Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Best I Can – Chris DeGarmo

By the late eighties, Queensryche had broken through in the U.S, however failed to make a dent in the Australian market. I came across their name, when Dave Mustaine called them “Yuppie” metal in a Guitar World magazine, and Metallica had them opening on the “…And Justice For All” tour.

I wanted to hear their music. Records were expensive, so radio thrived. However Queensryche never got played on the radio in Australia. Then “Empire” came out and it was all over the record store. It was my first purchase of the band. A blind purchase based on the press I read.

“Best I Can” is the opening track of Queensryche’s biggest album. It clocks in at 5.30, which for the time was a rarity to have a song clock in over 4 minutes.

Chris DeGarmo is listed as the sole songwriter, in the same way, he is listed as the main songwriter on “Silent Lucidity”, the track that pushed the “Empire’ album to multi-platinum sales. So how do you follow-up your breakthrough album, which against the odds, was a concept album.

You follow it up with a kick ass rock album that tackles serious subject matter. And “Best I Can” has some serious issues to bring forth.

As DeGarmo once said in the October issue of RIP

“Empire was a change of direction, in that we just wrote about whatever it was we wanted to write about. It was all written while we were at home, so there’s a lot of inspiration from Seattle.”

In the Kerrang, June 1990 issue, Chris DeGarmo said the following for “Best I Can”;

“It’s about a young boy who has a tragic accident as a child, and has to overcome his handicaps to make something of his life, and overcome what others perceive to be a handicap. It’s a song, basically, about beating the odds.”

“Don’t worry, dear. He’ll never find the gun.”

And then, the ominous piano line kicks in and the child like operatic voices come in.

Brilliant.

Queensryche had my attention.

A child alone in daddy’s room
The gun was hidden here
No one home to catch me when I fall

Then the band kicks in. It’s a stop start of music and vocals, sort of like “Crying In The Rain” and “Still Of The Night” from Whitesnake but still it’s unique, it doesn’t sound like anyone else.

A young man now in a private chair
I’ve seen the world through a bitter stare
But my dream is still alive
I’m going to be the best I can

There is the positive message that DeGarmo is talking about. The dream to be somebody is still alive, regardless of the situation. We are always looking for more, not satisfied with what we have. And music always opened up my horizons. “Best I Can” isn’t mindless dancing and money music. It’s grim, truthful and hopeful.

Geoff Tate had the following to say in the December 1990 issue of Hit Parader;

“Best I Can touches on gun control, but it’s really the story of a young boy who gets shot and is paralysed. He just strives to be the best he can be – it’s really an upbeat story.”

Tate further elaborated on the song in the December 1990 issue of Metal Edge;

“Best I Can touches on gun control, how a young child finds a gun in his parents’ room, maims himself with it and becomes handicapped but doesn’t give into his handicap. He keeps pushing ahead to be a better person and achieve his goals.”

I want to be a busy man
I want to see a change in the future
I’m gonna make the best of what I have
I want to write for a magazine
I’m gonna be the best they’ve ever seen
I know I’ll win if I give it all I can

The piano groove is back and it’s magic.

The man in the chair and the man that’s in my dream
I’m going to melt the two men into one

Chris DeGarmo’s idea to tackle subjects so far removed from the hard rock infrastructure proved to be Queensryche’s X factor in the musical industry.

It’s worth noting that DeGarmo’s musical influence far exceeded the amount of units Queensryche moved.

He inspired legions of guitar players to step up and be more complete songwriters. If I look at my favourite guitarists from the Eighties, not many of them wrote any lyrics and vocal melodies. They wrote riffs and leads.

For all of Eddie’s innovative guitar playing, David Lee Roth and then Sammy Hagar had sole responsibility over the lyrics and vocal melodies. John Sykes’s biggest career songs are co-writes with David Coverdale and Phil Lynott. Randy Rhoads needed the magical words of Bob Daisley to bring his riffs to the masses. George Lynch needed Jeff Pilson and Mick Brown to write lyrics and vocal melodies for his riffs. And the list goes on.

But Chris DeGarmo didn’t need a vocalist to write a complete song. He wrote the vocal melodies, lyrics and music to “Best I Can” and of course to “Silent Lucidity” which proved to be Queensryche’s biggest song.

I see the influence of DeGarmo in another favourite of mine, John Petrucci from Dream Theater.

I see the influence of DeGarmo in different genres. In the mid-nineties, Fuel came out with Carl Bell on guitars and of course as the main songwriter. Once Carl Bell left Fuel, the same thing happened to Fuel as to Queensryche, after DeGarmo left.

And Chris DeGarmo gave it all he can and he won.

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