Jani Lane, the former lead singer of the hard rock band Warrant, was found dead in a California hotel room last night. Lane was Warrant’s primary songwriter, penning radio hits like “Heaven,” “I Saw Red,” and “Cherry Pie”; in his later years, he would leave and get back together with his former band a few times, finally departing for good in 2008.
Last week I wrote about the misuse of the phrase “one-hit wonder” by a poorly assembled iTunes compilation; Warrant was one of the bands unfairly tagged with that descriptor thanks to the snowball-down-the-hill success of the brash, sex-soaked title track from their 1990 album Cherry Pie. Even the TMZ obituary that broke the story last night tabbed “Pie” as the band’s biggest hit, even though “Heaven,” the plastered-everywhere ballad from their debut album Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich, was actually their pop chart peak; it hit No. 2 on the Hot 100 in 1989.
“Heaven” is a sweet proclamation of love with a stirring, anthemic chorus, and it’s certainly one of the better ballads of its era. Rich overall was a fun, frothy record—it wasn’t reinventing the wheel or anything by any stretch, but it had a ton of hooky choruses and Lane was a fine frontman with a smooth voice; tracks like “32 Pennies” (a love song by a dude with that much money saved in an old Ragu jar) spoke to the up-from-nothing ethos that seemed to inform so many hard-rock acts.
“Cherry Pie” was the sexier parts of Rich amped up all the way; it whacks you over the head with its sexuality, which is way too over-the-top to be called “innuendo.” It was apparently a song that was supposed to compete with “Love In An Elevator” on a sex-on-the-radio level, and oh boy, did it succeed, with its success growing seemingly exponentially as specific memories of the hard-rock era calcified into a couple of caricatured moments that turned into musical urban legends of a sort. Lane was not all that happy with its success down the road, as he noted to Vh1. (Thanks to Steven Hyden at The AV Club for finding this clip.)
Warrant was the first band I saw live (they opened for Mötley Crüe at Nassau Coliseum in 1989) and I vaguely remember Lane referring to the album as Uncle Tom’s Cabin (a title that, of course, had its own problems coming as it did from a bunch of white dudes) when the band performed the track of the same name that night. It was definitely a darker track than “Cherry Pie,” all about a murder mystery and a “body in a wishing well.”
The members of Warrant had poster-boy good looks (my bedroom wall in high school can attest to this) and extremely hooky songwriting, which probably made them even more vulnerable to falling out of favor once the darker, more sullen bands of the grunge and modern rock uprising gained primacy in the marketplace. (Lane once discussed the sinking feeling in his stomach he had when he saw that the poster of his band in the Columbia Records offices had been replaced by one touting Alice In Chains.) Warrant put out Dog Eat Dog in 1992, but their moment had passed and the album didn’t sell, and a year later, Lane left the band for a while. He would come back, and the band would put out a few records (including the 2001 covers album Under The Influence), but they would divorce and reconcile a couple of times more before parting ways for the last time in 2008.
Lane bopped around the lower reaches of celebrity in the 21st century, appearing on Celebrity Fit Club in 2005 and being interviewed for the occasional “remember when” clip show. In 2010 he filled in for Great White’s Jack Russell as lead singer; in June he blogged about spending the summer writing a new record and spending time with his family.
Lane was 47.