What is Skid Row's most successful song

Song dictionary

The ballad 18 AND LIFE, one of the most successful songs by the hard rock band Skid Row, tells the tragic story of a youth in the slums of America. 18 AND LIFE combines drama, catchiness, an outstanding singer and a sophisticated studio production and corresponds to the zeitgeist of hard rock of the late 1980s.

I. History of origin

18 AND LIFE was the fifth track on the debut album Skid Row released on January 24th, 1989 via Atlantic Records and is one of the catchiest songs on the album, which was produced by Michael Wagener (Ozzy Osbourne, White Lion) in 1988 at the Royal Recorders Studio in Lake Geneva. 18 AND LIFE is the most successful single on the album and was largely responsible for the band's rapid international success.

II. Context

Skid Row was founded in late 1986 by Dave "The Snake" Sabo (guitar) and Rachel Bolan (bass) in Toms River, New Jersey. A year later, Matt Fallon (vocals, formerly Anthrax), Scotti Hill (guitar) and Rob Affuso (drums) joined the band. But the most successful band line-up, which many in retrospect considered 'classic', came about shortly afterwards, when Sebastian Bach (formerly Madam X) took over the position of lead singer in place of Fallon. The band name Skid Row, which can be translated as "run down city district", existed before that. An Irish blues rock band led by guitarist Gary Moore performed with this name between 1968 and 1972 and so the band led by singer Sebastian Bach had to acquire the naming rights for $ 35,000. The band was willing to spend this amount, as the name seemed appropriate for their music. In fact, the 'gutter' is a recurring theme in several songs (18 AND LIFE, "Youth Gone Wild", "Monkey Business") and illustrates this in particular on the second album Slave to the Grind (1991) more pronounced punk attitude of the band. The early style can be described as a mix of hard rock, heavy metal and hair metal. The main influences are Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe, Sex Pistols, Kiss and Guns N 'Roses.

After the debut album Skid RowReleased in January 1989, the band enjoyed a rapid ascent. The album was an unexpected success, reaching number 6 on the Billboard charts, number 30 in the UK and number 22 in Germany. 4 million records were sold in the first 12 months. Even the singles 18 and Life (US # 4) and I remember you (US # 6) stormed the charts. Rachel Bolan, who was a close friend of Jon Bon Jovi, made it possible for Skid Row to come under contract with Doc McGhee, the manager of Bon Jovi, and act as the support act for Bon Jovi in ​​1989. It was only later that the band members, surprised by the unexpected success, discovered that the contracts were unfavorable to them. Through a legal battle with Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, Skid Row managed to claim part of the royalties.

The radio-friendly mix of influences from Bon Jovi to Kiss helped Skid Row become one of the hottest hard rock bands of the early 1990s. In particular, the extroverted singer Sebastian Bach brought the band an incomparable reputation in terms of live performance with his extraordinary singing and provocative manner. To her second album Slave to the Grind To promote it, Skid Row went on a world tour for over a year in 1991 and played concerts with Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe, Europe and Scorpions. The heavier, more punk-oriented second album even exceeded the chart success of the debut, but in the long term no longer reached its sales figures. In 1995 the third album was released Subhuman Race, which received little attention despite positive reviews. After an argument with Rachel Bolan in 1996, Sebastian Bach left the band and the remaining members of Skid Row concentrated unsuccessfully on a side project called Ozone Monday. In 1999 Skid Row reformed again with singer Johnny Solinger, but they could no longer build on their previous success. In total, Skid Row released five studio albums, one live album, two compilation albums, one EP, twelve singles and four music videos.

III. analysis

18 AND LIFE describes the tragedy of 18-year-old Ricky, who is expelled from his parents' house and falls into crime. Alcohol and violence determine his life on the street until he finally shoots a friend while drunk and is arrested. A noticeable change in perspective in the lyrical implementation. While the plot in the verse and in the pre-chorus is told from the third person, the listener is addressed directly in the chorus. The twice repeated text "Eighteen and life, you got it. Eighteen and life, you know. Your crime is time, and it's eighteen and life to go" could be interpreted to mean that the presumably also young audience should be appealed to Not throwing life away because of drugs and violence. However, this interpretation would conflict with the band's punk-oriented attitude and cannot be proven beyond doubt by the text. However, the analysis of the music video (see below) helps to interpret the message of the song.

The tragic story is implemented on a musical level as a power ballad. Typical features of the style are a slow tempo (here: a quarter = 92BPM), a combination of distorted and undistorted guitar sounds, the use of larger reverberations and a rousing emotional lyrics that contain a multitude of emotional language images. The piece is consistently in the key of C # minor and does not use any altered chords or non-diatonic melody tones. Formally, 18 AND LIFE adheres to conventional structures and is divided into verse, pre-chorus and chorus structure. Their sequence is loosened up by a bridge and a subsequent solo part.

The piece begins with an intro that has the same chord progression |: C # m B | % | % | Asus2 Bsus4: | as contained in the following stanza. The chord progression is played as an arpeggio by an undistorted high-pitched guitar, which, according to the sound ideal of the 1980s, has a reverb effect and is supported by the bass. Small melodic interjections of a second guitar and a breathy vocals, both of which are underlaid with considerably more reverb, create a mystical atmosphere at the beginning of the piece. The accompaniment continues after the eight-bar intro and the singing begins. The end of the phrase after four bars is accentuated by a distorted guitar, which plays power chords on A and B, and the drums that kick in. Then the distorted guitar mostly only plays fills and the reduced accompaniment sounds again. From the second half of the first verse, the drums play a 'classic' rock beat with eighth-note pulses on the hi-hat, thereby supporting the developing dramaturgy.

In the pre-chorus that follows, both distorted guitars play muffled power chords that increase the chorus. The four-bar pre-chorus also moves harmoniously with the chord progression | A5 | F # 5 | G # 5 | A5 B5 | not about the tonic, but introduces the chorus in the basic key of C # minor. This consists of a four-fold repetition of a two-measure chord progression |: C # 5 A5 | E5 B5: | (= 8 bars). Again the two guitars play different riffs. One guitar plays long-held power chords on the fundamental notes, while the other, also distorted, arpeggiates them without using the third. This simple accompaniment supports the memorable vocal melody, which is strongly based on the notes of the underlying triads. The chorus is followed by a four-bar interlude that uses the chord progression of the intro and stanzas and is decorated with vocal ad libs. Regarding the dynamic development, it maintains the tension of the chorus and leads through the constant harmony into the calm second verse. This is similar to the first, but the second guitar now plays distorted chords for intensification. This is followed by pre-chorus (but with different text) and chorus. This is followed by two bars on the tonic, which lead to the loosening bridge.

The four-bar bridge with the simple harmony | E | B | A | B | changes to the major parallel E major of the basic key C # minor. The tonal lightening character of the major parallel stands in contrast to the textual plot that describes the murder of Ricky's friend. The guitars, on the other hand, support the drama by playing accentuated power chords on the beats, creating a pounding and energetic soundscape that suggests that something is going to happen. Another guitar decorates the riff on the low strings with a barrel that is tonally based on the vocal melody.

The ensuing solo sounds through the chord progression of the chorus and draws its sound material exclusively from C # minor. The phrasing corresponds to the ideal of the 1980s with many bends (string pulling), legato techniques and the use of a vibrato lever. A rapid 32nd run at the end of the solo forms the conclusion and leads to the last, unchanged chorus. The outro continues the harmony and structure of the chorus. In terms of vocals, Sebastian Bach restricts himself to occasional interjections without text. Instead, the focus is on an ornate guitar melody that repeats a two-active melodic motif four times; (the last two passes increased by an octave). 18 AND LIFE ends in the tonic C # minor and leaves a painful impression that corresponds to the fate of Ricky, who literally threw away his young life.

If you look at the song-defining musical structural parameters of harmony, melody and rhythm, you can quickly see that there was a strong use of style-typical conventions. The form is standardized, the harmony is simple and rhythmic, the piece without any major refinements. Hence the reason for the success can be asked. The development of popular musical forms and genres (such as the blues form) shows that commercial success is often not based on musical structural innovations. Mostly there are other reasons - image, appearance, charisma, performance, advertising, vocal tone or sound - that are at least equally important. At 18 AND LIFE, the success can certainly also be traced back to Sebastian Bach's person. With his provocative nature and his wild demeanor, he helped Skid Row to a rousing live show. But also his outstanding singing skills, which could be measured against successful musicians like Jon Bon Jovi, contributed significantly to the success, especially the album sales. Bach's singing style is characterized by a very high pitch and powerful vibrato, and thus corresponds to a high degree to the sound ideal of hard rock and heavy metal of the 1980s. The restriction to a purely diatonic and easily singable, concise melody certainly contributes to the commercial success of 18 AND LIFE. Another indication of Bach's relevance is that Skid Row could no longer build on old successes with the new singer Johnny Solinger, while Sebastian Bach made a career both as a Broadway singer and with his solo project of the same name.

Another reason for the commercial success of 18 AND LIFE can be assumed to be in production. With a view to the time of formation (late 1980s) and the status of the band (newcomer) at that time, this is strikingly good and impresses with a dynamic, powerful and transparent sound, which is a compromise between a bombastic effect and the staging of a live sound. The two main guitars are strictly separated in the panorama and usually play different riffs. The guitar sounds and phrasing are also different, giving the impression that two different guitarists are actually playing there. On the other hand, there are numerous decorative overdubs, which on the one hand provide variety over the harmoniously repetitive riffs and on the other hand support the mood of the song with melodic fragments. Particularly noteworthy, however, is the dynamic range of production. In contrast to productions since the 1990s, which are increasingly compressed in order to achieve greater loudness, “breathes” and “lives” 18 AND LIFE, since excessive compression was dispensed with. Not least because of this, the production sounds powerful and rousing - because only when there are quiet and quiet passages can the loud ones be perceived as such and intensely.

18 AND LIFE is one of four pieces in the band's history that was also filmed as a music video. The video is a mixture of concept performance and narrative and episodic concept clips (cf. Maas & Schudack 2008, p. 296). Individual band members are consistently shown in close-up while playing against a black background. These recordings are interrupted by narrative and episodic scenes depicting the plot of the text. The opening scene of the clip shows Ricky in prison (for clarity, bars are shown in a long tracking shot), which anticipates the end of the plot - the arrest. The musicians introduce the intro and verse individually; the scenic representation of the action is dispensed with. In the course of the first verse and the pre-chorus, the viewer learns how Ricky is expelled from his father's house and finds himself on the street. He's pissed off and doesn't want to go back. The second stanza shows a scene in the night: a big fire and Ricky, who - as told in the text - gets drunk on tequila. Ricky breaks into a house and steals a gun. Then you can see him shooting drunk at bottles with a friend. He fools around with the gun and shoots his friend - parallel to the bridge - after an argument. The solo shows the musicians involved, especially the soloists, during the performance, which this time does not take place exclusively against a black background, but on a real stage. In addition, photos of the street and the fire there are shown to enhance the effect. The shots after the solo close the circle and show Ricky in prison again.

Taking into account the music video, the question raised at the beginning of the analysis about the meaning of the song can be answered more conclusively. The tragic presentation of the story and the visual staging ultimately suggest that the songs should be understood as an appeal against violence, drugs and life on the street.

IV. Reception

The debut album Skid Row as well as the contained single 18 AND LIFE represent the greatest success of the band. Skid Row reached number 6 in the US, number 11 in the Canadian and number 12 in the Australian charts. In the US hit lists, it lasted 78 weeks, i.e. a year and a half. Overall, the album went platinum five times in the US and Canada and gold in the UK. Although the successor Slave to the Grind was more successful in terms of chart placements, it sold less frequently and went platinum only twice. The following album releases did not hit the charts.

Skid Row won for the debut album Skid Row won the American Music Awards Favorite Heavy Metal / Hard Rock New Artist and was nominated for Best Heavy Metal / Hard Rock Album. The successful single 18 Aan Life With their chart success with 20 weeks at number 4 (US) and 6 weeks at number 12 (UK) contributed significantly to the success of the album as a milestone in the band's history.





Composition: Rachel Bolan, Dave Sabo
Lead vocals: Sebastian Bach
Background vocals: Rachel Bolan, Dave Sabo
Guitar: Dave Sabo, Scott Hill
Bass: Rachel Bolan
Drums: Rob Affuso
Recording Engineer: David Kent, Michael Wagener
Mix: Michael Wagener
Producer: Michael Wagener
Release: 01/24/1989 (album)
Length: 3:52



  • Skid Row. "18 And Life",Skid Row, 1989, Atlantic, 781 936-2, Europe (CD / album).
  • Skid Row. "18 And Life",Skid Row, 1989, Atlantic, A1-81936, US (LP / album).
  • Skid Row. "18 And Life",Skid Row, 1989, Atlantic, 781 936-4 (Cass / album).
  • Skid Row. 18 And Life, 1990, Atlantic, 786 240-2, UK & Europe (CD / single).
  • Skid Row. I remember you, 1990, Atlantic, 7567-86215-2, Europe (CD / Maxi).
  • Skid Row. Slave to the Grind, 1991, Atlantic, 7567-82242-2, Europe (CD / album).
  • Skid Row. Subhuman Race, 1995, Atlantic, 7567-82730-2, Europe (CD / album).



  • Bogdanov, Vladimir / Woodstra, Chris / Erlewine, Stephen Thomas: All Music Guide to Rock. The Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop, and Soul. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Backbeat Books 1997.
  • Graf, Christian / Rausch, Burghard: Rock music lexicon America, Africa, Asia, Australia. Vol. 2. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag 1999.
  • Larkin, Colin: The Guiness Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Concise Edition. Middlesex: Guiness Publishing 1993.
  • Maas, Georg & Schudack, Achim: The music film. A manual for educational practice. Mainz: Schott 2008.


About the author

Jan-Peter Herbst is currently a PhD student and lecturer at the University of Paderborn and a music and english teacher at the INI Berufskolleg in Lippstadt.



Jan-Peter Herbst: "18 And Life (Skid Row)". In: Song dictionary. Encyclopedia of Songs. Ed. by Michael Fischer, Fernand Hörner and Christofer Jost, http://www.songlexikon.de/songs/18andlife, 12/2012 [revised 02/2014].


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