If you have been reading some of the rubbish I have come up with over the last eighteen months you may have built up a Sherlockian picture of me, although instead of observing the type of sand on my shoe (mentally noting I must live by the sea), or the bruise on my otherwise clean fingernail (office worker, not very good at DIY), you will have noted a knowledge of late eighties heavy rock that to most people would be quite unbecoming.
Music is like that. Looking back 25 or so years, it can often seem unfathomable that people liked…..that? For example: Dave Hill of Slade’s wardrobe…
What was all that about? Also:
- Did people really like Bucks Fizz?
- How did Blue get to play with Stevie Wonder?
- How did people not think Blue were just hopeless morons? There were plenty of clues.*
- Michael Bolton: discuss.
- Did girls really swoon over the tartan-clad dock-workers of The Bay City Rollers?
- And in case I didn’t already ask, how the heck did Blue, yes, Blue, get to play with Stevie Wonder????
As boring old 1986 moved into the exciting new era of 1987 and onwards to the even more enthralling cacophony of fun that was 1988, the charts in the UK began to be cluttered with poodle-haired rockers of all descriptions. Indeed, if you wanted to be the front man in a rock band, all that was apparently required was a pair of tight leather trousers, a shaggy perm and to be called Joe. Joey Tempest with his Shakespearean name was the first to reach number one with Europe’s The Final Countdown. Joe Elliott’s Def Leppard gave the UK their own band. But both of these owed much to Jon Bon Joe-vi, whose own “Slippery When Wet” album blazed a trail.
As an aside, it’s interesting to look at the original album art for Slippery When Wet
versus what we ended up with:
So why did this music become so popular? Why did it interest me so much? Why was I prepared to overlook such crimes against fashion as this?
And if the music was so good, why did so many hair metal bands die out when the meteor-crash of Grunge covered us all in its gloomy cloud?
I have been giving these questions literally moments of contemplation and have come up with a Definitive List of Reasons Why It Was Okay To Like Eighties Hair Metal At The Time:
1. Rock stars suddenly started paying attention to personal hygiene. For years, rock stars measured their popularity on how many warts they had. Jon Bon Jovi put a stop to all this by being a good looking fella who actually washed. Being a Rocker Who Washed was a big step to international stardom as it meant that when you appeared on TV you didn’t make half your viewers immediately lose their lunch just by looking at you.
2. Pop songs. Hair metal bands used outside song-writers to make their stuff more catchy. Writing credits for “Desmond Child” and “Jim Vallance” became commonplace. Previously hard-to-find musical concepts such as “choruses” began to appear.
3. Better lyrics: Allusions to Dragons, Death, Pain and Misery were replaced by charming folk tales about struggling couple Tommy and Gina, the latter of which worked in a diner all day (didn’t have to work shifts: so not too bad then), and brought home her pay “for love”.
4. Radio started playing rock music. It had been actually illegal in the UK for Radio to broadcast any guitar music except Status Quo since The Jam split up**. Getting Bon Jovi played on radio was, in retrospect, a huge step forward. No Bon Jovi, no Brit pop? Discuss.
5. Rock wasn’t produced by Stock Aitken and Waterman. This was quite a rarity for any kind of song in 1988, with over three quarters of the charts regularly being populated by throwaway pop singles sung by badly dressed Australian soap stars with mullets. Rock music offered people a genuine alternative of throwaway pop singles *with guitars in* sung by badly dressed Americans with mullets. When you consider the alternatives available***, Bon Jovi really looked like a credible offering.
6. “Bigger” production. When I was sixteen years old music made in the 1970’s just sounded….old. The 4-track production of such fuddy duddy efforts like er, Sgt Pepper, sounded flat compared to the vibrant echo-filled sounds produced by Def Leppard in their 128-track recording studio. Now, of course, all that eighties production is described as over-production and dates everything more emphatically than pebble dash cladding on your house.
7. We didn’t know any better. Radio didn’t play, say, Ray Charles or Led Zeppelin. It played Kylie. The History of Popular music wasn’t a subject to study at school. I didn’t know Zeppelin were good. I thought Bon Jovi were rock legends. The first time I heard The Stones’ Jumping Jack Flash was on the Whoopi Goldberg film of the same name. The first time I heard “Stairway To Heaven” was on a three minute single performed by Far Corporation. The producers of that latter record went on to produce those music “legends” Milli Vanilli…
8. A greater toleration and acceptance of sexism. And not in an “ironic” way. The songs The Darkness sang a decade or so later with a nod and a wink were sung in earnestness by the likes of Poison (authors of the wholesome “Talk Dirty To Me”) and Def Leppard. I was shocked to learn that “Pour Some Sugar On Me” is apparently not about high jinks in the Tate and Lyle factory.
9. We just didn’t know how bad it would get. Like allowing some kids to lark about with fire extinguishers after some fizzy pop and a tin of sweets we didn’t think things would get that bad. We weren’t to know the record company would come up with anything as awful as Warrant’s “Cherry Pie“.
10. Even Bowie did it. His Tin Machine project reflected the times. Although to be fair he retained his style: he only eventually sported a mullet when performing in The Labyrinth.
So there you have it. We weren’t mad. Just like the way we will look back at Lady Gaga in twenty years, it all made perfect sense at the time…
Song 221: Cinderella – Push Push
* Clues that Blue were morons included Lee Ryan’s quotes such as ““I still have imaginary friends who I talk to in my head”, the 9/11 classic response “Who gives a f- about New York when elephants are being killed” and “They say if you’re left-handed and dyslexic you only use the creative side of your brain. It’s very rare to be left-handed and dyslexic, so I’m a bordering genius”, to which the obvious response is “The word is “borderline”?
** Not actually true, but for all intents and purposes it may as well have been.
*** Unless you were cool and liked The Smiths.
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