As we celebrate the greatness of Michael Wagener’s career, I look at one of his first productions Dokken’s Under Lock and Key. Under Lock and Key was Dokken’s third full length release coming out on November 9, 1985. The album peaked at #32 in Billboard’s Hot 100, spending 66 weeks on the charts and going triple platinum. The album spawned the singles “The Hunter” and “In My Dreams” and videos for both songs along with the song “It’s Not Love”. Considered a commercial breakthrough, the album had a slow build to success fueled primarily by heavy MTV video rotation, a grueling tour schedule, and a strong glam metal image from the band. In my opinion, this is the crown jewel in Dokken’s catalogue for its quality and consistent songwriting, and production.
Michael Wagener produced this album along with Neil Kernon. As producers, their role in the creation of an album is to create, shape, or mold a piece of music. They give ideas for the project, help create the overall vision of the album, help in the songwriting process, and coach the musicians in the studio to get the most out of them. What each man contributed to this album I do not know, but I do know that this is the most consistent and complete Dokken album top to bottom. It offers fast paced rockers like “Lightnin’ Strikes Again”, “Till the Livin’ End”, ballads “Slippin’ Away” and “Jaded Heart”, and some of the best straight ahead rock and roll songs in “Unchain the Night”, “The Hunter”, “In My Dreams”, and “It’s Not Love”. Do not skip over the hidden gems that are “Don’t Lie to Me” and “Will the Sun Rise”. They are quality rock songs that are overshadowed by the bigger hits
on this album.
Now if we are talking about the musicians’ performance on this album, I think this is Dokken at their collective peak. Vocally capturing just the right amount of edge in Don’s voice on “Unchain the Night”, or his tender crooning on “Slippin’ Away”, or his completely impassioned performance on “Lightnin’ Strikes Again”. There is such raw emotion at the end of that song that when he is screaming “lightning”, you literally feel he is singing his guts out for you just as he is about to lose his voice. As far as the guitar playing from George Lynch, this is the album where he really establishes the classic Dokken sound. The minute you hear a song from this album you in instantly know it’s him playing.
, The guitar solos, whether its the restraint shown on “The Hunter” or the abandonment he shows on “Till the Livin’ End” it is just fantastic playing all around. Listen to how tight the band plays together on “It’s Not Love”. First they intro the guitar, then the bass slowly creeps in, and then its the drums picking up the pace until you here the main guitar riff and the song is off and running.
All in all the album was the perfect storm of musicianship, songwriting, and production for Dokken and Michael Wagener. Is it any wonder that after putting this album at the top of his resume that Michael Wagener proceeded to work for five years straight?