WASP – The Headless Children & Early ’90s

The Headless Children was WASP’s fourth studio album. It came after a few personnel changes, a plan to change the band’s direction, and [according to Blackie Lawless] – 15 months of work on it. This review looks at that album, as well as the next few WASP albums; a very successful few albums, and my favorite period of the band. There’s also some insight to the albums’ artwork from the legendary Kosh, who would do a number of WASP covers starting with The Headless Children.

Prior to The Headless Children WASP had released 3 albums within 3 years, a lot of the same type of tunes about sex, partying, rebelling… The first featured the band’s first hit “I Wanna Be Somebody”, but the 2nd [“The Last Command”] was an improvement in sound and songs, and it did better on the charts. By the third album [“Inside The Electric Circus”} the band sounded rushed, and the album lacked enough quality material. There was a live album to cap off the era [“Live…In The Raw”].


By the 3rd album the band’s song ideas were getting old [for some], particularly for Blackie Lawless who wrote most of the material [produced, and wound up on the covers!] It was one Lawless would later tell Kerrang magazine he did not like – “I knew it was a transitional period and I also knew it was one of the biggest piles of shit ever made by any band in the history of the recording industry! There was nothing on it. It was made by a tired band. It was made too quickly, in nine weeks.” Gone also would be the shocking stage show and in came a new direction with the lyrics, more varied songs, and a tidier sound. The ‘new’ WASP would take on social and political issues, while managing to present them with still a good bit of shock value on 1989’s “The Headless Children”. I bought this when it came out, pretty sure on cassette [first], as I had it in my car stereo for a long time. And, although I enjoyed the first 3 albums, I couldn’t believe how much better this sounded, and with less cringeworthy titles, lyrics, and photos.

From the band’s beginning WASP had undergone a number of personnel changes, most notably the loss of founding guitarist Randy Piper. By the time of The Headless Children, the band consisted of Lawless, Chris Holmes [guitar], Johnny Rod [ex King Kobra], and Frankie Banali [on loan from Quiet Riot].
Released in the spring of 1989, The Headless Children was an improvement in sound and production, as were the songs on a whole other level – in structure and lyrics. The album’s artwork would be the first of many WASP albums done by legendary artist Kosh – who’s lengthy career included hundreds of credits from acts as The Beatles, The Who, Aerosmith, Bad Company, The Eagles, King Crimson, Tom Petty, Jimmy Buffett, and tons more. https://koshdesign.blogspot.com/ & http://www.facebook.com/koshart

The album cover alone was huge step forward, with an eye-catching cover, and [thankfully] – no photo of Blackie on the front, giving a bit of mystery as what may be inside.
Kosh – “I met Blackie after there was some animosity between the band and the Capitol art department. WASP was brash and unruly, while the label seemed unable to handle a heavy metal project as far as imagery was concerned. Capitol called Kosh. I became the middle-man and brought the project into Kosh Design Studios, which I handled personally – mainly because I felt I needed to assuage Blackie’s suspicious attitude and deliver!”

The album’s cover featured a drawing that included numerous notorious historical and criminal figures, added to the 1942 cartoon titled “Gateway To Stalingrad” by Robert Daniel Fitzpatrick. https://dp.la/primary-source-sets/world-war-ii-s-eastern-front-operation-barbarossa/sources/1698


“Headless was the first cover that threw me into the realms of heavy metal art. It was quite a challenge coming from my rock background. The imagery came from research – the skull being somewhat iconic. It was all hand drawn by myself. Blackie was adamant about which characters should appear. Naturally, we ran into legal hassles at Capitol. However, these were overcome with editing the layers of xerox characters’ faces.” – Kosh

The first of 3 singles was “Mean Man”, a track written about guitarist Chris Holmes. The singles all charted in the Top 30 in the UK, but this one likely saw no air play with the use of the word “motherf**kin'” in the lyrics [chorus]. The EP release [complete with a photo of Holmes on a motorbike frame, ready to party], would feature 2 excellent non-album tracks – one being a heavy rendition of Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath”, and the other being “For Whom The Bell Tolls”.

Opening track “The Heretic (The Lost Child)” is my favorite here, an epic track, with plenty of changes, and extended solos, clocking in at over 7 minutes. Perhaps the heaviest WASP track ever. The song is about the problems of gang warfare and crack. One of 2 tracks that are co-written with Holmes [w/ Lawless]
“With the exception of ‘Mean Man’ , which is about Chris (Holmes), this is a very serious, socially conscious record. I don’t want to preach to the kids, but I think guys in my position have a responsibility that’s previously been ignored. Plus, I’ve gotten tired about writing songs about my crotch.” – BL, Circus mag. 1989.

A cover of The Who’s “The Real Me” is a pleasant surprise, which is given an awesome performance from Banali & Johnny Rod [this is a heavy bass tune], and Lawless’ vocals give this classic Who tune a new life and personality. It would introduce Blackie’s fondness for Pete Thownsend’s writing and concept album “Quadrophenia” – which would influence writing on later albums.

“I sent him [Pete] a copy of the tape, figuring I’d never hear from him, but a couple of weeks later I got a letter saying how much he liked it, including ‘The Real Me’ … So, I met him at Radio City Music Hall and we took a photo and talked. I learned the craft of writing lyrics from him, and to sit and talk with him was great.” – BL, in the press, July, ’89

Again, the single/EP release would include 2 non-album tracks – “War Cry” and my own pick for best outtake – “Lake Of Fools”, a sinister tale of a place in the after-life, with a heavy and lengthy jam for a good half of it.

The title track is a dark and heavy song that starts pretty spooky, and features a classic Hammond riff courtesy of Ken Hensley, formerly of Uriah Heep. Hensley guests on this album, playing keyboards on a number of tracks.

“A song like ‘The Headless Children’ is the ultimate anti-war song. It has a very apocalyptic feel to it, and it’s very timely with what’s going on in the world these days.” – BL , Hit Parader, ’89

“I mentioned to Johnny what a huge Heep fan I was. Johnny said that he used to play with him and asked if I wanted him to give him a call. Ken was my hero. Johnny called him and he came out to LA. He was great! I just can’t say enough about him. He played on our record and I was so pleased to have him involved.” – BL, Metalexpressradio.com , 2012

“Ken was an icon at the time, and a real great person. He looked at me not [any worse than, or] no better than him, straight. I loved that.” – Chris Holmes, Eonmusic, 2018

“It was a weird experience working on The Headless Children because I did the whole album without hearing any vocals. In the rehearsals, Blackie hadn’t finished the lyrics, so I never heard him sing one song. In the studio I went in and cut all my parts and still hadn’t heard any.” – KH, UHAS magazine, 1992.

“I’d say 95% of that stuff was either demoed or rehearsed before he came in. It was pretty much ready to go before he got there.” – BL on Ken Hensley’s involvement, ’97

“Thunderhead” begins with a cool piano intro [played by Lawless], that builds up with synths and distant vocals to a quick pause before the song’s guitar riff kicks in. The song which deals with heroin addiction, and is highlighted by Chris Holmes’ guitar solo, as well as numerous ‘guests’ who join in backing vocals. There’s also a spoken word bit, mid-song, that plays up the tale of an addict. Co-written by Holmes.
“I was supposed to sit down and write all the solos out, but I’m not into that. The way I learned to play guitar was first ‘Smoke on the Water’ on two strings, then I learned to play a 1, 4, 5 blues progression; ‘Johnny B. Goode’, and then play lead guitar to it. So, you learn how to jam, and that’s how I learned to play lead guitar. But Blackie always wanted stuff structured. I had to show him, and I told him I worked on the solos, but I never did. I went in and I just played what I felt.” – Chris Holmes on ‘Thunderhead’, Eonmusic, 2018

The nuclear arms threats of the 80s is addressed in “The Neutron Bomber”. A solid heavy track which took direct aim at President Ronald Reagn [RIP], with the line “here comes Ronnie”. But, Reagan was out of office by the time the album came out.
“This is an angry album, but it’s saying something important. That may be a little hard for our longtime fans to deal with at first, but when they hear the music, they’ll know what I’m talking about.” – BL

An acoustic prelude titled “Mephisto Waltz” lead in to the ballad [and single] “Forever Free”. Again, something very different sounding from WASP then, with a catchy guitar intro, acoustic guitar, harmonies, organ, all building up nicely. Something that should’ve been very accessable to radio formats at the time and larger audiences, but despite the video, and the song’s UK charting, it didn’t break through as a huge hit in North America…Perhaps since it wasn’t issued until the band was done, with Chris Holmes leaving at the end of the tour, and Blackie moving on to a new project.
“It’s about someone that I lost who was close to me, and if people think it’s too soft I don’t care – I like the tune.” – BL, Kerrang, ’89

Further on was “Maneater” – a nod to Harley Davidson motorcyle riders, and the anthem “Rebel In The FDG” to close out the album. ‘FDG’ being short for “f**king decadent generation”. Both tracks are hard hitting, fast paced, and full of WASP energy, with plenty of blazing guitar, probably appealing big-time to the older fans, and really, 2 of my favorites on this album.

With Chris Holmes leaving at the end of The Headless Children Tour, WASP essentially broke up, with Blackie Lawless announcing soon after that he was working on a solo project.

What started as a solo project and a concept album, eventually would retain the WASP name. Legendary guitarist Bob Kulick [Kiss, Meat Loaf…] was enlisted. – “Blackie did ask me to join the band, but the circumstances were not right for me. I needed to be a full time member, in terms of merchandise and the whole thing. I didn’t want to be just a hired gun, so to speak. I loved what I did on Blackie’s records and I would have loved to have played with him, but at the time, I had he opportunity to produce a bunch of stuff, and then producing became a big part of my career, and I opted to do that.” – Bob Kulick, RockMusicStar Interview, 2017

Ken Hensley also returned to work on the new project, but would not wind up in the credits. “I started working on Blackie Lawless’ solo project, which was a concept album, and I don’t know what’s happened to it because I haven’t heard from Blackie in a while.” – from the UHAS, 1992.

Frankie Banali would also return to record on the new project. Stet Howland would also be credited on drums, and be part of the touring band that year, along with Johnny Rod, and [guitarist] Doug Blair [more on him another time].

“The Crimson Idol” was released in June of 1992, preceeded by the single “Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue)”. The album would feature artwork by Kosh, featuring [presumably] the story’s main character on some sort of crucifix…or was it!?
Kosh – “That was my idea. It was a visual pun. Is it a bed or a crucifixion? Again, it was all a Xerox paste-up. I presented the comp 7 feet high on the office wall, not so subtly lit from the floor. It came to life and glowed.”

The artist also claims The Crimson Idol as his favorite WASP design – “I must confess I have a soft spot for Headless as it was my first foray into the genre. However, The Crimson Idol is my favorite – being so stark, yet so descriptive of the operetta. One gets the message at first glance. And then you look closer…”


I bought this CD when it came out; in fact I remember having to return the CD to the local Sunrise – at least twice, as it had static running through it. I also got one of the limited edition signed, red vinyl LPs from my uncle at the time. Both copies I still have.

The album was based on the story on a fictional character named Jonathan Aaron Steel, who wanted attention / approval and love of his family, and figured he’d get that through becoming a famous rock star, but the road to becoming that star, sacrifices, and deals he’d make, and things he’d wind up doing were all too much. Each song introduces a new character or a step in his life / career, and it all comes crashing down in the end. The album’s lyrics have Blackie singing the story from every character in it, with each track being part of the journey, and /or meetings with a new character — If that makes sense, but it helps to have the CD or LP sleeve to follow along.

“I’m a Who fan, but i wouldn’t say that I was any more influenced by Quadrophenia than any record that I would like by any other band.” – BL, ’97

“Chainsaw Charlie” is the record company excutive / owner who expects Jonathan to sign his life away. It’s a fast paced, hard rocker, with a chainsaw intro, plenty of changes, angry vocals, killer guitar,.. clocking in at 7 and a half minutes. A classic Blackie Lawless/WASP song, with a few profanities used in describing the character of Charlie. The single reached the top 20 in the UK, withe EP featuring the spoken “Story Of Jonathan”, as well as the non-album track “Phantoms In The Mirror”.
“I always felt like using profanity was a weapon, and you use it at the right times… It’s got to be used at the right strategic point to create the effect that it does. On The Crimson Idol the only song that has any profanity is ‘Chainsaw Charlie’, and it’s so powerful when it comes up, it really stands out. If you do it all the time, like some bands do, then it has no meaning.” – BL, ’97

The Crimson Idol would feature 3 further singles, “The Idol” – a power ballad, and center-piece of the album [IMO], with the EP version including “The Eulogy” (left off of the album), as well as Part 2 of “The Story Of Jonathan”.
Bob Kulick on his favorite piece from the album [Metal-Temple.com], 2017 – “Definitely “The Idol”. There are two one-minute solos that are, to me, some of the best playing that I’ve ever done. You know, musicians talk about the groove of a song, how the notes can sit inside there for whatever reason and I guess that my David Gilmour approach to it was exactly what he was looking for and hence that solo kind of sores above all the other stuff that I’ve done.”

A live EP featuring “I Am One” was released. The track is a great rocker here, and the album version is intro’d with some ‘live’ feel, as Jonathan greets various cities before the band comes in hard & heavy – like a show opener. The EP was recorded at the “Monsters of Rock” festival in the UK [this can all be found on video via youtube], and also features “Chainsaw Charlie”, “I Wanna Be Somebody”, and “Wild Child”. The back cover would feature the band’s UK tour dates for later that year.

The ballad “Hold On To My Heart” was also issued as a single. A soft ballad, much in the same class as “Forever Free”. The EP would feature a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks”, as well as live acoustic takes of “Hold On To My Heart” and “The Idol”.

“It was a difficult experience in that Blackie Lawless, having a band, was really a solo artist. At that point, when Chris (Holmes) was no longer in the band, it was basically Blackie’s thing under the moniker of W.A.S.P. He always came out with a band and so everybody viewed it as a band, but in reality it was his thing, and so he was very specific about what he wanted. I had a great time playing all those solos on “The Crimson Idol” – “The Idol”, “Chainsaw Charlie” and some of those other tunes, including “Hold On To My Heart”. Being two New Yorkers we really bonded well, but you know, it was difficult in that he had a definite idea of what he wanted. He let me play what I wanted to play and he would let me know what he liked and what he didn’t like, and fortunately it turned into something special.” – Bob Kulick, Metal-Temple.com interview, 2017

On Ken Hensley’s participation – “He played on a lot of stuff, but by the time I got finished with that record everything was turned inside out that I ended up playing. I’d say there’s not one song on the record that wasn’t rerecorded at another time, in a different key. And that’s the reason his stuff was scrapped, because he didn’t have the time to come back and re-do it. So, I had to re-play it for him. …I recorded that album in a different way. I didn’t have a band to rehearse with, so when it came time to singing the stuff I was uncomfortable with the keys of most of the stuff. It was either too high or too low. So I had to start moving stuff around, and to do that I had to almost start from scratch again.” – BL , ’97

From the beginning with “The Titanic Overture”, through to “The Great Misconceptions Of Me” – which finishes the album [clocking in at 9 and a half minutes], The Crimson Idol was quite a production. Love the performances, the numerous changes, though it always came back to a certain musical passage and lyrical line, as part of the story. A bold step for Lawless at the time. In 2007 WASP undertook “The Crimson Idol” tour, and in 2018 he released the soundtrack to the film, the double album titled “Re-Idolized”, with the songs being re-recorded, and adding 6 more that weren’t on the original album. [Oddly missing are the B-side titles – The Eulogy and Phantoms In The Mirror].

wasp. reidol

Kosh also re-did the artwork for this release [and it came in multiple formats, including regular vinyl, colored vinyl, and picture disc!]. Frankly, I prefer the original album – as it was, not that the rerecords are sub-standard, but The Crimson Idol was a favorite for me when I got it upon release, and there’s no repeating that feeling 25+ years later. I also find it difficult to listen to the new version of “Chainsaw Charlie” with Blackie’s lyrical changes that basically censors himself by replacing the harsh words, with friendlier terms that just lose the original tone and effect. But, anyway…maybe more on this in the future….

“Headless Children was the biggest record we ever had, and The Crimson Idol is hot on it’s heels right now. I imagine that over time The Crimson Idol will be the biggest selling record that I’ve ever had, unless we have some huge record in the future. It’s one of those records that keeps selling. It’s not a mainstream record, it’s not for everybody. It’s a really intellectual record, you know – it’s going to appeal to a niche market, but as new fans develop that record will continue to do well. As far as a body of work – it’s definitely my favorite!” – BL, ’97

The following year saw a compilation titled “First Blood, Last Cuts”, which featured a number of remixed early tracks, as well as 4 from The Headless Children, 3 from The Crimson Idol, and 2 new tracks – “Rock And Roll To Death” and “Sunset And Babylon”, both with Frankie Banali on drums. The latter was issued as a single, and video, paying homage to the sunset strip. Lita Ford also plays lead guitar on this track. With each variation of the single {7″, 12″, pic-disc, CD] – came different B-sides [demos of early WASP tracks]. Rock And Roll To Death was a great Chuck Berry type riff rocker, with Bob Kulick on lead guitar. Oddly the song would turn up on the next studio album.

wasp. cuts 1

“I did those [remixes], and I think they’re better than the originals. I was always unhappy with some of those original mixes. And I always said ‘if I got a chance to re-do them – I would’. And to me the remixes on those kick-ass on what the original stuff was.” – BL

Kosh on the saw-blade cover [and “Neon God” inner sleeve] – “I rendered them, but they were Blackie’s ideas. Things had changed by now. It was no longer the era of draw, cut and paste. We had Photoshop!”

During an interview on Headbanger’s Ball, promoting the compilation release, Blackie Lawless announced that WASP would cease to exist as a band after this album and promotional tour, and that he would be moving on to a new chapter in his career. He also mentioned that he’d be starting an album under his own name in the coming weeks. Time would tell that escaping the WASP name wouldn’t happen.

Soon after Blackie Lawless was working on [again] what was intended to be a solo project, but “Still Not Black Enough” came out in 1995 as a new WASP album. It would not see release in the US until 1996. The album’s dark cover with a crow on it was done by Kosh, and the track-listing differed from the US version to the UK & European version.

wasp. black 2

“Blackie more or less let me run wirh my ideas. I would comp them up oversized and he’d get some idea of the directions in which we could go.” – Kosh

The recording once again featured Banali on drums [w/ Stet Howland on one track], as well as Bob Kulick on lead guitar. Also credited is electric violin player Mark Josephson, and a couple of backing singers.

Admittedly, this is not an album I pull out often. Not that it’s bad; it’s got a lot of good songs on it, and it’s a nice change, but overall it just feels like a lot of different songs that don’t really flow together, like someone had started different albums and in the end just threw everything together. There’s a few ballads, a few kick-ass rockers, a definite feel of The Crimson Idol on a number of tracks, a more personal feel in the lyrics, and a few covers.
“It wasn’t leftovers, but the vibe of it was definitely an extension of The Crimson Idol; my head was still heavy in that space at that time.” BL on ‘Still Not Black Enough. ’97

The original UK/European release featured 10 tracks, including a cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love”. “Black Forever” was chosen as a single, and 2 different CD versions were issued in the UK – with 2 different extra tracks – one featuring the non-album tracks “Skin Walker” and “One Tribe”, the other featuring 2 AC/DC covers – “Long Way To The Top” and “Whole Lotta Rosie”.

The first half is the rockin’ side, with tracks like “Scared To Death” , “Somebody To Love”, and the title track. Side 2 features a few ballads – “Keep Holding On” being very reminiscent of “Hold On To My Heart”, and personal favorite “Breathe” [my wife & I used this for our wedding]. The latter would be left off of the US release. “No Way Out Of Here” closes out the album, another solid rock track. I could do without the political “Goodbye America” (with it’s spoken intro) and the repeat of “Rock And Roll To Death”.

Still Not Black Enough came out in ’96 in the US, and featured 13 tracks. It dropped “Breathe” and added 4 others – 3 of the non-album tracks from the UK CD singles and a cover of Queen’s “Tie Your Mother Down”. This album got very little promotion, with less major magazine features, fewer releases in various formats and countries – making this a hard to find album now, if you didn’t get it when it came out. I received the CD at the time through a local music paper I contributed to. I’m sure I must’ve had a press release at some point, and I would’ve reviewed it, but there didn’t seem to be much happening with it – in the press, defintitely not on radio, as if this album was just dropped off. I did come across an MTV clip of Blackie with his arm in cast, which would answer why there was no touring around this release. (He also mentioned he’d be continuing to use the name WASP at this point). Gotta wonder [and I doubt] if Any of these songs were ever played live [!?]

“We were caught in a crossfire. What should we do with that record with Chris and I working together? We didn’t want that record to cloud the issues, so to speak, with what we’re doing now. It became a sacrificial lamb. We slide it under the door and hoped no one would notice. I hate to say that because I did serve it up as an offering. I couldn’t go out and promote that record and make this record at the same time. Plus the attention would have taken away from this project.” – BL, HardRadio.com, 1997

Still Not Black Enough marked the end of an era for WASP. The band started out with a more serious approach with The Headless Children, changed personnel for The Crimson Idol, and ended on a quiet note, almost as if Blackie was burnt out and needed a new spark or direction [again]. The one constant being Frankie Banali, who’s heavy drumming style suited these albums perfectly. The band’s next chapter would see further changes in personnel, musical styles, lyrics, and attitude.

More reading…
Bob Kulick – Interview – 9/20/2017
REVIEW: W.A.S.P. – Still Not Black Enough (both versions)

Blackie Lawless 1997 Interview quotes from my own archives.


KJJ, 04/20

9 thoughts on “WASP – The Headless Children & Early ’90s”

  1. Wow, fella a real detailed look at WASP. Great job. I bought Headless Children as I loved that cover of The Who’s tune. That was a good album and BL assembled a good band for that time.
    Not too familiar with some of the stuff into the 90s but I enjoyed the read.

    Liked by 1 person

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