Why Listen To Poison When You Can Listen To Husker Du?

a judges gavel judge court

  • 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: Why listen to hair metal when there are so many better things you could listen to?

The Prosecution:

Life is short. Life is precious. The idea that you might spend some of it listening to Poison, say, rather than Husker Du is puzzling. And yet I certainly did, and judging from their respective record sales, many people did too. The question is, why did we?

About twenty years ago, in a moment of clarity, I decided that vinyl was dead. I sold the majority of my record collection and my turntable, and, in what was one of the most brilliant decisions since Eleazar Maccabeus decided the best way to kill an elephant was to stick a spear in it whilst standing directly underneath it*, with the proceeds bought one of the best and brightest pieces of technology available to mankind: A Sega Megadrive (Saturn, if you are in the USA). It was shiny, seductive and had pixelated hedgehogs and American Football players. Mere White Lion albums could not compete with such a searing glimpse of The Future.

But throughout these lost years, I began to identify with Bono when he sang that song about not being able to find his keys when they get lost under the sofa. “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” I think is the exact song, and that feeling Bono had about his keys I started to feel about my record player.

I decided that the death of vinyl had been greatly exaggerated and what’s more I missed having a few records cluttering up the place. So three years ago I bought a new turntable (I now have a Rega – the same one I had sold twenty years before), and had the opportunity to start a record collection from scratch. My collection would begin with a clean slate. No mistakes from my past. No unwise purchases. I thought I’d limit it to about 50 LPs. (Yeah, right).

In came The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks. Dylan. Pulp’s Different Class. A bit of Beck and Flaming Lips. Arcade Fire.

Did I buy Mötley Crüe‘s “Girls Girls Girls”? Ratt’s “Dancing Undercover”? D’Molls’ debut? Britny Fox? Def Leppard? Bon Jovi?

Did I heck. No matter how pleased I would be to see them in a record fair, they always seemed to fall under the “mistakes I made in my past” category.

Plenty of heavy rock did make its way in to the collection. Led Zep, some Bon Scott era AC/DC, a couple of Blue Öyster Cult LPs, some QOTSA, Sabbath, ZZ Top, Metallica’s $5.98 EP, Motörhead and Masters of Reality.

But Whitesnake, Poison, Crüe, Ratt, Warrant, Great White, D’Molls, Slaughter, Kix, White Lion, Winger, Mr Big, Blue Murder, Britny Fox, Black n Blue, Extreme, Bang Tango, WASP, Autograph, Night Ranger, Stryper and Salty Dog are all conspicuous by their absence.

Could it be that very few of the hair metal albums have stood the test of time in the way that other genres have?

It would be unfair to judge a movement by its worst albums but in case you wanted to debate them they might include:

  1. D’Molls – D’Molls
  2. Britny Fox – Britny Fox
  3. Nelson – After The Rain
  4. Mötley Crüe – Mötley Crüe
  5. Def Leppard – Adrenalize (or should it be Slang?)

Each of these would struggle to beat Metallica’s St Anger in a “which is the least worst” album competition. This is all the more remarkable because the latter appeared to be Lars Ulrich‘s one man solution to the Napster illegal download situation, by cleverly making an album so bad that no-one would want to download it.

Exhibit A: Ten albums I could have bought instead of D’Molls debut album that were released between 1986 and 1992 and which would have been a better, less wasteful use of my money.

It’s a simple and persuasive argument this one: With the benefit of hindsight, why would we have listened to Glam Metal when we could have listened to these fine albums released at the same time? Can we really, hand on heart, claim that Bon Jovi or Def Leppard (to take two top-selling artists) were better than any of these?

  • The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead
  • R.E.M. – Document
  • Prince – Sign O’ The Times
  • Sonic Youth – Sister
  • Pixies – Surfer Rosa
  • The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
  • The La’s – The La’s
  • Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet
  • My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
  • Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque

In conclusion, unless you genuinely believe that Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” is a better record than the albums above, you can only judge heavy rock to be “Guilty as charged”.

* Mr Maccabeus was correct, but was crushed to death by the falling elephant. True story. See also Samson, Pyrrhus.

Next Time: The Defence

  • It’s Time To Vote!
  • Was it a crime to listen to Poison when so much better stuff was released at the same time?
  • Vote GUILTY if you think we should have known better and that Hair Metal hasn’t stood the test of time.
  • Vote NOT GUILTY if you think Hair Metal deserves more respect for its place in rock n roll history.
  • SWAY the jury by sharing your views below!


Categories: Hard Rock

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

16 replies

  1. Very entertaining and brilliantly-written article. When it comes to properly sitting down and listening to the albums, I think there’s no contest: records like ‘Surfer Rosa’ or ‘Loveless’ are consistent from beginning to end. But if, say, I’m turning on the radio for a 20-minute drive, I wouldn’t mind me some ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ or ‘Here I Go Again’. They’re fine, hook-filled pop-rock songs that can serve their purpose if listened adequately and in small doses.

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  2. In conclusion, unless you genuinely believe that Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” is a better record than the albums above, you can only judge heavy rock to be “Guilty as charged”.

    Actually, it is better than all except Document. (And I’m not sure about Document. R.E.M. has some great stuff, but also a lot of filler—sort of like Uriah Heep or The Rolling Stones in that respect.) Still, hair metal was never a serious alternative. Not so much because of the hair, but because of the lack of musical creativity and the daft lyrics.

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  3. I own all the Bon Jovi and Def Leppard studio albums, but I don’t own a single Smiths, R.E.M., Prince, Sonic Youth, Pixies, Stone Roses, La’s, Public Enemy, My Bloody Valentine or Teenage Fanclub CD. And I’m perfectly content with that situation. Not saying one is “better” than another, just that I like one and not the other. It’s not for lack of trying, I was inundated with all those bands at the record store and if I never have to listen to an R.E.M. album again I’m totally fine with that.

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  4. To be fair, there are still some individual hair metal songs that I quite enjoy. I still own a couple Def Leppard discs, and a Bon Jovi greatest hits. But Husker Du (and anything Bob Mould did solo) is still way better.

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  5. Britny Fox’s debut record still stands up. They were even better live….and I saw them on several occasions opening for Poison in Texas to boot.

    Whilst my tastes have broadened massively since those days of AquaNet and spandex, I would take a Britny Fox album over any of R.E.M’s any day of the week!

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