From Hanover, Germany, the hard rockin’ Scorpions went from humble beginnings struggling to make it as an English-singing band in Germany in the late 60s and early 70s, to the heights of fame as the MTV-christened “Ambassadors of Rock” and world superstardom. Over the years, guitarists Rudolf Schenker, Matthias Jabs, and singer Klaus Meine set the world aflame with tracks like “Rock You Like a Hurricane”, “No One Like You”, and “Big City Nights” and have released 17 studio and four live albums, with over 100 million sold worldwide.
Rock music, an American import, was big amongst youth growing up in post-WW2 Germany. Drawing inspiration from bands like The Yardbirds, Pretty Things and Spooky Tooth (who were considered some of the heaviest bands of their time), Rudolf Schenker founded the Scorpions in 1965. The band played various small German venues before Rudolf extended an offer to his brother Michael to join the band in 1970 – despite the fact that the younger Schenker was only 16 at the time. Michael Schenker had already established himself as a highly skilled guitarist in his band Copernicus, and brought singer and lyricist Meine with him from that band, setting the stage for future successes.
Although the younger Schenker left the band early on to join UFO, Meine remained and went to on help the band establish its winning formula of scorching rock songs with a side of heart-touching ballads. Meine’s vocal style is easily recognizable and an essential element to the Scorpions’ sound – a high range, almost pleading with the listener at all times, with a slight but certainly distinguishable German accent.
In the 70s, the band enjoyed a steady rise in notoriety, both as a result of a change in musical direction and as a result of their record company’s promotional decisions. The band’s third album In Trance (1975) was a big step musically, shedding the group’s earlier, more prog sound to embrace a more mainstream hard rock sound. The album was also the first of several Scorpions albums that would prove controversial due to its album art, which featured a woman with both breasts exposed, suggestively pointing downward toward a guitar. The artwork, despite the fact it was censored in many countries, helped to raise the band’s profile, as did the album art choices for follow-up albums Virgin Killer (1976), Taken By Force (1978) and Lovedrive (1979).
According to guitarist Uli Jon Roth (who played in the band from ’73 – ’78), most of the Scorpions album covers during this period were “the record company’s idea, but we certainly didn’t object.” Roth noted in the above-quoted interview with Ultimate-Guitar.com his belief that “those covers were probably the most embarrassing thing I’ve been involved with. In hindsight, I find them largely disgusting” (while In Trance remains possibly the tamest example of this). Roth left the band in ’78 because he felt the band was becoming “too commercial”, and was replaced by Matthias Jabs. Regardless of Roth’s objections, the Scorpions’ star continued to rise..
In 1980 the band released Animal Magnetism, the group’s first mega-hit in the U.S. with over one million units sold. Songs like “The Zoo” (written about the red-light district of 42nd street in New York City) had great appeal to American audiences. The album was the first of five consecutive Platinum releases in the U.S., peaking with 1982’s Love at First Sting. That album has been certified three times Platinum in the U.S., and featured the hits “Rock You Like a Hurricane”, “Big City Nights”, and “Still Loving You”.
The Scorpions’ biggest single of their career, “Wind of Change” was released in 1990 (on the album Crazy World), a ballad in response to the fall of the Berlin Wall and fall of Communism. The song sold over 14 million units worldwide, cementing the band’s status as one of the most successful musical acts in German history.
While guitarist Rudolf Schenker and singer Klaus Meine are the only members to have appeared on every Scorpions album, the band has benefited from the contributions of many top musicians over the years. Lead guitarist Matthias Jabs joined the band in ’78 and has been a co-architect of most of the band’s biggest hits throughout the 80s. The band’s lineup in its heyday included Rudolf, Meine, and Jabs along with drummer Herman Rarebell (’74 – ’95) and bassist Francis Buchholz (’73 – ’92).
In 2010, the band released its 17th studio album Sting in the Tail, debuting at number 23 on the Billboard 200 for first-week sales of 18,500 units. The album has been certified double Platinum in Germany (over 200,000 units sold), and will likely be the last by the band, as the band has said that their current tour in support of the album will be their last.
Ed note: This article was also featured on WNCX.com, and is available here.