I’m Putting Rock On Trial! Have Your Say!
It is the 25th anniversary of Bon Jovi’s first UK number one album, “New Jersey” – a moment when heavy rock had confirmed its place in the mainstream, capping the momentum built by the likes of Bon Jovi, Def Leppard (number 1 in the US with “Love Bites”) and Whitesnake.
Yet for many people it may seem baffling that a singer with bad hair playing guitar-based power-pop with a crazy way of dressing could be so popular. But that’s enough about Lady Gaga. At least in the eighties there was no-one sticking their tongue out. Oh, except Gene Simmons of Kiss. And he rarely, if ever, twerked.
As the lack of nominations for heavy rock at the Mercury Music Prize demonstrate, and indeed as Deep Purple’s lack of induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame also shows, some people just don’t get heavy rock. The reasons are many. But plenty of people do (or did) like Bon Jovi. So is heavy rock a Darwinian cul-de-sac that has had its day? Why isn’t everyone going Gaga over classic rock in general? And when did it become “classic rock”: a term that suggests it belongs in a museum?
Or to put it another way, “whatever happened to my rock n roll?”
This series will highlight the crimes that Heavy Rock is accused of, and give you the cases for and against.
At the end of each debate, you will have the ability to vote either “guilty” or “not guilty”, according to the evidence. And because this is a democratic process, you may also introduce your own evidence, in the comments section at the foot of the page to sway the jury…
So what went wrong? And should Heavy Rock be consigned to Alcatrazz (not the band fronted by Graham Bonnet), or should it be allowed to Sing-Sing?
Accusation Number One:
Heavy rock lyrics are ridiculous and adolescent.
It is twenty five years since “New Jersey” reached the top of the album charts. Both before and after that time, popular music has explored some of Life’s Great Questions including social issues (Public Enemy’s “911 Is A Joke”), life and death (The Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realise”), ecological issues (Marvin Gaye‘s “What’s Goin’ On?”) and politics (er, Boney M’s “Rasputin”).
And what is Heavy Rock’s Great Contribution to this furtherance of human endeavour?
Vinnie Vincent’s Invasion. This is what they came up with:
“I want dirty rhythm / I want dirty rhythm over me / come together in serenade / pull the pin of my love grenade”.
Seriously. And that was after Spinal Tap had lampooned this sort of thing with their “lick my love pump” gag… Is this just eighties rock’s fault? Perhaps not. Heavy rock has a long history of dodgy lyrical content. Let’s look at a few examples:
Exhibit A: Black Sabbath: War Pigs.
“Generals Gather In Their Masses / Just like witches at Black Masses”
In the first line of one of the stand out songs on Black Sabbath’s second album the stall is set. Rhyming a word with the same word is not a rhyme.
Exhibit B: Dio Buzzword Bingo.
If you ever want a drunken evening, put on a few Ronnie James Dio (RIP God bless ‘im) records, and take a shot every time you hear one of the following words: Dream, Demon, Night, Rainbow, Evil. By the end of two LPs you will have consumed so much alcohol, the fumes from your breath alone will be enough to stop an angry rhinoceros at thirty paces*, or perhaps more appropriately an angry demon or dragon.
Indeed, some perhaps less generous people maintain this is the only way to listen to Dio records (it isn’t, honestly). However, whilst such imagery would be fine for a song or two, Dio’s error (and I say this with respect to a unique and fine singer and front man) is that he seldom strayed from this theme over a dozen albums. It became a formula. Compare this to The Beatles’ lyrical output over a similar number of albums, and you’ll see what I mean.
Exhibit C: A random selection of song lyrics:
Here are just a few words from heavy rock’s finest lyricists….
Manowar – Fighting The World: “Fight fight fight / Fighting the world every single day / Fighting the world for the right to play / Heavy Metal in my brain / I’m fighting for Metal ’cause it’s here to stay”.
Metallica – Whiplash: “Bang your head against the stage like you never did before / Make it ring, make it bleed, make it really sore.” If that’s the intelligent side of thrash metal, imagine what the unintelligent side is like…
Or how about the truly bizarre Helloween, whose quirky style included this gem:
Helloween – Rise and Fall: “Romeo loved his Juliet / their parents told them “Stop” / then it all turned out peculiar / he couldn’t get it up”. The only excuse we have for that is that they are German…
Let’s slay some real dragons: Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven gave us “”If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now”…
What if we move on to the less traditional metal guys? Perhaps lyrics improve with the glam metal brigade?
Kiss – C’Mon And Love Me: “She’s a dancer, a romancer, I’m a Capricorn and she’s a Cancer…”
Motley Crue – Slice of your Pie: “Tattoo crawlin’ down her leg, so sexy / So young…ever get caught they’ll arrest me”
Great White – Mista Bone: “Just take it like a sweet injection / Just a token of my affection / Another night we’ll take another direction / I’m going to play you like a rhythm section“.
Perhaps the final word should go to Van Halen whose ruminations on relationships came up with this beauty:
Van Halen – Why Can’t This Be Love: “Only time will tell if we stand the test of time”….
No wonder when Nirvana came along it wasn’t difficult to show up an entire genre as being lyrically vacuous…
* Because Dio records have not been big sellers to date on African safari holidays, admittedly this concept has not been fully road-tested.
Have Your Say!
- Is Rock guilty of poor lyricism? Is the lack of a poet laureate the reason why Def Leppard barely survived the nineties?
- Or is it the very essence of rock n roll and something to be treasured and celebrated?
- Vote GUILTY if you think these are crimes against the English language.
- Vote NOT GUILTY if you think it is a long and noble tradition to spout nonsense whilst playing rock n roll.
- SWAY the jury by sharing your views below!
- Next post: THE DEFENCE
Record #240: Dio – Dream Evil
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