- 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:
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.
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 – 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
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.
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
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
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
** 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!