly say this album in particular got me through a lot of rough times in high school. Now it’s great to enjoy it and play a retro game, or be inspired, and learning even more about the songs!
“Unchain the Night” begins with a deep chime, and George Lynch is playing a badass cascading melody. The rest of the instruments slowly join in before coming together to rock it out in full heavy metal style. The guitar squeals just before Don Dokken sings most of the song in his higher register. I always loved the simple rhythm of the instruments in the verses. There’s an epic breakdown ending with a Don scream just before an awesome guitar solo. I’m mesmerized by the rhythm guitar with the bass in the background so much; I always thought everything Jeff Pilson touched musically turned to gold. There’s a chorus between two guitar solos which I always loved about this song, and it ends so cleanly! Wild Mick Browns’ drums count off “The Hunter” before one of Lynch’s most memorable riffs plays through the intro. Don’s voice is soft and somber, with a comfortable build-up to start belting out the song at will. It’s noticeable how he sings with conviction every time he uses his power voice. Famously, “In My Dreams” abruptly begins just after “The Hunter” with a beautiful a capella full vocal harmony of the last line of the chorus before the guitar epically plays the song with the band absolutely rocking it. It’s one of the most metal Dokken moments to me. Don’s voice glides through the air through the verses like butter. I always loved how it was an standalone guitar moment right after the guitar solo. The drums pounding on the drums in a slow beat while the band kicked in for the chorus just before another band vocal a capella. Don showcases his voice by letting his vocals rip at the end with an iconic scream.
“Slippin’ Away” is one of the ballads on the album with a deceivingly delicate beginning, despite Don’s soft crooning throughout the song. George uses the electric guitar to liven “Slippin’ Away” to a heavy metal lullaby upgrade. Jeff Pilson really shines on the background vocals on the whole song, but especially noticeable on the bridge leading up to the epic 80’s power ballad guitar solo. “Lightnin’ Strikes Again” immediately changes the pace by soaring through the speakers like actual lightning. I love how George’s guitar has another stand-alone piece; it really encapsulates metal in the 80’s. Don’s voice really shines in this song with an effortless high harmony complementing George’s guitar so well. I can see this song being so perfect for the Judas Priest fans watching them for the first time on their 1986 tour. The guitar solo has a dynamic I could see Glenn Tipton and KK Downing switching between! Now it’s time to flip it to side B!
There is more guitar action in “It’s Not Love”, with the accompaniment of Pilson’s bass showing through! Mick’s drums have such great fills stuck between lyrics or between juicy bass licks. This chorus carries on really long until it fades out, but it’s one of their most catchy of the whole catalog too! “Jaded Heart” reminds me of “Alone Again” but with an even gentler melody. I always really loved how the progression in this song was leading to each chorus each time. The song is so solemn before the tension breaks and the vocals start to beg “But my thoughts say that it’s toooo late, Jaded Heart”. There’s an awesome breakdown just before the guitar solo while the lyrics croon along. “Don’t Lie to Me” has always been one of my favorite songs that has never really been recognized. The guitar comes soaring in to lead and it’s really riff-driven and simpler, like Judas Priest’s rhythm. The bridge plays with the timing in a fun way with Don belting out the lyrics before that awesome guitar solo.
“Will the Sun Rise” has such an awesome groove that coasts the entire song. It’s so pleasant even though the song itself is somber. This is a song I think of when I really envision Dokken, it has amazing vocal harmonies, you can easily appreciate Mick and Jeff’s steady hands, and Don is allowed to really shine most in this song because the instruments are more toned down. These are the kind of songs that were always some of my favorites; that show the band in another light, but still elementally themselves. George Lynch teases by serenading us before he continues with the more elaborate guitar solo. The piece leading out of the solo is also the best part in the whole song. Coming in heavy, Mick shoots off with a thunderous drum roll for “Til the Livin’ End” before Lynch and Pilson join in for a mini jam. Don then comes belting out in his higher register again to finish strong, the band is at full strength. “Til the Livin’ End” is extremely thrashy like “Tooth and Nail”! It also has an extra-long Lynch guitar solo, extra epic Don vocal screams, and an iconic 80’s ending!
It was so fun to re-listen to this album a few times again to write about how much I love this music. I even heard different things I didn’t pick up somehow in all those listens over the years, or maybe I just forgot and fell back in love. I hope they consider releasing their first 4 albums in collector colored vinyl; I would totally love an Under Lock and Key in orange!