Has Hair Metal Stood The Test Of Time?

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?

We heard the prosecution in a little while ago – it’s time to hear the defence:

The Defence

My defence is simply this: We didn’t know any better. This is the reason why…

Exhibit B: Cinderella’s 1988 performance at The Dominion Theatre, London

When glam rockers Cinderella toured in support of their “Long Cold Winter” LP they played a London date which, being a fan of both their albums, I shuffled along to. For an encore, they played a cover of The Rolling Stones’Jumping Jack Flash“. The gig had gone well and vocalist Tom Keifer was encouraged to get the crowd to sing along to the “it’s a gas gas gas” chorus.

The crowd fell silent….. He tried again….. The same thing happened. Suddenly it dawned on him and he said “I can’t believe a crowd in London doesn’t know the words to a Rolling Stones song!” But it was true. Barely a handful of people knew the words. I knew them, but only because I had seen the Whoopi Goldberg film of the same name. How did we find ourselves in a situation where a whole crowd of British teenagers didn’t know the words to Jumping Jack Flash?!

One theory why this happened might be the insular nature of heavy metal types and the general reluctance to listen to anything other than metal. But I don’t think that can explain why only a handful of a 3,000 crowd had heard one of The Stones’ best known tracks. The real reason is more likely to be that the UK has been very poorly served by its national radio stations over a great many years. How else can you explain why I hadn’t heard Jumping Jack Flash until I saw Whoopi Goldberg playing air guitar to it whilst she tried to work out the lyrics (“Speak English, Mick” she exclaims at one point)…?

Exhibit C: The Beatles Red and Blue albums

When I was eighteen I bought the cassettes of the Beatles’ greatest hits albums. Whilst I was familiar with many of the songs, there were just as many I hadn’t heard. “A Day In The Life”, “I Am The Walrus”, “The Ballad of John and Yoko“, “Across The Universe”, “Norwegian Wood” etc etc. To live in the country of The Beatles and not know these songs at the age of eighteen is ridiculous. I only knew “Dear Prudence” because Siouxie and The Banshees covered it. This is the sort of thing they should teach at school.**

The point of these two stories is that, in the UK at least, we simply didn’t know any better. For all we knew, glam metal was the newest and most exciting thing. The BBC didn’t help. The BBC’s attitude towards guitar music was similar to that of a bear who, upon arriving home with the wife and young child from a long morning stroll, finds that an intruder has scrawled graffiti on the sofa, helped themselves to porridge, coffee and the last of the Innocent Smoothies and then jumped on the beds upstairs, breaking one of the mattress springs before running off. For years the BBC has felt it best not to broadcast anything noisy into people’s homes.

The fact is, it’s all very well looking back at Hüsker Dü’s “New Day Rising” and thinking they sound far better than Poison twenty five years on, but I don’t think I’d heard of them until ten years ago. Poison clearly had better PR, and metal just sounded better than what I thought was the only alternative: Top 40 pop music by Stock Aitken and Waterman.

The fact is, I felt the same way about metal as The Smiths fans did about The Smiths, The Stone Roses fans did about The Stone Roses and R.E.M. fans did about R.E.M.. We just backed different horses.

So, to win this argument, we have to be able to show that poodle haired rockers produced something that has stood the test of time. I therefore give you five albums made by bands over a long period of time that had more than a passing acquaintance with hairspray, the pages of Kerrang! and torn jeans that still sound great, and without which our lives would be less wonderful.

Van_halen_album_cover

Van Halen – I

Pre-dating the eighties metal scene by some time, but setting the blueprint for everything else that followed, to my mind, Van Halen’s first album is as important a debut as that of The Smiths. And it’s a lot more cheery.

Cinderella_-_Night_Songs

Cinderella – Night Songs

Released in 1986, the cover is None More Glam. Inside was a blend of AC/DC and Aerosmith that frankly speaking was better than AC/DC’s last album.

appetite-for-destruction guns-n-roses

Guns n Roses – Appetite For Destruction

This debut album defines the era, the genre and remains a cast iron classic.

Faith No More - The Real Thing album cover

Faith No More – The Real Thing

Stretching the definition of hair metal a bit here as guitarist “Ugly” Jim Martin looked like he should have been in Motörhead, and the band were very much not part of the “glam” scene but nevertheless the third album from Faith No More sounded like nothing else around in 1989 and still sounds great today.

Love+&+Hate+-+Wasted+In+America cover

Love/Hate – Wasted In America

Released in 1992, this was Love/Hate’s second album and their best. Some complex rhythm guitar playing over some pretty daft lyrics gives the record sparkle.

In summary, hair metal and similar acts still produced classic albums in the eighties and nineties. For this reason alone, it deserves its place in the pantheon of rock n roll. Whilst not everything was brilliant, it brought enjoyment to millions seeking escapism in what was an occasionally grim decade of The Cold War and Imminent Nuclear Annihilation. And if hair metal didn’t last or stand the test of time?

Who cares? It was fun while it lasted…

And as for those last five records with lasting value, let me say this: If you think they’re a hit, you must acquit…

Record #259: Love/ Hate – Wasted In America

spotify:track:4eQ3fORTVp0zHM63EYpVl7

** They clearly shouldn’t teach The Beatles’ songs at schools, but only because you know they’d make such a pigs ear of it and suck all the joy out of their music.

  • 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

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28 replies

  1. Jizzy from Love/Hate is in Quiet Riot as of last week. Yippee for him I guess.

    All I can say is, judging by the number of Motley Crue shirts you see on trendy bands like Paramore or whoever, and how many songs I hear on the radio daily by Bon Jovi, Quiet Riot, and so on, I think it’s stood the test of time. Certainly some of their charting rivals from the late 80’s haven’t. MC Hammer anyone?

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    • Good argument!
      Apart from the radio bit – at least on this side of the pond…

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      • Here I can hear those old songs on the radio all the time. People are infatuated with these old songs, it’s actually frustrating to the DJs. A lot of the time they want to play the deep tracks, and listeners don’t want to hear them.

        Which opens up another point. Even given the radio play factor here, that’s just the hit singles. The 3 or 4 Motley Crue songs they play would be the obvious hits. So it’s more about the familiarity with the nostalgic hits than it is about the albums. It’s not like you say, “Led Zeppelin IV is a good album” in the same breath as Slippery When Wet. Most people couldn’t tell you the other 6 or 7 songs on Slippery When Wet.

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  2. You make a valid point with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I once met a British woman who was around my age and never heard “Stairway to Heaven.” Needless to say I was gobsmacked. I still listen to hair metal so for me it has stood the test of time.

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  3. I hate the term ‘hair metal’. It’s just rock’n’roll with a bit of glamour attached. Why is this term even attached to these bands when thrash bands of the same period often had even longer hair?????

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  4. By the time I was four, I knew all the lyrics on Sgt. Pepper, even those I could not understand. I went through a Stones phase as a very young teenager and certainly my knowledge spread beyond just Hot Rocks. But, when I lived in England as a recent college grad (early 90s), all I heard on the radio was too much River City People and “We Built This City”. Too bad. My friends were woefully under-educated in what is the foundation of modern rock and hard pop (British 60s rock), but they all knew Metallica, etc.

    I get your point, though I am reluctant to group Van Halen with some of these other bands, like Cinderella. Yes, the guitarists often copied Eddie. And, yes, Van Halen had lots of hair and was a bit glam. But I think they are completely in a class by themselves in the way that I think the Who are in a class by themselves — dipping into the pool of various classifications but not fully quenched (or drenched) by any single one. (Full disclosure — I am not a Who fan, but I know most of their music and, therefore, I feel I can be objective.) As a VH fan, I can argue a variety of points, such as range of songwriting skills, mastery of their instruments (including DLR’s use of showmanship), depth and breadth of influence (despite that their legacy hasn’t been as well solidified as, say, McCartney’s), etc. I love these posts, but with hesitation about the inclusion of VH.

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    • Interesting take on Van Halen and The Who. I agree that both are a bit difficult to pin down and not really part of any genre, but rather define their own genre. Sure, Eddie was influential, and Roth’s posing was a huge influence, but Van Halen were essentially a pop band with a harder sound. Up until then, it had been mostly Dio and his rainbows or whatever.

      I would also argue that Pink Floyd, The Beatles and Jethro Tull define their own genre. While there are bands which superficially sound similar (Badfinger anyone), no-one has made similar music of the same quality. Maybe Rush as well.

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    • Thanks for the comment – very thought provoking.
      I know exactly what you mean about Van Halen and why they are different to what followed.
      However, Led Zeppelin begat Kingdom Come. Whitesnake followed Deep Purple…
      The originators were better than what followed, but they were the ones that inspired other bands, both good and bad – those that were originators themselves and the copycats.
      I think Van Halen are a really important band in glam metal, even if it seems an inadequate description or inappropriate label for them. Van Halen brought a totally new approach to hard rock. It was cheerful, fun and modern in a way that say, Black Sabbath (at the time) was not. The Glam bands that followed may have been a pale shadow of VH, but they were clearly influenced by them.
      It’s a similar situation to Radiohead, and looking at two bands that followed them. Put (too) simply, Coldplay took the quiet songs and Muse took the loud ones. Neither band is as good as Radiohead…

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  5. I think the genre has stood the test of the time but all of these bands that are still out there touring even with lineup changes and whatnot. I think some of them should knock it on the head and call it a day but I guess if someone is paying u to show up …….
    Van Halen did set the bar very high and no one came close,I mean look at the Bulletboys debut..
    Blond singer…same label….same producer…same style of music and yep at the time (1988) I bought into the Bullet boys program,they were filling the Dave void as VH was on a different path with Hagar and I subscribed and than after the second Bulletboys album I quit the program…..just stay with the original……
    Than again I was a foolish 21 yr old back in 88….

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    • I guess the bands that are still touring are relying on nostalgia – like you say, they may not be producing new music, but if people want to relive their youth, then why not – I don’t have to go if I don’t want to…
      I managed to avoid the Bulletboys – they never really appealed, although I’m not sure why I never bought one of their albums…

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  6. Wasted in America ahead of Blackout in the Red Room?? Sheesh. Surely Jon E. Love wins the silly guitarist name hands down over Darren Householder? Umm, maybe scratch that argument. I saw Love/Hate do a 20th anniversary show a few years back, and it wasn’t Wasted that was played right through from start to finish. But I probably have an evil twin out there who thinks otherwise.

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  7. Not commercially. They were played in Shades a fair bit back in the day. ‘My Girl’ was a real gem. They have been found on a variety of download blog sites over the years as has the demo Jim ‘Jizzy Pearl’ Wilkinson cut with L.A. Rocks (later signed as Eyes with Jeff Scott Soto on vocals by then).

    The pre-Love Hate outfit Data Clan’s album is much harder to find even as a download though.

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  8. I think a heck of a lot of it has stood the test of time. I reckon the music stood the test of time. Its just the music videos and outfits that haven’t… and even then, the nostalgia thing keeps a lot of people liking that side of it too.

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