Some of you may be aware of a band called Zebra. Yes? No? You can hear a faint bell ring? They were a household name in rock circuits in the US for about five minutes in 1983, but have since faced into obscurity. They were never really well known in Europe or elsewhere, but released a few albums that are well worth investigating.
Hailing from New Orleans and founded in the mid-70s, they quickly rose to local fame with a sound typical for its time – 70s melodic hard rock, musically in the same neighbourhood as Cheap Trick, early REO Speedwagon (forget the blockbuster ballads that came later!), Rush, Blackfoot etc.
It took years before they were signed, and their debut album Zebra was not released until 1983. It was produced by Jack Douglas, known for the albums he made with Cheap Trick and Aerosmith. He later also produced the follow-up.
The debut album is without question Zebra’s magnum opus, and some of the gems on this album includes And I’ve Said Before:
The song most people would remember from back in the day (if any) would certainly be Tell Me What You Want, which was a moderate hit on MTV:
A melodic gem from the first album, in the form of the ballad Take Your Fingers From My Hair:
Perhaps my favourite is the final cut on the album, which ends in grand style with The La La Song. Sporting elaborate vocal arrangements and perhaps a more progressive sound, you can definitely hear shades of the band Yes here:
Just one year later, in 1984, they launched the follow-up No Tellin’ Lies, which is almost (but not quite) as good as the debut.
Some of the highlights from this album include Wait Until the Summer’s Gone:
Another one – Drive Me Crazy:
A third album, 3.V, followed in 1986. This marked a new, more radio-friendly direction in a desperate attempt to ‘make it’. Suffice to say, it failed. It still contains traces of the band’s classic sound, but it’s clearly watered down. With the uncomfortable change in musical style this is the album you should check out last.
Can’t Live Without is probably the track from 3.V closest resembling the earlier sound:
The band went on hiatus until 2004, when they came together to record a final album – Zebra IV. This is a much better end to their recording career, with the classic Zebra sound more or less reinstated.
Arabian Nights from Zebra IV:
If Zebra is a new aquaintance, it’s relatively easy to catch up as they only ever released those four albums (a compilation and live album aside). The band has come back together for sporadic live appearances over the last few years, and their albums were also recently re-released in remastered, extended editions, available on CD, digitally or through streaming services such as Spotify. The two first albums are definitely worth checking out.