The cover of the 1976 single ‘Hot for Teacher’ by Boston rockers, Thundertrain.
Bands like Thundertrain aren’t made—they are born and the group entered the Boston rock scene back in the mid-70s with a sonic boom. Thundertrain’s heavy-blended jams are full of fuzzy glam grooves and a hard rock mean streak like the kind of riffy juice that runs through the veins of Chuck Berry. To this day they are still revered back east and it’s not hard to understand why as Thundertrain did a great job of “making it up” as they went along back in the 70s. But the topic at hand is the band’s “connection” to Van Halen—specifically when it comes to a song you could probably recite the lyrics to in your sleep, “Hot for Teacher.”
The cover of Thundertrain’s ‘Teenage Suicide’ album released in 1977.
According to an 2003 interview with vocalist Mach Bell (aka Mark Bell), back when Thundertrain was out on the road sometime in the mid-to-late 70s Van Halen apparently requested that the band open for them at a gig at the famed Agora Ballroom in Cleveland. So imagine what Bell thought when 1984 rolled around and he heard a song that instantly became synonymous with Van Halen—the adrenalin-charged “Hot for Teacher.” A song with the exact same title as what most fans consider to be Thundertrain’s biggest hit in their too short career. Despite the fact that Boston was a veritable hot bed when it came to its mid-70s musical exports (bands like Aerosmith, The Modern Lovers and Boston), and even though “Hot for Teacher hit #3 in the UK alternative charts in 1977, Thundertrain never got the break they deserved and the band called it a night in 1980.
After Thundertrain, Bell would go on to do a stint in The Joe Perry Project in the early 80s and in 2004 Indiana-based record label Gulcher reissued the band’s 1979 live show called Hell Tonight broadcast over long-running Massachusetts “Kickass Rock ‘N’ Roll!” radio station WCOZ which includes a fantastic cover of Slade’s 1972 smash “Mama Weer All Crazee Now.” I’ve posted Thundertrain’s “Hot for Teacher” (which features the piano-work of briefly Velvet Underground member Willie “Loco” Alexander) as well as a few other tracks that I know you’re gonna dig and some barely-there footage of the band performing at one of Boston’s best skeezy, sticky-floored rock venues—and one that I frequented as often as possible back in the day—the Rathskeller.
So did VH rip off Thundertrain years after hearing the band perform a song called “Hot for Teacher”? Well here’s the thing—song titles don’t get the same consideration when it comes to copyright infringement that compositions and melodies do, though they have been the at the center of a few lawsuits initiated by Madonna and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Are there any similarities between the two tracks beyond the name? I’ll let you be the judge on that while highly encouraging you to add Thundertrain’s Teenage Suicide to your record collection right away.
Thundertrain ‘Hot for Teacher.’
Thundertrain, ‘Cindy is a Sleeper.’
Thundertrain, ‘Modern Girls.’
Thundertrain performing their show closer ‘Hot for Teacher’ at the Rathskeller, 1978.
H/T: Many thanks to the great Johnny A. Wendell for his help with this post.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Van Halen cover Bowie and KC & The Sunshine Band (while judging a dance contest!) in the 70s