Heavy Rockers: Misunderstood Originators Or Blatant Lazy Rip-off Cliché Merchants? Part 2

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Whatever Happened To My Rock n Roll Part 5

I’m putting heavy rock on trial! Have Your Say!

Twenty five years on from the peak of heavy rock’s commercial popularity in 1988, this series asks why heavy rockers no longer dominate the charts and seeks to 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.

By the end of the process we should perhaps have a clearer view of what went wrong with those eighties rock bands, and the pitfalls new bands might do well to avoid…

The Accusation: Heavy Rock Bands Are Blatant Lazy Rip-off Cliché Merchants…

The Defence

It is, of course, nonsense to suggest that heavy rock is an unchanging force. You only have to play Led Zep‘s 2nd and 3rd albums back to back to see how even one band evolved their sound.

As the excellent 12 part documentary series Metal Evolution has shown, ever since Ray Davies sliced his amp to get a fuzzy tone from his guitar on the riff of “You Really Got Me” heavy rock has grown, evolved and transformed many times, from pioneers such as Led Zep, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple (blues based, virtuoso musicians) in the late sixties to Judas Priest (less blues based, faster paced) and Blue Öyster Cult (faster paced, quirky lyrical themes) in the mid seventies, to Iron Maiden (faster still), Van Halen (guitar virtuoso) and Scorpions (as above, plus German) in the early eighties, to the thrash metal (double bass kick drum, much faster paced) movement in the mid eighties, to glam metal (poodle-haired guitar-pop) in the late eighties, grunge (introvert lyrics, fuzzed guitars), rap metal (does what it says on the tin), Nu-metal and death metal (nihilistic lyrical themes, very shouty and heavy) in the mid nineties, stoner rock (repetitive riffs, calmer vocal style) in the late nineties and so on.

Each is like a branch of a tree, but can all be described to varying degrees as “heavy rock”. There is as much variety in heavy rock as there is in any other genre of popular music. And not just in the haircuts. To take poodle haired rockers in isolation is missing the point.

Exhibit D: Graphic of the Metal Evolution family tree.


Critics who suggest that it is all the same. (Damon Albarn said about Grunge, “whether they like it or not they’re listening to Black Sabbath again. It irritates me.”) just aren’t listening closely enough.

Of the poodle-haired rockers, it is fair to say that although their time has passed, their music lives on in modern pop: Lady Gaga’s last album featured a style of guitar-pop last seen when we were all trying to unscramble Rubik’s Cubes, and there’s a track by current critics darlings Haim that sounds suspiciously like Shania Twain (who was married to and produced by Mutt Lange of Def Leppard, AC/DC and Bryan Adams fame). I’m staggered that there hasn’t been more mutterings of “Emperors”, “New” and “Clothes” on that one…

But let’s be careful about judging the worth of something by how innovative it is. A new way to spread measles, or growing a second nose on your forehead might be innovative but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s entirely a good idea. There’s a whole school of critical thought that rejects the old and praises the new. Yet no-one looks at a pair of brogues and says “I’ve seen that style before – I’m not going to try them on”. If we only listened to new and innovative music we’d all be following technology and listening to electronica, rather than enjoying the simple pleasures of a good tune – and a loud guitar. We’d never enjoy the thrill of listening to Larry Williams’ “Dizzy Miss Lizzy“, but instead we’d be following the ponderous noodlings of tech students with a dangerous combination of pro-tools, an Apple Mac and a Casio keyboard.

In short, we’d be listening only to The Pet Shop Boys, Factory Floor and Jon Hopkins. I’ve heard all three and believe me – in the nicest possible way – if that was the only music we were allowed to hear, I think I might end up wearing the countenance of one of those chaps in crime fiction who, having spent a busy morning meticulously covering his tracks after a murder, bumps into a master detective just as he notices he has overlooked cleaning up the victim’s blood from his shirt cuff.

As that famous glam metal icon Duke Ellington once said, there’s only two types of music. Good and bad. Rock has evolved, but if it hadn’t, it wouldn’t matter, so long as it was good enough.

  • It’s Time To Vote!
  • Do you think heavy rock suffers from being derivative and unoriginal? Is it all merely a massive cliché? Has heavy rock moved with the times? Is it still original and exciting?
  • Vote GUILTY if you think heavy rock is cliché ridden and has failed to move with the times.
  • Vote NOT GUILTY if you think heavy rock is still as relevant as it ever was.
  • SWAY the jury by sharing your views below!

Record #246: Kingdom Come – Get It On





3 responses to “Heavy Rockers: Misunderstood Originators Or Blatant Lazy Rip-off Cliché Merchants? Part 2”

  1. Phillip Helbig Avatar

    It’s only on screen for a few seconds, but Jack Black’s character has a rock family tree on the blackboard in School of Rock. As far as I could tell (I’ve seen the film only once), it is completely accurate.

    I still claim there is more variety within heavy metal than within the rest of music combined.

    I’m still looking for a heavy-metal band as good as Iron Maiden. I have many suggestions, but haven’t had the time to check out more than a few yet. Nightwish comes close on their first album (which is not really typical of their sound), but I don’t see anything more in that style coming from them. With the departure of Tarja, the sound changed radically, but on the other hand any Tarja clone would come off as cheap. Maybe some of their later albums with Tarja are worth listening to; I have a best-of, but still like the first album more (amazingly, the songs on this album were just demos), but I know that some records (Tull’s Stormwatch comes to mind) do improve with repeated listenings.


  2. Andrew Avatar

    I love the family tree. Sam Dunn has made a slew of good rock documentaries, Metal Evolution being one of them. Metal – A Headbanger’s Journey is just awesome, as is Super Duper Alice Cooper.

    Is heavy rock cliché ridden and unoriginal? I don’t think so. There has definitely been a lot of copying going on, from a style standpoint. One can say that about all genres, since almost all music is owned by record companies. If an act got popular, each record company ordered “a dozen of those”. It was even mentioned on Metal Evolution – “You had Warrant, and ten other mini Warrants”.

    The good bands from any era were ones that maybe copied some of what was popular before them. I look at bands like Cinderella, Stone Temple Pilots, even Rush! These bands were all accused of being copies of other bands, but they changed their styles and tastes enough that they became their own entities. Rush was no longer Zeppelin’s bratty brother after Fly By Night. Cinderella, while still unfairly labelled as glam, went to a more bluesy sound. Stone Temple Pilots, accused of being a Pearl Jam copy, changed their sound to the point where Scott Weiland sounded nothing like Eddie Vedder.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      All good points. I do like Cinderella although they were a real Aerosmith / AC/DC copy – but that’s why I liked them!
      I always thought Pearl Jam were the next Led Zep (I also thought The White Stripes were the next Led Zep) rather than grunge.


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