UPDATE: Scorpions announced on October 8 that they've canceled their 2017 tour, including the Phoenix date, due to Klaus Meine's severe laryngitis.
When was the last time you took anything to the edge? Returned a Redbox movie at 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 57 seconds after the agreed-upon rental time? Showed up to work as the big hand clicked on the 12? Stole someone’s parking space seconds before they pulled in? Couples with one or more kids because they were feeling edgy don’t have to answer this one.
Indeed, when was the last time anyone brought up the edge as if it were a thing? For anyone lucky enough to talk with Klaus Meine, lead singer of the German stadium-rock dynasty Scorpions, the edge is very real and something you will hear about frequently. For it is challenging this edge and its properties that has allowed Scorpions to enjoy 50-plus years of longevity in the eat-’em-up, spit-’em-out world of rock.
Fiftieth anniversaries are a familiar boomer trope, but some of you ’80s babies may be racing to the calendar after seeing golden-anniversary editions of classic albums like Blackout, Love at First Sting, and Lovedrive alongside 50th anniversary editions of Sgt. Pepper’s and The Doors and fearing you have entered some kind of time warp that is aging you rapidly like overexposed Limburger.
Relax. Scorpions celebrated its half-century mark in one fell swoop in 2015, rereleasing eight of the band’s albums remixed with bonus cuts — as well as a Scorpions vinyl boxed set and a new album called Return to Forever that mixed new songs with outtakes that dated as far back as the ’70s.
The band that scored a dozen radio hits in the MTV era has actually been around since 1965, when Rudolf Schenker handled all the vocals and beat group sensibility ruled the day. It’s clear that Klaus knew the band before he joined in 1969. He still calls them The Scorpions.
“When Rudolph started the band, it was pretty much a bunch of school guys. The Scorpions went around with their truck, playing clubs here in Hanover and outside the countryside,” says Meine, reminiscing long-distance from Germany. “That’s when I saw them the first time before I joined them, and it was a pretty good band even back then.”
Although on a break between touring, Scorpions aren’t resting, but rather recording a few songs.
“We did a cameo appearance in a German movie that will be out early next year, and so we’re working on some songs for that movie, and there’s a compilation coming out later this year,” Meine says. “So it’s always good to have a couple of tracks in your back hand.”
A cursory look at IMDB will reveal that Scorpions’ music has enough of a high profile in movies and TV with “Rock You Like a Hurricane” alone turning up in the Netflix series GLOW, The Angry Birds Movie, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, A Walk in the Woods, and Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. Then there’s Rock of Ages, of which Meine says, “I think even Tom Cruse was performing it.” (He sings it with actress Julianne Hough, just stopping short of jumping on a couch.)
Meine is more impressed by a recent survey from Spotify. “They figured out what doctors are listening to in the operating room and believe it or not, Scorpions was on top of the list, [with] ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane.’ So you got to see a doctor, and the doctor will rock you like a hurricane.”
In case you hadn’t noticed, “Rock You Like a Hurricane” has evolved into a catchphrase of sorts for Meine. Not an annoying one like that Cash Me Outside girl, but an endearing one, with Meine promising that’s what the band will do when they visit your fair city. It’s nice to know that, on occasion, our state has rocked them back enough to write a song called “Arizona.”
“We came through Arizona many times, and we were always stunned by the beauty of that place,” Meine recalls. “With this song, Herman [Rarebell] wrote the lyrics and he was involved with a beautiful Arizona lady and they ended up somewhere between earth and moon, I guess. What came out was a wonderful Arizona anthem, and whenever we come through Arizona, that song has to be on the list.”
International stardom wasn’t guaranteed for a West German band, and Scorpions owe some of their earliest notoriety to a series of questionable and offensive album covers, like Animal Magnetism, which was parodied by Spinal Tap’s Smell the Glove. But the most offensive was the notorious 1976 entry Virgin Killer, which featured a naked preteen girl with broken glass obscuring her genitalia. Even today, it’s blacklisted by the Internet Watch Foundation. Whatever that is.
“No, it’s not something we’re really proud of, no way, but back in the day, it was our German record company RCA, they put it on the table and wanted to go for the controversy and make the band famous,” Meine says. “We weren’t really sure about it; even back then it was really edgy, you know, and today there would be no way to put out a cover like this because of the internet, youth porn, and all that. Fortunately, it was more the music that was the breakthrough for the Scorpions than edgy, not very tasteful artwork.”
The band’s breakthrough almost never happened. Meine lost his voice in 1980 and was told he may never be able to sing again. This was the aforementioned edge.
“That was me just pushing my voice very hard like there’s no tomorrow,” he says. “Really hard singing and playing six shows in a row in the late ’70s, early ’80s. When you listen to the stuff we released before Blackout, you can hear my voice is cracking.”
Meine explains he had bad nodes on his vocal cords, which resulted in two surgeries before the band recorded Blackout.
It wasn’t the singer’s last brush with vocal issues. In 2016, Scorpions were forced to postpone a handful of dates after Meine contracted a viral throat infection.
“In a way, it’s still the same, what we do these days,” he says. “We’re pushing it to the limit every night we’re up there.”
Nowadays, the band doesn’t play three shows in a row — or even attempt to perform some of the earlier songs in the original key. For a veteran like Paul McCartney, it seems to be a badge of honor to sing songs in the same key as the recordings, but we are hearing the results of that strain taking its toll on the former Beatle. The Scorpions’ approach is more realistic about the aging process.
Says Meine, “When you listen to songs from Blackout like ‘No One Like You,’ ‘Big City Nights,’ it’s physically impossible [now] to do those songs in the original keys,” Meine says. “You want to play those songs, but you want to survive 100 shows a year. So some of the songs we play in different keys, but the energy is still there. You’re still at the top of your voice. Even now you’ve got to go to the edge but maybe the edge has moved a little bit.”
Even the one-time Scorpions’ trademark, a human pyramid that used to be five men strong and was later reduced to three, is a thing of the past.
“When Kiss came over here and we did a show … Afterwards in some motel in Hamburg, they tried to do the pyramid, you know. Paul Stanley once said, ‘They’re great musicians, but they’re also like acrobats doing this pyramid,’” Meine laughs.
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Those sorts of gimmicks were fun back in the day, he adds. But the band still puts on an amazing show “from the production side of it, an amazing set of music,” Meine says.
“It doesn’t need a big jump from the drum riser. We enjoy playing music and ... rocking you guys like a hurricane.”
Scorpions were scheduled to perform with special guest Megadeth at Talking Stick Resort Arena on October 8. However, the concert was canceled.
Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version with new information.