By frontman David Coverdale’s own admission, Whitesnake are best known for their “drum-driven, electric guitar-fuelled, chest-beating Tarzan vocal approach” to stadium-sized rock music, so the idea of them releasing an intimate, all-acoustic set such as 1997’s Starkers In Tokyo might seem unlikely.
Listen to ‘Starkers In Tokyo’ on ‘Whitesnake Unzipped’, here.
“This is a way to pull the songs back to a natural foundation”
With hindsight, though, it was probably inevitable the band would attempt a record like this at a time when acoustic albums were in vogue. After it first appeared in 1989, the self-explanatory MTV Unplugged series had encouraged musicians of all persuasions to de-amplify their sound and rearrange their catalogues for the TV cameras, often with impressive results. During the show’s 90s heyday, acts as disparate as Eric Clapton, Neil Young and Nirvana released acclaimed, platinum-selling spin-off albums of their performances, so was it really so outlandish to think Whitesnake could pull off a similar coup?
The band were certainly intrigued by the prospect, even though it meant (temporarily) shrinking to a duo of just Coverdale and guitarist Adrian Vandenberg – and for the two men to operate outside the boundaries of their usual comfort zones.
“As writers, both Adrian and I feel that if a song is any good, then you should be able to perform it in any style”, Coverdale reasoned prior to the album’s recording. “So we look upon this as a challenge because, while we write most of our music on acoustic guitars, it’s always with a vision of transferring it to big electric guitars and drums, so this is a way to pull the songs back to a very natural foundation.”
“It gave me the opportunity to be ‘at one’ with the crowd”
Recorded live on 5 July 1997, Starkers In Tokyo followed the MTV Unplugged format of a stripped-down performance in front of a small but highly enthusiastic audience of devotees at Japan’s EMI Studios. However, it wasn’t captured for MTV but for a home video release in Japan, in support of the band’s then recent studio album, Restless Heart.
With this in mind, the Starkers In Tokyo set took in measured versions of two of that album’s key tracks, Too Many Tears and Don’t Fade Away. However, it also presented a carefully-curated selection of the best Whitesnake songs, along with one very pleasant surprise – an emotional reading of Solider Of Fortune, dating back to Coverdale’s reputation-building spell with Deep Purple during the mid-70s.